Tuesday, March 10, 2015

NCHC Playoff First Round Preview and Predictions

The regular season is now over, and the playoff brackets are now set. Most of the seeding wasn't final until the last day of the regular season, however seeds 1 (North Dakota), 7 (Western Michigan), and 8 (Colorado College) were set last Friday when North Dakota took the Penrose Cup outright. The top four seeds in the NCHC have their quarterfinal best of three series at home against the bottom four seeds. This year the match-ups are 1 North Dakota vs. 8 Colorado College, 2 Miami vs. 7 Western Michigan, 3 Nebraska-Omaha vs. 6 St. Cloud State and 4 Denver vs. 5 Minnesota-Duluth. 

1 North Dakota vs. 8 Colorado College
These two teams met four times this season with North Dakota winning all four contests, one of which while in Colorado Springs by a 7-2 score and a Mark MacMillan hat trick. When CC came to Grand Forks for a second half series, the story was much different. In two very tightly contested battles, CC would be the thorn in UND's side, making it seem like it was a battle of top five teams in the country. UND would prevail on the weekend with a sweep, but maybe the most well earned sweep of the season. 

Who to Watch:
UND: With MacMillan out, probably for the rest of the season, Focus for the offense will go to Senior Michael Parks, who likes to spend most of his time behind the goal line, Junior highlight reel Drake Caggiula, and master playmaker Freshman Nick Schmaltz. However this is a roster that seems to have someone different step up each night and in the second half their top producer has been Senior defender Nick Mattson. Finally, you look to Hobey Baker finalist Zane McIntryre. Zane leads the country in wins with 25, tied with Michigan Tech goalie Jamie Phillips, is 8th in save percentage at .931 and 14th in goals against average at 1.99. 

CC: Junior center Cody Bradley is the only Tiger with 10 goals this season, and is also the only Tiger with over 20 points as well. The junior center has been the sole hope for offensive production for the season, but Senior forward Scott Wamsganz is on the 20 point threshold sitting at 19 points for the season. Never count out Sophomore defender Jacob Slavin for making some plays from the point either. Slavin is probably their best defenseman.

Who Wins?
UND should win the best of three series in two games Friday and Saturday, but I think one of these games will be within a goal or two and a very tight defensive battle. UND wins Friday 3-1 and Saturday 5-2, however if UND sits back any, which I don't think will happen, but if they do, look for CC to take advantage and try to force a third game this weekend. 

2 Miami vs. 7 Western Michigan
Miami took 11 out of a possible 12 points against the Broncos this season with one overtime tie and shootout victory when they went to Kalamazoo for a series during the second half. The series that took place in Oxford was not as tightly contested, especially during the Saturday night contest with Miami winning by a score of 5-2. 

Who to Watch:
Miami: Senior assist machine Austin Czarnik has 31 assists on the season for the RedHawks and a team leading 36 points.Junior Riley Barber shares the team lead in goals with Junior Sean Kuraly who both are at 17 goals for the season. With Seniors Cody Murphy and Blake Coleman both over the 10 goal mark for the season as well, you can't count those two out when it comes to scoring either. 

WMU: Although the season ended somewhere they didn't want it to, Sophomore Sheldon Dries and Junior Colton Hargrove both are tied for the team lead in points with 25. Senior Justin Kovacs is not far behind with 24 points this season with 18 of those being helpers. 

Who Wins?
I can't see this series ending any other way then a Miami sweep, but if you remember last year, the only home ice team to advance to the Frozen Faceoff last year was North Dakota. For that reason, I think this series goes the distance and WMU wins Friday 2-1 with Miami coming back with a Saturday win of 4-2 and Sunday 3-1.

3 Nebraska-Omaha vs. 6 St. Cloud State
This is the series that I am most looking forward to. With Omaha falling off late in the season to lose the number one spot to North Dakota, and St. Cloud being a thorn in everybodys side this season despite being below the 500 mark, this series has classic written all over it. With both teams getting sweeps this season on their home ice, and the late season sweep of Omaha in St. Cloud a couple weeks ago being the catalyst in Omaha falling in the standings, look for the Mavericks to come out guns a blazing and look to gain some revenge. 

Who to Watch:
UNO: Sophomore Austin Ortega set the NCAA record for game winning goals in a season last weekend when he netted his 11th game winner. He is the leader with 18 goals on the season and tied with fellow Sophomore Jake Guentzel with points at 33, the youth movement in Omaha is on. Three of the top five in points for the Mavericks are freshman, Jake Randolph, Tyler Vesel, and Avery Peterson. Also look for Sophomore Justin Parizek to be a threat to score some goals as well. 

SCSU: Junior Johnny Brodzinski and Junior Joey Benik lead this team who's power play is top 5 in the NCAA. The top power play unit has combined for over 70 points this season with the extra man, so look for the Huskies to take advantage of every man advantage they are able to get this weekend. 

Who Wins?
No question in my mind this one goes the distance. I am taking St. Cloud to take the series and get the "upset" over Omaha as they have been struggling as of late, who is 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. St. Cloud wins Friday 3-2, Omaha Wins Saturday 4-3, St. Cloud wins 2-0.

4 Denver vs. 5 Minnesota-Duluth
With the season series seeing two splits, this series should also be very tightly contested, possibly the tightest of the four series. Duluth does hold the biggest victory this season with a 6-1 victory, but that came in Duluth. Every other game had a two goal or less margin, which is how I expect this to turn out. 

Who to Watch:
Denver: Freshman Danton Heinen leads the team with an amazing 42 points this season and Sophomore Trevor Moore is close behind at 39 points. Moore is the team leader in goals this year at 19 goals on the season. However, you can't talk about Denver without talking about Senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia. His puck moving ability and willingness to take it up on the rush has him tagged as one of the top offensive-defensemen in the NCAA. 

UMD: The usual suspects Tony Cameranesi, Alex Iafallo and Austin Farley are at it again this season and are leading this team on the helper side of things. the three are all at just 8 goals on the season and look to Dominic Toninato who leads the Bulldogs at 16 goals followed by Justin Crandall who has 12. 

Who Wins?
This should be a very close series, but Denver comes out on top. Their firepower will be too much for this UMD team. Denver wins Friday 3-1 and Saturday 4-3.

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