NCAA Tournament: #1 Quinnipiac and #4 Notre Dame head Saturday’s regional matches

By DJ Powers

Anders Lee - University of Notre Dame

Photo: Notre Dame forward and New York Islanders prospect Anders Lee is the top offensive player for the Fighting Irish (courtesy of Tim G. Zechar / Icon SMI)

The NCAA Hockey Tournament gets underway today, with 16 teams competing to whittle the number down to the four schools that will take part in the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four Championship taking place in April.

HF previewed the Northeast and West regional matches yesterday, with this article previewing the Midwest and East regionals that take place on Saturday.

Midwest Regional
[Huntington Center, Toledo, OH]

#1 University of Notre Dame vs. #4 St. Cloud State University

The Fighting Irish will be making their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2011. The Huskies will be making their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2010. Notre Dame and St. Cloud State haven’t faced one another much over the years and this marks the first meeting between Notre Dame and St. Cloud State in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams last met in Oct., 1997.

Notre Dame comes into the tournament after claiming the CCHA’s 42nd and final tournament championship with a victory over Michigan on Sunday. The Fighting Irish are currently one of the hottest teams in the nation, riding a nine-game undefeated streak (7-0-2).

Part of what has made Notre Dame so successful in February and March has been the re-emergence of junior netminder Steven Summerhays. After a strong start, the Anchorage, AK native struggled mightily in January before finding his groove again in the following two months. To date, Summerhays has posted a 21-11-2 record that includes four shutouts. In the Fighting Irish’s last nine games Summerhays has allowed three goals in just three of them.

Another key to Notre Dame’s recent success is the production of their sensational all-junior line of Anders Lee (NYI), Bryan Rust (PIT) and Jeff Costello (OTT). Since coming together on Feb. 23, the trio has combined for 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists). Not surprisingly, the trio also comprises the Fighting Irish’s top three scorers, posting 38, 30 and 33 points, respectively. If the Costello-Lee-Rust line isn’t enough for St. Cloud State to contend with, there is also junior T.J. Tynan (CBJ). While the Orland Park, IL native’s numbers may be down from his previous two seasons, he continues to be a threat whenever he’s on the ice. To date, Tynan has posted 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists).

Depth on the Notre Dame roster isn’t limited to their forward lines. The Fighting Irish are also very deep on the blueline. Sophomore Robbie Russo (NYI) and junior Stephen Johns (CHI) anchor Notre Dame’s defense. Russo leads all Fighting Irish defensemen with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists). The hard-hitting Johns has posted 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) and leads the team with 60 penalty minutes.

St. Cloud State enters the tournament after falling to Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five semi-final last Friday. Earlier, the Huskies claimed a share of the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular season champions. It marked the first time that St. Cloud State has achieved the feat.

One of the keys to the Huskies’ success this season has been their disciplined play, and it’s an area that could pose a challenge for Notre Dame. St. Cloud State gives up few power play opportunities because they are the least penalized team in the nation, averaging just over eight minutes per game.

Another attribute that has made the Huskies successful this season is their high-powered offense. Senior co-captain Drew Leblanc leads St. Cloud State’s outstanding group of forwards. Leblanc has become one of the nation’s best individual stories this season. After a season-ending injury limited him to just 10 games and 12 points last season, Leblanc has emerged as one of the nation’s top point producers and best playmakers this season. The WCHA Player of the Year and top ten Hobey Baker Award finalist currently leads the nation with 37 assists and is tied for fifth with 50 points in 39 games to date.

WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Nick Jensen (DET) anchors the Huskies blueline. The Rogers, MN native has become one of the nation’s top offensive defensemen. He leads all St. Cloud State rearguards and current NHL defensive prospects with 30 points (four goals, 26 assists). His 26 assists are the most of any defensemen in the NCAA Tournament. And, depending on how far the Huskies go in the tournament, Jensen could potentially tie Bret Hedican’s school record for most assists in a season by a defenseman. Hedican set the record with 30 in the 1990-91 season.

Sophomore Ryan Faragher has been rock solid between St. Cloud State’s pipes this season. He has posted a 22-13-1 record that includes three shutouts so far this season.

#2 Miami University vs. #3 Minnesota State University-Mankato

The RedHawks will be making their 11th overall and eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mavericks will be making just their second appearance and first since 2003. Like their regional counterparts, these two teams haven’t faced each other much over the years and this year marks the first meeting between the two teams in the NCAA tournament. Miami and Minnesota State-Mankato last faced one another on Dec. 30, 2004 in the Ohio Hockey Classic tournament.

Miami enters the NCAA Tournament after falling to Michigan in the CCHA semi-final last Saturday. Earlier, the RedHawks claimed the conference’s final regular season title.

