On Sunday, the field of 16 teams, comprised of six automatic bids and 10 at-large bids were announced for the 2006 NCAA Tournament. The University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, Boston University and Michigan State University have all secured the top seeds in their respective brackets. The Pairwise Rankings (PWR) are used in determining which teams are in the tournament, the first year this has been done. College Hockey News provides a thorough explanation of the selection process, found here.
The field breaks down by conference like this: the CCHA, Hockey East and the WCHA all have four teams each in the tournament. The ECACHL has two, and the Atlantic Hockey and CHA conferences have one apiece. One team noticeably absent from the tournament this year is back-to-back reigning national champion University of Denver.
The tournament’s six conference winners that have earned automatic bids are: College of the Holy Cross (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan State University (CCHA), Bemidji State University (CHA), Harvard University (ECACHL), Boston University (Hockey East) and the University of North Dakota (WCHA).
The regional semi-finals take place on Friday and Saturday. The regional finals will take place Saturday and Sunday (depending upon the brackets schedules). The Frozen Four semi-finals (the winners of each regional bracket) and the National Championship games will be played on Apr. 6 and 8 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI.
This year’s NCAA Tournament features a combined total of 114 NHL prospects (although some may not be playing due to injury) representing 14 of the 16 teams in the tournament. Only Bemidji State and Holy Cross do not have an NHL prospect on their current roster.
Below is a closer look at each bracket and the teams involved. The numbers in parentheses represent the team’s overall seeding.
Location: Resch Center, Green Bay, WI
Number of total combined NHL prospects: 26
1. Wisconsin (1) vs. 4. Bemidji State (16)
Despite failing to win the Broadmoor Cup and the WCHA’s automatic bid, the Wisconsin Badgers are the top overall seed in the tournament by virtue of the Pairwise Rankings. Wisconsin is coming off a convincing 4-0 win over rival Minnesota in the WCHA third place game on Saturday that follows a disappointing loss to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five semi-final on Friday night.
The Badgers come into the tournament currently rank tied with Miami for first in the nation in team defense, allowing an average of just 1.95 goals against per game. Of their 39 games, they have allowed four or more goals in only eight. Their 76 total goals allowed are second only to Miami. In the month of March, they have allowed more than one goal only once, which came in their 4-3 loss to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five semi-final. The loss is also their only defeat in the month.
The backbone of the Wisconsin defense is junior and Hobey Baker finalist Brian Elliott (OTT). The Newmarket, ONT native was brilliant in goal before a knee injury sidelined him back in January. After a rocky return to the lineup, Elliott looks to be returning to pre-injury form at the right time. He sports a 23-5-3 record that includes a school record, six shutouts. In addition to the six shutouts, Elliott leads or co-leads the nation in goals against average (1.70), save percentage (.933) and winning percentage (.790).
As good as Wisconsin is on defense, they’re almost equally as good on offense, averaging 3.41 goals per game. Two of the more impressive offensive statistics are the fact that 14 Badgers are in double digits in points and only three skaters on the roster have not registered a goal yet this season.
The team’s top five scorers are all NHL prospects. Sophomore Joe Pavelski (SJ) leads the team with 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists). Pavelski became the first Badger since Dany Heatley in the 2000-01 season to hit the 50-point plateau. The electrifying junior Robbie Earl (TOR) leads the team with 21 goals and is second in scoring with 46 points. Stalwart senior defenseman Tom Gilbert (EDM) leads all Badgers defensemen in scoring with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) and co-leads the team overall in plus/minus (+24).
Wisconsin will meet Bemidji State in their opening match of the NCAA Tournament. It will be the first time ever that the two schools have faced one another.
The Beavers are making their second straight NCAA tournament appearance after a hard-fought victory over Niagara to win the CHA’s automatic bid two weeks ago. Bemidji State is the only team in the young history of the CHA to have won the CHA Tournament championship twice. The Beavers could prove to be a formidable opponent against a WCHA powerhouse once again. In last year’s Northeast Regional, the Beavers nearly pulled off a stunning upset over Denver before falling to the Pioneers in overtime.
