Points From The Point: Frozen Four Edition

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by Bryan Vickroy

Lace up the skates, tape up the sticks, and foil the fists, it’s postseason hockey time!  These 16 teams have a dream, to march into Washington, DC, but only four will be voted into the Frozen Four, no congressional investigation needed.  It’s election weekend in college hockey, and only the winners skate on.

This year’s four region, and hosts are :

East:  Bridgeport, CT  (Yale), Bridgeport Arena at Harbor Yard

Northeast:  Manchester, NH (New Hampshire), Verizon Wireless Arena

Midwest:  Grand Rapids, MI (Western Michigan), Van Andel Arena

West:  Minneapolis, MN (Minnesota), Mariucci Arena

Per NCAA guidelines, host universities must play “at home.”  This is mostly for ticket purposes, as it ensures that all the games are sold out.  This year, both Yale (East) and New Hampshire (Northeast) get the benefit of friendly faces in the stands.

HIGHLIGHTS

Before we get into all 16 teams, let’s look at a couple highlights of the tournament

Tournament Favorites

Boston University: Overall #1, Ranked #1 in both the polls and Pairwise rankings.  Regular season and postseason champs, Hockey East

Notre Dame:  Spent time ranked at #1 throughout the year.  Lost national title game last year.  Regular season and tournament champs, Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).

Darkhorses

Yale:  Balanced, defensive hockey teams who capitalizes on mistakes.  Which players do you shut down?  Played in, and won, big games this season.  Regular season and tournament champs, East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC).

Minnesota Duluth:  Found their stride down the backstretch of the season.  Went from bubble status to trendy national champion pick.  Goaltender and scorers all playing out of their minds.  Can the good vibes continue?  Tournament Champs, Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).

Players to Watch

Jaques Lamoureux, F, Air Force:  Second most goals in the nation.  A threat to light the lamp every time he touches the puck.  Deadly on the power play.

Ryan Duncan, F, North Dakota:  Won Hobey Baker Award in 2007 as nation’s top player.  Off season, but solid two way forward who can turn it on in open ice.

Alex Stalock, G, Minnesota Duluth:  One goal given up in the WCHA Final Five, including back to back shutouts.  Unbeatable in net, but it’s an adventure when he plays the puck outside of the crease.

Jordan Pearce, G, Notre Dame:  In net for all of the Fighting Irish’s 20 unbeaten streak.  8 shutouts and a 1.6 goals against.  Given up more than three goals only three times all season.

Best Games

Minnesota Duluth vs. Princeton:  An old fashioned goalie duel.  Expect free hockey in this game, and a lot of tense moments.  Which team’s sniper will solve the puzzle first?

Michigan vs. Air Force:  Expect the scoreboard to light up in this one.  Both teams have first rate scorers who can do damage in the blink of an eye.  Air Force likes a wide open game, and Michigan has the speed to fly with them.

Regional Breakdown

East

1)Michigan vs. 4)Air Force, Friday 3/27 (2:00pmCT)

Scoring, it’s what Ann Arbor is good at:  These Wolverines like to score.  Aaron Palushaj and Louie Caporusso were both in the top 5 in the nation, including a 24-1 record when Caporusso records a point.  A late season hot streak was fueled by the ability of the rest of the roster to step up the pace.  Nine national titles in program history, but none in over 10 years.  Tournament flameouts have become customary, usually starring a goaltender meltdown.  Backstop Bryan Hogan showed the symptoms against Notre Dame in the CCHA title game.  Will the Wolverines fight back this time?

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Shock and Awe:  If anything seems oxymoronic, its jets and ice.  However, the Air Force program has taken off recently.  They started this season 13-0, but leveled off the middle of the season before bouncing back to claim the Atlantic Hockey title.  The Falcons live and die offensively by Jaques Lemoureux, ranked second nationally in points, and nine game winners to his credit.  Goalie Andrew Volkening is riding back to back shutouts.

Air Force has the speed to skate with Michigan, but they don’t have the offensive depth.  Barring a sieve-tastic performance by Hogan, the Wolverines should escape.  Michigan 4-2

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2)Yale vs. 3)Vermont, Friday 3/27 (5:30pm CT)

Home Cookin’:  The best season in school history continues, right down the road.  The Bulldogs host the regional, and hopte to parlay that into a trip to DC.  Yale won both the ECAC regular season and tournament titles.  Smart, strong, and balanced, they have five players over 25 points.  Alex Richards is strong in net for the eighth best defensive team in the nation.  Beware their penalty kill.  Besides being ranked third, sophomore Broc Little leads everyone with five short handed goals.

CanTheyMount a Defense:  Of all the teams in the tournament, Vermont’s stock seems to be dropping the fastes.  After giving up only 18 goals in the 2 months prior to the postseason, they gave up 18 in their last four games.  Viktor Stalber is an adapt scorer, but one man can only do so much.  The Catamounts have success when the pester and pressure opposing teams .  Turnovers and defensive lapses have cost them, then need to refocus or go home to the hippie wonderland that is Vermont.

Stoic Yale uses the home ice to their advantage and continues the dream season.  Take that Harvard!  Yale 3-1

EAST REGION FINAL

1)Michigan vs. 2)Yale, Saturday 3/28 (5:30pm CT)

For all the talent and history, Michigan never seems to fulfill their promise.  Playing on Yale’s ice is even less promising.  Yale drops some knowledge on Michigan, as Hogan fulfills the Wolverine curse and melts down in a big spot.  Skull and Bones is pleased for a field trip to the Frozen Four in the nation’s capitol.

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Northeast

1)Boston University vs. 4)Ohio State, Saturday 3/28 (4:30pm CT)

One for the Other Thumb:  Five titles this season is not enough for Boston U.  Three tournament titles, and both Hockey East championships are not enough.  The Terriers have not won the national title since 1997.  BU is the top overall seed after missing the tourney for the last two years.  #3 offense and defense, and the second best power play in the land.  Top six defenseman are all NHL blue chippers, and support two forward lines better than most top lines in the country.  Tendency to take too many penalties, and give up power plays.  Focus and determination are the only things than can undermine the Terriers.

Lucky Buckeye:  THE Ohio State University enjoys the title of last team in this year.  After a weekend of turbulent tournament games around the country, the Buckeyes graded out higher than Minnesota and Wisconsin.  This team is young, with 22 freshman and sophomores, and still a year or two away.  Have played the top teams all season, and won’t back down against anyone.  Tough to beat when they don’t make mistakes.

The BU blueline is stronger than anyone else’s.  The Terriers shut down the unripe Buckeyes, adding to the recent post season woes of THE Ohio State University.  Boston U 5-1

2)North Dakota vs. 3)New Hampshire, Saturday 3/28 (1:00pm CT)

Five for Fighting (Sioux):  North Dakota is going for its fifth straight Frozen Four.  To do that, the Sioux have to travel cross country and play on home ince in Manchester, NH.  This team is deep and experience, winning the WCHA regular season title.  Played their way out of a possible #1 seed getting swept in the Final Five.  Can NoDak flip the postseason switch?  Two way defenseman Chay Genoway and 2007 Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan lead the scoring.  Son of former Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Ron Hextall, Bret, also adds some offensive punch.

New Hampshire House of Horrors:  The University of New Hampshire hockey team gets to play close to home.  They might not want to.  The Wildcats have lost twice in Manchester when hosting postseason play, and have lost four straight NCAA games.  Which team will be loet out to play:  the one who ended the regular season with six wins in seven tries, or the team who got sept out of the Hockey East tourney, mustering one goal.  Must have James van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick in 2007, focused and involved.  If they don’t play a full 60 minutes, they’ll be walking home.

