2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: Union College top seed at East Regional

By DJ Powers

Chris McCarthy - University of Vermont

Photo: University of Vermont forward Chris McCarthy, a top unsigned NCAA free agent, will lead the Catamounts into the NCAA East Regional in that school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

The NCAA East Regional kicks off the 2014 NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament and takes place on March 28th and 29th at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, CT.

Union College is the top seed in this regional and is joined by Quinnipiac, Providence College and Vermont. The four teams have a combined 13 NHL prospects on their rosters, the fewest of all the regionals.

University of Vermont (4) vs. Union College (1)

Union College and Vermont have some history between them as members of the ECAC before the Catamounts moved to Hockey East after the 2004-05 season.

Union College will be making both their fourth consecutive and overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Vermont will be making their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance and their first since 2010. Union College and Vermont last met on Dec. 29th, 2013 in the Catamount Cup holiday tournament. This year marks the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the two teams.

Union College enters the NCAA Tournament after claiming their third consecutive ECAC Tournament championship, defeating Colgate 5-2. The Dutchmen are just the third team in ECAC history to accomplish the feat and the first since 1977.

Union College is a team that has great balance throughout their forward ranks. Senior Daniel Carr, an All-ECAC First Team selection leads the Dutchmen with 45 points (22 goals, 23 assists) in 35 games to date. He also co-leads the team with a +25.

Junior Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI), Union College’s lone NHL prospect, and senior Mat Bodie anchor the Dutchmen’s defense. Bodie, an All-ECAC First Team selection, currently leads Union College in defensive scoring with 32 points (four goals, 28 assists) in 36 games.

Gostisbehere, the ECAC’s Co-Player of the Year and Best Defensive Defenseman and a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, currently co-leads all NHL defensive prospects with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 38 games to date. He also co-leads the team with a +25.

Junior Colin Stevens, the ECAC Goaltender of the Year, has been stellar between the pipes this season. The Niskayuna, NY native currently sports a 24-4-2 record that includes three shutouts in 32 appearances. Stevens’ .833 winning percentage leads the nation.

Union College is one of only two teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field that ranks in the top five nationally in both offense and defense. The Dutchmen are averaging 3.68 goals per game, which currently ranks second, while allowing an average of 2.08 goals per game which ranks fourth.

Vermont is one of six Hockey East teams to make this year’s NCAA Tournament field, the most of any conference. The Catamounts come into the NCAA Tournament after falling to UMass-Lowell, 2-1, in the Hockey East Tournament quarterfinals on March 16th. Vermont has had a little success against the NCAA Tournament teams that they have faced this season, posting a 4-8-2 record.

The Catamounts feature one of the best lines coming out of Hockey East this season, which featured senior Chris McCarthy and freshman Mario Puskarich. McCarthy, an All-Hockey East Second Team selection and one of the top collegiate free agents still available, currently leads Vermont with 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 37 games to date.

Puskarich, the Hockey East Rookie of the Year, currently ranks fifth nationally in rookie scoring with 35 points, and second in goal-scoring with 19 in 36 games. Puskarich also co-leads the nation with seven game-winners.

The Catamounts strength this season has been on their back end. Junior Michael Paliotta (CHI), an All-Hockey East Team honorable mention, anchors the Vermont defense. The Westport, CT native is in the midst of the best season of his collegiate career, currently leading the Catamounts in defensive scoring with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 37 games.

Sophomore Brody Hoffman and freshman Mike Santaguida have split time in Vermont’s net this season. Interestingly, the two netminders have nearly identical records with each posting 10 wins and seven losses in 19 appearances. Santaguida has two ties and the team’s lone shutout, while Hoffman has one tie.

Two areas where the Catamounts have been especially good this season has been on defense and the penalty kill. Vermont currently is tied for eighth nationally in team defense, allowing an average of 2.27 goals per game. The Catamounts penalty-kill ranks seventh nationally, clicking at an efficiency of 86.5%.

Providence College (3) vs. Quinnipiac University (2)

Quinnipiac will be making their second consecutive, and third overall, appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Providence College will be making their tenth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2001. Quinnipiac and Providence met earlier this season on Nov. 27th. This year marks the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the two teams. This matchup also features two of the nation’s best goaltenders.

Quinnipiac enters the NCAA Tournament after suffering a heartbreaking 3-2, double-overtime loss to Colgate in the ECAC Tournament semi-finals on Mar. 21st. The Bobcats are one of three participants from last year’s Frozen Four to return to the NCAA Tournament this year. Reigning National Champion Yale is the only team that failed to make the 16-team field.