Superb goaltending and a stingy defense have become hallmarks of Miami hockey, and they are areas that will pose a great test to Minnesota State-Mankato. The RedHawks have allowed an average of 1.73 goals per game and a total of 69 goals to date, both of which rank second only to Quinnipiac nationally. The cogs behind those numbers are Miami’s freshman goaltending tandem of Ryan McKay and Jay Williams. Both have split time in net this season, each having won 12 games. The tandem also sports goals-against averages below 1.95 and save percentages over .920.

McKay and Williams have also gotten strong support from the defensive corps. Senior Steven Spinell anchors the Miami defense. The rugged, stay-at-home rearguard has posted 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) to date. This season marks the first since 2006-07 that Miami does not have an NHL-drafted defenseman on their roster.

Another area that will test Minnesota State-Mankato is the RedHawks’ exceedingly fast forwards, most notably freshman phenom Riley Barber (WSH) and dynamic sophomore Austin Czarnik. The duo, along with senior Curtis McKenzie (DAL), comprise one of the nation’s most lethal and consistent lines. Barber, the CCHA Rookie of the Year, currently co-leads the nation in rookie scoring with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists). His 15 goals also lead Miami. Czarnik, the CCHA Player of the Year and a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, has been the motor that has driven the RedHawks offense all season. He is tied with Barber with 38 points and leads the team with 24 assists. Although Czarnik is no longer eligible for the NHL Draft, he continues to garner considerable NHL interest as an available free agent.

Minnesota State-Mankato has become one of the best stories coming out of the WCHA this season. The Mavericks’ success can be attributed to a combination of more disciplined play, a stronger defensive game, and offensive production throughout their lineup. One notable area where the team has been particularly dangerous this season and one that will pose a challenge for Miami, is their vastly improved power-play. The Mavericks possess the nation’s fourth-best power play that is clicking at just over 23 percent. And among the participants in this year’s NCAA Tournament, only Minnesota has a better power play.

Unlike the other WCHA teams in this year’s tournament, Minnesota State-Mankato doesn’t possess many NHL prospects on their roster. In fact, they only have two, including freshman Teddy Blueger (PIT). The Riga, Latvia native currently co-leads the Mavericks in rookie scoring with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists). One of Blueger’s current linemates is senior power forward Eriah Hayes. Hayes, who has steadily attracted lots of NHL interest, leads Minnesota State-Mankato with 20 goals and is second on the team with 36 points. Where he’s been especially dangerous this season has been on the Mavericks’ power play, where 13 of his goals have been scored. Hayes’ 13 power-play goals are also the most of any player in the NCAA Tournament.

Sophomore Zach Palmquist is among those anchoring the Minnesota State-Mankato on defense. The South St. Paul, MN native leads all Mavericks defensemen with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists).

Freshman goaltender Stephon Williams has been the backbone of Minnesota State-Mankato’s outstanding defense this season and was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year. He comes into the tournament with a 21-11-2 record that includes four shutouts. As a 1993-born player, Williams is also eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.

East Regional
[Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI]

#1 Quinnipiac University vs. #4 Canisius College

The Bobcats will be making just their second NCAA Tournament appearance and first as a member of the ECAC. Quinnipiac’s last tournament appearance came in 2002 as a member of the MAAC conference (now Atlantic Hockey). The Golden Griffins will be making their first-ever tournament appearance. Quinnipiac and Canisius are quite familiar with one another having met numerous times over the years, especially during Quinnipiac’s time in the MAAC. The two teams last met in October 2011.

Quinnipiac has been one of the best stories to emerge this season, not only from the ECAC but also from the NCAA. They enter the tournament after shutting out Yale in the ECAC tournament consolation game last Saturday. Earlier, the Bobcats claimed their first ECAC regular season title. Quinnipiac’s success this season can be attributed in part to their stingy defense, which will present quite a challenge to Canisius. The Bobcats currently sport the nation’s top defense that has allowed an average of 1.62 goals per game. The 63 total goals allowed to date are the fewest allowed in the nation.

The man behind those stellar numbers is senior Eric Hartzell, who was named the ECAC Player of the Year and a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. The White Bear Lake, MN native currently sports a 27-6-5 record that includes five shutouts. His 27 wins lead the nation, while his .776 winning percentage ranks second. Hartzell’s most remarkable stat of all is the fact that he has allowed three or more goals in just six games so far this season.

Hartzell has also gotten tremendous support from his defensive corps. Seniors Loren Barron and Mike Dalhuisen anchor Quinnipiac’s defense. Barron and Dalhuisen lead the Bobcats in defensive scoring with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Another area that has greatly contributed to Quinnipiac’s success has been their scoring depth up front. Seniors Jordan Samuels-Thomas (WPG) and Jeremy Langlois lead the Bobcats offensive attack. Langlois, an All-ECAC Third Team selection, leads the team with 18 assists and 30 points. Samuels-Thomas leads Quinnipiac with 14 goals. The Bobcats’ exciting top line of juniors Connor Jones and Kellen Jones (EDM), and sophomore Matthew Peca (TBL) have also been key contributors, accounting for 23 percent of the team’s total points.

