Saturday, March 26, 2011

Can't Hardly Wait!

Michigan looked exceptional in every phase of the game, shutting down CC's lava-hot power play unit, getting to loose pucks, winning battles in the corners, and ringing shots off the post like it was their job. A late CC scramble goal made it a high anxiety finish, but in the end, Michigan has punched its ticket to its 24th Frozen Four. In honor of the next two weeks of anticipation and the greatest Minnesota band of all time...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hail Yes!

Ten heart rending minutes of review leads to a great geometric conclusion, if the puck goes fore, you must call it a score. On to the Regional Final. Great game UNO! Celebratory Homestar Runner!

West #1: Boston College

Boston College Eagles

1 seed vs. Colorado College, West Regional (Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO)
Friday, March 25, 2011
Hockey East Regular Season Champions
Hockey East Tournament Champions

Record: 30-7-1
Coach: Jerry York

It is a terrible, terrible idea to bet against Boston College and Jerry York in the postseason. The last four times BC has made the NCAA tournament, they've at least made it to the championship game. They've won it twice in the last three years: In 2008 over Notre Dame, then last year against Wisconsin. Neither game was close, and I was there for both of them. Goalie John Muse is a senior now and has never lost an NCAA tournament game. That's right: He's a perfect 8-0 (BC failed to make the tournament in '09). This year he's put up a .926 SV% and 2.13 GAA, better than both his freshman and junior years.

BC hockey thrives on magic midgets: Brian Gionta, Nathan Gerbe, etc. Six different Eagles this year are listed at 5'8" or shorter, including scoring leaders Cam Atkinson (30-21--51) and Brian Gibbons (18-32--50). I remember 5'6" Joe Whitney (5-26--31) as a problem for which Wisconsin couldn't find an answer. 6'3" Brian Domoulin is the exception – a big defenseman who's an assist machine (3-30--33). In all, nine Eagles have 20 or more points, and six have 10 or more goals.

Boston College has been rampaging through Hockey East this year. They've lost a total of two games since November 26: A 1-4 decision at Maine and a 1-2 loss at Northeastern. They won the Beanpot again this year, a 7-6 overtime game also against Northeastern. Weirdly, they followed it up on Friday night with a 7-7 tie against the Huskies, then the aforementioned 1-2 loss. Since then, they've won 8 straight games, their longest winning streak of the year (They've won 7 in a row two different times). There aren't a lot of teams out there that have played as well as BC at any time this year, let alone heading into the tournament. But it's one-and-done, so all it takes is one bad game to send you home. Still, it's BC vs. the field at this regional.

West #2: Michigan

University of Michigan Wolverines

2 seed vs. Nebraska-Omaha, West Regional (Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO)
Friday, March 25, 2011
CCHA Regular Season Champions
At-large bid from the CCHA

Record: 26-10-4
Coach: Red Berenson

Most people around here know the story of the 2009-2010 Michigan hockey team. They were inexplicably bad, getting swept by MSU and Nebraska-Omaha, and just not looking very good. Then, in a late season game, goaltender Bryan Hogan went down with a groin injury. His backup, Shawn Hunwick, was a lightly recruited undersized kid ticketed for Division III Adrian when Hogan's former backup, Steve Jakiel, left the team. Hunwick, brother of NHLer Matt, walked on and hung around getting minimal playing time. He went in against the Irish, finished off Hogan's shutout, then let in 5 goals the next night. He wouldn't let in more than 3 the rest of the year. Hunwick led the 7th place Wolverines on a Cinderella run through the CCHA tournament to beat Miami in the championship and keep the NCAA tournament streak alive. Michigan beat Bemidji State in the opening round, but a quick whistle cost the Wolverines a trip to the Frozen Four.

Fast forward to 2010-2011. Hogan has recovered from his injury and is now splitting time with Hunwick -- Hunwick usually gets Fridays, Hogan on Saturdays. For some reason, Michigan on Saturdays is playing a lot better than Michigan on Fridays, and it's looking like Hogan is going to be the guy again. Everything is set, leading up to the biggest hockey game ever played, the Big Chill at the Big House. Hogan is named the starter...but then he injures his groin in warmups. Hunwick is called in. He stops everything Michigan State can throw at him and walks out with a 5-0 shutout in front of a Guinness-certified 104,073 paying customers.

Since that time, Michigan has been playing solid, if not great, hockey. Their only sweep of the season came at the hands of Miami down in Oxford, and they've swept 8 series of their own. They beat Colorado College to win the GLI again over the holidays in a wild 6-5 game, and they're 2-1 against Notre Dame this year, including their 4-2 win in the CCHA tournament third-place game after falling to Western in the semifinals. It feels like there haven't been a lot of highs this season, but not a lot of lows either. They don't have many bad losses, but they don't have a lot of good wins either. If you told me they would lose to UNO in the first round, I wouldn't be surprised. If you told me they made the Frozen Four...OK, maybe a little surprised, because BC is a terrifying team this time of year.