Like Union College, Quinnipiac has great depth throughout their lineup. The Bobcats feature one of the ECAC’s most dynamic top lines in freshman Sam Anas and the Jones twins. Anas, the ECAC’s Co-Rookie of the Year, currently leads the nation in freshman scoring with 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists) in 39 games. Seniors Kellen (EDM) and Connor Jones rank second and tied for third respectively on the team with 42 and 38 points in 39 games so far. Kellen Jones, an All-ECAC Second Team selection, also co-leads the nation with four shorthanded goals.

Junior forward Matthew Peca (TBL) is another offensive threat in the Bobcats' forward ranks. The Petawawa, ON native has produced 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points in 39 games so far this season, a point total that includes a six-point outing vs. St. Lawrence back on March 28th.

Although the Bobcats’ blueline isn’t well known outside of the ECAC, it is one of the best and toughest in the NCAA this season. Senior Zach Tolkinen and freshman Connor Clifton (PHX) are among those that anchor the Quinnipiac defense. Tolkinen currently leads the Bobcats in defensive scoring with 22 points (three goals, 19 assists) in 35 games to date.

Clifton, one of four NHL prospects on Quinnipiac’s roster and their only defensive NHL prospect, has posted nine points (five goals, four assists) in 35 games. He also ranks second on the team in both plus/minus (+18) and penalty minutes (91).

After serving as Eric Hartzell’s (PIT) backup last season, sophomore Michael Garteig has done a terrific job as his successor this season. The Prince George, BC native has logged more minutes than any other goaltender this season, playing 2349:29 minutes so far. Gartieg has played in all 39 games to date, currently sporting a 24-9-6 record that includes six shutouts.

Quinnipiac is the only team in this year’s NCAA Tournament that currently ranks in the top 10 in team offense, team defense, power play and penalty killing. The Bobcats rank fourth nationally in offense, averaging 3.62 goals per game. Their defense ranks second, allowing an average of 1.97 goals per game. Quinnipiac’s power play ranks sixth nationally, currently clicking at an efficiency of 22.7%. The Bobcats are one of two teams in this year’s field whose penalty kill is currently clicking at over 90% and ranks second nationally.

Providence College enters the NCAA Tournament after falling to New Hampshire, 3-1, in the Hockey East Tournament quarterfinals on March 21st. The Friars’ greatest weapon is their team speed, and nowhere is that more evident than on their forward lines led by junior Ross Mauermann and sophomore Mark Jankowski (CGY). Mauermann, Hockey East’s Co-Best Defensive Forward of the Year, leads Providence College in a number of categories including points (34), goals (19) and plus/minus (+21) in 37 games.

Jankowski has continued to build on his solid freshman campaign this season. He has played in all 37 games so far, posting 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists). His 24 points currently ranks third on the team while his 12 goals rank second.

Sophomore John Gilmour (CGY) and freshman Anthony Florentino (BUF) are among those that anchor Providence College’s blueline. Gilmour currently leads the Friars in defensive scoring with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 37 games.

Florentino is in the midst of an outstanding freshman campaign despite missing time earlier in the season due to injury. The West Roxbury, MA native has appeared in 28 games to date, posting 10 points (four goals, six assists). Of his four goals so far, three have come on the power play.

How far Providence College progresses in the NCAA Tournament will largely depend on the goaltending of sophomore Jon Gillies (CGY). After struggling through much of January and February following his stint with Team USA at the 2014 World Junior Championship, Gillies has begun to return to top form at the right time. The South Portland, ME native currently sports an 18-8-5 record that includes three shutouts in 32 appearances to date. Gillies is also the backbone of the Friars excellent defense that currently ranks tenth nationally, allowing an average of 2.30 goals per game.

One area where Providence College has been particularly dangerous this season has been on the penalty kill. The Friars rank third nationally with a penalty kill that is currently clicking at 87%. Furthermore, while their seven shorthanded scored are amongst the most of any team in this year’s NCAA Tournament field.

Should Providence College and Union College meet in the regional final, it will pit Providence College head coach Nate Leaman against his former team. Prior to arriving in Providence in 2011, Leaman served as Union College’s head coach for eight seasons.

If Union College and Quinnipiac advance to the regional title game, it will set up a rematch of last year’s East Regional final where the Bobcats defeated the Dutchmen 5-1.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF