Monday, March 24, 2014

Mens NCAA Tourney is Set

After a crazy weekend of conference tournaments, the 2014 men's ice hockey field was set on Sunday morning. The NCAA looks at the Pairwise rankings, along with auto bids from winning conference tournaments to determine the 16 team field of play.

Lets take a look at this years tournament, first starting with the West Regional in St. Paul working our way east. In the region's first game, we have the number one overall seed Minnesota Golden Gophers facing off against auto bid Robert Morris. This match up seems to have everything made for an easy Minnesota victory, but so did their opening round game against Yale last year. Do we need to even mention the Holy Cross game in 2006 in Grand Forks? What I am trying to get at here is that the Gophers better not take this game too lightly or they could be golfing early once again. One thing they do have on their side is the home ice advantage of playing at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. In the last West Regional hosted here, the Gophers would skate to a regional championship with a 5-2 victory over the University of North Dakota.

For the second game in this regional we have another Minnesota team in St. Cloud State facing off against the always tough Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This opening round game has everything in store for it to be a classic. It has all of the tools to be set up as a classic goaltending duel. Between SCSU's Ryan Faragher and Notre Dame's Steven Summerhays, I would say this is going to be a very low scoring contest. However, one must look at the end of season disaster in the first round of NCHC play against Miami, is one to think that the confidence will be down after getting swept, or will the extra week of no games have them primed and ready to go? Notre Dame, on the other hand, is coming into this tournament knocking off the number two overall seed Boston College, to get to their conference tournament, but would lose 4-0 in the semifinal to the surging UMass Lowell.

I have Notre Dame and Minnesota winning in the first round of this region with Notre Dame advancing to the Frozen Four. I know this is bold, but much like Michigan did in 2011, Summerhays is a goalie who is hot and can carry this Notre Dame team far in this tournament.

Moving to the Midwest Regional where we have number four overall seed Wisconsin playing the team they helped get in by beating Ohio State Saturday, North Dakota. The team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux is coming into this tournament off of a 5-0 victory over Western Michigan in the NCHC third place game. However, their Friday night game against Miami was by far one of the worst games that this UND squad had played all season. Not cashing in on opportunities when in front of them and giving up goals that were not North Dakota like goals to give up. However, if the UND team that played on Saturday shows up in this tournament, watch out. There could possibly be an eighth banner being hung up at the beginning of next season. As for Wisconsin, they are coming off of a dramatic 5-4 overtime victory in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State. In their last 10 games, the Badgers are an amazing 8-2-0 and if you go back to 12 games, you will find a home ice sweep of Minnesota. These former WCHA rivals are going to beat each other up in this game. Look for a lot of physicality and a very low scoring contest.

For the other game in the Midwest Region, we have Ferris State playing Colgate. Colgate is coming off a 5-2 loss to Union, who is this week's USCHO poll number one team, in the ECAC championship game. Before that, Colgate is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, including a 4-4 stand-off against Union. As for one of the new WCHA members, Ferris State, they are also coming off a conference championship loss to Minnesota State Mankato of a score of 4-1. Both teams are coming in with something to prove, and have a very tough road to get to the Frozen Four, but never count out a team who just was recently in a Frozen Four with Ferris State.

I have North Dakota and Ferris State winning their opening round match ups with North Dakota advancing to the Frozen Four.

Moving east, we have Union skating into Bridgeport, Connecticut to play the Vermont Catamounts, who is coming off of a very impressive season. However, the Catamounts are coming off of a 3 game Hockey East playoff series loss to UMass Lowell so they also are coming into the tournament on a losing note. However, maybe the extra rest will give them all of the tools for an upset against this very tough Union team. Union is coming into the tournament winning the ECAC championship and as the number one ranked team in the poll. I just can't see Vermont coming out on top in this game, but in this tournament, you can't count anyone out.

For the second game in the East Regional we have Providence playing Quinnipiac. Quinnipiac is looking for a second straight trip to the Frozen Four, but hoping for better results then last season. They also are coming off of a heartbreaking double overtime loss in the ECAC semi finals to Colgate so they come in with a little extra weight on their shoulders. As for Providence, they also are coming off their conference semi final to a loss 3-1 against UNH. going 11-7-2 in a very tough Hockey East, Providence looks to prove that they are deserving on making this tournament by advancing past the first round.

I have Union facing Quinnipiac in the regional final, in what could be another tournament classic if the game actually does happen, with Union advancing to the Frozen Four.

Finally we move to the Northeast Regional in Worchester, Mass. Both opening round games look to be classics with UMass Lowell playing Minnesota State Mankato in the regions first game. MSUM is coming off of a very successful season, only missing out on the WCHA regular season crown to Ferris State by just a single point. However, Mankato would get their revenge in the conference tournament by beating the Bulldogs and win their first WCHA tournament crown. As for Lowell, they probably are coming into this tournaments as one of the hottest teams in the country and will be a tough opponent for anybody in this tournament.

For the second game, we have auto bid Denver facing off against number two Boston College. After a lot of people were skeptical about Denver this season, especially with the departure of George Gwozdecky, but this Pioneer squad never gave up and won the first ever NCHC Frozen Face-Off. As for BC, the Eagles took an early exit from their conference tournament, losing to Notre Dame, Hockey East's newest member. However, the Eagles to play home to the NCAA's likely Hobey Baker winner in Johnny Gaudreau. BC is always a tough opponent this time of year and if they keep up their pattern since 2008, it is their year to win the NCAA title.

I have BC and UMass winning their first round games with UMass advancing to the Frozen Four. The choice for this region wasn't that easy, but I had to go with the hotter team.

Finally for my Frozen Four picks. I have Notre Dame advancing over North Dakota to the title game, with UND having nightmares once again with another hot goalie, much like in 2011. I also Have Union advancing over UMass. UMass can only ride the hot streak for so long and Union is going to put the fire out. Finally for this year's national championship game, I have Union beating Notre Dame.

Now I know some of you are probably thinking I am crazy for picking these two schools to advance to my title game, but that's the power of opinion. Feel free to share what you think with me on twitter at the handle of @siouxhockey33.
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  1. Why not a DU v UND championship game?
    The winner gets #8

  2. Realistically I can't see UND or DU making the championship game this year. UND has been playing too inconsistent and not putting together too many good full 60 minute games. As for DU, this is a team who barely squeaked in. They can only ride Sam Brittain for so long before he gets too tired.


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