Bemidji State is a very solid and tenacious and can outwork any team on any given night. They have enjoyed some success against WCHA teams already this season, posting wins over Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth. They also have an offense that is averaging 3.47 goals per game and tied for sixth in the nation.
The one line well worth keeping an eye on is the trio of senior Ryan Huddy, and juniors Ryan Miller and Luke Erickson. Erickson, a CHA All-Conference First Team selection, leads Bemidji State with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists). Miller leads the team with 17 goals and is third on team in plus/minus (+16). Huddy, the son of former Edmonton Oilers great Charlie Huddy, leads the team with 20 assists and has 28 points overall.
Outstanding goaltending will be a must for Bemidji State to have success in the NCAA Tournament and they have a very reliable goaltender in junior Layne Sedevie. In the month of March, Sedevie has posted a perfect 4-0-0 record that includes one shutout. He has allowed just six goals and has posted a stellar .952 save percentage in that stretch. Overall, he has a 12-6-1 record with a .919 save percentage.
2. Cornell (8) vs. 3. Colorado College (10)
A contrast in styles of play can best describe the Cornell-Colorado College matchup.
Cornell is coming off a 6-2 loss to Harvard on Saturday night in the ECACHL Championship game. Discipline, which was partially responsible for the Big Red’s downfall versus Harvard, will be of utmost importance coming into the NCAA Tournament this weekend. The Big Red are making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.
Cornell brings a stellar defense with tremendous size into the tournament, led by their top blue line tandem of senior Ryan O’Byrne (MON) and sophomore Sasha Pokulok (WSH). At 6’5 and over 220 lbs. the Cornell “twin towers” will have the task of shutting down the predominantly smaller Colorado College forwards. The defensemen co-lead the team in scoring with 13 points apiece.
Up front, the Big Red have found success this season in the grind game. Utilizing their size and strength, Cornell has been able to outwork and outmuscle many of their opponents in tight situations. They also have players who have found their scoring touch this season as well. Two such examples are sophomore Raymond Sawada (DAL) and junior Mark McCutcheon (COL). After posting just nine points last season, Sawada has been an intimidating presence both with and away from the puck. His ultra-aggressive style and ability to drive hard to the net often have paid big dividends for Cornell this season particularly in postseason play. Sawada has already doubled his scoring output from last season, coming into the tournament with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists). The phrase “good things come to those who wait” fits McCutcheon perfectly. After going goalless in his first two collegiate seasons, the Pittsford, NY native finally found the back of the net this season. McCutcheon has 15 points on the season (nine goals, six assists). His nine goals rank third on the team.
One line for Cornell that’s well worth watching is the trio of senior Matt Moulson (PIT) and juniors Byron Bitz (BOS) and Mitch Carefoot (ATL). The line combines size, great offensive ability and some grit. Moulson leads the team in scoring with 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists). Bitz, who is enjoying an outstanding season, is second with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists). Carefoot has nine points (six goals, three assists).
Cornell will face off against Colorado College in their opening match-up. The two teams last met back on Dec. 27, 1995 in the Denver Cup semi-finals.
Colorado College comes into the tournament well rested after losing to St. Cloud State in the WCHA opening round two weeks ago. After an excellent first half, the Tigers have been up and down in the second half. In the month of March thus far, Colorado College has posted a 1-3-1 record.
While their overall numbers are down from last season, the Tigers still possess one of the nation’s most lethal offenses. Hobey Baker finalists Brett Sterling (ATL) and Marty Sertich are among four forwards well worth watching for Colorado College. Sterling leads the team with 54 points (31 goals, 23 assists). His 31 goals rank second in the nation. He is also tied for first in power-play goals (17). Back on Feb. 17 versus Alaska-Anchorage, Sterling became just the fifth player in team history to reach the 100-goal plateau. Sertich ranks second on the team with 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists). Coming into this weekend, the Roseville, MN native has played in 165 consecutive games for Colorado College and has never missed a game in his collegiate career up to this point. An even more remarkable statistic is that Sertich has a point in 107 of his 165 career games.
