Thursday, March 27, 2008

2008 NCAA Hockey Previews: Northeast Regional

Here at HSR, this is our favorite time of the year. It's the start of the NCAA hockey tournament with Michigan in position to make a run to the Frozen Four. Throughout the week, we'll be posting capsule previews for the entire field that will only by accident give you any real knowledge about the team. For actual hockey info, head over to INCH's preview of this region. TV schedules can be found at CHN

Northeast Regional – DCU Center, Worcester, MA

Miami University RedHawks

32-7-1; At-large bid from the CCHA

Darling, Don't You Go and Cut Your Hair
Miami leads the nation in offense, and leading Miami this season is senior Ryan Jones, with 30-17-47 at the time of writing this. Currently sporting some excellent hockey hair, Jones will be donating his mane to Locks of Love after the season. Freshman Andy Miele left the USHL's Chicago Steel at midseason, intending to concentrate on his academics and only to practice with the team, but the RedHawks' coaching staff asked Miele to burn his redshirt in exchange for a half-season's production.

You'd Think "Ricoville" Would Be Somewhere in Jersey
With Miami hockey building a dynasty, the student section has become more dedicated. The RedHawks distribute about 2000 free tickets to students on a first come, first served basis. This led die-hards to camp out for up to 27 hours leading up to the first game of the February 8-9 series versus Michigan in what's known as "Ricoville" after head coach Enrico Blasi.

Musical Director: Vanilla Ice
While building their own traditions, the RedHawks have stolen borrowed heavily from others. From Michigan State, the band has taken the tune for "Let's Go State". From Michigan, it took the tune for "Let's Go Blue" and stole the post-goal cheer wholesale (taking it from Cornell by proxy). They also play House of Pain's "Jump Around" over the arena's PA system. At least copying Wisconsin football is marginally more creative than theft from teams in your own conference.

Boston College Eagles

21-11-8; Hockey East Tournament winner

On Notice!
Nathan Gerbe is BC's Hobey Baker Award finalist this year. Gerbe grew up in Oxford, MI, but never dreamed of playing for any of the in-state programs. A diminutive 5'5", he instead wanted to follow in the path of the similarly-sized Brian Gionta. Gerbe's Hobey candidacy may be impacted by his suspension handed down by Hockey East in November after Gerbe was accused of butt-ending a Merrimack player with his stick. Commissioner Joe Bertagna issued a statement saying, "While a suspension might not have been forthcoming on last night's actions alone, this is not the first time this season that I have been made aware of inappropriate behavior from Nathan. Given the fact that he had already been put on notice, I felt that supplemental discipline was in order in this instance."

Not on the Schedule: Prometheus
The Eagles have been feasting on their non-conference opponents this year. Only 11-9-7 in Hockey East play, BC has gone 10-2-1 against everyone else, including a 0-0 tie with North Dakota in a game that was suspended after two periods due to poor ice conditions. After a very slow start (for BC) of 3-4-5, the Eagles turned things around in December and come into the NCAA tournament on a 5-game winning streak. They survived a triple-OT game with New Hampshire to reach the Hockey East finals, where they crushed Vermont 4-0. The committee has rewarded them by placing BC in the Worcester regional.

Coincidentally, Its Theme Song is Also "How Do You Talk To An Angel"
Located in Chestnut Hill, Boston College is often referred to as "The Heights", from which the student newspaper takes its name. The school was founded by the Society of Jesus in 1863 under a charter which mandated that it "shall be open to youths of any faith". In 1925, Mary C. Mellyn became the first woman to take a degree from BC. Its fight song, "For Boston", was written in 1885, making it one of the oldest in the country.

University of Minnesota Golden Gophers

19-16-9; At-large bid from the WCHA
Skating Goldie

Does Kangas Wear Roos?
Minnesota started the season with junior Jeff Frazee as its top goaltender, but it was freshman Alex Kangas who was named MVP of the WCHA tournament. Although they won the IceBreaker to start the season, they struggled through much of the season, leading coach Don Lucia to make the switch to Kangas. They found their footing in time to make a run all the way to the WCHA tournament championship game before falling to Denver. Their first-round series against Minnesota State-Mankato was so evenly matched that all three games went to overtime, totalling an hour and 22 minutes of extra hockey. In the final game of the series, fourth-liner Tom Pohl took an awkward hit that landed him in the ICU with a fractured skull. After St. Cloud State, the Gophers again went to overtime in defeating Colorado College 3-2 (Minnesota has gone to an astonishing 16 times this year with a 3-4-9 record), before their 2-1 loss to Denver in the final.

Back to the Future
In the 14 years when Doug Woog was Minnesota's head coach, the Gophers always fielded teams provided solely of Minnesotans (Total NCAA titles: 0), but Don Lucia ended that practice (Total NCAA titles: 2). However, this year the Gophers again find themselves with a team composed entirely from in-state talent. Plymouth's Blake Wheeler leads the team in goals (15) and assists (19) and is second in penalty minutes, wiht 72. Super Sophomore Kyle Okposo departed the team halfway through the season to sign a contract with the New York Islanders. His seven goals still put him tied for fifth on the team.

Between the two of them, Minnesota and Boston College hold a combined 19 appearances in the NCAA title game with a .368 winning percentage, though they've never faced each other in that game. In its 11 appearances, Minnesota is 5-6, while BC is only 2-6 when the championship is on the line. In fact, the last time these two programs met was in a holiday tournament in 2002, despite the fact that BC came out to Minnesota twice this season for the IceBreaker and the Dodge Holiday Classic. BC lost in the first round to Michigan in the former and Minnesota lost to Air Force in the first round of the latter.

United States Air Force Academy Falcons

21-11-6; Atlantic Hockey Tournament Winner
Air Force

Hensick's Revenge
Eric Ehn won't be matching his junior season, when he scored 24-40-64 en route to being named to the Hobey Hat-Trick along with North Dakota's Ryan Duncan and Notre Dame's David Brown. That's because Ehn crashed feet-first into the boards during a January 19 game against Colorado College, breaking his fibula and doing severe damage to his ankle ligaments. Still, Ehn could possibly be in the lineup on Saturday when the Falcons take on the RedHawks. In the meantime, junior Brent Olson has paced the team with 18 goals and 20 assists and sophomore goaltender Andrew Volkening boasts a .912 save percentage.

V for Victory
Vic Heyliger had been the prime mover behind the establishment of the Frozen Four and than proceeded to win an amazing six NCAA championships as coach of the Michigan Wolverines before retiring from coaching in 1957 due to health problems. Heyliger, a severe asthmatic, had noticed how much easier it was for him to breathe in the thin, dry air when his teams played in the NCAA tournament, then always held at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, and moved there. He returned to coaching with the US national team in 1966 and then oversaw the fledgling Air Force team from its inception as a Division II program in 1968 until his permanent retirement in 1974, compiling a record with the Falcons of 85-77-3. In their history, Air Force has only had four coaches since the team gained varsity status.

Stretching the Definition
By defeating Mercyhurst in the final, the Air Force Academy has now won the Atlantic Hockey tournament crown both years the've been in the conference. The Falcons used to compete in College Hockey America from 1999-2006 before departing 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.

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