Canisius makes their NCAA Tournament debut after soundly defeating Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey tournament championship game last Saturday. The Golden Griffins are just one of two teams in this year’s tournament (Niagara is the other) that do not have an NHL prospect on their roster. And while Canisius may not have a talent-laden lineup, they are a hard-working, tight-checking team that has gotten it done collectively.

The Golden Griffins come into the tournament as the hottest team in the nation, riding an eight-game winning streak. One notable area where Canisius has greatly improved and match up particularly well with Quinnipiac is on the penalty kill. The two teams have the nation’s top penalty-killing units, with both clicking at over 90 percent.

The biggest challenge that the Bobcats will face is trying to solve junior netminder Tony Capobianco. No goaltender in the tournament has played more minutes or has faced more shots this season than Capobianco. The Mississauga, ON native has played in all of Canisius’s 42 games to date, logging over 2,344 minutes. The 1,312 shots he has faced lead the nation. Capobianco sports an 18-18-4 record that includes four shutouts and a .930 save percentage. In his last eight starts, Capobianco has allowed a total of 19 goals and allowed more than three goals just once.

Leading the Golden Griffins on defense is junior Ben Danford. The excellent puck-moving rearguard leads Canisius in defensive scoring with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists).

Generating offense was a big problem for the Golden Griffins earlier in this season, but it’s an area that has improved in the second half and one that will be critical to their tournament success. Junior Kyle Gibbons, an All-Atlantic Hockey Third Team selection, leads Canisius with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists).

#2 Boston College vs. #3 Union College

The Eagles will be making their 32nd overall and fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Dutchmen will be making their third overall and third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. While the two teams comprised one half of last year’s Frozen Four participants, they did not face one another. In fact, this year marks the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

Reigning national champion Boston College enters the tournament after falling to archrival Boston University in their Hockey East semi-final game last Friday. While the Eagles have had their struggles this season, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

The areas that will pose the greatest challenges to Union College are Boston College’s depth, superb transition game and exceedingly quick forwards.

Super sophomore Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) led Boston College’s offensive attack. Gaudreau, the Hockey East Player of the Year and a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, leads the Eagles with 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists) and co-leads the team with six game-winners. Gaudreau also leads the nation averaging 1.47 points per game. One key forward that will be missed is junior Kevin Hayes (CHI). The Dorchester, MA native suffered a contusion to his left quadriceps muscle on Feb. 26th that required season-ending surgery.

Injuries took a heavy toll on the Eagles defensive corps earlier in the season, but now they are healthy. Senior Patrick Wey (WSH) and freshman Michael Matheson (FLA) are among the notables on Boston College’s blueline. Wey, the Hockey East Defensive Defenseman of the Year, has been the Eagles’ pillar of strength on the back end all season. The Pittsburgh, PA native has posted 12 points (one goal, 11 assists). Matheson, a unanimous selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team, leads all Boston College defensemen with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists). He also leads the team with 78 penalty minutes.

Despite giving up six goals in the recent Hockey East semi-finals, senior Parker Milner has played quite well throughout the season. He sports a 22-10-4 record that includes two shutouts. While Milner’s current numbers aren’t as spectacular as last season’s, his experience and ability to step up in NCAA Tournament play will serve Boston College well in their quest to repeat as national champions.

Union College comes into the tournament after successfully defending their ECAC Tournament crown last Saturday with their win over Brown. The Dutchmen are playing some of their best hockey right now and are a perfect 6-0 so far in the month of March. The attributes that got the Dutchmen to the NCAA tournament last season are what have gotten them there this season – a strong defense, balanced scoring and excellent goaltending.

Junior netminder Troy Grosenick is hitting his stride at the perfect time and getting pucks by him will pose a challenge to Boston College. The Brookfield, WI native currently sports a 16-9-5 record that includes two shutouts. In Union College’s last six games, Grosenick has allowed a total of five goals. In that same stretch, he has allowed two or more goals just once.

The team’s outstanding defensive corps is anchored by the Dutchmen’s top pairing of sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) and senior Greg Coburn. The duo leads the team in defensive scoring with 25 and 26 points, respectively. Gostisbehere and Coburn also lead the team in plus/minus with a +20 and +16, respectively. Gostisbehere, an All-ECAC Second Team selection, is one of two NHL prospects currently on Union College’s roster. The other, freshman defenseman Tim Boyle (OTT), will most likely not see action in the tournament barring a significant injury on the blueline. Boyle has appeared in just 15 games this season, tallying two assists.

While the Dutchmen’s offensive numbers are down slightly from last season, they are still averaging over three goals per game this season. Senior linemates Wayne Simpson and Kyle Bodie co-lead the team with 33 points apiece. Simpson co-leads Union College with 16 goals and co-leads the nation with seven game-winners. Bodie leads the Dutchmen with 24 assists and has been stellar on face-offs, winning over 53 percent of his draws so far this season.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF