Hockey’s March Madness underway

By DJ Powers

In the world of NCAA sports, there aren’t many months that get as crazy as, nor is looked forward to, more than March. And it’s no different with fans of college hockey.

With the 2006-07 regular season now in the books, the battle for the coveted bids into the NCAA Tournament has begun for some teams while others it’s about to begin. The Atlantic Hockey, CCHA and ECACHL conferences began their post-season action last weekend, while the CHA, Hockey East and WCHA conferences get their post-seasons underway this weekend. In addition, the first of the six automatic bids will be claimed by Sunday.

Last weekend’s wrap up

Three of the six conferences began their post-season action last weekend.

The "play-in" game between #9 American International and #8 Canisius kicked things off over in the Atlantic Hockey conference on Saturday. Rookie Mike McMillan notched the game-winner midway through the third period to give AIC a 2-1 victory. The Yellowjackets will meet top-seeded Sacred Heart this weekend. While the RIT won the Atlantic Hockey regular season title, they are not eligible for post-season play until next season due to NCAA rules governing D-II/D-III teams moving up to D-I. The Tigers began play at the Division I level last season.

Over in the ECACHL, the bottom eight seeded teams got that conference’s post season underway with some outstanding performances by many NHL prospects. Three of the four first-round series were sweeps.

#5 Quinnipiac hosted #12 Union College, in their best-of-three series. Senior defenseman and potential Hobey Baker candidate Reid Cashman notched six points (one goal, five assists) to help give the Bobcats the sweep and send them on to the ECACHL quarterfinals this weekend. Cashman, who currently leads the nation in scoring among defensemen with 38 points (three goals, 35 assists), had a hand in four of Quinnipiac’s five goals on Saturday. Junior Justin Mrazek (WAS) made a combined 57 saves on 62 shots in the series for Union College.

Arguably the best ECACHL first-round matchup took place over at Hobey Baker Rink when #6 Princeton hosted #11 Brown in the only series that went to three games. All three games in this series were decided by one goal with two going to overtime. Senior Brian Ihnacak (PIT) turned in one of his best performances of the season with three assists to help guide the Bears to a 4-3 overtime win. The following evening, sophomore Brett Wilson would notch the game-winner at the 1:50 mark in overtime to help tie up the series for Princeton. In the third and deciding game, senior Grant Goeckner-Zeller would tally the game-winning goal at the 7:22 mark of the third period to give the Princeton Tigers the series win.

Over at the Bright Center, two old Ivy League adversaries faced off as #7 Harvard took on #10 Yale. Senior defenseman and team captain Dylan Reese (NYR) notched his first career hat trick to lead the Crimson to a 5-2 win. Four of Harvard’s five goals, including Reese’s hat trick all came on the power play. The following night, Yale would give Harvard a good fight, despite being without two of their top scorers in Sean Backman and Mike Arcobello, only to have their season end with a 3-1 loss. Senior Justin Tobe turned in a superb 28-save performance to backstop Harvard into the ECACHL quarterfinals this weekend.

#8 Colgate hosted #9 RPI in their best-of-three series. Junior Mark Dekanich (NSH) was brilliant between the pipes for the Raiders, stopping a combined 41 of 43 shots and earning an assist on sophomore Tom Riley’s game-winner on Saturday. The North Vancouver, BC native also broke his own record for single-season saves, which now stands at 993. This weekend Dekanich will have the opportunity to become the first goaltender in the program’s history to break the 1,000-save mark in a season.

The always-unpredictable CCHA also got their first-round action underway last weekend. Like the ECACHL, the top four seeded teams had byes, while the bottom eight battled to advance to this weekend’s CCHA Quarterfinals. Three of the four series in the CCHA first round went to a third and deciding game.

At the Qwest Center in Omaha, #5 Nebraska-Omaha faced off against #12 Bowling Green in the only CCHA first-round series to end in a sweep. On Friday, it took overtime and 41 shots on goal for the Mavericks to beat sophomore netminder Jimmy Spratt (CGY) and the Bowling Green Falcons 3-2. Junior Mick Lawrence tallied two goals, including the game-winner for Nebraska-Omaha. The following night saw the Mavericks complete the sweep with a wild 7-5 win to advance to the CCHA quarterfinals. Senior Scott Parse (LA), who was recently named to the CCHA All-Conference First Team, missed much of Saturday’s contest due to muscle spasms in his leg. He is expected to play this weekend. Senior James Unger set a new CCHA post-season record when he tallied four first period goals for Bowling Green in the losing cause.

