NCAA conference playoffs preview, Part 2

By DJ Powers

NCAA Conference Playoffs Preview (Part 1)



The ECAC concluded the first round of their conference
playoffs this past weekend. The top four teams (Cornell, Harvard, Colgate and
Vermont) had first round byes.


Fifth-seeded Dartmouth had their hands full with 12th-seeded
Yale. The Bulldogs took the Big Green to three games before the series was
decided. Yale forced a third and final game when freshman Will Engasser (PHX) notched his first two career goals, including
the game-winner in the contest. In the third and deciding game, Dartmouth’s
sensational top line of senior Lee
(STL), junior Mike
and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Nick Johnson (PIT) as well as outstanding sophomore defenseman Grant Lewis (ATL) all helped propel the
Big Green to the second round of the conference playoffs with a 5-2 win.


Dartmouth will meet fourth-seeded Vermont in the second
round in a rematch of the Ledyard Bank Holiday Classic Championship game. The
Catamounts, led by freshman sensations goaltender Joe Fallon and forward Torrey
(SJ), were 1-2 versus the Big Green in the three regular seasons
meetings. One of the losses came during the Ledyard Bank tournament. Fallon, a
top candidate for ECAC Rookie of the Year, has been nothing short of phenomenal
this season. He sports a 15-7-4 record that includes five shutouts. Fallon
ranks eighth in the nation in goals against average (1.97). Mitchell, another
potential candidate for ECAC Rookie of the Year, ranks third in the conference
in scoring among rookies with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists).


Sixth seeded Brown swept 11th-seeded RPI in two games.
Talented sophomore Brian Ihnacak

(PIT) and freshman defenseman Paul Baier
(LA) both notched two points in the second and deciding game for the Bears.
Freshman Adam D’Alba has been
brilliant in goal for Brown this season. He stopped 49 of 56 combined shots in
the series to lead the Bears in the sweep over the Engineers.


Brown will meet third-seeded Colgate in the second round of
the conference playoffs. The Raiders swept the Bears in both regular season
meetings. Colgate comes into the post-season with one of the nation’s top
defenses. The Raiders have enjoyed an outstanding season thanks in large part
to senior goaltender Steve Silverthorn.
Silverthorn sports a 21-8-3 record that includes four shutouts. He ranks fifth
in the nation in goals against average (1.84). The performance of the forward
tandem of junior Kyle Wilson (MIN)
and freshman Tyler Burton has also
been key to Colgate’s success this season. Burton, a top candidate for ECAC
Rookie of the Year, leads the Raiders in scoring with 30 points (17 goals, 13
assists). Wilson is currently fifth on the team in scoring with 19 points (five
goals, 14 assists).


Seventh-seeded St. Lawrence had no trouble disposing of
tenth-seeded Princeton in two games. SLU senior Mike McKenna (NSH) was sensational in goal, stopping 43 of 45 shots
along with posting an assist in the two-game series. Junior John Zeiler (PHX) potted four points
(one goal, three assists) to help propel the Saints to victory.


SLU will meet second-seeded Harvard in the second round. The
teams split the two regular season meetings, notching wins on their respective
home rinks. The Crimson enjoyed an outstanding season thanks in large part to
the phenomenal play of senior goaltender Dov
(PHI). He currently leads the nation with a .946 save
percentage and is second with a 1.47 goals against average. SLU will face one
of the nation’s best defensive teams that allowed a paltry 1.83 goals against
during the regular season. Another area where Harvard has excelled this season
has been on the power play. They are tied for fifth in the nation with a 23.1
efficiency rating. Senior Andrew
has been one of Harvard’s biggest surprises this season. He is
enjoying a career year with 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists). The Crimson also boasts one of the best
blueline corps in the nation in seniors Noah
(PIT) and Ryan Lannon

(PIT), junior Peter Hafner (FLA) and
sophomore Dylan Reese (NYR).


In what was perhaps the best first round match-up,
eighth-seeded Union College and ninth-seeded Clarkson needed nearly 10 periods
of play to determine a winner. Freshman Shawn
(OTT), who has struggled to score this season, netted his biggest
goal of the year at the 18:18 mark of overtime to send Clarkson to the second
round of the conference playoffs. Union College got a valiant effort out of
freshman Justin Mrazek (WSH), who
went the distance in all three games. Mrazek stopped 81 of 94 shots combined in
the series.


Clarkson will meet top-seeded Cornell in the second round.
Cornell swept Clarkson in both meetings this season. The Golden Knights will
face the nation’s stingiest defense, top special teams unit and Ivy League
Player of the Year in sophomore goaltender David
. In 29 regular season games this season, the Big Red has allowed just
38 goals against, best in the nation. McKee, a strong candidate for ECAC Player
of the Year, ranks first in the nation in goals against average (1.27) and
shutouts (8) and is second in save percentage (.943). McKee needs just one more
shutout before Cornell’s season ends to break Ken Dryden’s career shutout
record. Senior Mike Knoepfli (TOR)
is the hottest player on the Cornell team going into the post-season. In the
final eight regular season games, Knoepfli posted 12 points (five goals, eight
assists). Sophomore defenseman Ryan
(MON) has blossomed into one of Cornell’s top defensemen, logging
upwards in the neighborhood of 25-30 minutes of ice time per game.