Two other forwards to keep an eye on for the Tigers are senior Joey Crabb (NYR) and freshman Chad Rau (TOR). The two have put together superb seasons, helping to ease the offensive burden carried by Sterling and Sertich. Crabb is third on the team in scoring with 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists). As good as Crabb has been in even strength situations, he has been absolutely deadly on special teams, especially on the Tigers potent power play. Of his 18 goals this season, Crabb has scored 12 of them with the man advantage. In addition, he has tallied two shorthanded goals. Rau has been one of the hottest Tigers of late, having notched a point in 10 of Colorado College’s last 12 games. He leads all Tigers rookies with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists). His six power play goals are third on the team.
The key to Colorado College’s success in the tournament will be a solid defense, specifically in goal. Junior Matt Zaba (LA) has struggled with inconsistency in the second half of the season, going 5-8-1 in his last 14 games. Overall, he has posted a 20-13-2 record that includes four shutouts.
Location: Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND
Number of total combined NHL prospects: 34
1. Minnesota (2) vs. 4. Holy Cross (15)
Despite two stinging losses in the WCHA Final Five over the weekend, the Gophers will be one of the premiere teams to beat in the tournament. Minnesota has tremendous talent depth and possesses the nation’s top offensive team that is averaging better than four goals per game. Junior Ryan Potulny (PHI), a front-runner for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, has taken over the nation’s scoring lead with 63 points (38 goals, 25 assists). Potulny, along with fellow junior Danny Irmen (MIN) and freshman Ryan Stoa (COL) have made for one of the nation’s most explosive lines, amassing a combined 126 points (64 goals, 62 assists) so far.
One player that all eyes will be on is freshman sensation and top 2006 NHL Draft candidate Phil Kessel. The WCHA’s Rookie of the Year is second on the roster with 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists). His 50 points along with his 1.32 points per game lead the nation among rookies. Kessel’s relative offensive consistency this season is shown by the fact that he has points in 27 of 38 games. In addition, he has multiple points in 14 games, second on the team only to Potulny.
Of the Gophers non-injured regular skaters, only freshman defenseman R. J. Anderson (PHI) has yet to notch a goal this season. Anderson is also only one of three active skaters not in double digits in points. It’s a testament to the offensive depth and balance that the Gophers have.
After not allowing more than six goals combined in a two-game set all year, the Gophers allowed 12 goals in their last two games. The keys to Minnesota’s success will be their ability to tighten up their defensive play and junior goaltender Kellen Briggs being able to bounce back after two tough Final Five outings. Briggs has actually played quite well this season. He has posted a 21-5-3 record that includes three shutouts. His .776 winning percentage ranks third in the nation.
Minnesota will meet Holy Cross in their opening match. This is the first ever meeting between the two schools.
The Crusaders are making their second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last three years. They are coming off of a convincing 4-1 win over the surprising Bentley Falcons on Saturday night to win the Atlantic Hockey Conference championship and automatic bid. Holy Cross, like Bemidji State, could prove to be a tough opponent. In the 2004 NCAA Tournament, Holy Cross gave North Dakota all they could handle before eventually falling to the Fighting Sioux 3-0.
Holy Cross brings a five-game unbeaten streak (5-0-0) into the tournament along with some outstanding goaltending from senior Tony Quesada. The Atlantic Hockey All-Conference Second Team selection sports a 21-5-2 record that includes two shutouts His .928 save percentage ranks tied for fourth in the nation, while his 2.18 goals against average ranks 11th. Quesada also ranks second in the nation in winning percentage (.786).
The Crusaders will also bring some good offensive balance into the NCAA Tournament. Two outstanding senior co-captains in Tyler McGregor and Pierre Napert-Frenette lead the team on offense. McGregor, the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year, leads the team in scoring with 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists). Napert-Frenette is second with 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists).
One area where Holy Cross could be a problem for the opposition is on special teams. The Crusaders are one of only two teams in the tournament (Maine is the other) that are ranked in the top five in the nation on both the power play and penalty kill. The Crusaders rank tied for fifth with the man advantage (22.1 percent efficiency rating), while tied for third in penalty killing (87.9 percent).