One of the two first-round upsets took place up at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo, as #6 Western Michigan fell to #11 Alaska in an exciting best-of-three series that went the distance. On Friday, senior Lucas Burnett notched the game-winner in overtime to cap a great come-from-behind 3-2 win for Alaska. After the Broncos staked out to a 2-0 lead, the Nanooks scored three unanswered goals to take the first game. The following night, WMU would come storming back with a 6-2 win led by senior Paul Szczechura and freshman Mark Letestu, who each posted two goals and an assist for the Broncos. In the third and deciding game on Sunday, junior Wylie Rogers turned in an outstanding 32-save performance to give Alaska the series win.

The other CCHA first-round upset took place in Columbus over at Value City Arena, where #7 Ohio State felled to #10 Northern Michigan in their best-of-three series. On Friday, senior defenseman and team captain Sean Collins posted a goal and two assists to give the Buckeyes the 6-2 win. Freshman Joe Palmer (CHI), who was recently named as an honorable mention to the CCHA All-Rookie Team, made 22 saves in the win. On Saturday, seniors Dusty Collins (TB) and Darin Olver (NYR) became the heroes as the Wildcats even up the series. Olver posted his 13th and 14th goals of the season, while Collins tallied the game-winner with his fourth of the year at the 3:15 mark of overtime for NMU. In the third and deciding game on Sunday, Olver and senior defenseman Zach Tarkir (NJ) each tallied short-handed goals to give the Wildcats the series victory with a 3-2 win. Senior defenseman Tyson Strachan (CAR) tallied both of Ohio State’s goals in the loss.

Up at Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, #8 Lake Superior State faced off against #9 Ferris State in a tight best-of-three series in which all three games were decided by one goal. On Friday, senior and assistant captain Mark Bomersback posted his first career hat trick, including the game-winner in overtime to give Ferris State a 4-3 win. On Saturday, senior Dominic Osman notched two goals, including the game-winner on the power play to help Lake Superior State even up the series. Derek MacIntyre (SJ) stopped 28 of 31 shots in the loss for Ferris State. In Sunday’s third and deciding game, freshman Nik Sellers would tally the game-winner at the 17:52 mark of the third period to give Lake Superior State the 3-2 win. Senior goaltender Jeff Jakaitis, who was recently named to the CCHA All-Conference Second Team, was excellent in goal, stopping 31 of the Bulldogs 33 shots to help send the Lakers on to the CCHA Quarterfinals this weekend.

Last Saturday also saw three conferences: CHA, Hockey East and WCHA finalize their seedings to open post-season play this weekend.

The Niagara Purple Eagles claimed the CHA regular season title and with it the top-seed in the upcoming CHA playoffs after finishing their regular season with a win and tie over Alabama-Huntsville.

Over in Hockey East, New Hampshire won the conference’s regular season title two weekends ago but was swept by Boston College in the regular season finale 4-1 and 4-2 respectively. The Eagles will be the second seed heading into the Hockey East playoffs this weekend.

Boston University earned the third seed after finishing their regular season last Wednesday with a 2-4 loss to Northeastern. The Huskies finish the regular season seventh in the conference and make a return to the Hockey East post-season after missing it last season when they finished ninth.

UMass earned the fourth and final home-ice spot after sweeping Maine last weekend. The Black Bears finish the regular season in fifth place.

UMass-Lowell and Merrimack saw their respective 2006-07 seasons come to an end after finishing the regular season in ninth and tenth respectively. Only the top eight teams advance to post-season in Hockey East.

The RiverHawks capped their season with a win and tie with Vermont, who ends the regular season in sixth place. The final regular season game for both teams on Saturday was literally a hard-fought affair that ended in a 3-3. The game featured 120 combined penalty minutes, most of which came in overtime. Freshman Chris Auger (CHI) tallied the game-tying goal for UMass-Lowell.

For the Merrimack Warriors, it was another trying season that did have its moments. The team finished the season with a 3-22-2 record. They closed out their 2006-07 campaign in a sweep at the hands of Providence, who finishes their regular season with the eighth and final post-season spot.

Over in the WCHA, the final weekend of the regular season cleared up the first round matchups and who finished where.

