Commentary

Men's hockey NCAA regionals preview

Updated: March 25, 2010, 11:23 AM ET
By Inside College Hockey

Defending champion Boston University, which lost to Maine in the Hockey East semifinals, failed to qualify for the NCAA hockey tournament. Meanwhile, Alaska and RIT are making their first-ever NCAA tournament appearances. Here's what's important at each regional site this weekend. Read about what you need to know, plus a look at how each team could advance or get tripped up.

EAST | WEST | MIDWEST | NORTHEAST

EAST -- Friday and Saturday --

East Regional Capsules | Albany, N.Y.

Times Union Center

Friday, March 26

3 p.m. ET: No. 1 Denver vs. No. 4 RIT, ESPNU

6:30 p.m. ET: No. 2 Cornell vs. No. 3 New Hampshire, ESPNU

Saturday, March 27
6:30 p.m. ET: Regional final, ESPNU

No. 1 seed Denver Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: Seven (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005)
NCAA Appearance: 20th (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: George Gwozdecky
Key Players: Rhett Rakhshani, F, Sr. (21-29--50); Joe Colborne, F, So. (21-19--40); Patrick Wiercioch, F, So. (6-19--25); Marc Cheverie, G, Jr. (24-5-3, 2.08 GAA, .932)
What You Need to Know: The Pioneers' two losses were the team's first back-to-back Ls of the season. They played strong competition in the likes of North Dakota and Wisconsin, but it has to be a cause for concern heading East for the first time all season.

How They'll Advance: This team is so good in so many areas. There's scoring depth from Rhett Rakhshani, Joe Colborne, Tyler Ruegsegger. A mobile defense corps led by Patrick Wiercioch patrols the area in front of Hobey finalist Marc Cheverie
What Might Trip Them Up: Losing streaks, even against good teams, can diminish a team's confidence. A second-round match against Cornell wouldn't be easy in a rink where the Big Red are very familiar and would have plenty of fan support.

No. 2 seed Cornell Qualified: ECAC Hockey tournament champions
NCAA Championships: Two (1967, 1970)
NCAA Appearance: 18th (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Mike Schafer
Key Players: Ben Scrivens, Sr., G (21-8-4, 1.78, .937); Blake Gallagher, Sr., F (33 GP, 18-19--37); Colin Greening, Sr., F (33 GP, 15-20--35); Riley Nash, Jr., F (29 GP, 12-22--34)

What You Need to Know: The Big Red are playing their best hockey of the season in front of standout goaltender Ben Scrivens and have posted three straight shutouts in a series-clinching win over Harvard, a semifinal victory over Brown and the title game win against Union.

How They'll Advance: The Big Red have good size up front and can use the cycle game down low to generate chances, and also rank in the top-10 nationally on the power play. They've already beaten New Hampshire once this season on UNH's big ice sheet and now the Wildcats come to Albany, a venue that Cornell is very familiar with.

What Might Trip Them Up: New Hampshire doesn't take many penalties and can win the five-on-five game. Denver and RIT have two of the best goalies in the nation not named Ben Scrivens.

No. 3 seed New Hampshire Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: 20th (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Dick Umile
Key Players: Bobby Butler, Sr., F (37 GP, 27-23--50); Brian Foster, Sr., G (16-13-7, 2.95, .910); Blake Kessel, So., D (36 GP, 9-26--35); Paul Thompson, Jr., F (37 GP, 17-19--36)

What You Need To Know: Led by Hockey East's Player of the Year, Bobby Butler, and senior goaltender Brian Foster the Wildcats overcame a preseason fourth-place prediction to win the conference. While they excelled in the conference, their record outside was an abysmal 2-7-1. They finished 3-7-4 against teams that made the NCAA field.

How They'll Advance: New Hampshire has elite top-end talent in first-team All-Hockey East selections Butler, Foster and defenseman Blake Kessel, and solid depth up front in the likes of Paul Thompson, Mike Sislo and Phil DeSimone. They excel in transition, as Dick Umile's teams typically do.

What Might Trip Them Up: As that 3-7-4 record against the NCAA field suggests, New Hampshire has struggled against top competition. In fact, all three of those wins came against Vermont, which may be the weakest at-large bid in the tournament. The Wildcats also struggled away from the Olympic ice sheet at the Whittemore Center, posting a 7-9-2 record in road games.

