The 16-team field for the 2016 NCAA Tournament features 92 NHL prospects representing 29 of the 30 NHL teams. The Detroit Red Wings are the only NHL team that does not have at least one prospect playing in the tournament.
All of the participating teams in this year’s tournament except RIT have at least one NHL prospect on their rosters (although not all may play). It is important to note here that three NHL prospects have not been included due to either season-ending injuries or not having seen action this season.
The six teams that have earned the automatic bids into the tournament are: RIT (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan (Big Ten), Quinnipiac (ECAC), Northeastern (Hockey East), St. Cloud State (NCHC) and Ferris State (WCHA).
The top seeds in each regional are: North Dakota (Midwest), Providence College (Northeast), St. Cloud State (West), and Quinnipiac (East), with the Bobcats also earning the top overall seed in this year’s tournament.
The following is the first of four previews of the four tournament brackets. Parts one and two look at the Midwest and Northeast regionals that begin on Friday, Mar. 25th and conclude on Saturday, Mar. 26th. The winners of each regional will advance to the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four on Apr. 7th at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.
Venue: US Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH
Championship game: March 26 at 6:00 PM EDT on ESPN2
#4 Northeastern University vs. #1 University of North Dakota
TV: ESPNU at 2:00 PM EDT
This year marks the second time, and the first since 1982, that North Dakota and Northeastern have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Fighting Hawks and the Huskies last met on Oct. 20th, 2007.
North Dakota will be making their 14th consecutive and 27th overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The Fighting Hawks, the NCHC regular season champions, are coming off of a 1-1 tie with Denver in the NCHC Tournament’s third place game last weekend.
Leading North Dakota up front is the potent “CBS” line of NCHC Rookie of the Year Brock Boeser (VAN), sophomore Nick Schmaltz (CHI) and senior Drake Caggiula. The trio has accounted for 36 percent of the team’s offense so far. Boeser currently leads the Fighting Hawks with 51 points (25 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games. Caggiula ranks second on the team with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 35 games, and also leads the NCAA with an astounding +39 rating. Schmaltz leads North Dakota with 32 assists and ranks third with 43 points in 33 games.
One of the keys to the Fighting Hawks success this season can be attributed to the stellar play of sophomore goaltender Cam Johnson. The Flint, MI native sports a 20-4-2 record that includes five shutouts in 30 appearances. His 1.64 goals-against average currently ranks second nationally, while his .935 save percentage ranks seventh. Johnson was recently named one of the finalists for the Mike Richter Award and earned a spot on the All-NCHC Second Team.
One of North Dakota’s strengths this season has been their excellent skating and stifling defense, which currently ranks third nationally, having allowed an average of 1.85 goals per game. Anchoring the Fighting Hawks defense is junior captain Gage Ausmus (SJS). The shutdown rearguard from East Grand Forks, MN has posted nine points (all assists) in 38 games. Ausmus is one of the nation’s top shot-blockers; his 81 blocks currently rank second amongst all NCHC defensemen and is tied for 11th nationally.
Northeastern will be making their fifth overall NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2009. After a dismal start to the season, the Huskies have become the hottest team heading into the NCAA Tournament, currently riding a school-record 13-game winning streak. The Huskies edged Boston College and UMass-Lowell respectively en route to claiming their first Hockey East Tournament championship since 1988.
A big reason behind Northeastern’s turnaround has been the stepped up play of freshman netminder Ryan Ruck. The Coto de Caza, CA native has played in 36 games to date, posting a 20-10-4 record that includes two shutouts.
The Huskies defensive corps is an excellent group anchored by stalwart junior Matt Benning (BOS). The St. Albert, AB native has played in all 40 games, posting 18 points (five goals, 13 assists).
One area where Northeastern matches up well with North Dakota is in their depth up front. Among those leading the Huskies offensive charge are senior captain Kevin Roy (ANA) and freshman Adam Gaudette (VAN).
Roy missed 12 games earlier in the season due to injury and his return has been a huge boost for the Huskies. The Lac-Beauport, QC native has played in 28 games to date, amassing 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists).
Gaudette is coming off of a terrific performance in the Hockey East Tournament where he posted five points (three goals, two assists) this past weekend. Overall, he leads all Northeastern freshmen with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 40 games.