For the second consecutive year, the Minnesota Golden Gophers laid claim to the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA’s regular season champions and with it the top seed. They concluded their regular season with a split against a very tough Michigan Tech Huskies team. After finishing eighth at the end of the regular season last year, the Huskies find themselves with the sixth seed heading into the WCHA post-season this weekend.

The team chasing Minnesota for the MacNaughton Cup this season was the St. Cloud State Huskies, who have gained the second seed going into this weekend. The Huskies season finale against North Dakota ended with a 3-3 tie on Friday and a crushing 2-7 loss on Saturday. The Fighting Sioux meanwhile, earned the third seed going into the WCHA post-season. North Dakota has been one of the nation’s hottest teams in the second half. Since the start of the 2007 calendar year, the Fighting Sioux have gone 10-2-4 in 16 games.

One series that had huge implications took place in the state of Colorado as archrivals Colorado College and Denver were battling for more than just the best seed possible in the upcoming WCHA playoffs. The coveted Gold Pan Trophy and the state of Colorado bragging rights were at stake as well. After three years, the Gold Pan returned to Colorado Springs on Friday night as the Tigers defeated the Pioneers 3-0 and won their regular season 3-0-1. The following night, the Denver Pioneers would exact a bit of revenge after scoring two goals in the final minute of the game to earn a 5-5 tie. The tie also helped Denver gain the fourth seed, while Colorado College nailed down the fifth and final home ice spot going into this weekend.

Up at the DECC in Duluth, the reigning National Champion Wisconsin Badgers ended their 2006-07 regular season on a high note, getting a win and a tie against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. The Badgers end the regular season in seventh place while the Bulldogs finish ninth.

Two teams who saw their 2006-07 regular season ended a week earlier were the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, who finish in tenth place and the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks, who finish in eighth place.

Looking ahead to this weekend

The CHA will be the first conference to have a team earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The five-member conference and co-host of this year’s Frozen Four kicks things off beginning on Friday with #4 Wayne State taking on #5 Alabama-Huntsville in the single-elimination quarterfinal game. The winner will face top-seeded Niagara on Saturday. The other Saturday matchup features reigning CHA Tournament Champions Bemidji State taking on #3 Robert Morris. The CHA Championship game on Sunday will feature the winners of the two Saturday matches with the Championship winner advancing to the NCAA Tournament with an automatic bid. The game will be televised on CSTV. All games will take place at the KGGO Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals kick off on Saturday with the remaining eight teams in action in single-elimination play. Top seeded Sacred Heart will host #9 American International at the Milford Ice Pavillion. The Pioneers come into the Atlantic Hockey post-season having won five of their last six games and won both of their regular season meetings against Yellowjackets. Senior Jason Smith (NJ), who was recently named to the Frozen Four Skills Challenge East Team, has been superb in goal bringing in a 15-8-3 record and a .906 save percentage into the weekend.

#2 Army will host #7 Bentley College at Tate Rink at West Point. The Black Knights come into post-season play having won three of their last four games, including a split with Sacred Heart. The Falcons come in having won only two games in the month of February. One of their wins came in the regular season finale against RIT. Army won their four-game regular season series versus Bentley 3-1.

#3 UConn will host #6 Mercyhurst at the Freitas Ice Arena in their quarterfinal series. The Huskies are 6-1-1 in their last eight games coming into the weekend, which include February sweeps of Sacred Heart and Holy Cross. The Lakers are coming off of a tie with Canisius and a win over RIT to finish their regular season. In their two-game regular season series, the two teams split.

The conference tournament that may become the most closely watched series will place at the Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs as #4 Air Force hosts #5 Holy Cross. In the two regular season meetings between the two teams, both games ended in identical 2-2 ties.

The Falcons, which are hosting their first-ever home playoff game this season, features the nation’s top scorer in junior Eric Ehn. The Dexter, MI native is making a very strong case for the Hobey Baker Award. He is the only player in the nation coming into the weekend with 60 points (24 goals, 36 points). He also leads the nation in points per game (1.67). Ehn is the first Falcons player in nearly three decades to reach the 60-point mark.

Holy Cross, one of last season’s best feel-good stories after their monumental upset of Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament, come into this weekend on a four-game losing skid. Leading the Crusaders this season is senior James "Bubba" Sixsmith. In January, Sixsmith became Holy Cross’ new career points leader when he broke former Crusader and current San Jose Shark Patrick Rissmiller’s career record of 143. Coming into the weekend, the Alexandria, VA native has 152 career points (48 goals, 104 assists).