2. North Dakota (7) vs. 3. Michigan (9)
This match-up features some of the best rookies in the nation going head to head in a battle of two very young and exciting teams. The match-up also features two of the top freshmen eligible for the 2006 NHL Draft.
North Dakota is coming off of a hard-fought win over St. Cloud State on Saturday night to win the Broadmoor Cup and the WCHA’s automatic bid. The Fighting Sioux are coming into the NCAA Tournament having lost just once in their last seven games, thanks in large part to the excellent goaltending of junior Jordan Parise. Parise has posted a 22-8-1 record that includes six shutouts. His six shutouts are currently tied for first in the nation and his .932 save percentage ranks sixth.
One of the concerns about North Dakota that many had coming into the season was the youth movement issue. The freshmen in particular have not only silenced their doubters but have made a profound impact on the team in the process. Two such examples at forward are T.J. Oshie (STL) and top 2006 NHL Draft candidate Jonathan Toews. Oshie just missed being named WCHA Rookie of the Year. The WCHA All-Rookie Team selection is currently second on the team in scoring with 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists). His 23 goals also lead the nation among rookies. The immensely talented Toews, who helped Canada capture the gold medal in the WJC back in January, is fourth on the team with 33 points (19 goals, 14 assists).
Aside from junior and team captain Matt Smaby (TB), North Dakota’s defensive corps is made up entirely of underclassmen, four of whom are rookies. The pairing that will likely be the most closely watched is the freshmen duo of Brian Lee (OTT) and Taylor Chorney (EDM). Both are excellent skating, puck-moving defensemen who have posted similar numbers. Lee leads all Fighting Sioux blueliners with 23 points (three goals, 20 assists). Chorney is second with 18 points (three goals, 15 assists).
North Dakota has been playing without the services of junior Drew Stafford (BUF) since the WCHA opening round match versus Minnesota State Mankato. The good news is they might have him back in the lineup this weekend. He is listed day to day with a leg injury. Stafford leads the team with 44 points (23 goals, 21 assists). He also leads the nation with six shorthanded goals.
North Dakota will meet another young talented team in the Michigan Wolverines. The two teams last met on Oct. 12, 2002 in the Xerox College Hockey Showcase.
The Wolverines come into the NCAA Tournament coming off of hard-fought win over Northern Michigan in the CCHA Mason Cup consolation game on Saturday. The night before they were handed a disappointing 4-1 loss by archrival Michigan State.
The two things that the Wolverines bring into this tournament are speed and loads of offense. Like North Dakota, Michigan possesses a plethora of tremendously gifted underclassmen led by a pair of freshmen in defenseman Jack Johnson (CAR) and center Andrew Cogliano (EDM). Johnson, a threat at both ends of the ice, leads the Wolverines defense in scoring with 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) as well as the team with 147 penalty minutes. His 32 points are a new school record for scoring among freshmen defensemen. The speedy Cogliano is tied for seventh on the team in scoring with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists). The Woodbridge, ON native has been at his scoring best on special teams this season. Of his 12 goals, five have come on the power play and two have come shorthanded. His two shorthanded goals are tied for first on the team. Cogliano is also third on the team in shots (107).
One freshman that draft watchers will be focusing on is rugged defenseman Mark Mitera. The defensive defenseman is considered one of the top current NCAA players eligible for the 2006 NHL Draft. His 6’3/210 lbs. frame and hard-hitting style are two attributes that garner quite a bit of attention. He currently has 10 points (all assists) on the season and is tied for fourth on the team with 57 penalty minutes.
Two keys for Michigan’s success will be continued contributions from their upperclassmen and solid goaltending. Junior T. J. Hensick (COL) leads the team with 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists). Senior Andrew Ebbett may be the Wolverines hottest scorer right now. Ebbett is second on the team with 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists). He has tallied 14 points in his last nine games. Ebbett also co-leads the team in plus/minus (+16).
Consistency in goal has been a problem that has plagued Michigan for a good part of the season. Senior Noah Ruden and freshman Billy Sauer have shared the goaltending duties this year. Both goaltenders have slightly better than .500 records with goals against averages near or at 3.00. Ruden has posted the better numbers of the two with a 10-8-1 record and is likely to get the start in goal when the NCAA Tournament gets underway.