No. 4 seed RIT Qualified: Atlantic Hockey tournament champions
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: First
Head Coach: Wayne Wilson
Key Players: Cameron Burt, So., F (37 GP, 15-30--45); Jared DeMichiel, Sr., G (25-9-1, 2.00, .922); Dan Ringwald, Sr., D (38 GP, 11-23--34); Andrew Favot, Jr., F (37 GP, 13-28--41)
What You Need to Know: Perennial Division III powers, the RIT Tigers make their first Division I tournament appearance after an impressive showing in Atlantic Hockey. They enter the tournament with a 10-game winning streak, the longest in the nation.
How They'll Advance: Against their schedule they have shown no significant flaws: the Tigers can score, play defense, excel on special teams and have an experienced leader in goal. Their youngest player is 20, so although they may not be accustomed to this stage, it's still an experienced group. RIT has at least one power-play goal in 14 straight games. Burt and Favot each have 8 PPGs, two of nine players with two or more.
What Might Trip Them Up: RIT didn't beat a single team outside of Atlantic Hockey this season. While Air Force last season showed not to underestimate the conference, the Falcons had at least beaten Colorado College and Bemidji State along the way -- they had more experience and more success against better teams than these Tigers.


WEST -- Friday and Saturday --

West Regional Capsules | St. Paul, Minn.

Xcel Energy Center
Friday, March 26

5:30 p.m. ET: No. 2 St. Cloud State vs. No. 3 Northern Michigan, ESPN360.com

9 p.m. ET: No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Vermont, ESPNU

Saturday, March 27

9 p.m. ET: Regional Final, ESPNU

No. 1 Wisconsin Record: 25-10-4 overall (17-8-3 WCHA, second)
Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: Six (1973, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1990, 2006)
NCAA Appearance: 23rd (most recent, 2008)
Head Coach: Mike Eaves
Key Players: Michael Davies, F, Sr. (37 GP, 18-32--50); Brendan Smith, F, Jr. (38 GP, 15-30--45); Blake Geoffrion, F, Sr. (36 GP, 25-18--43); Scott Gudmandson, G, Jr. (17-4-4, 2.31, .915)
What You Need to Know: The Badgers have 11 NHL draft picks on their roster, but the team's leading scorer (Davies) and top goaltender (Gudmandson) are undrafted.
How They'll Advance: No team in the field has better depth than the Badgers, who have eight players with 20 or more points, seven players with 10 or more goals, and an embarrassment of riches on the blue line. Bringing their A game to the Xcel Energy Center would get them to Detroit.
What Might Trip Them Up: For a team that has so much talent on the blue line and a solid goalie in Gudmandson, the Badgers have been on the losing end of a suprising number of high-scoring affairs. Wisconsin can rally from just about any deficit, but opponents have had success against them when getting out to an early lead.

No. 2 seed St. Cloud State Record: 23-15-5 overall (15-9-4 CCHA, third)
Qualified: At-large birth
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Eighth (most recent, 2008)
Head Coach: Bob Motzko
Key Players: Garrett Roe, F, Jr. (39 PG, 19-27--46); Ryan Lasch, F, Sr. (41 GP, 19-27--46); Garrett Raboin, D, Sr. (38 GP, 8-15--23); Mike Lee, G, Fr. (11-9-3, 2.74, .918)
What You Need to Know: Ryan Lasch picked up his 180th career point in the Huskies' WCHA title game loss to North Dakota, making him St. Cloud State's all-time scoring leader. He surpassed Jeff Saterdalen, who scored 179 points between 1988-92.
How They'll Advance: Perhaps more than any other team in the tournament, the Huskies are at their best when their best players are leading the charge -- for SCSU, that's Lasch, Roe, and Raboin. The other big question surrounding this team is goaltending; Mike Lee, who started both game for the Huskies at the WCHA Final Five last weekend, has the better pedigree, but Dan Dunn has been more consistent. Regardless of who starts, a solid performance from a position that has been SCSU's Achilles heel at times this season is a must.
What Might Trip Them Up: St. Cloud State's penalty kill ranks 40th in the nation with a success rate of 80 percent. That's the worst of the 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament field, not a great omen with two teams with solid power-play units (Northern Michigan and Wisconsin) in the bracket. And obviously, it would be a huge loss if Roe's injury keeps him out of the tournament.