Over in the CCHA, the quarterfinals get underway on Friday as the remaining eight teams faceoff in the best-of-three second round action.

#1 Notre Dame will host #11 Alaska at the Joyce Center in a rematch of last year’s CCHA first round series. In the four meetings between the two teams during the regular season, the Fighting Irish swept the Nanooks 4-0.

Notre Dame is 11-3-2 in their 16 games coming into the weekend. The Irish come into CCHA post-season with the nation’s stingiest defense, which is allowing just 1.75 goals per game. Their 63 goals allowed are the second fewest in the nation. Notre Dame also possesses the nation’s best penalty killing unit, with a 90.5 percent efficiency rating. Senior David Brown (PIT), who was recently named to the CCHA All-Conference First Team, has been exceptional in goal all season long. He currently sports a 25-5-3 record that includes five shutouts. His 1.68 goals against average leads the nation while his .927 save percentage is tied for fifth.

Alaska is fresh off of a best-of-three CCHA First Round series win over Western Michigan. Prior to their two wins against Broncos last weekend, the last wins the Nanooks strung together came at the beginning of February against Miami. Junior Wylie Rogers was excellent in goal for Alaska in the first round and the Nanooks will be relying on him to help shutdown the Notre Dame offense. Leading Alaska offensively this season is junior Kyle Greentree. The Victoria, BC native leads or co-leads the Nanooks in virtually all statistical categories including points (41), goals (20), assists (21), power play goals (10) and penalty minutes (70).

#2 Michigan will host #10 Northern Michigan at Yost Ice Arena in a series that features four of the six recently named players to the CCHA All-Conference First Team. In the two regular season meetings between the two teams, each team has won one game.

The high-flying Wolverines come into CCHA post-season after their regular season finale split with Ohio State two weekends ago. Michigan possesses the nation’s top offense that is averaging 4.19 goals per game. Their 151 goals scored also leads the nation. The roster features nine players with 20 or more points. The Wolverines are also the only team with two players with 50 or more points in senior T.J. Hensick (COL) and junior Kevin Porter (PHO). Hensick, along with defensemen Matt Hunwick (BOS) and Jack Johnson (LA) were all recently named to the CCHA All-Conference First Team while Porter was the named to the All-Conference Second Team. Johnson currently ranks third in the nation in scoring among defensemen with 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) while Hunwick ranks tied for 17th with 24 points (five goals, 19 assists).

The Wildcats are coming off a great CCHA first round series win over Ohio State. Prior to last weekend, Northern Michigan posted only two wins in the month of February. The Wildcats are lead by recent CCHA All-Conference First Team selection, junior Mike Santorelli (NSH). He leads NMU in many statistical categories including points (46), goals (29), shots (177) and plus/minus (+7). Of his 29 goals, 14 have come on special teams. His ten power play goals are tied for sixth in the nation, while his four short-handed goals are tied for second. Senior Darin Olver (NYR), who is second on the team in scoring with 33 points, leads the Wildcats with 19 assists.

#3 Miami-OH will host #8 Lake Superior State at the Steve Cady Ice Arena. In the four regular season meetings between the two teams, Miami won three of them by a combined score of 12-7. The two teams last met only a month ago.

The RedHawks come into the CCHA post-season with a 5-2-1 record in the month of February. The line of juniors Nathan Davis (CHI) and Ryan Jones (MIN) and senior Marty Guerin (LA), who all rank as the team’s top three scorers coming into the weekend have accounted for a combined 69 goals (52.7) for Miami (OH) this season. Davis, a candidate for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, leads the team with 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists).

Lake Superior State is coming off of a hard-fought series win over Ferris State in CCHA First Round action last weekend. Freshman Nathan Perkovich (NJ), a recent honorable mention to the CCHA All-Rookie Team, is second on the team with 12 goals and leads all Lakers rookies with 19 points).

#4 Michigan State will host #5 Nebraska-Omaha at Munn Arena. The two last met a month ago in Omaha on Feb. 2 and 3 in their only regular season weekend meeting. The Spartans posted a 5-1 win and a 3-3 tie against the Mavericks.