Location: DCU Center, Worchester, MA
Number of total combined NHL prospects: 28
1. Boston University (3) vs. 4. Nebraska Omaha (14)
This match-up features the hottest team in the nation going up against a team that is a newcomer to the tournament.
The Boston University Terriers are coming off of a thrilling 2-1 overtime win over archrival Boston College on Saturday and laid claim to the Lamoriello Cup for the first time since 1997. They also come into the NCAA Tournament as the hottest team in nation, unbeaten in their last nine games (7-0-2).
One of the reasons behind the Terriers success has been the excellent goaltending of junior John Curry. The Hockey East All-Conference First Team selection sports a 23-7-5 record that includes three shutouts. His 2.16 goals against average is tied for ninth in the nation, while his .921 save percentage is 12th. In Curry’s last nine starts, he has allowed three or more goals only twice.
No player has had a more of an impact on the team’s turnaround than team captain, senior David Van der Gulik (CGY). Since his return to the lineup back on December 30th, the Terriers have posted an astounding 19-2-2 record. He has posted 21 points (ten goals, 11 assists) and is averaging nearly a point per game since his return. In the Hockey East tournament, Van der Gulik was named the tournament MVP after posting two hat tricks against UMass and New Hampshire respectively.
Another contributing factor to Boston University’s second half success is their consistent offensive production. One of the more impressive stats about Boston University is the fact that they have only two players among their regulars who are not on the plus side.
While the Terriers have a balanced attack coming from the forward lines, they also have it coming from the blue line as well. Three of Boston University’s top six regulars on defense are in double digits in points. Leading the defense this season is senior Dan Spang (SJ). The Hockey East All-Conference First Team selection has been enjoying a career year. He ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 30 points (eight goals, 22 assists) and is third on the team in shots (105).
It’s difficult to pick just one line to watch, but one well worth a look is the enthusiastic all-freshman trio of Jason Lawrence, Chris Higgins and Brandon Yip (COL). The rookie threesome has combined for 38 points in the last 21 games. Yip, the Hockey East Rookie of the Year, leads the line with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists). Lawrence and Higgins, both of whom are eligible for the 2006 NHL Draft, rank second (20 points) and third (18 points), respectively, on the team in rookie scoring.
Boston University will meet the Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha in their opening match. The two teams last met back on Dec. 11, 2004 at Boston University.
The Mavericks will make their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They were eliminated two weekends ago in the CCHA quarterfinals versus Northern Michigan. What got them into the tournament (other than some help from other non-conference teams) was their excellent record against ranked opponents earlier in the season. Among the ranked teams who fell to the Mavericks were New Hampshire, Michigan State, Providence College and Alaska Fairbanks. While they may be the underdogs in this bracket, Nebraska-Omaha is a formidable opponent that has already demonstrated the ability to beat top-flight teams this season.
The Mavericks players that will be the focus of their opponents in the NCAA Tournament is the top scoring duo of junior and Hobey Baker finalist Scott Parse (LA) and sophomore Bill Thomas. The two have combined for nearly 29 percent of the team’s total points. Parse, the CCHA’s Player of the Year, currently ranks second in the nation in scoring with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) and has completely rewritten the Nebraska-Omaha record books in the process. Thomas leads the team with 26 goals and ranks second on team scoring with 49 points.
While Parse and Thomas have carried the team offensively the season, they’ll need to get more offense from their other forwards. Two players who’ll be counted on to do so are juniors Alex Nikiforuk and Kaleb Betts (NSH). The energetic Nikiforuk is tied for fifth in team scoring with 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists). The feisty Betts has 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) thus far. Half of his goals have come on the power play.
The defensive player that the Mavericks will be leaning heavily on is sophomore Jerad Kaufmann. Kaufmann has been outstanding in goal for Nebraska-Omaha this season. He has posted a 17-10-6 record that includes two shutouts along with a .902 save percentage.