No. 3 seed Northern Michigan Record: 20-12-8 overall (13-9-6-3 CCHA, fourth)
Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: One (1991)
NCAA Appearance: Eighth (most recent, 1999)
Head Coach: Walt Kyle
Key Players: Mark Olver, F, Jr. (39 GP, 19-29--48); Greger Hanson, F, Jr. (39 GP, 16-22--38); Erik Gustafsson, D, Jr. (38 GP, 3-28--31); Brian Stewart, G, Sr. (18-10-7, 2.40, .927)
What You Need to Know: Looking for a team heading into the tournament on a roll? Despite losing to Michigan in the CCHA championship game, the Wildcats are 10-2-2 since getting swept at Nebraska-Omaha Jan. 22-23, and 14-4-4 since getting swept at Lake Superior State Dec. 11-12.
How They'll Advance: The Wildcats don't boast any household names, but their top two lines are as good as any in college hockey, and the defensive pair of Erik Gustafsson and T.J. Miller is top notch, too. NMU is sound in every facet of the game, but not excellent in any particular area. They can win low-scoring affairs, but the Wildcats are more effective when the offense is driving the team.
What Might Trip Them Up: The Wildcats have an effective penalty kill, but its opponents average seven power plays per game. That could be a recipe for disaster against offenses like St. Cloud State and Wisconsin. And while goaltender Brian Stewart has quietly put together a terrific season, he's not the type of goalie who will steal a game and he's much more effective playing with a lead.

No. 4 seed Vermont Record: 17-14-7 overall (9-11-7 Hockey East, eighth)
Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Fifth (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon
Key Players: Brayden Irwin, Sr., F (38 GP, 15-19--34); Rob Madore, So., G (13-12-7, 2.65, .907); Colin Vock, Sr., F (38 GP, 11-17--28); Brian Roloff, Sr., F (38 GP, 8-18--26)
What You Need to Know: A Frozen Four team a year ago, Vermont suffered severe losses to graduation and early departure, and it showed in the Catamounts' Hockey East finish. They were solid outside the conference, however, and won back-to-back 1-0 games against New Hampshire in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
How They'll Advance: As he showed in last year's run to Washington, D.C., and again in the wins against UNH, Rob Madore can be as good as any goaltender in the country when he's on. He's bolstered by a big, experienced and talented defense corps that will want to keep games low-scoring to give them a chance.
What Might Trip Them Up: With only two goals in their last three games, offense can be downright abysmal for the Catamounts. They can't necessarily count on the power play, either: their 16.0 percent success rate ranks 45th nationally and 15th among NCAA Tournament teams.


MIDWEST -- Saturday and Sunday --

Midwest Regional Capsules | Fort Wayne, Ind.

Allen County War Memorial Coliseum
Saturday, March 27

4 p.m. ET: No. 1 Miami vs. No. 4 Alabama-Huntsville, ESPNU

7:30 p.m. ET: No. 2 Bemidji State vs. No. 3 Michigan, ESPN360.com

Sunday, March 28

8 p.m. ET: Regional Final, ESPNU

No. 1 Miami (Ohio) Record: 27-7-7 overall (21-2-5-2 CCHA, first)
Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Eighth (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi
Key Players: Jarod Palmer, F, Sr. (41 GP, 18-27--45); Andy Miele, F, Jr. (40 GP, 15-29--44); Tommy Wingels, F, Jr. (41 GP, 17-25--42); Cody Reichard, G, So. (18-4-3, 1.79, .924)
What You Need to Know: Miami was the most dominant team in college hockey during the regular season and wrapped up the CCHA title with five games left in the regular season. Goalie Cody Reichard, a Hobey Baker finalist, was yanked in the CCHA semifinal. Connor Knapp is playing better right now.
How They'll Advance: The RedHawks have allowed two goals or fewer in their last six wins. Their game starts with limiting the other team's top lines and countering with balanced scoring from the likes of Jarod Palmer, Andy Miele, Tommy Wingels and Carter Camper -- all have 38 points or more.
What Might Trip Them Up: The RedHawks are just 4-3-1 in their last eight games and were stretched to three games in the CCHA quarterfinal series by Ohio State. While Miami has come out on top in most of the games it's been favored in, it's hard to identify a high-quality win on its schedule since starting 3-0-1 against St. Cloud State and New Hampshire.

