2007 NCAA Tournament Preview

By DJ Powers

You can call it college hockey’s “Sweet Sixteen”. That is how many teams are left still playing in what remains of the 2006-07 season. By Sunday evening, the 16-team field will be narrowed down to the Frozen Four.

The six teams who earned automatic bids this year are Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Alabama-Huntsville (CHA), Notre Dame (CCHA), Clarkson (ECACHL), Boston College (Hockey East) and Minnesota (WCHA). Air Force and UMass are making their first-ever appearances in the NCAA Tournament while Alabama-Huntsville is making their first ever appearance at the D-I level. Hockey East has the most teams represented in the Tournament with five, followed by the CCHA with four, the WCHA with three, the ECACHL with two and one each from Atlantic Hockey and the CHA. Among the notable teams absent from this year’s tournament are Colorado College, Cornell, Denver, Harvard and Wisconsin. Most games will be airing on ESPNU with simulcasts carried through select local or regional outlets.

This year’s NCAA Tournament also features over 100 NHL prospects, with those prospects playing for 14 of the 16 teams taking part.

The following is a closer look at each bracket and the prospects involved in each. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of March 20th. All times listed are Eastern Daylight Time.

EAST REGIONAL
Location: Blue Cross Arena, Rochester, NY
Host: ECAC Hockey League

#1 Clarkson vs. #4 UMass [Game Day/Time: Friday, Mar. 23 at 2:30pm]

This year marks only the third meeting and first-ever meeting in the NCAA Tournament between the two schools. UMass has never lost to Clarkson in their three previous meetings (2-0-1). The most recent meeting between the two teams came earlier this season back on Oct. 14 when they skated to a 3-3 tie in Amherst, MA.

Clarkson: The ECACHL Tournament Champions are making their 19th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 1999. The Golden Knights are coming off a thrilling 4-2 come-from-behind win over Quinnipiac in the ECACHL Tournament Championship game last Saturday. Clarkson brings a 25-8-5 record into the NCAA Tournament. Junior Shawn Weller (OTT) leads the team in scoring with 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists). Junior team captain Nick Dodge (CAR) co-leads the team with 21 assists.

Two keys to the Golden Knights success this season have been a well-balanced offense and superb goaltending from junior David Leggio. Clarkson has the nation’s fifth-best offense and power play. The Golden Knights are averaging 3.58 goals per game while posting a 22.1 percent efficiency rating with the man-advantage. Clarkson features seven players on their roster with 20 or more points. With the exception of sophomore Shea Guthrie (NYI), all of them also have amassed 10 or more goals. Leggio, the ECACHL Goaltender of the Year, has been excellent between the pipes. He currently ranks fifth in the nation in save percentage (.929) and is tied for 11th in goals against average (2.20). One problem that Clarkson had against Quinnipiac in the ECACHL title game was falling behind early. If the Golden Knights play solid games from start to finish and dictate the flow throughout, there is no reason why they cannot emerge as winners of this Regional bracket come Sunday.

UMass: This year marks the debut of the Minutemen in the NCAA Tournament. UMass is coming off of a heartbreaking 3-2 double overtime loss to New Hampshire in the Hockey East Tournament semi-finals last Friday. The team brings a 20-12-5 record into the NCAA Tournament. Senior Chris Capraro leads the Minutemen with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists). Fellow senior Mark Matheson and sophomore Cory Quirk co-lead UMass in goal scoring with 13 apiece.

While the Minutemen have been able to spread out their offensive production this season, they lack that one go-to goal scorer. Only four players on the team have ten or more goals and none have more than 13. Several of the nation’s top goaltenders came out of Hockey East this season, including sophomore sensation Jon Quick (LA). The Hamden, Connecticut native has been a workhorse for UMass this season. He currently is tied for 11th in the nation with a 2.20 goals-against average and is sixth in save percentage (.928). Quick is one of two Los Angeles Kings prospects on the roster but will likely be the only one playing this weekend as freshman defenseman Martin Nolet continues to be sidelined with an injury. How far the Minutemen go in the NCAA Tournament will depend a lot on how well Quick plays and how much offense they can generate. If they can get both, they could emerge victorious from this bracket.