One weapon in the Mavericks arsenal is their ability to score in shorthanded situations. Among the 16-team field in the NCAA Tournament, Nebraska-Omaha ranks first in shorthanded goals scored with 10.
2. Miami (6) vs. 3. Boston College (11)
This match-up features two teams coming off of heartbreaking losses in their respective conference championship matches. Both teams feature excellent goaltending and two of the nation’s most dangerous top lines.
The Miami RedHawks have been the nation’s most consistent team all season long. After making their way to the top of the CCHA standings early in the season, the RedHawks haven’t wavered away from it since. They claimed the CCHA’s regular season title with back on February 14th, the earliest of any conference champion this season. Miami is coming off of a disappointing 2-1 loss to Michigan State in the CCHA Championship game on Saturday.
Miami’s strength lies in their goaltending and their stingy defense. The tandem of sophomore Charlie Effinger and 2006 NHL Draft eligible freshman Jeff Zatkoff have given the RedHawks a solid one-two punch in goal. Both players rank at or near the top in the nation in goals against average, save percentage, and winning percentage. Effinger sports a 12-3-3 record with one shutout while Zatkoff has a 14-5-1 record with three shutouts.
Team captain and Hobey Baker candidate Andy Greene anchors a defense that has allowed an average of 1.95 goals against per game and an NCAA-best 74 total goals against this season. Greene, who made CCHA history by being named both the conference’s Best Offensive and Defensive Defenseman of the Year, co-leads all Miami blueliners with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists). Greene set a new school record this season for career games (158). In his nearly four seasons at Miami, he has never missed a game.
The RedHawks explosive top line of sophomores Nate Davis (CHI), Ryan Jones (MIN) and Nino Musitelli have accounted for nearly 30 percent of the team’s total points this season. Davis leads the team with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists). Jones is second in scoring with 35 points (22 goals, 13 assists). His 22 goals and six game-winning goals lead the team. Musitelli has 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) and is third on the team with 68 penalty minutes.
Miami will face Boston College in their opening match. The teams last met back in December of 2001 in the Silverado Shootout Holiday Tournament in Duluth, MN.
The Eagles are coming off of a stinging 2-1 overtime loss to archrival Boston University on Saturday night in the Hockey East championship game. After struggling through the month of February, Boston College comes into the NCAA Tournament having posted a 3-2-1 record in the month of March.
Like Miami, Boston College possesses strong goaltending in sophomore Cory Schneider (VAN). The Hockey East All-Conference Second Team selection has posted a 21-12-2 record that includes six shutouts. His six shutouts are tied for first in the nation. Schneider also ranks tied for seventh in the nation in goals against average (2.15) and ninth in save percentage (.926). Back in mid-January he posted three consecutive shutouts. One was against Merrimack and the other two were against Vermont.
The Eagles potent top line of seniors Chris Collins and Stephen Gionta and junior Brian Boyle (LA) have accounted for just over 41 percent of the team’s points. Collins, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and Hockey East’s Player of the Year, leads the team in scoring with 58 points (30 goals, 28 assists). Where Collins has really been dangerous has been on specialty teams. Of his 30 goals, eight have come on the power play and five have come shorthanded. The big question coming into the NCAA Tournament is the health of Collins. He suffered a hip pointer during practice last week prior to the Hockey East semi-finals. While he did play last weekend, he wasn’t 100 percent.
The towering Boyle, who is enjoying the best season of his collegiate career, is second on the team with 49 points (21 goals, 28 points). His 10 power play goals lead the team. Gionta ranks third on the team with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists).
One of the keys to Boston College’s success will be generating more offense from forwards other than Collins, Boyle and Gionta. Among the players who’ll be counted on are sophomore Dan Bertram (CHI) and freshman Nathan Gerbe (BUF). Both players possess energy, speed and scoring capability. Bertram, a member of the gold medal winning Canadian WJC squad, is fifth on the team in scoring with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists). Gerbe, one of two Eagles representing Team USA in the WJC, is fifth on the team in goal scoring with 10 and has 17 points overall.