No. 2 seed Bemidji State Record: 23-9-4 overall (14-3-1 CHA, first)
Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Fourth (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Tom Serratore
Key Players: Matt Read, F, Jr. (36 GP, 19-21--40); Jordan George, F, Fr. (35 GP, 13-21--34); Brad Hunt, D, So. (7-26--33); Dan Bakala, G, So. (19-7-3, 2.27, .919)
What You Need to Know: Bemidji State swept the College Hockey America awards this season -- forward Matt Read was the league's player of the year, forward Jordan George was CHA Freshman of the Year, and Tom Serratore was the circuit's coach of the year.
How They'll Advance: The Beavers are fifth nationally in scoring defense, but they're not a prototypical shutdown team. They're at their best when the offense, which ranks sixth nationally at 3.53 goals per game, is firing on all cylinders, so expect them to try and push the tempo.
What Might Trip Them Up: A low-scoring game doesn't play to the Beavers' strengths. In its nine losses, Bemidji State has scored a total of 19 goals, an average of 2.11 goals per game. In the 27 games the Beavers didn't lose, they scored 108 goals, an average of exactly four goals a game.

No. 3 seed Michigan Record: 25-17-1 overall (14-13-1-0 CCHA, seventh)
Qualified: CCHA tournament champions
NCAA Championships: Nine (1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1964, 1996, 1998)
NCAA Appearance: 33rd (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Gordon "Red" Berenson
Key Players: Carl Hagelin, F, Jr. (43 GP, 17-30--47); Louie Caporusso, F, Jr. (43 GP, 20-21--41); Matt Rust, F, Jr. (43 GP, 13-25--38); Shawn Hunwick, G, Jr. (7-2-0, 1.86, .912)
What You Need to Know: The Wolverines extended their run of NCAA Tournament appearances to 20 in a row this season, but they'd like to stick around a little longer this time around. Michigan has been a first-round loser three times in the last four years.
How They'll Advance: The Wolverines ratcheted up the attention to defense a notch during their run to the CCHA playoff title, allowing a total of nine goals in their last six games. Surprisingly, that has sparked an offensive rejuvenation, as Michigan has scored five or more goals in five of its last six matches. Clearly, this team is firing on all cylinders -- they'll not want to change a thing.
What Might Trip Them Up: The question that has been asked prior to every Michigan playoff series is, when will Shawn Hunwick fall to earth? Prior to starting goaltender Bryan Hogan's injury, Hunwick had seen less playing time than a Martin Brodeur backup. He's due for an ordinary outing at some point. And while the Wolverines have great balance on offense, they've reached another level with Caporusso's hot streak. If he's rendered ineffective, the task gets tougher.

No. 4 seed Alabama-Huntsville Record: 12-17-3 overall (6-10-2 CHA, tied for third)
Qualified: CHA tournament champions
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Second (most recent, 2007)
Head Coach: Danton Cole
Key Players: Cameron Talbot, G, Jr. (12-17-3, 2.62, .924); Cody Campbell, F, So. (32 GP, 8-14--22); Andrew Coburn, F, Jr. (7-15--22); Matti Jarvinen, F, Fr. (5-13--18)
What You Need to Know: The Chargers -- the only team without a conference destination next year from the soon-to-be-defunct CHA -- captured the league's last automatic bid with an improbable win in the conference championship. Alabama-Huntsville gave Notre Dame a scare three years ago in its only previous NCAA appearance.
How They'll Advance: Alabama-Huntsville needs to embrace the emotion that comes with its underdog status multiplied by its uncertain future. It also needs to lean on Cameron Talbot, the CHA tournament MVP, who has faced nearly 35 shots per game and stopped 92.4 percent of them. He anchors an excellent penalty kill that ranks fourth in the nation.
What Might Trip Them Up: Talent, it would seem, should catch up to the Chargers, who appear to be overmatched. They were 0-6-1 against other tournament teams (only one of those games, a loss at Vermont, was against a team other than Bemidji State). Last year's tournament should teach favorites not to overlook the underdogs, which may eliminate the element of surprise for a team like UAH.


NORTHEAST -- Saturday and Sunday --

Northeast Regional Capsules | Worcester, Mass.