The defending Mason Cup Champion Michigan State Spartans come into the weekend having lost four of their last five regular season games, with their lone win during that time coming against Bowling Green two weeks ago. The Spartans boasts a lineup that features six players with 20 or more points coming into the weekend, led by sophomore Tim Kennedy (BUF). Kennedy leads MSU with 33 points (13 goals, 21 assists). Junior Bryan Lerg, who is second on the team in scoring with 32 points, leads the Spartans with 21 goals.

The Mavericks are coming off of a sweep of Bowling Green in the CCHA First Round last weekend and are on a five-game winning streak. Senior Scott Parse (LA), who left Saturday’s game about midway through, is expected to play on Friday. The contest will be Parse’s 160th career game and a new school record.

Over in the ECACHL, another best-of-three conference quarterfinals get underway this weekend.

Top-seeded St. Lawrence will host #8 Colgate at Appleton Arena in their first ever home quarterfinals series since the ECACHL went to its current playoff format. In their two regular seasons meetings, the teams split the meetings with each team winning on their respective home ice.

The Saints were one of the nation’s best teams in the second half of the season. Since the start of the 2007 calendar year, St. Lawrence has posted an 11-3-1 record in 15 games. In the prior six games before their 2-4 loss to Princeton in the final regular season game, the Saints held their opponents to one goal in four of those contests. St. Lawrence features six players with 20 or more points coming into the weekend. Amongst them is senior Drew Bagnall (FLA), who leads all Saints defensemen in scoring with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists).

Colgate is coming off a sweep of RPI in the ECACHL First Round last weekend. Junior goaltender Mark Dekanich (NSH) was impressive in the weekend series holding the Engineers to just two goals in series. In addition to breaking his own school of saves in a single season, he also became just the fifth goaltender in the team’s history to record 2,000 or more career saves. He enters the weekend with 2,028 saves.

#2 Clarkson will host #7 Harvard at Cheel Arena. This season marks the first time in five years that the Golden Knights will host an ECACHL quarterfinals series. Clarkson swept both of their regular season meetings with Harvard this year, outscoring the Crimson by a combined score of 9-4.

The Golden Knights enjoyed a strong February performance that saw them go 5-2-1. Clarkson possess the nation’s seventh best offense that is averaging 3.59 goals per game. The team boasts four players with 30 or more points. Junior and team captain Nick Dodge (CAR) leads the team in scoring for the second consecutive year with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists). His 19 goals are tied with fellow junior Shawn Weller (OTT) for first on the team.

The defending ECACHL Playoff Champion Harvard Crimson is coming off of a sweep of Yale in their ECACHL First Round series last weekend. Saturday’s win was Harvard’s 80th ECACHL playoff win and best all time in the conference. Coming into the weekend, the Crimson 4-0-1 in their last five games. Senior and team captain Dylan Reese (NYR), who was recently named to the All-Ivy League First Team, leads the team’s blueliners in scoring with 18 points (nine goals, nine assists).

#3 Dartmouth will host #6 Princeton at Thompson Arena. This season marks the third time in four years that the Big Green have earned a first round bye. In the two meetings between the Ivy League foes this season, Princeton won and tied Dartmouth.

Dartmouth comes into this weekend having only lost once in the month of February (7-0-1). Interestingly, their only loss came against Princeton, when the Tigers handed them a 0-3 loss back on Feb. 10. Junior David Jones (COL), who was recently named the Ivy League Player of the Year by unanimous decision, leads the team with 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists). His 39 points are a new career high. His 31 ECACHL points also led the conference. Of Jones’ 39 points, 18 came on the power play (four goals, 14 assists).

Princeton is coming off of a thrilling ECACHL first round win over Brown last weekend that went the distance. Despite having six players on the roster with 20 or more points, the Tigers have just two players in senior Darroll Powe and junior Lee Jubinville, who have tallied ten or more goals this season. Powe, the lone Princeton player named to the All Ivy-League Team as a Second Team selection, leads the team with12 goals and is second in overall scoring with 27 points. Of Powe’s 12 goals, seven have come on the power play.

#4 Cornell will host #5 Quinnipiac at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, NY. The two teams split their two regular season meetings this year, each winning on their home ice.

The Big Red come into the weekend having lost their final two regular season games versus Ivy League rivals Harvard and Dartmouth. Inconsistency has plagued Cornell for much of the second half and nowhere has that been more evident than in their final five regular season games. In their two losses to end the regular season, the Big Red was outscored by a combined margin of 2-8. In their three previous games before that (all wins), Cornell outscored their opponents by a combined score of 16-5. Three NHL prospects in junior Raymond Sawada (DAL), senior Mark McCutcheon (COL) and freshman Colin Greening (OTT) all co-lead the team with ten goals apiece. They are also the only players on the team have scored ten or more goals coming into the weekend.

The Bobcats are coming off of a sweep of Union College last weekend, outscoring the Dutchmen by a combined score of 8-5. Freshman Brandon Wong, a strong candidate for ECACHL Rookie of the Year, leads the team and the conference in overall scoring with 42 points (25 goals, 17 assists). His 42 points is also tied for second in the nation in rookie scoring going into the weekend.

Hockey East kicks off their 23rd annual Championship Tournament on Thursday with three of the series getting underway.

Top-seeded New Hampshire will host #8 Providence College at the Whittemore Center. The Wildcats and Friars met three times during the regular season, with all three meetings coming within the last month and a half. UNH won the series 2-1.

The Wildcats coming into the Hockey East post-season on a three-game losing streak in which one of their losses came at the hands of Providence back on Feb. 24. Despite being one of the nation’s best offensive teams, UNH was held to just four goals in the last three regular season games. The Wildcats also feature one of the best goaltending tandems in the nation this season in junior Kevin Regan (BOS) and freshman Brian Foster (FLA). The duo has posted a combined record of 23-9-2. Both netminders possess a goals against average of under 2.25 and a save percentage over .930.

The Friars are coming off of a sweep of Merrimack in their regular season finale and bring into this weekend, a season-high three-game winning streak. Scoring has plagued Providence for much of the season, but in their last three games, they have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 16-4. Senior Colin McDonald (EDM) and junior Jon Rheault (PHI) are the only Friars to have tallied ten or more goals coming into the weekend. McDonald leads the team with 13 goals, while Rheault leads the team in overall scoring with 25 points.

#2 Boston College will host #7 Northeastern at Conte Forum. In the three regular season meetings between the two teams, each team has won one game and tied the other.

After struggling to find some consistency for much of the season, the Eagles are heating up at the right time. Boston College comes into the weekend having won six straight games, including a sweep of top-seeded New Hampshire to closeout the regular season last weekend. Sophomore Nathan Gerbe (BUF), the Hockey East Player of the Month for February, has been one of the hottest players in Hockey East of late. He brings a seven-game point streak into the weekend. During that time, he posted 12 points (eight goals, four assists).

Although a rash of injury problems took their toll on the team, the Northeastern Huskies still found a way to get into the post-season thanks to some gutsy efforts and outstanding goaltending. The Huskies are coming off a regular season-ending win over Boston University last Wednesday. One of the biggest reasons behind Northeastern getting into the Hockey East Championship Tournament this year can be attributed to the stellar play of freshman goaltender Brad Thiessen. The Aldergrove, BC native has posted a sparkling 2.32 goals against average and a 9.26 save percentage, despite a record that is four games under .500. His goals against average ranks tied for 20th in the nation, while his save percentage ranks tied for seventh.

#3 Boston University will host #6 Vermont at Agganis Arena in a series that features two of the premiere netminders in the nation. The Terriers and Catamounts have met three times this season, including twice two weekends ago. Vermont won the regular season series 2-1.

The reigning Hockey East Tournament Champions are coming off of a 2-4 loss to Northeastern in their regular season finale last Wednesday. BU comes into the weekend having suffered two straight losses, which were the only ones in the month of February. Senior goaltender John Curry, a potential candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, has been the story for the Terriers this season. Coming into the Hockey East post-season, Curry has posted a 15-7-8 record that includes a co-nation leading six shutouts. His 1.86 goals against average ranks third while his .933 save percentage also leads the nation.

Vermont is coming off of a disappointing loss and tie to UMass-Lowell last weekend that closed their 2006-07 regular season. After a strong January, the Catamounts struggled to find their groove in the month of February, posting just three win in ten games that month. Like his counterpart at BU, junior Joe Fallon (CHI) has been the story for Vermont for much of the season. The Bemidji, MN native comes into the weekend sporting a 16-12-3 record that includes a co-nation leading six shutouts. His 1.82 goals against average ranks second in the nation while his .921 save percentage ranks tied for 11th.