The 2010-2011 Wolverines don't have any 20+ goal scorers. In fact, they have only one with more than 15, senior Carl Hagelin (18-30--48), but they have 13 skaters with at least five, and the only Wolverines without goals are the goalies and lightly-used freshman defenseman Kevin Clare. Hagelin is also the leader in points and assists, with fellow senior Matt Rust (5-20--25) having some trouble scoring goals, but not having problems getting assists. Converted defenseman Scooter Vaughan has come out of nowhere to go from 2 career goals to 12 goals this season as a senior.

Other guys to watch: Sophomore wing Chris Brown doles out a lot of punishment and can be found crashing the net. Freshman defenseman Jon Merrill has immediately become an excellent two-way player. And watch Hagelin some more, just because his skating is unreal.

Bryan Hogan has returned from injury, but has only played a few minutes in net since then, so his .924 SV% and 2.08 GAA should be taken with a grain of salt. Hunwick was named CCHA goaltender of the year, posting a .921 SV% / 2.31 GAA and is the presumptive starter, barring injury.

Speaking of injuries, the Wolverines are dealing with some significant ones. Senior Louie "The Love Expert" Caporusso came back from a knee injury in time for the CCHA playoffs, but David Wohlberg, the team's second leading scorer after Hagelin, broke his collarbone against Bowling Green and is out for the season. Meanwhile, junior defenseman Brandon Burlon came down with a bad case of strep throat, then suffered a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics he was taking. This landed him in the hospital before the CCHA tournament and is still an ongoing problem, He's down with an "inflamed esophagus" and has reportedly lost 15 pounds and is definitely out for today's game, and I'd be shocked if we saw him on Saturday should the Wolverines win today.

West #3: Nebraska-Omaha

University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks

#3 seed vs. Michigan
West Regional (Scotttrade Center, St. Louis, MO)

Friday, March 25, 2011

At-Large Berth from the WCHA

Record: 21-15-2
Head Coach: David Letterman Dean Blais

We're going to be as serious as possible on this one, because, as Michigan's regional semi-final opponent, we suspect that maybe, just maybe, you'd like to know what the Maize and Blue are up against on Friday.  We understand this.  Let's start with coach Dean Blais, who was brought in by UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts (yes, that Trev Alberts) to ramp up the Maverick hockey program to new heights.  In just his second year behind the bench in Omaha (and the school's first in the WCHA), Blais has garnered UNO's second trip to the NCAA tournament, and as one of my friends put it to my bluntly, "I am loathe to bet against Blais in a tournament setting."  He has a point.  Blais resume includes 5 30+ win seasons at North Dakota and two national championships for the Fighting [NICKNAME] and he lead the USA Hockey World Junior team to the gold medal in Saskatoon in 2009-2010.  He is a coach who gets the most out of his talent and whose team will play hard every shift.  Michigan split their (non-conference) season series with the Mavs, losing on Friday night 4-2 before blitzing them 6-1 on Saturday night (because, remember, Michigan loves Saturday nights.  Hopefully Michigan remembers it can't play on Saturday if it doesn't get it done on Friday.)  Omaha is also a team that is much better somewhere in middle America, going 13-6-1 at home, but just 8-9-1 on the road this year.

One of the Lights in August for the Mavericks is sophomore goaltender John Faulkner.  Third team all-WCHA this season, Faulkner seems to be your classic mercurial goalie, sometimes being the unvanquished (posting six shutouts), while other times, being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (he's allowed three or more goals in seven of his last eleven games.) (Stick tap to INCH for that tidbit.)  Faulkner, a native of Yoknapatawpha County Sarnia, will need to be something better than a Pylon if the Mavericks hope to make it to St. Paul.

If Nebraska-Omaha is going to make it to the Regional Finals, it's going to need to find the balanced scoring attack that was its hallmark throughout the season.  No Maverick has more than 17 goals, but eight players have double digit goals.  UNO has not scored more than two goals in any of its last five games, so it will either need to play lock down defense and hope that Faulkner is more than an Intruder in the Dust.  There is no doubt that this team is a tough out, and it can make some noise if it rediscovers its early season form.

West #4: Colorado College

Colorado College Tigers

#4 seed vs. Boston College
West Regional (Scotttrade Center, St. Louis, MO)

Friday, March 25, 2011

At-Large Berth from the WCHA

Record: 22-18-3
Head Coach: Scott Owens

How do we say this politely?  Colorado College probably doesn't make the field in most years, but thanks to a weak bubble, a team just four games over break even gets in to the field as the the 14th overall seed.  Going 5-4-1 down the stretch (including five straight games against Wisconsin due to a scheduling quirk where they played them on the last weekend of the regular season, then in a best two of three in the WCHA first round), CC doesn't limp into tournament, but they're also not charging in hard.  They're a special teams nightmare, in that being top 10 in the nation in the Power Play (40% of the teams goals come on the man advantage) is balanced by the fact that they have given up a nation's worst 11 shorthanded goals.  (Like Michigan Tech, the Tigers are clearly NOT doing it for the shorties.)

So, how does CC get by the defending national champions?  Well, for starters, they'll need the Schwartz(es) to be with them, as brother combination of freshman Rylan and sophomore Jaden power a scoring line with the Tigers' leading scorer Stephen Schwartz.  They'll need to play well on even strength.  They'll need some puck luck.  So yes, basically, they'll need all of the things you normally need as a #4 seed if you want to upset the top seed.  Will the Tigers be burning bright on Friday?  We'll see.

(On a non-hockey note, this seems as good a place as any to send our best wishes to NFL Films President (and Colorado College alumnus) Steve Sabol, who has begun treatment this week for a brain tumor.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Midwest #1: North Dakota

University of North Dakota Fighting [NICKNAME]

#1 seed vs. RPI
Midwest Regional (Resch Center, Green Bay, WI)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Automatic Qualifier from the WCHA
WCHA Regular Season Champions

Record: 30-8-3
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol

(Before we start, yes North Dakota is still fighting over the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo, at the state legislature level, so, while they're working that out, we're going with Fighting [NICKNAME] and allowing the reader to make their own choice.)

North Dakota comes in to Hockey Christmas as the hottest team in the country.  We're talking solar fusion hot, 12-0-1 in their last thirteen games, their last loss coming to Colorado College in late January (OK, four of those games were against Michigan Tech, in which NoDak beat the Huskies by a combined 28-4 margin, but you have to play the teams on your schedule and two of the games were in Houghton, so...)  North Dakota is arguably the scariest team in the tournament from top to bottom.  One major question mark is the health of Jason Gregoire, who was, before his injury, racking up the points like it was a game of Duck Hunt.

Continuing one of the great NCAA Hockey traditions, North Dakota continues to have the best hockey names, and currently has a first pairing defenseman on their roster named Ben Blood.  Ben Blood.  Seriously, his jersey IS the blood jersey!

Matt Frattin is lighting the upper Great Plains ablaze, scoring 35 goals in North Dakota's 41 games this season and chipping in 22 helpers and sophomore goalie Aaron Dell clearly shakes off bad games well, the question becomes, in a one and done format, can you avoid that bad game?  North Dakota looks to keep rolling, trying not to look too far ahead to a potential rematch with Denver in the Regional Final and a trip back to St. Paul, but if Dave Hakstol's team plays as they have over the last two months, they could win title number 7 8 (thanks for the correction!).

Midwest #2: Denver

University of Denver Pioneers

2 seed vs. Western Michigan, Midwest Regional (Resch Center, Green Bay, WI)
Saturday, March 26, 2011
At-large bid from the WCHA

Coach: George Gwozdecky

Denver comes into the NCAA tournament having just taken North Dakota to double-overtime before falling in the WCHA championship game by a 3-2 score. They don't have a long unbeaten streak to their name, but they swept Minnesota State out of the playoffs and decisively handled Bemidji State, 6-2, in the Final Five semis before their own adventure with the Sioux, a game which may prove they own the best goaltender in the WCHA in freshman Sam Brittain (.923 SV%, 2.24 GAA). Brittain made a number of impressive saves, and the game only ended when Matt Frattin found a rebound on his stick from a Chay Genoway shot that died in traffic.

On offense, sophomore Drew Shore (23-22--45) leads the team in goals and points. Freshman Jason Zucker, a fellow alumnus of the NTDP, is #2 in points with a 21-20--41 line. Senior Anthony Maiani (8-28--36) leads the team in assists. Defensemen Matt Donovan (8-22--30) and David Makowski (6-22--28) also are good for a lot of helpers.

The Pioneers are also happy to report that they're healthy going into the tournament for the first time in several years. Injuries to star players have hampered Denver in recent years, but everyone should be ready to go on Saturday. And no, George Gwozdecky will not be heading to East Lansing any time soon.

Midwest #3: Western Michigan

Western Michigan University Broncos

#3 seed vs. Denver
Midwest Regional (Resch Center, Green Bay, WI)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

At-Large Berth from the CCHA

Record: 19-12-10
Head Coach: Jeff Blashill

Good on ya, Western Michigan.  Last season, Western finishing in 12th place in the CCHA.  They won 8 games all season and scored just 76 goals.  In just his first season as ABCDEFGHI got a boss in Kalamazoo, Jeff Blashill has righted the Broncos ship of state, and the Broncos scored 77 goals this year (in CONFERENCE PLAY, a total of 114 overall.) and suddenly the Broncos are making their fourth appearance in the tournament and their first since I was a senior in high school.  (Criminy, I'm old.)

Western Michigan's greatest strength is mental, they clearly are a team that comes out every night confident not only that they can play with anyone in the country, but that they can BEAT anyone in the country.  Blitzing Michigan on the Friday night of the CCHA Semi-Finals, they could have easily folded against Miami Saturday night when the RedHawks jumped out to a not insignificant early lead, but instead clawed their way back in to make it a game.  If Western is going to break a few eggs against Denver in order to win the Omelette Cup (Western and Denver*, Western and Denver, winner plays the winner of Spanish vs. Moons over My-Hammy (of Ohio)**), they'll need the tough-minded, disciplined approach that got them to this point.

This seems as good a point as any to point out that notable Western Michigan hockey alumni include ESPN's John Saunders, CBC's Glenn Healy, Versus' Keith Jones, and Carl's dad, Boris Hagelin.

The Dark Dark Dark Brown and Metallic Gold are paced by senior Max Campbell, (who was held scoreless last weekend at the Joe) and Freshman Chase Balisy, who has just a great hockey name.  But, and if we've said it once, we've said it 16 times, if Western wants to get to St. Paul, it's going to rest on the blocker and trapper of senior netminder Jerry Kuhn.  Western fans should feel confident that they will give Denver a heck of a game and at this point in the year, you really cannot ask for much more than that.  Good luck Broncos!***

*-Yes, technically a Western Omelette and a Denver Omelette are the same thing.
**-I'm sorry, "My Hammy University."
***-We hold no ill will towards Western or its fans, particularly because the kids in Kalamazoo seem genuinely and sincerely behind this team.  Plus, Western is the easy answer for "Where's Waldo?"

Midwest #4: RPI

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers

#4 seed vs. North Dakota
Midwest Regional (Resch Center, Green Bay, WI)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

At-Large Berth from ECAC

Record: 20-12-5
Head Coach: Seth Appert

We promise that, despite our desire to do so, this entire preview will not be written in Dutch.  But first, let's screw with your head.  Puckman, can you come over here for a moment:

I'm not anti-science, but clearly RPI's experiments in genetic engineering have gone too far.  That thing doesn't even have eyes man!  "What sin can a puckman commit in a single lifetime to bring this upon himself?"  Plus, it's carrying a stick, which means he's clearly a self-flagellate.  Seriously, this just raises further questions.  I'm going to need a few minutes...

All right, yes, so the Engineers, 1985 National Champions, alma mater of Adam Oates, school so committed to engineering that its nickname is the Engineers and not, say "the Beavers" or "the Beavers".  Rolling early in the season, a 2-6-1 finish, complete with a loss in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, the Engineers hope that the final version, released this weekend will pass muster.  RPI will also be facing the classic hockey question of rest vs. rust, having not played in two weeks, as opposed to North Dakota being extended to double OT by the Pioneers last weekend.

So yes, basically, Hobey Top Ten Finalist Chase Polacek, some...oh goodness, he's coming right for us!

Tom Anastos: MSU Hockey Coach

Tom Anastos was announced today as the new head coach of Michigan State's hockey team. When he's asked about it, I'm sure Red Berenson is going to say nice things about Anastos and his run as CCHA commissioner, and everyone else will continue being shocked and confused by the hire.

Up until yesterday morning, it was expected that Danton Cole would be the new MSU coach. It wouldn't have been a thrilling announcement, not even equivalent to the hiring of Brady Hoke, but it would have made a certain amount of sense. Cole is an MSU alum and has been head coach at Alabama-Huntsville for the past two seasons, and to say that the Chargers have struggled would be an understatement. They've gone 11-41-9 in that time period, but they've had the significant recruiting challenge of finding themselves without a conference when the music stopped on College Hockey America. I would have read it as MSU settling for a middling hire and acknowledging that Spartan hockey is small potatoes next to MSU basketball. With the Anastos hire, I don't know if hockey gets any potatoes at all. Or maybe Mark Hollis is just crazy. (<--Always a possibility)

Tom Anastos played hockey at MSU under the legendary Ron Mason from 1981-1985. After a year in the AHL, he switched paths, becoming the head coach of NAIA-affiliated U of M-Dearborn from 1987-1990, when he was re-united with Mason as an assistant coach at MSU form 1990-1992. This would be his most recent professional coaching experience*. 1992. He spent four years as commissioner of the NAHL, which was mostly absorbed by the USHL shortly after his departure, and became commissioner of the CCHA in 1998, taking over from Bill Beagan, whose own 13-year tenure saw the league grow into a national power.

I'm struggling to come up with a good analogy for how crazy this is, and the best I can do is Barry Melrose -- Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Melrose had spent 13 years behind a desk as an ESPN analyst when suddenly Tampa Bay's new owners decided to give Melrose the keys. Those owners? Oren Koules, aka half the producing partnership of the SAW movies, and Len Barrie, a former NHLer and major partner in the Bear Mountain resort, a development as controversial as it is bankrupt, taking with it the investments of 18 very angry hockey players. Reportedly, tensions were so high between Koules and Barrie that Gary Bettman stepped in to broker the sale of Barrie's interest in the team to Jeff Vinik, a minority owner of the Red Sox. This is how crazy you have to be to hire Barry Melrose to be your head coach.

Melrose at least had head coaching experience -- He was coach of the Kings from 1992-1995, and before then had been a moderately successful WHL and AHL head coach. Anastos is a total blank slate. He could be the second coming of Vic Heyliger and Murray Armstrong rolled into one, but it still seems like a terrible process to hire some guy because he's been around the league for 13 years and he happens to be an alum and assistant two decades ago. Mark Hollis claims, "He can attract high-caliber talent and develop those players into those who are attractive to the National Hockey League." HOW CAN YOU KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE? Yes, Brian Smolinski and Rem Murray made the NHL. Fine. I think they probably would have done that with anyone else Ron Mason let near his bench. I'm not saying he can't; I'm just saying this is only half a step beyond picking your kid's midget hockey coach.

Either way, we'll see soon enough if Anastos has what it takes. Rick Comley hasn't exactly left him a lot to work with. If the Spartans finish in the top half of the league next year, it would be a remarkable turnaround. We'll see soon enough.

Ultimately, I hope that this hire comes about because Mark Hollis is insane, not because MSU hockey is being pegged as an also-ran when set alongside basketball. It would be terribly sad if the Spartans took on Anastons because they weren't willing to put a competitive amount of money into the team. The Michigan-MSU hockey rivalry is the most competitive in the state, adn was voted the fiercest rivalry just a few years ago. I'd hate to see MSU become Ohio State.

*Reportedly, he's been coaching his daughters' club teams in the interim, winning a state title this year, so he has been a head hockey coach for a while.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Northeast #1: Miami

Miami University RedHawks

1 seed vs. New Hampshire, Northeast Regional (Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, NH)
CCHA Tournament Champions
Record: 23-9-6
Coach: Enrico Blasi

The Miami RedHawks come into this game unbeaten in their last 13, and winners of their last 7 straight, including a 6-2 decimation of Notre Dame in the CCHA semifinals and a 5-2 thumping of Western Michigan in the championship game, which gave them their first banner at the Joe.

It didn't always seem like it would be this way for the RedHawks. Prior to that streak, they were wandering around getting swept by Ohio State and losing 4-7 to a Michigan State team that finished 10th in conference. The next night after the MSU loss, Enrico Blasi sat four skaters he didn't think were playing up to their potential, the RedHawks shut out the Spartans 4-0, and the current unbeaten streak was born.

This year's Miami team looks a lot like other Miami teams of recent vintage: They lead the CCHA in offense, behind senior Hobey Baker candidate Andy Miele, who leads the nation in points by a whopping 14 with his eye-popping 24-47--71 line. However, Miele doesn't even lead his own team in goals. That honor goes to his left wing, freshman Reilly Smith (28-26--54). Somewhere in the middle is a guy who'd be in the mix for the Hobey if he played on any other team, fellow senior Carter Camper, whose 19-37--56 is good for #3 in the nation in points. Camper centers what is nominally the fourth line, while Miele and Smith are on the top line with Trent Vogelhuber.

Miami's goaltenders Cody Reichard (2.05 GAA, .911 SV%) and Connor Knapp (2.03 GAA, .909) are both juniors and are nearly statistically identical, and both have seemingly taken a step back from last year, where each posted a .921 SV%.

It's also worth noting that the RedHawks as a team are #2 in the nation on the powerplay and an identical #2 on the penalty kill, the only team in the country in the top 5 in both special teams areas. So it's probably a bad idea to take penalties against Miami, but they don't hurt themselves that much when they go to the box.

Northeast #2: Merrimack

Merrimack College Warriors

2 seed vs. Notre Dame,
Northeast Regional (Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, NH)
At-large bid from Hockey East

Coach: Mark Dennehy

Merrimack is making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1988, their only other trip to the big dance as a Division I program. The Warriors are led this year by sophomore Stephane Da Costa (14-30--44), who centers the top line where freshman Jesse Todd (17-14--31) leads the team in goals. Including Da Costa and Todd, seven different Warriors have 10 or more goals, and 15 have at least 10 points. In net, Joe Cannata (.911 sV%, 2.44 GAA) has taken the vast majority of minutes, appearing in all 38 of Merrimack's games played.

Founded in 1947, Merrimack is a speck of a liberal arts college in North Andover, Massachusetts with a total undergraduate population of just over 2,000. It's a Roman Catholic institution associated with the Augustinian order that competes in Division II in all sports but hockey. It's presumably named after the Merrimack River that flows through Andover, not the Civil War ironclad.

Merrimack plays a high-flying style of hockey that can see them thrash Maine 7-1 on January 8th and then get beaten down 0-4, 1-7 by that same Maine team February 25-26th, then sweep the Black Bears 5-4, 6-2 two weeks later. The Warriors were in the running for the last #1 seed for much of the season, but thanks in large part to that Maine series and another stumble at hapless Providence, Merrimack slips in as the #5 overall seed to land in Manchester. Who knows which Merrimack team is going to show up in the NCAAs, but it should be entertaining to watch.

Northeast #3: Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish

#3 seed vs. Merrimack College,
Northeast Regional (Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, NH),
Saturday, March 26, 2011

At-Large Berth from the CCHA

Record: 23-13-5
Head Coach: Jeff Jackson 

(Editor's Note: This is as good a place as any to remind you that while the official policy of the Hoover Street Rag is "To Hell with Notre Dame", we would be remiss not to mention The House that Rock Built's continuing web puppet series "Stuffing the Passer" , which deserves like an Emmy or something.)