DCU Center
Saturday, March 27

1:30 p.m. ET: No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 4 Alaska, ESPN360.com

5 p.m. ET: No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 3 Yale, ESPN360.com

Sunday, March 28

5:30 p.m. ET: Regional Final, ESPNU

No. 1 seed Boston College Record: 25-10-3 overall (16-8-3 Hockey East, second)
Qualified: Hockey East tournament champions
NCAA Championships: Three (1949, 2001, 2008)
NCAA Appearance: 29th (most recent, 2008)
Head Coach: Jerry York
Key Players: Cam Atkinson, So., F (24 GP, 24-22--46); Brian Gibbons, Jr., F (38 GP, 15-29--44); Joe Whitney, Jr., F (38 GP, 14-21--35); John Muse, Jr., G (15-8-2, 2.43, .909)
What You Need to Know: Boston College returns to the tournament after a one-year hiatus and enter as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They have seven double-digit goal scorers and seven players remaining from the 2008 championship team.
How They'll Advance: The Eagles have scored six goals or more four times in the last nine games and nine times on the year. If offense doesn't win championships, how else do you explain their 7-6 overtime win against Maine in the Hockey East title game? At their best they excel on both ends of the ice, as seen in the Hockey East semifinal, when they never seemed to give Vermont a glimmer of hope in a 3-0 shutout win.
What Might Trip Them Up: Should BC beat Alaska in the first round, the potential second-round foe, North Dakota, is one of the few teams that could keep up with the fleet Eagles. BC also has four freshmen on the blueline and a netminder in John Muse who hasn't been as good the last two years as he was when winning the national title as a freshman.

No. 2 seed North Dakota Record: 25-12-5 overall (15-10-3 WCHA, tied for fourth)
Qualified: WCHA tournament champions
NCAA Championships: Seven (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000)
NCAA Appearance: 25th (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol
Key Players : Chris VandeVelde, F, Sr. (41 GP, 16-24--40); Jason Gregoire, F, So. (42 GP, 20-17--37); Danny Kristo, F, Fr. (40 GP, 15-21--36)
What You Need to Know : The WCHA Final Five champions are one of the hottest teams in the country. They've won 12 of their last 13 games, scoring 55 goals in that time. A pair of victories against fellow NCAA Tournament qualifiers Denver and St. Cloud State shows that the Sioux can play with anyone in the country.
How They'll Advance : The offense perked right up when Brett Hextall returned to the lineup after missing games due to injury and has averaged 4.23 goals-per-game in those last 13. It'll take some goals for North Dakota to win against the likes of Yale and Boston College and a stingy defensive team in Alaska.
What Might Trip Them Up : Goalie Brad Eidsness was a second-team pick in the WCHA but has allowed the loose goal here and there during the regular season. There's no room for error in this single-elimination event.

No. 3 seed Yale Record: 20-9-3 overall (15-5-2 ECAC Hockey, first)
Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Fourth (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Keith Allain
Key Players: Broc Little, Jr., F (32 GP, 26-14--40); Brian O'Neill, So., F (32 GP, 14-25--39); Denny Kearney, Jr., F (32 GP, 9-25--34); Thomas Dignard, Sr., D (27 GP, 6-20--26)
What You Need to Know: Yale is in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, but under much different circumstances this time. In 2009, they rolled through the ECAC Hockey regular season and tournament. This year, they were quarterfinal upset losers to Brown and haven't played in two weeks.
How They'll Advance: Yale is at its best when it generates chances off of opponents turnovers in the neutral zone. The speedy Yale forwards will clog passing lanes and transition the puck quickly. The other team has to be very careful with the puck at both blue lines.
What Might Trip Them Up: Yale missed 21-goal scorer Sean Backman in that series against Brown and ran into a hot goalie. There's enough scoring depth to overcome his absence, but another hot goalie as well as uncertainty between the pipes for the Bulldogs could make the difference.

No. 4 seed Alaska Record: 18-11-9 overall (11-9-8-4 CCHA, fifth)
Qualified: At-large berth
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: First
Head Coach: Dallas Ferguson
Key Players: Dion Knelsen, F, Sr. (38 GP, 19-23--42); Andy Taranto, F, Fr. (38 GP, 17-24--41); Joe Sova, D, So. (6-17--23); Scott Greenham, G, So. (18-11-9, 2.20, .918)
What You Need to Know: The Nanooks are making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, and the first by an Alaska school since Alaska Anchorage made three straight appearances between 1990-92.
How They'll Advance: This isn't the same Alaska team of years past that relies on a suffocating defensive system and goaltending to wear down foes; they've got enough offensive talent to outscore foes. Still, the Nanooks are at their best when they get a solid effort from goaltender Scott Greenham and win the special-teams battle.
What Might Trip Them Up: Much of the Nanooks' offense -- especially goals -- is generated by senior forward Dion Knelsen and forward Andy Taranto, the CCHA's Rookie of the Year. Shutting down that duo puts a lot of pressure on Greenham and the Alaska defense to keep the game close.

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