NoDak fans travel as well as any group in the country, all sports included.  Fargo residents may have to evacuate, but they’ll all probably be in New Hampshire already The Sioux also show up in the postseason.  UND 4-2

East Region Final

1)Boston University vs. 2)North Dakota, Sunday 3/29 (4:30pm CT)

BU is so strong on the back end that everyone will have trouble scoring.  NoDak doesn’t have the scoring of years past, and are playing an unproven freshman goalie.  Terriers march to a Frozen Four while NoDak waits for the next boat back to campus.

Midwest

1)Notre Dame vs. 4)Bemidji State,  Saturday 3/28 (6:30pm CT)

Glove Save Jesus:  Quick, name the only thing worth watching under the Golden Dome the last few years:  a junktastic Harangody jumper, a limp Clausen fade route, or a Jordan Pierce glove save?  The skating leprechaun wins!  Coach Jeff Jackson, who came over from two titles at Lake Superior State, has led the Irish to a #1 seed after losing the title game last year.  This team has three players with five game winning goals, no other team in the country has more than one.  Gritty and scrappy, a proven group of winners who bring the first true hope of a championship for the millions and millions of true Notre Dame fans since Lou Holtz slobbered on the sidelines.  An NBC contract for this team can’t be far behind for this budding powerhouse.

Eager Beavers:  Bemidji State is a team without a family, or perhaps a dam.  Their conference is dissolving after this year and admission into the WCHA has been a slow progress.  They’ve played games all over the country, including against the US National Develepmont team.  A lethal powerplay, and the stat of an 11-1 record when forward Matt Read scores.  Goliath is their task, and they’re up for it. They almost beat eventual champ Denver in overtime in 2005.

As Jebediah Springfield said, “A noble spirit embiggens every man.”  The Beavers have the spirit, but Notre Dame has Jesus.  The Irish should lay the lumber and win convincingly.  Notre Dame 5-1

2)Northeastern vs. 3)Cornell, Saturday 3/28 (3:00pm CT)

The Team that Almost Could:  An historic season at Northeastern that for just a few moments could be so much more.  They led Hockey East wire to wire, until the final weekend.  Boston U beath them in the last second to claim the conference title.  Then they gave up a goal in the final minute in the Hockey East semis.  Add in a Beanpot Final loss, and the Huskies have shown a soft spot in the big games.  A first Frozen Four would be a good way to erase those stage fright doubts.

Cram the Books and the Boards:  Cornell hockey gives its fans another reason to mock other schools:  lower test scores, less intelligent, and less impotent.  Defense is legendary at the Ivy League school, and they are ranked fourth nationally.  Goaltender Ben Scrivens is the admissions officer here.  He had seven shutouts this year, and a goals against under two.  Seventh least penalized team in the nation, but not afraid to throw the extra elbow or slash around.  They’re smart enough to get away with it.

A game that theologians and purists will enjoy.  Hard hitting and defensive, Cornell answers the hard questions and makes Northeastern a fool at the big boy’s table again.  Cornell 3-2

Midwest Region Final

1)Notre Dame vs. 3)Cornell, Sunday 3/29 (7:00pm CT)

An academic bowl is held, and a hockey game breaks out.  Notre Dame is too tough and determined not to make the Frozen Four and win a championship.  NBC adds another zero to the end of the contract, and the bandwagon fills for the trip to DC.  Charlie Weiss asks for a couple scoring plays.

WEST

1)Denver University vs. 4)Miami (Ohio), Friday 3/27 (3:30pm CT)

P-IR-neers:  Denver managed to get a #1 seed despite finishing second in both the regular season and WCHA tournament.  Fought injuries throughout the season, but deep enough to withstand long absences from top scorers.  Freshman defenseman Patrick Wiercioch runs the point on a formidable power play, and has played his way to their top defenseman.  Struggled against other tournament teams, most of those in conference foes.  Focus on the first game, and a shot at possible redemption awaits in the finals.

Score to Soar:  No other team in the tournament lives or dies by their scoring.  The Redhawks have scored five or more goals in 9 games, but when scoring fewer than three goals they’re 4-11-3.  Struggled down the stretch, but have shutout both Michigan and Notre Dame this year.  Keep the puck out of their hands and they struggle.  Miami averages almost 11 more shots per game than their opponent.  Can they shout out another #1 seed this year?