#4 UMass will host #5 Maine at the Mullins in the only Hockey East quarterfinal series to get underway beginning on Friday. This will be the second consecutive weekend that the teams will meet. In the three regular season meetings between the two teams, the Minutemen have won two of the contests, both of which came last weekend.

With their sweep of the Black Bears last weekend, UMass vaulted to fourth place and gained home ice in the Hockey East Championship Tournament for just the second time since joining the conference back in 1994-95. The Minutemen have been very tough at home this season. Of their ten home wins coming into this weekend, eight have come against Hockey East opponents. Sophomore Jon Quick (LA) joins an impressive list of top-flight goaltenders coming out of Hockey East this season. He comes into the weekend with a 16-10-5 record. His 2.22 goals against average currently rank tenth in the nation while his .926 save percentage ranks tied for seventh. Quick is one of two Los Angeles Kings prospects on the UMass roster but will be the only one expected to play this weekend as freshman defenseman Martin Nolet continues to be out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury.

Maine comes into weekend trying to avenge last weekend’s sweep at the hands of UMass. The Black Bears have struggled in the second half after a strong first half of the season. In the month of February, Maine went 5-5-0 in ten games. To compound matters, the Black Bears will be without the services of sophomore starting netminder Ben Bishop (STL) for at least another week due to a groin injury. Seniors Josh Soares and Michel LŽveillŽ lead a very good Maine offense. Soares leads the team in overall scoring with 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) while LŽveillŽ is second with 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists). Soares, a recent selection to the Frozen Four Skills Challenge East Team, also leads the Black Bears in with nine power play goals and three short-handed goals.

The always-tough WCHA get things rolling in their best-of-three first-round matches beginning on Friday.

The top-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers will host #10 Alaska-Anchorage at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers swept the Seawolves in their only two regular season meetings last month up in Anchorage.

The newly crowned MacNaughton Cup Champions are coming off of a split with Michigan Tech last weekend to closeout their regular season. The NHL prospect-rich Gophers come into the weekend with the WCHA’s most potent offense. Nationally, Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation offensively, averaging 3.73 goals per game. Their 138 goals scored ranks third in the nation. All but four regulars on the team have amassed ten or more points thus far. Freshmen Kyle Okposo (NYI) and Jay Barriball (STL) lead the team with 37 and 36 points respectively. Junior Alex Goligoski (PIT) leads the team with 25 assists and ranks second in the nation in scoring among defensemen with 34 points.

The Seawolves ended their regular season two weekends having been swept by Minnesota-Duluth. The month of February saw Alaska-Anchorage struggle mightily, posting just one win and outscored by a combined score of 14-31. The lone victory came back on Feb. 17 against Minnesota State-Mankato. That game also marked a milestone for senior Justin Bourne, who became the school’s new leader in career games played with 144. Bourne currently leads the team in scoring with 30 points (ten goals, 20 assists).

#2 St. Cloud State will host #9 Minnesota-Duluth at the National Hockey Center in a rematch of last season’s WCHA Final Five preliminary game. The Huskies swept all four regular season meetings between the two teams this season and outscored the Bulldogs by a combined score of 19-7.

St. Cloud State is coming off of a disappointing tie and loss to North Dakota last weekend in their regular season finale. Two outstanding NHL prospects on the roster in senior goaltender Bobby Goepfert (PIT) and freshman Andreas Nodl (PHI) have been key cogs in the Huskies success this season. Goepfert, a potential candidate for the WCHA Player and Defensive Player of the Year, has posted a 15-6-7 record coming into this weekend that includes three shutouts. His 2.13 goals against average ranks sixth in the nation while his .930 save percentage ranks fourth. If Goepfert is getting it done defensively for SCSU, then Nodl is doing it on the offensive side. A strong candidate for WCHA Rookie of the Year, Nodl currently ranks tied for second in the nation and leads all WCHA rookies in scoring with 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists). His 1.24 points per game also rank tied for first in the nation among rookies.

Minnesota-Duluth is coming off of a heartbreaking loss and tie to Wisconsin in their regular season finale last weekend. The Bulldogs ended the final month of the regular season at .500, going 3-3-2 in the month. Junior Mason Raymond (VAN) has been the best story coming out of UMD this season. He has the Bulldogs most consistent player all season long and currently leads the team with 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists). His 29 assists are a WCHA-best coming into the weekend. No skater in the WCHA this season meant more to his team on the scoresheet than Raymond did. He accounted for just over 44 percent of all the Bulldogs scoring this season – another WCHA best.