#2 St. Cloud State vs. #3 Maine [Game Day/Time: Friday, Mar. 23 at 6pm]

This year marks the eighth all-time meeting and first ever meeting in the NCAA Tournament between the two schools. In the seven previous meetings between the two teams, Maine has dominated, going 5-1-1 versus St. Cloud State. The Huskies and Black Bears last met in the opening round of the Florida College Hockey Classic holiday tournament back in December of 2004.

St. Cloud State: The Huskies will be making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2003. St. Cloud State is coming off of a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss to Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five third place game last Saturday. The Huskies bring a 22-10-7 record into the NCAAA Tournament. WCHA Rookie of the Year Andreas Nodl (PHI) leads the team as well as co-leads the nation in rookie scoring with 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists). Junior Andrew Gordon (WSH) leads the team in goal scoring with 22.

The man behind much of St. Cloud State’s success this season has been senior goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Goepfert (PIT). The Kings Park, New York native currently is tied for 13th in the nation in goals against average 2.24 and is seventh in save percentage (.927). How far the Huskies go in the NCAA Tournament will depend a lot on the performance of Goepfert. While the Huskies have found a nice balance between steady offensive production and a solid defense, where they could improve is on special teams, specifically penalty killing. The Huskies rank 42nd in the nation on the penalty kill with an efficiency rating of 81 percent. The good news is St. Cloud State is the second least penalized team in the country, averaging just 11.7 penalty minutes per game. If Goepfert can continue to be at the top of his game with the outstanding group that the Huskies have in front of him playing to their strengths, St. Cloud State should have little trouble winning this bracket.

Maine: This year marks the Black Bears’ 17th overall and ninth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Maine comes into the tournament looking to snap a four-game skid. They are coming off a sweep at the hands of UMass in the Hockey East quarterfinals two weeks ago. The Black Bears bring a 21-14-2 record into the NCAA Tournament. Seniors Josh Soares and Michel Leveille co-lead the team in scoring with 41 points apiece.

The good news for Maine is the much-anticipated return of towering sophomore goaltender Ben Bishop (STL). The Des Peres, Missouri native is expected to return to the lineup after having missed the last four games due to injury. His presence will help to get the Black Bears back on track. While Maine has always been known for their excellent team defense, this season they have been getting it done on offense as well. The Black Bears have the nation’s 11th-ranked offense that is averaging 3.35 goals per game. They have eight players on the roster with 20 or more points, including three with 40 or more. Hockey East Rookie of the Year Teddy Purcell will be one player to watch. He leads the team with 24 assists and five game-winning tallies. If Maine can get things turned around, with the talent depth that they possess at all positions there is no reason why they cannot emerge victorious from this bracket and return to the Frozen Four this season.

NORTHEAST REGIONAL
Location: Verizon Wireless Center, Manchester, NH
Host: University of New Hampshire

#1 New Hampshire vs. #4 Miami [Game Day/Time: Saturday, Mar. 24 at 1pm]

While this year marks the sixth all-time meeting between the two teams, this will be the first time that New Hampshire and Miami have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats hold a 4-2 record over the RedHawks, having won the last four meetings. New Hampshire and Miami last met in 2003.

New Hampshire: The Hockey East regular season champions will be making their 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. New Hampshire is coming off of a 5-2 loss to Boston College in the Hockey East Championship game last Saturday. They bring a 26-10-2 record into the tournament. Sophomore Trevor Smith leads the team in both points (43) and goal scoring (21). Junior goaltender Kevin Regan (BOS), the backbone of a very good New Hampshire defense, leads the nation with a .936 save percentage.