Denver is getting healthy at the right time, which doesn’t bode well for the Redhawks of Miami.  Special teams can only keep you in a game for so long.  Denver can score with the best of them.  DU 3-1

2)Minnesota Duluth vs. 3)Princeton, Friday 3/27 (7:00pm CT)

Duluth, Duluth, Duluth is on Fire:  The hottest team in the country is Minnesota Duluth.  After coasting their way through most of the season, they Bulldogs locked down on defense in the last month, and started to roll.  MacGregor Sharp has as much game as his name, tied for second in the nation with 25 goals.  Goalie Alex Stalock has been unbeatable in the last three weeks, single handedly winning the WCHA tournament.  Has the offense and goaltending to beat anybody.  Biggest threat may come from Stalock himself, as he has struggled playing the puck outside of the net, giving up goals on the turnovers.  Keep him in net and he’s magnificent.

InZane in the Net Frame:  Princeton brings scoring balance to a whole new level, with 11 players with at least nine goals.  Backstopping the Tigers is, possible the best goalie in the nation, Zane Kalemba.  This team doesn’t take penalties, and makes teams work for everything.  Multiple overtime games in the ECAC tournament.  Kalemba can keep a game going, someone needs to make sure to end it on a happy note.

Get your popcorn ready, and expect to get your money’s worth.  Also expect to get some extra sessions.  A goalie duel at its best, where even mistakes won’t be enough to win a game.  Stalock keeps the lift bridge down and himself anchored in net.  UMD 1-0

West Region Final

1)Denver University vs. Minnesota Duluth, Saturday 3/28 (7:00pm CT)

A rematch of the WCHA championship game from a week ago.  They switch sides of the river, but it won’t make a difference.  Staylock stayz blazing and continues his Patrick Roy portrayal.  Let freedom ring, but not the goal horn.  UMD to the Frozen Four.

So upon further review, the Frozen Four should looke like this:

-East:  Yale

-Northeast:  Boston University

-Midwest:  Notre Dame

-West:  Minnesota Duluth

Thanks to it being the postseason, these games can be found on one of the multitude of sports channels available these days, though I think most are supposed to be on the ESPN family, as well as the CBS Sports channel.  Catch some games, you won’t regret it.

Keep it real, and as the immortal Red Green says, “Keep your stick on the ice.”

Comments

  1. Peter Christian says

    Most Underrated post-season in all of sports = College Hockey NCAA Tournament

    I’ve had the pleasure/honor of covering a Frozen Four and it is definitely the highlight of my media credentialed career.

  2. bryan vickroy says

    WOW!! What a ridiculous first day of the tournament. Two 1 seeds knocked off and duluth scoring two goals in the last 40 seconds to force ot and a win. The hockey tournament is where the real madness is!

  3. college hockey taking over thesportsbank… love it… wish Wisconsin was in it so I could cover the tourney… btw, Badger hockey is my favorite Badger team

  4. paulmbanks says

    Yep I have a Michigan State hockey jersey that Ive been rocking while watching March Madness out at the bars. I wish SParty was in the tournament this yr. I followed them a little bit when they won the national title a couple years ago and back when Ryan Miller was a superstar phenom.

  5. paulmbanks says

    Thiwas really well written and serves a nice niche market

  6. Peter Christian says

    Niche??? Try obsessed fan market

  7. bryan vickroy says

    Complete insanity in the hockey tournament. All the drama the bball tourney didn’t have. Possibly the craziest weekend of hockey I’ve ever seen. Literal last secind goals, a shot going THROUGH the net for a goal, and bemidji state, the equivilant of the 64 seed, making the frozen four!

  8. bryan vickroy says

    In the name of journalism, I’m quite tempted to take tsb’s new favorite medium to a new level; a remote live blog of the frozen four, live from bemidji.

  9. prowriter0923 says

    I like!! Lots of information in a nice TSB package!

    Gotta love the clever names of these events!

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