#3 North Dakota will host #8 Minnesota State-Mankato at Ralph Engelstad Arena. In the four regular season meetings between the two teams, the Fighting Sioux won the series 3-0-1. In all four games, either team scored no fewer than four goals.

UND is coming off of a win and tie against St. Cloud State last weekend that ended their regular season. The second half of the season saw the Fighting Sioux play some of their best hockey. Since the beginning of the 2007 calendar year, UND has gone 10-2-4 in 16 games. Help to drive the team’s success is the explosive sophomore line of Ryan Duncan, T.J. Oshie (STL) and Jonathan Toews (CHI). Overall to date, the trio has accounted for 37.5 percent off the team’s offense. Duncan, who is making a strong push for WCHA Player of the Year, also leads both UND and the WCHA in overall scoring with 49 points (27 goals, 22 assists).

Minnesota State-Mankato is coming off of a sweep of Colorado College two weekends ago that ended their regular season. Senior and team co-captain Travis Morin (WSH) has been one of the Mavericks’ pillars of strength this season. He leads the team in scoring with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists). His 132 career points (58 goals, 74 assists) to date ranks third on the school’s career points list in the D-I era. Morin, along with sophomore Jon Kalinski co-lead the team with 17 goals apiece.

#4 Denver will host #7 Wisconsin at Magness Arena in a battle of two teams who have won the three most recent National Championship titles.  In the four regular season meetings between the two teams, Denver won the series 3-1.

Denver is coming off a thrilling regular season finale against archrival Colorado College getting a loss and a comeback tie last weekend. The Pioneers will also be trying to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. Youth has been served in a big way at DU this season. Three of the team’s top four scorers are freshmen. 2007 NHL Draft candidate Brock Trotter leads the Pioneers with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists). Behind Trotter are Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger (TOR) with 35 and 35 points respectively. The lone upperclassman among DU’s top scorers is junior Ryan Dingle. The Steamboat Springs, CO native has picked up right where he left off last season and currently leads the team in both goal scoring (21) and power play goals (9).

The defending National Champions are coming off of a win and tie against Minnesota-Duluth in their regular season finale last weekend. Like last season, senior goaltender Brian Elliott (OTT) has been story coming out of Madison this season. He recently won his second consecutive WCHA goaltending title, despite posting a record that was four games under .500. Elliott became just the 11th goaltender in WCHA history to accomplish feat. His 1.94 goals against average and .930 save percentage in league play were both WCHA-bests. An interesting note about Elliott is the fact that he has posted shutouts against every WCHA team to date except Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State-Mankato. The Badgers recent shutout of the Bulldogs last weekend was with sophomore Shane Connelly in goal.

#5 Colorado College will host #6 Michigan Tech at World Arena in a rematch of the 1994 WCHA First Round Series. In the four regular season meetings between the two teams, Colorado College won the series 2-1-1.

The Tigers are coming off of a thrilling regular season finale versus Denver where they earned a win and a tie and reclaimed the Gold Pan Trophy. Despite having only two players on the roster with 10 or more goals in sophomore Chad Rau (TOR) and junior Scott McCulloch (CHI), the Tigers are still averaging roughly three goals per game on the season coming into the weekend. Rau, along with junior Jimmy Kilpatrick lead the team in overall scoring with 30 points apiece. Highly-regarded 2007 NHL Draft eligible freshman Bill Sweatt has been on fire for the Tigers, posting 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) since returning from the WJC in early January.

Michigan Tech has become one of the WCHA’s best feel-good stories this season. After finishing eighth at the conclusion of the regular season last year, they end up sixth this year. The Huskies are coming off of a split with Minnesota last weekend to closeout their regular season. MTU was excellent in the second half of the season. The Huskies have lost only five times since the start of the 2007 calendar year. All the losses were by two goals or less. A big part behind the team’s success has been their stellar sophomore goaltending tandem of Michael Lee Teslak and Rob Nolan. The two have nearly identical records and have combined to post a record of 16-15-5 with Teslak earning three of the four shutouts. Both players currently sport save percentages around .910 and goals against averages under 2.25.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.

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