Cheer, cheer for old second place.  Notre Dame's hockey program rises, alongside Miami, as the future of the CCHA, particularly as the Big Ten Hockey Conference becomes a reality in 2013.  A new arena (consciously modeled on Yost, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and since it will match Notre Dame Stadium's design being modeled after Michigan Stadium, but we digress) opens next season and Jeff Jackson has spent the last six seasons showing what a school that strives to excel in everything it does can do if they have the right coach, the right attitude, and the right players.  (It also does not hurt that under NCAA rules, once per season, Jeff Jackson gets to invoke the doctrine of papal infallibility due to his resemblance to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.)

Notre Dame is coming in to the tournament on whatever the exact opposite of a roll is.  Flatbread, maybe?  Anyway, losing 4 of their last 7, including both games last weekend at the Joe in the CCHA Championship, if Notre Dame wants to make any noise, and be the threat to advance to Saint Paul that they looked as recently as mid-February, they'll need all-around improvement, starting with their scoring punch.  No Irish defenseman registered a point at the Joe, and part of the fear with Notre Dame is that their two biggest scoring threats this season T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee are freshmen playing in their first tournament game, in what will likely be a pretty hostile environment (we presume Merrimack fans will travel, right?)  Big weekends from Calle Ridderwall and Riley Sheahan will go a long way to sending the Irish to the Xcel in two weeks, rather than counting the days until the Compton Family Center opens next fall. 

(Oh, and by the way, Bryan Rust, yeah, it's Matt's brother.  No word if Bryan never sleeps either. )

Northeast #4: New Hampshire

University of New Hampshire Wildcats

#4 seed vs. Miami University (which is located in Ohio, but we can't actually call them Miami (Ohio) because they get upset when you do.)
Northeast Regional (Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, NH), 
Saturday, March 26, 2011

At-Large Berth from Hockey East

Record: 21-10-6
Head Coach: Dick Umile

New Hampshire is making its 21st appearance in the NCAA tournament, of which they have times.  The good news is, this is five more appearances than the entire rest of the Northeast Regional combined, all of whom also have zero NCAA Championships.  But we won't call them the University of No Hardware, in part because we're not Hockey East partisans.  New Hampshire does have one major advantage as the four seed, in that they are hosting the Northeast Regional (which, while not the Olympic Ice of Durham, is still a frequent host to the Wildcats.) meaning that they will be playing in front of a partisan crowd in their Regional Semi-Final showdown with Miami.  Will it be enough?  Hard to say, but the history of host upsets in the NCAA tournament means that New Hampshire is setting up a run for St. Paul is probably easier than any of the other four seeds.

If New Hampshire is going to be a threat, the senior leadership of their top line of Paul Thompson, Phil DeSimone, Mike Sislo will need to come up big for the 'Cats.  Thompson's 28 goals and 24 assists show a nice balance in leading the team in scoring, literally doubling up Stevie Moses' 14-12 line.)  Thompson also has 12 power play goals, which might be critical in downing Miami.

Matt Digirolamo mans the nets for New Hampshire, and will need to return his early season form if the Cats will make it to Saint Paul.  The outlook could be sunnier for UNH, but in a one and done format, all it takes is winning four games to hoist the hardware, and the only way you get a shot at that is to be in the tournament.  That's New Hampshire's best hope right now.  That they're on the list.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

East #1: Yale

Yale University Bulldogs

1 seed vs. Air Force, East Regional (Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, CT)
ECAC Tournament Champions
Record: 27-6-1
Malcolm G. Chase Head Coach: Keith Allain

Hail to the Elis, securing the #1 overall seed and earning a hearty "Boola Boola" from the blue-bloods and earning the right to play at the East Regional that they are hosting in Bridgeport. Earning the first overall #1 seed for an ECAC team since Cornell in 2003, Yale can clearly see the sting of the bizarre 9-7 loss to eventual national champion Boston College in last year's regional final. The Bulldogs, led by alumnus Keith Allain, posted three straight shutouts to solidify its place at the top of the bracket and put some silence in the doubters who saw Yale fade down the stretch (allowing Union to claim the ECAC regular season title.)

Yale is a team that likes to play with a lead. The forward lines, led by center Andrew Miller and right wings Brian O'Neill and Broc Little can score with the best of them and their assist totals (81 between the three of them) show that this a team that can pass and beat you in a lot of ways.

The reality is, however, it's going to come down to goaltending. As CHN's Adam Wodon makes the case, Ryan Rondeau holds the key to Yale's efforts to advance to Saint Paul for the Frozen Four. While it seems perhaps cliché that goaltending will make the difference for a #1 seed to advance, particularly as the "hot goalie" thesis has won more than a few NCAA tournaments (cough|Turco|cough), Rondeau does seem to be the mercurial power upon which Yale's fate pivots. When he's on, he's really on, but as the second part of the season pointed out, his lows are so extreme that they tease you for weeks in their absence. Which Rondeau will standup? We will find out Friday and maybe Saturday.