New Hampshire sports the nation’s fifth best offense, averaging 3.63 goals per game. They have eight players on their roster with 20 or more points. The offensively deep Wildcats may have to continue to do without the services of senior Brett Hemingway (COL). The Surrey, British Columbia native missed the Hockey East Championship Tournament due to illness. He is currently listed as day-to-day. How far the Wildcats will go will partially depend upon the performance of Regan. He has given New Hampshire some excellent goaltending this season, including back-to-back shutouts over Providence in the Hockey East quarterfinals. In his three most recent losses, however, he has surrendered four or more goals, including seven against Providence last month. If Regan can continue to be at the top of his game with the plethora of top-flight players that the team has, the Wildcats could emerge victorious from this bracket.

Miami: The RedHawks will be making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Miami comes into the tournament after having lost to Lake Superior State in the CCHA quarterfinals two weeks ago. They bring a 23-13-4 record into the tournament. Junior and Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Davis (CHI) leads the team in scoring with 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists). Fellow junior Ryan Jones (MIN) leads Miami in goal scoring with 28. The RedHawks top line of Davis, Jones and senior Marty Guerin (LA) have accounted for just over 45 percent of the team’s scoring this season.

One problem that plagued the RedHawks in recent games has been their inability to score. In their four most recent games, Miami has scored a combined seven goals, including being held to just two goals versus Lake Superior State in the CCHA quarterfinals. The RedHawks possess an outstanding goaltending tandem in sophomore Jeff Zatkoff (LA) and junior Charlie Effinger as well as a rock solid defensive corps. They also have four very good lines that could generate some significant offense, but will need players other than Davis, Jones and Guerin to increase production if they want to move on in the NCAA Tournament. Miami has great depth at all positions and if they can get their offensive production going again, they could conceivably win this bracket.

#2 Boston College vs. #3 St. Lawrence [Game Day/Time: Saturday, Mar. 24 at 4:30pm]

This year marks the fourth all-time meeting between the two teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles hold a 2-1 record over the Saints, having won the last two contests. The last meeting between Boston College and St. Lawrence took place in the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
 
Boston College: The Hockey East Tournament champions will be making their 27th NCAA Tournament appearance, the third most in the nation. Boston College comes into the NCAA Tournament as the hottest team in the nation. They are a perfect 10-0-0 in their last ten games and are coming off of a 5-2 win over New Hampshire in the Hockey East Championship game last Saturday. The Eagles bring a 26-11-1 record into the tournament. Senior Brian Boyle (LA) leads the team with 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists), while sophomore Nathan Gerbe (BUF) leads the team in goal scoring (23).

One of the keys behind Boston College’s recent success has been their ability to generate a tremendous amount of offense. In their current 10-game unbeaten streak, the Eagles have scored no fewer than three goals, while holding their opponents to two goals or less in eight of the ten games. Junior Cory Schneider (VAN) has been sensational between the pipes. His 2.19 goals against average, .923 save percentage and five shutouts all rank in the top ten in the nation. During the Hockey East Championship Tournament, Boyle was moved back to play on defense, in part due to the injuries of two defensemen – sophomore Anthony Aiello (MIN) and freshman Carl Sneep (PIT). Both players are listed as week-to-week. If Boston College can continue on their current tear, the Eagles will almost certainly be making a return to the Frozen Four.

St. Lawrence: The ECACHL regular season champions will be making their 16th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This is the Saints first appearance since 2001. St. Lawrence is coming off of a 5-3 win over Dartmouth in the ECACHL Championship Tournament consolation game last Saturday. They bring a 23-13-2 record into the NCAA Tournament. Senior Kyle Rank leads the Saints in scoring with 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists). Senior defenseman and Hobey Baker finalist Drew Bagnall (FLA) anchors a very good St. Lawrence defensive unit.