Denver vs. #10 Michigan Tech
– The Pioneers are
coming off of a hard fought split versus in-state rival Colorado College last
weekend. The reigning national champions got a share of the MacNaughton Cup,
awarded to the WCHA regular season champions, in the split. By virtue of outscoring
their Colorado rivals in head-to-head matches, the Pioneers gained the
all-important top seed in the opening round of the conference playoffs. Denver
is coming off of an outstanding regular season led by arguably the nation’s
best blueline tandem of sophomore Matt
(SJ) and junior Brett Skinner
(VAN). The duo ranks second and third respectively in the nation in scoring and
points per game. Carle leads all Pioneers defensemen in scoring with 37 points
(12 goals, 25 assists). Skinner is second with 34 points (4 goals, 30 assists).
His 30 assists lead the nation among defensemen and puts him tied for fifth
overall. The Pioneers bring the second-ranked offense in the nation into the
post-season that is averaging 4.14 goals per game.


Denver will meet tenth-seeded Michigan Tech in the opening
round of the conference playoffs. The Pioneers have won three of the four
regular season meetings. The lone Huskies win came in a 3-0 shutout back on
January 7th in Houghton. MTU is coming off of a weekend series that
saw them get swept by Minnesota. The player to watch on the Huskies roster is
the sensational senior Colin Murphy.
Murphy, a likely finalist for the Hobey Baker award, leads the Huskies with 53
points (11 goals, 42 assists). His 42 assists lead the nation and his 53 points
is tied for second. Senior goaltender Cam
was sensational in the previous meeting between the two teams
back in early January. In the two-game
series, Ellsworth stopped 76 of 77 shots combined and earned WCHA Defensive
Player of the Week honors as well. One area where MTU excels is on the power
play. MTU ranks tied for fifth in the nation in man-advantage situations with a
23.1 percent efficiency rating.


Colorado College vs. #9 St. Cloud State
– The Tigers are
coming off of a crucial split versus archrival Denver last weekend. Despite
losing the top seed, Colorado College did become a co-winner of the MacNaughton
Cup. The Tigers possess the nation’s most explosive offensive duo in juniors Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling (ATL). Both players are favorites for both the Hobey
Baker and WCHA Player of the Year. Sertich leads the nation in scoring with 59
points (24 goals, 35 assists). His linemate, Sterling ranks tied for second in
the nation with 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists). Sterling’s 27 goals also lead
the nation. Senior goaltender Curtis
(CGY) won the WCHA regular season goaltending title with a
conference best 2.09 goals against average. McElhinney, a strong candidate for
WCHA Goaltender of the Year, finished the regular season with a 17-2-1 record.
His .875 winning percentage is the best in the nation. McElhinney’s goaltending
partner, sophomore Matt Zaba (LA),
finishes the regular season with a 9-5-2 record. His .625 winning percentage
ranks tied for 20th in the nation.


Colorado College will meet ninth-seeded St. Cloud State in
the opening round of the conference playoffs, having split the two regular
season meetings with the Huskies. SCSU beat Colorado College 4-3 in overtime
back on February 11th before suffering a 3-0 shutout the next night.
The Huskies are coming off of a tie and loss to North Dakota last weekend. One
area where the Huskies have gotten some outstanding play is from their
blueline. Senior Matt Gens (VAN) is
enjoying the best season of his career since his freshman year. He has played
in all 38 games, scoring 16 points (three goals, ten assists). When Gens wraps
up his collegiate career this spring, he will have etched his name in the St.
Cloud State hockey history books as one of the team’s top five all-time leading
defensemen in scoring. Sophomores Justin
and Casey Borer (CAR)
are also enjoying stellar seasons. Fletcher leads the team’s defensemen in
scoring with 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists). While Borer has yet to notch his
first goal of the season (he currently has ten assists), he has been one of the
Huskies most improved and reliable defensemen this season.


#3 Minnesota vs. #8
Minnesota State-Mankato
– The Golden Gophers are coming off of a convincing
sweep of Michigan Tech last weekend. Senior Justin Johnson has been superb in goal for Minnesota, filling in
for the injured sophomore Kellen Briggs.
Johnson is a perfect 4-0 coming into the post-season. Minnesota possesses the
fifth-best offense in the nation that averages 3.69 goals per game. What is so
remarkable about the statistic is that the team has gotten significant scoring
contributions from nearly all of their skaters. Minnesota has had no trouble
spreading the wealth as 14 players on the roster have points in double digits.
Of those 14, four are defensemen, five if you count junior Andy Sertich’s (PIT) time on the blueline. Junior Tyler Hirsch, who is enjoying a career
year, leads the team in scoring with 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists). The
dynamic duo of sophomores Ryan Potulny

(PHI) and Danny Irmen (MIN) rank
first and second respectively on the team in goal scoring. Potulny leads the
team with 24, followed by Irmen with 20. Potulny also ranks second in the
nation with 14 power play goals.


Minnesota will meet eighth-seeded Minnesota State-Mankato
in the opening round of the conference playoffs, having swept the Mavericks in
all four regular season meetings. Minnesota outscored Minnesota State 23-11 in
the four meetings. The Mavericks are coming off of a sweep of their
Nebraska-Omaha counterparts last weekend. Minnesota State is as great on
offense as they are bad on defense. The Mavericks (along with MTU) have given
up more goals than any other team in the conference. While the defense is
struggling, the offense is not. The ‘awesome twosome’ of sophomores David Backes (STL) and Travis Morin (WSH) rank first and
second respectively on the team in scoring.
Backes leads the team with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists). His
linemate Morin is second with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists). Minnesota State
also has one of the conference’s best defensemen in sophomore Kyle Peto, who leads all Mavericks
defensemen in scoring with 27 points (3 goals, 24 assists). Peto’s 27 points
rank fourth in the conference among defensemen.


#4 Wisconsin vs. #7
– The Badgers are coming off of a disappointing tie and
loss to Minnesota-Duluth last weekend that also saw them lose the third seed in
the conference. After a great start to 2005, the Badgers struggled in the last
nine games of the regular season, going 1-5-3 in that stretch. Wisconsin has
gotten exceptional production from their underclassmen, particular the
sophomores this season. Nearly 45 percent of the Badgers scoring has come from
the sophomore class. Leading the way is the always-exciting Robbie Earl (TOR), who co-leads the
team in points with 38 (17 goals, 21 assists). His linemate, freshman Joe Pavelski (SJ), also has 38 points
(12 goals, 26 assists). Pavelski, a strong candidate for WCHA Rookie of the
Year, has enjoyed an outstanding rookie campaign. His 38 points currently rank
tied for first in the conference and tied for second overall in the nation
among rookies. Wisconsin is one of only two WCHA teams (Colorado College being
the other) that not only rank in the top 15 in the nation on both offense and
defense but on special teams as well. While the Badgers power play has slipped
a bit in recent games, they still have a better than 20 percent efficiency
rating. Equally as good, if not better, is the Badgers penalty kill, which
ranks tied for fourth in the nation at 87.3 percent.


Wisconsin will meet seventh-seeded Alaska-Anchorage for
the second consecutive season in the opening round of the conference playoffs,
having swept the Seawolves in all four regular season meetings. Wisconsin
outscored UAA 17-5 in the four meetings. Alaska-Anchorage is coming off of two
losses to in-state rival Alaska-Fairbanks in the battle for the Governor’s Cup
last weekend. There are few, if any team in the NCAA this season that has lost
more man games due to injury than Alaska-Anchorage. Injuries have absolutely
decimated the Seawolves, so much so that only three players have played in all
34 regular season games. Among them has been freshman defenseman Luke Beaverson (FLA). The imposing
rookie has two points on the season (both assists). What has been remarkable
about the Seawolves this season has been the fact that despite the overwhelming
number of injuries and some off-ice incidents, the team has been able to put
together a very respectable 11-17-3 regular season record. The record is almost
identical to their record last season.


#5 North Dakota vs.
#6 Minnesota-Duluth
– The Fighting Sioux are coming off of a win and tie
versus St. Cloud State last weekend and go into post-season play riding a
modest four-game unbeaten streak. Offense, or lack thereof, has been a big
problem for UND this season. After leading the nation in offense and averaging
nearly four and a half goals per game last season, the Fighting Sioux offense
ranks tied for a dismal 38th in the nation and averaging just 2.75
goals per game this season. Freshman Travis
(NJ) and sophomore Drew
(BUF) are two players who have shouldered much of the team’s
offensive load this season. Both players are tied for second on the team in
scoring with 29 points each. Zajac has been impressive in his rookie campaign
not only offensively but on the defensive side as well. With the departures of
Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski along with the injuries to sophomore Brady Murray (LA), Stafford has been
relied upon heavily for offense and has answered the call. While team offense
has been a concern, the team defense looks very solid. The blueline tandem of
senior Matt Jones (PHX) and junior Matt Greene (EDM) continue to be the
driving forces behind the Fighting Sioux defense.


North Dakota will meet sixth-seeded Minnesota-Duluth in
the opening round of the conference playoffs, having split the two games up at
Duluth back in December. The Bulldogs won the opening game on December 10th
5-1, but fell to the Fighting Sioux the next night 3-4. UMD is coming off a
crucial win and tie versus Wisconsin last weekend and look to be heating up at
the right time. If there’s any team who can feel North Dakota’s offensive pain
this season, it’s Minnesota-Duluth. After averaging 4.11 goals per game last
season, the Bulldogs are averaging just 3.22 goals per game this season. UMD’s
offensive struggles this season have puzzled many in the college hockey
community because of the return of most of last year’s team. Outstanding senior
Evan Schwabe, a potential finalist
for the Hobey Baker award, leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 44 points (19
goals, 22 assists). Fellow senior sniper Marco
is enjoying a career year with 37 points (19 goals, 18 assists).
Freshman Matt McKnight (DAL) has
been impressive in his rookie campaign playing in virtually every situation for
the Bulldogs. He leads all UMD freshmen in scoring with 18 points (5 goals, 13


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