East #2: Union

Union College Dutchmen

2 seed vs. Minnesota-Duluth, East Regional (Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, CT)
ECAC Regular Season Champions
At-large bid from ECAC
Record: 26-9-4
Coach: Nate Leaman

Any way you look at it, this has been the best year in Union's history. Previously, the college didn't even have a four-goal game by any player in its record books. The 26 wins this year are a school record, as is the 2.10 GAA and the 144 goals scored. As ECAC regular season champions, the Dutchmen won the Cleary Cup for the first time. Unfortunately, they ran into a speed bump against league bottom-feeder Colgate to get bounced from the second round of the ECAC tournament. Up until that point, Union had gone 15-1-1 in their last 17 games.

The Dutchmen are led on offense by junior center Kelly Zajac (13-29--42), with freshman Daniel Carr (20-15--35) the leader in goals. On defense, freshman Matt Bodie (6-26--32) and senior Brock Matheson (3-7--10) are by far the leaders in +/- (+27 and +24, respectively). Bodie is also the top defenseman in all offensive categories.

Union College was founded in Schenectady, New York back in 1795 as a successor to the Dutch Reformed Church's Schenectady Academy, which had been formed in 1785. Union's second president was Jonathan Edwards, Jr., son of the famed preacher of the Great Awakening/author of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". Famous alumni of Union include William Seward, of Alaska-purchasing fame, and Chester A. Arthur (who may or may not have been a stuffed shaved bear). The college was all-male for its first 175 years and finally began enrolling women in 1970.

East #3: Minnesota-Duluth

University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

3 seed vs. Union, East Regional (Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, CT)
At-large bid from WCHA
Record: 22-10-6
Coach: Scott Sandelin

The Bulldogs got out to a hot start, losing only one of their first fourteen games. They proceeded to go on a 1-3-1 skid following that, foreshadowing an up and down final three months of the season. UMD never lost two games in a row, but only swept Clarkson, hapless Michigan Tech, and St. Cloud State in the remainder of the season. That playoff sweep of the Huskies put UMD in the WCHA Final Five, where they lost 3-2 to Bemidji State.

UMD is heavily dependent on its top line, featuring a pair of 20-goal scorers in senior Justin Fontaine (20-32--52) and junior Mike Connolly (26-23--49) and the team points leader, center Jack Connolly (16-39--55). (Note: Jack and Mike are not brothers, though Jack does have a college hockey-playing brother -- Chris, a junior at BU).

On defense, freshman Justin Faulk seems like one to watch. He's the top offensive defenseman (8-19--27) and the top defenseman in +/- (+17). Juniors Kenny Reiter and Aaron Crandall have split time in goal, with Reiter (.911 SV%, 2.36 GAA) getting about two thirds of the minutes.

East #4: Air Force

United States Air Force Academy Falcons

4 seed vs. Yale, East Regional (Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, CT)
Atlantic Hockey Tournament Champions
Record: 28-11-2
Coach: Frank Serratore

Since joining the league in 2006, Air Force has dominated the Atlantic Hockey championship tournament. The Falcons won the conference's auto-bid to the NCAA tournament 2007-2009, and now have captured it again in 2011. The 2007 and 2008 teams were eliminated in the first round, but the 2009 team shut out Michigan 2-0 behind goals from Jacques Lamoreux and Derrick Burnett. Both are now seniors, and Lamoureux (24-20--44) leads the Falcon in goals and points, while Burnett (8-27--35) has been an assist machine.

The other major component of the Falcons' upset in '08 was goaltender Andrew Volkening. Volkening graduated following last season, and has been replaced by freshman Jason Torf (.908 SV%, 2.90 GAA). Statistically, Torf is a step back from Volkening as a junior and senior, but is already well ahead of the freshman Volkening who put a scare in Minnesota in 2007 before falling 3-2.

Welcome to our 20111 NCAA Hockey Previews

In just a few minutes, the first of our capsule previews for each of the 16 teams in the 2011 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Division I tournament will go up. This is our fifth year doing them, and it's one of our favorite times of the year. All of this year's previews will be tagged with the 2011 ncaa hockey previews label, so that should take you to all of them. After the last one drops on Friday, we'll also be compiling them in a PDF, if you're into that kind of thing. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011 NCAA Hockey Christmas Tournament Challenge

Is your NCAA Tournament bracket busted? Are you looking for a shot a redemption? Don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard? Well, I present the 2011 NCAA Hockey Christmas Tournament Challenge.

Instead of picking a bracket, in this Tournament Challenge, you pick four schools. Any four schools in the tournament. You want to pick all one seeds? You can do that. You want to pick four schools all in the same region? You can do that? You pick four teams. For each round that a team wins, you multiply their seed by their round score. Round scores are:

Regional Semi-Final: 1 point
Regional Final: 4 points
National Semi-Final: 8 points
National Championship: 32 points

So, if you would like to play, just submit to me, via message, in the comments below, or by some other means, by Friday at noon, your four teams. No money, no prizes, just for pride. Also, please, by all means, tell your friends.

Enjoy, and a Merry Hockey Christmas to all!