Location: Pepsi Arena, Albany, NY
Number of total combined NHL prospects: 27
1. Michigan State (4) vs. 4. New Hampshire (13)
The Spartans are coming off of a big 2-1 win over Miami on Saturday night to lay claim to their first Mason Cup Championship since 2001. This is Michigan State’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2004. The Spartans had a strong finish to their regular season and CCHA conference postseason run. They are 11-1-3 in their last 14 games.
A big part of the Spartans success this season can be attributed to the sensational goaltending of freshman Jeff Lerg. Michigan State’s diminutive netminder has been huge in goal this season and has proven that he can step it up when it matters the most. The CCHA’s Rookie of the Year sports a 16-5-6 record that includes two shutouts. His 1.95 goals against average ranks third in the nation while his .927 save percentage ranks tied for sixth. He also ranks 10th in the nation with a .704 winning percentage.
The Spartans have gotten some tremendous contributions throughout their lineup, particularly in the second half of the season. Two upperclassmen enjoying stellar seasons are team captain and junior Drew Miller (ANA) and senior David Booth (FLA). Miller, who was named the CCHA’s Defensive Forward of the Year and is a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, leads the Spartans in scoring with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists). Miller also co-leads the team in power play goals (8) and game winning goals (4). Booth, who has battled through injuries for much of the last two seasons, is enjoying a renaissance with the green and white this season. He ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists). He also leads the team in shots (138).
One line combination for the Spartans that is well worth watching is the “kid line” of Tim Kennedy (BUF), Justin Abdelkader (DET), and Tim Crowder (PIT). The tenacious and energetic rookie trio has combined for 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists). Crowder leads the line with 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists). Abdelkader has 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) and is third on the team with 77 penalty minutes. Kennedy, who missed much of the first half of the season due to injury, has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists).
Michigan State will meet New Hampshire in their NCAA Tournament opener. The two teams last met back on Dec. 29, 2004 in the Great Lakes Invitational.
The Wildcats are coming off of a humbling 9-2 loss to Boston University on Friday night in the Hockey East conference semi-finals. The nine goals were the most that the Wildcats have given up all season. Prior to that match, New Hampshire had not lost in their last six games (4-0-2).
The junior trio of Daniel Winnik (PHO), Jacob Micflikier and Brett Hemingway (COL) has given the Wildcats one of the most explosive lines in Hockey East and until about a month ago, the three played on the same line together. The trio has accounted for 38 percent of the team’s total points. Micflikier leads the team in scoring with 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists). Hemingway and Winnik are tied for second with 41 points apiece. Hemingway leads the team with 19 goals, while Micflikier and Winnik co-lead the team with 26 assists each. Back on Mar. 9 in the Hockey East conference quarterfinals versus Providence, Hemingway became the 64th player in team history to reach the 100-point plateau.
Scoring from forwards other than Winnik, Micflikier and Hemingway has been a cause of concern for New Hampshire and is magnified going into the NCAA Tournament. The same can’t necessarily be said of the offense coming from the blue line. The Wildcats defensemen have been significant contributors on the score sheet throughout the season. The two top scoring defensemen are senior Brian Yandle and sophomore Craig Switzer (NSH). The duo is two of only four players on the roster to have played every game thus far this season. Yandle leads the Wildcats defense in scoring with 30 points (six goals, 24 assists). Switzer is second with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists). He is also second on the team with 54 penalty minutes.
Sound goaltending will be a key to the Wildcats success in the tournament. Senior Jeff Pietrasiak (PHO) and sophomore Kevin Regan (BOS) have split time in goal this season. In his 18 starts thus far, Pietrasiak has posted a 12-4-2. His .927 save percentage is tied for sixth in the nation. Regan has had 20 starts and sports an 8-7-5 record that includes three shutouts. The first collegiate shutout of his career came became back on Nov. 5 versus Northeastern. During the Hockey East playoffs, New Hampshire goaltenders faced an average of nearly 32 shots (31.6) per game. Aside from the 9-2 loss to Boston University in the Hockey East semi-finals, the Wildcats have not allowed more than three goals since Feb. 17. Coincidentally, the last time it happened was also against the Terriers.