St. Lawrence boasts an outstanding, hard working group of players that can shutdown an opponent on any given night. What they lack, however, is a top-flight goal scorer. While the Saints have six players with 20 or more points, Rank is one of just three players on the roster that have amassed ten or more goals this season. Making offensive matters even worse is their anemic power play, which ranks 38th in the nation overall and 15th among the 16-team NCAA Tournament field. Only Boston University has a worse power play. Among the players that St. Lawrence will be counting on for offense is a pair of superb underclassmen in sophomore Kevin DeVergilio and freshman Mike McKenzie. If the Saints can generate some consistent offense and get their power play clicking, they could wind up winning this bracket.

MIDWEST REGIONAL
Location: Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI
Host: Western Michigan University

#1 Notre Dame vs. #4 Alabama-Huntsville [Game Day/Time: Friday, Mar. 23 at 5pm]

This year marks the 16th meeting all-time between the two teams and their first ever meeting in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame holds a slight 8-7-1 advantage over Alabama-Huntsville all time. The Fighting Irish and the Changers last met back in November of 1990.

Notre Dame: The CCHA Mason Cup Champions will be making just their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament this year. Their only previous appearance came back in 2004. The Fighting Irish are coming off of a 2-1 win over Michigan in the CCHA Championship game last Saturday. Notre Dame brings the nation’s best record into the NCAA Tournament (31-6-3). Sophomore Erik Condra (OTT) leads the team in scoring with 47 points (14 goals, 33 assists). Senior goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist David Brown (PIT) leads the nation in wins (29) and goals against average (1.58).

Notre Dame possesses the nation’s stingiest defense. Their top-ranked defense has allowed an average of just 1.65 goals per game this season. The Irish also have the nation’s top penalty-killing unit with a 91.0 percent efficiency rating. While Notre Dame is most noted for their tight defense, their offense has also been excellent. They have the fifth best offense among the 16-team NCAA Tournament field, averaging 3.48 goals per game. Junior Mark Van Guilder and CCHA All-Rookie Team selection Ryan Thang co-lead the team with 18 goals apiece. Notre Dame has eight players on their roster with 20 or more points, six of whom have posted ten or more goals. The only thing that could stand in the way of the Fighting Irish emerging from this bracket as victors is if they fail to respect their opponents by taking them too lightly, something that most feel won’t be a problem.

Alabama-Huntsville: The CHA Champions will be making their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament since becoming a D-I program. The Chargers have enjoyed tremendous tournament success, including a National Championship at the D-II level. Alabama-Huntsville is coming off of a thrilling 5-4 comeback overtime win over Robert Morris in the CHA Championship game two weekends ago. They bring a 13-19-3 record into the NCAA Tournament. Senior David Nimmo leads the team with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) while fellow senior Grant Selinger leads the Chargers in goal scoring (17).

The “comeback kids” of Alabama-Huntsville face an uphill battle against Notre Dame. While the Chargers do have very good offense-generating capabilities, it will be on the defensive side that the team could struggle. They are tied for 55th overall in the nation in team defense, allowing an average of just under four goals per game (3.83). In addition, they are the most penalized of all the NCAA Tournament participants this year, averaging 21.2 penalty minutes per game. If the Chargers expect to continue their Cinderella run this season, they will have to generate scoring early, play sound, consistent defense and avoid taking unnecessary penalties. If Alabama-Huntsville can do all of that, it will greatly improve their chances of pulling off another remarkable and perhaps greatest upset of this year’s post-season.

#2 Boston University vs. #3 Michigan State [Game Day/Time: Friday, Mar. 23 at 8:30pm]

This year marks the seventh meeting all-time between the two teams in the NCAA Tournament. Boston University and Michigan State have split their six previous NCAA Tournament meetings with each winning three games. The Terriers and the Spartans last met in the tournament back in 1992. This match also features two of the nation’s winningest coaches in college hockey history. Boston University’s Jack Parker and Michigan State’s Rick Comley have over 1,400 career wins between them.