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, Wisconsin)
(MW1)North Dakota (WCHA Regular Season and Playoff Champions)
(MW4)Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) (ECAC At-Large)
(MW3)Western Michigan (CCHA At-Large)
(MW2)Denver University (WCHA At-Large)

Northeast Regional (Manchester, New Hampshire)
(NE2)Merrimack (Hockey East At-Large)
(NE3)Notre Dame (CCHA At-Large)
(NE4)New Hampshire (Hockey East At-Large)
(NE1)Miami University (CCHA Playoff Champion)

East Regional (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
(E1)Yale (ECAC Playoff Champions)
(E4)Air Force (Atlantic Hockey Playoff Champions)
(E3)Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA At-Large)
(E2)Union College (ECAC Regular Season Champions)

West Regional (St. Louis, Missouri)
(W2)Michigan (CCHA At Large, CCHA Regular Season Champion)
(W3)Nebraska-Omaha (WCHA At-Large)
(W4)Colorado College (WCHA At-Large)
(W1)Boston College (Hockey East Regular Season & Playoff Champion)

East and Northeast play in one National Semi-Final, West and Midwest play in the other.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down."

I went in to the Fab Five documentary, in the words of MGoBlog's Brian Cook, "preparing to be conflicted." On the one hand, it was a flood of memories and "Oh yeah!" and "Wow, I do remember that." On the other hand, there just feels like something wrong about celebrating the Fab Five as a part of Michigan's legacy if the school, as a part of NCAA penalties, has disassociated itself with the era because of the actions of Chris Webber. But it was the closing shot that summed it all up for me and has crystallized in my mind my new sense of what the Fab Five means.

Very late in the documentary, as we race through the Ed Martin situation, as Jalen Rose tries to talk his way through it, as Mitch Albom attempts to defend how he could write an entire book about the Fab Five and not know Chris Webber was on the take, we see the camera slowly pan down the long aisles of the Bentley Historical Library's archives. It's a tremendous visual and ties the whole documentary together, as we got a snippet of the same shot early in the film. There, sitting on the shelf, are the 1992 and 1993 Final Four banners, sealed, labeled, preserved for perpetuity, like some NCAA violations Ark of the Covenant. Why do you save the banners? I am sure it's an official University policy in that regard, that the banners are an historical relic and they must be preserved, even if no longer acknowledged. But couple that with the fact that 2013 was mentioned several times in the last segment, that the University had to officially disassociate itself with Chris Webber (and Taylor/Traylor/Bullock, which, honestly, in addition to Michael Talley, were the people most thrown under the bus in the film, although really, rightfully so.) President Coleman and Mr. Brandon say all the right things, about why the University had to do it, and about that if Chris Webber will acknowledge what he did wrong, and apologize, Michigan would welcome him back to the family, something that the other members of the Fab Five don't see happening. Which is exactly what you're supposed to say in a recorded document like this, acknowledge the NCAA punishment, talk about how you feel it's fitting, pay due deference, etc. But, between the Legends Classic acknowledgment of Rose, Jackson, and King this year at Crisler, the fact that Crisler will be all shiny and new for 2013, the hints David Brandon has laid down about building the foundations for the future of the basketball program, it becomes clear, at least in my mind, that 2013 is just a target date now, that Michigan is just waiting out the next two basketball seasons, focused on what the present can be (and how that present arrived much sooner than we expected) and then, in 2013, reintegrating the history of the Fab Five into the fabric of Michigan basketball.

What bothers me about this is that it feels like having one's cake and eating it too. There's a fair point to be made about how it seems unfair that the actions of one individual destroy the legacy of the others (fairly counterpointed by the acknowledgment that it's a team game and it's the only fair way to do it.) There's a fair point in the fact that Michigan made a lot of money off the Fab Five and the Fab Five as a whole, did not benefit from that in a symmetrical manner. But maybe the biggest problem with this is the shame of "vacated wins" and taking down banners and rewriting the record books. You can't change history, no matter how much you want to try. You can tell the story in an official way, like what was done in the old Soviet Union, but as long as the memory remains alive, as long as there is archival footage of what happened, you can't expect me to buy in completely that it never happened. So maybe this is some oblique way of Michigan reclaiming what it was, telling it warts and all, letting people judge the legacy of the Fab Five in the whole of the telling, and allowing them to render their decisions based on all the facts, not just the official record. Maybe that is why the banners sit on a shelf in the Bentley, because we cannot just destroy the past if we truly want to know what happened.

*-One quick note on the thing that bothered me most about the documentary, the Michigan merchandising revenue chart that makes it look like no one had heard of Michigan before the Fab Five. While I do not want to diminish the impact that Fab Five had on selling Michigan gear, 1991 was also the year of Desmond Howard's Heisman winning season, and 1992-93 was the year Michigan signed its huge Nike deal (want proof in the film? If you look closely, the 1991-92 edition of the Fab Five was wearing awful Rawlings warmup jackets and pretty cool Russell Athletic shimmer jerseys.) And while the Fab Five did move jerseys and merchandise nationally, it was also the first time that you could get, regularly, a replica Michigan football jersey. I distinctly remember a lot of kids in my high school days rocking their Tyrone Wheatley #6 Michigan jersey. So, it's a tad disingenuous to show that chart to make the case that the Fab Five was theonly reason Michigan moved more product. But it's a minor quibble.)