2. Harvard (5) vs. 3. Maine (12)
Two teams on similar streaks meet in this match-up of familiar foes. Both teams have been quite strong coming into the NCAA Tournament.
Harvard is making a return trip to Albany’s Pepsi Arena after their ECACHL championship win on Saturday there. The Crimson is coming off of a convincing 6-2 over rival Cornell to claim the Whitelaw Cup and the ECACHL’s automatic bid. In their last 11 games, Harvard has gone 7-2-0. Where they’ve really picked things up is in scoring. In the ECACHL conference playoffs, they have outscored their opponents 28-14, including handing Ivy League rival Dartmouth a crushing 10-1 loss in the conference semi-finals on Friday.
One of the keys to Harvard’s success this season has been the superb goaltending of senior John Daigneau. Daigneau comes into the NCAA Tournament with a 19-9-2 record that includes three shutouts. He was sensational in the Crimson’s 10-1 win over Dartmouth, stopping 44 of the Big Green’s 45 shots.
Two of Harvard’s smallest players in junior Kevin Du and sophomore Jon Pelle have been big on the score sheet this season. Both are first and second respectively on the Crimson roster in scoring. Du leads the team with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists), while Pelle has 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists). In the ECACHL championship game on Saturday, Pelle went down with an ankle injury and is questionable for this weekend.
One aspect of the Harvard team that their tournament opponents will have to contend with is the size and power of the Crimson defense. Led by the outstanding trio of seniors Peter Hafner (FLA), Tom Walsh (SJ) and junior Dylan Reese (NYR), the blue line corps have not only been pillars of strength for Harvard but they have also provided some crucial offensive support as well. Reese, both an All-Ivy and All-ECACHL conference team selection, has been stellar in postseason play for Harvard. Last weekend versus Dartmouth and Cornell, Reese notched five points (two goals, three assists) to help lead Harvard. Walsh has also been very good in post-season play for the Crimson, notching three points (two goals, one assist) in the ECACHL conference playoffs. Team captain Hafner hasn’t provided much in the way of offense, but his intimidating and always reliable presence along with his leadership have been invaluable to the success of the Crimson this season.
Harvard will meet Maine in their opening round match-up. The game is a rematch of the 2004 NCAA Tournament East Regional, which was also held at Pepsi Arena back on Mar. 24, 2004.
Like Harvard, Maine also comes into the tournament finishing strong down the stretch. However, the 4-1 loss to Boston College last Friday night in the Hockey East semi-finals nearly ended the Black Bears season altogether. Prior to the loss, Maine was on a torrid 10-game unbeaten streak (8-0-2).
An area of improvement for Maine this season has been their increased scoring production. Last season, the Black Bears did not have a player on their roster with 30 or more points. This season they have four. Leading the offense this season is senior and team captain Greg Moore (NYR). After posting just 23 points last season, Moore is on pace to double that total this season. The Hobey Baker Award top 10 finalist leads the Black Bears with 42 points (26 goals, 16 assists). Moore, who is noted for being one of the top defensive forwards in the NCAA, is proving to be quite an offensive threat as well.
Perhaps the most pressing issue coming into this season for Maine was in goal. With the departure of Jimmy Howard to the pro ranks, it came down to who was going to be able to successfully backstop the team through the season. Head coach Tim Whitehead has used two young, inexperienced goaltenders in freshman Ben Bishop (STL) and sophomore Matt Lundin. The youthful tandem has been impressive and continues a great tradition of solid netminders coming through the Black Bears program. The behemoth Bishop has gotten the lion’s share of duties having posted a 19-7-2 record in 28 outings. His 2.20 goals against average ranks 12th in the nation while his .714 winning percentage ranks ninth. The 2006 NHL Draft eligible Lundin has appeared in 14 games, posting a 7-4-0 record that includes three shutouts.
One area where Maine thrives is on special teams. The Black Bears rank in the top five in the nation on both power play and penalty killing. Maine possesses the nation’s top penalty-killing unit with an 89.7 efficiency rating. Their power play ranks tied for fifth with a 22.1 percent efficiency rating.
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