Boston University: The Terriers will be making their 30th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, which is tied for second most all-time. Boston University is coming off of a 6-2 loss to arch rival Boston College in the Hockey East Championship Tournament semi-finals last weekend. They bring a 20-9-9 record into the tournament. Junior Peter MacArthur leads the team in scoring with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists). Senior goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist John Curry is one of only two goaltenders in the nation whose goals against average (1.92) and save percentage (.931) both rank in the top three in the nation.

The Terriers have been somewhat of an enigma this season, particularly where offense is concerned. For a team that features an outstanding group of highly skilled forwards and defensemen, they have only three players on their roster that have amassed ten or more goals this season. Making matters worse is the team’s horrendous power play. Of the 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament, Boston University has the worst power play among them. The power play has an efficiency rating of just over 16 percent. While the Terriers have struggled offensively, defense has been their strength. They possess the nation’s second best defense, allowing an average of 1.92 goals per game. The Terriers penalty killing has also been quite good with an efficiency rating of 86.0 percent. If Boston University can find a way to generate a lot more offense, they could conceivably win this bracket.

Michigan State: This year marks the 25th appearance by the Spartans in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is coming off of a 7-6 overtime win over Lake Superior State in the CCHA Championship Tournament third place game last weekend. The Spartans bring a 22-13-3 record into the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore Tim Kennedy (BUF) leads the team with 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) while junior Bryan Lerg leads the team in goal scoring with 23. He also leads the nation with eight game-winning goals.

One group of players to watch is the recently reunited sophomore line of Kennedy, Justin Abdelkader (DET) and Tim Crowder (PIT). The trio has accounted for 28 percent of the Spartans scoring this season. Consistency has been Michigan State greatest weakness this year. If they are to emerge victorious out of this bracket, the Spartans will need to have a consistent team performance for the duration of each game. One area where the lack of consistency has been reflected has been in goal. Diminutive sophomore Jeff Lerg was sensational between the pipes last year for the green and white, but has struggled to repeat that performance consistently this year. If Lerg is on top of his game and the Spartans give a consistent effort from beginning to end coupled with the excellent talent depth that they have, then there’s no reason why they cannot win this bracket.
 
WEST REGIONAL
Location: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
Host: University of Denver

#1 Minnesota vs. #4 Air Force [Game Day/Time: Saturday, Mar. 24 at 3:30pm]

Minnesota and Air Force meet for the very first time in head-to-head competition in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Both teams feature some excellent offensive talent. This will be the second year in a row that Minnesota will face an opponent out of the Atlantic Hockey conference in their opening round contest.

Minnesota: The WCHA regular season and Final Five Champions will be making their NCAA-record 31st appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This is also their seventh in a row. The Golden Gophers are coming off of a 3-2 overtime win over arch rival North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five Championship game last Saturday. Minnesota brings a 30-9-3 record into the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Jay Barriball (STL) leads the team with 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists), while fellow freshman Kyle Okposo (NYI) leads the team with 19 goals.

Minnesota brings one of the nation’s most balanced scoring teams into the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Gophers have eight players on their roster with 20 or more points. With the exception of their goaltenders, only defensemen R.J. Anderson (PHI) and David Fischer (MON) are without a goal so far. While the Golden Gophers are known for their great offense, they have been almost equally as good on defense, allowing an average of 2.26 goals per game. The keys for Minnesota to emerge victorious from this bracket is to not look beyond their immediate opponent and to stifle their opposition’s top players, two areas that contributed to their downfall last year. While some believe that the Golden Gophers’ youth and inexperience can be a hindrance, particularly in single-game elimination, the team has actually used those attributes to their advantage.

Air Force: The Atlantic Hockey Tournament Champions will be making their NCAA Tournament debut this year. This also marks their inaugural season in Atlantic Hockey after moving from the CHA. The Falcons are coming off of a resounding 6-1 win over their service academy counterpart Army in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament Championship game last Saturday. Air Force brings a 19-15-5 record into the NCAA Tournament. Junior and Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn leads the team in scoring with 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists). His 64 points and 1.64 points per game both rank second in the nation.

