Thursday, March 22, 2007

NCAA Hockey Previews: West Regional

Seriously, we're really excited about the NCAA hockey tournament. Deadspin did a preview of all 64 teams in the basketball edition, so in that tradition I offer you these incredibly uninformative previews of the teams in the hockey tournament. We'll be posting them by regional today and tomorrow. All the regional previews are compiled in a handy PDF here (205K).

West Regional – Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
MN logo

We Call It an Herb Because There's an H in It. Herb Brooks, coach of the "Miracle on Ice" team won the Gophers their first 3 NCAA titles in the '70's. A former Gopher player himself and two-time Olympian, Brooks was killed in a car accident in 2004.

In State. In a not uncommon situation for Minnesota hockey, every player but one on this year's Gopher squad hails from that state. In fact, over 1/3 of the entire WCHA's roster comes out of Minnesota.

University of Michigan Wolverines
Michigan logo

Someday We'll Find It, the HSR Connection. Current Michigan captain Matt Hunwick's uncle was my 8th grade history teacher, former defenseman Eric Werner was the brother of one of my high school classmates, and former backup netminder Kevin O'Malley was my eye doctor's son. Current defenseman Mark Mitera was a student of Craig's in high school.

In 2007, There'd Be More "Regina" Puns. Coach Red Berenson grew up near the provincial capital on the Saskatchewan prairie. His Regina Pats juniors coach took the head coaching job at Denver and recruited him, but Berenson didn't think DU's academics were strong enough. Another Saskatchewan native already at Michigan convinced coach Al Renfrew that Berenson was worth getting, resulting in Red getting his first plane ride and the first free recruiting trip ever offered by Michigan hockey. Getting Berenson helped Michigan pull in 14 other Saskatchewan-born players from 1958 to 1964.

University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux
Sort of racist logo

Ralph Engelstad Loved Nazis (Or at Least Their Memorabilia). The namesake of UND's arena was fined $1.5M by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for throwing birthday parties for Adolf Hitler in 1986 and 1988, including bartenders with "Adolf Hitler – European Tour – 1939-1945" t-shirts. His Nazi memorabilia collection featured a painting of himself in Nazi uniform, captioned "to Adolf from Ralphie".

Ralph Engelstad Loved His "Hostile or Abusive" Mascot. Engelstad got his name on the building because it was his money that built the $104M arena. Construction was suspended for two months when Engelstad found out that the university was considering changing its mascot and logo. In the end, he extracted a promise from the state Board of Education that the school couldn't change its mascot and integrated over 2,000 Sioux heads into the arena's design. With the NCAA's ban on "hostile or abusive" mascots, North Dakota is likely to face sanctions, as two of the three Sioux nations actively oppose the "Fighting Sioux" mascot. If appeals are exhausted, North Dakota would be ineligible for postseason play until it changes mascots, and "The Ralph" wouldn't be able to host NCAA events unless all (2,000!) Sioux logos were covered up.

United States Air Force Academy Falcons
Air Force logo

Stretching the Definition. The Air Force Academy's Falcons used to compete in College Hockey America before departing this season for the now-nominal Atlantic Hockey, so as to be in the same conference as Army. We hear they get a discount on airfare. Navy stands opposed to frozen water on principle and does not field a varsity squad.

Well, I Suppose It Worked Out Then. Army and Air Force met in Atlantic Hockey's league final, the first time two service academies had ever met in any championship game. After a scoreless first period, Air Force rolled to a 6-1 victory. In securing the conference's automatic bid, they also became the first service academy to advance to the NCAA hockey tournament.

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