How far Air Force goes in the NCAA Tournament will depend partly on how well their outstanding top line of Ehn, sophomore Mike Phillipich and senior Andrew Ramsey fares. The trio has accounted for 42 percent of the Falcons scoring this season. Air Force comes into the NCAA Tournament averaging 3.31 goals per game, which ranks 14th in the nation. With the many weapons that Minnesota possesses, the Falcons will face the daunting task of trying to shut down as many of them as possible and will need some solid, consistent defensive play to do so. One area where Air Force has been particularly good is in their discipline. They are one of the least penalized teams in the nation, averaging just 13.5 penalty minutes per game. Only four other teams in the NCAA Tournament this year have fewer penalties. If Air Force’s top line can continue at their scoring pace and the team is able to play to their strengths, they could potentially pull off a monumental upset.

#2 Michigan vs. #3 North Dakota [Game Day/Time: Saturday, Mar. 24 at 7:30pm]

Many college hockey followers believe the West Regional bracket to be the toughest of the four this year. This marquee matchup between two of the nation’s most successful programs will certainly back up that argument. This is the second consecutive year that these two teams have met one another in the same regional bracket. Overall, this will be the third-ever meeting between Michigan and North Dakota in the NCAA Tournament, with each team winning one game in their previous two meetings. The contest also features a combined 22 NHL prospects, the most of any opening round matchup.

Michigan: The Wolverines will be making their 30th overall and their NCAA-record 17th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan is coming off of a 2-1 loss to Notre Dame in the CCHA Mason Cup Championship game last Saturday. The Wolverines bring a 26-13-1 record into the NCAA Tournament. Senior and Hobey Baker finalist T.J. Hensick leads both the team and the nation in scoring with 66 points (21 goals, 45 assists). Junior Kevin Porter (PHX) and sophomore Andrew Cogliano (EDM) co-lead Michigan in goal scoring with 23 apiece.

The Wolverines possess the nation’s most prolific offense. Michigan is the only team in the country that is averaging over four goals per game (4.22). They have nine players on the roster with 20 or more points, including four with 40 or more points. In addition, the Wolverines lead the nation with 14 shorthanded goals. Seven of those 14 short-handed tallies have come courtesy of junior Chad Kolarik (PHX). One area that could potentially become a problem for the Wolverines could be on the defensive side. Michigan has given up almost as many goals as they have scored. Of the 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament, only Alabama-Huntsville has surrendered more goals than the Wolverines have. Michigan has allowed 121 goals (3.02 per game) coming into the tournament. If the team can somehow bring down the number of goals they allow and continue scoring at the rate that they have been, they could very well emerge out of this bracket as the victors.

North Dakota: This year marks the 22nd appearance by the Fighting Sioux in the NCAA Tournament. North Dakota is coming off of a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to arch rival Minnesota in the WCHA Final Five Championship game last Saturday. The Fighting Sioux bring a 22-13-5 record into the tournament. Sophomore and Hobey Baker finalist Ryan Duncan leads the team in scoring with 53 points (30 goals, 23 assists). His 30 goals and 17 power-play goals both rank second in the nation.

North Dakota comes into the NCAA Tournament playing arguably their best hockey season of the season. The Fighting Sioux have just two losses in their last 19 games, both of which were by one goal in overtime. Like Michigan and Minnesota in this bracket, North Dakota has no shortage of elite talent that can provide offensive production. The sophomore trio known as the “DOT” line is one that all eyes will be on. Along with Duncan, the line is comprised of Jonathan Toews (CHI) and T.J. Oshie (STL). The trio has accounted for 37 percent of the team’s scoring coming into the weekend. One key behind the Fighting Sioux’s success, particularly in the second half, has been the brilliant performance of junior goaltender Philippe Lamoureux. The Grand Forks, North Dakota native struggled to put together four wins in the first half, but has since posted 15 wins. If Lamoureux can continue his excellence in goal, North Dakota could find themselves earning a third trip to the Frozen Four in as many years.

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