The “second March Madness” is about to begin. The bracket has been released, and this is one of the better brackets in recent memory. Upsets should happen, there are more “top-tier” teams then ever before. The road to Chicago begins March 24.
Midwest Region: Cincinnati, Ohio
1 Denver vs. 4 Michigan Tech
2 Union vs. 3 Penn State
Michigan Tech, and potential next Michigan coach Mel Pearson, return to the tournament for the first time since 2015. Pearson has his team finishing second in the WCHA, with a (23-14-7) record. They are lead offensively by senior Reid Sturos and junior Joel L’Esperance. Tech only has four players with 10 or more goals. But, their goalie, freshman Agnus Redmond has been stellar. He has posted a 1.76 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. He will have to be on his game against the Number 1 overall seeded Denver Pioneers.
Denver is surging. The Pioneers will be making their 10th straight tournament appearance. They have been a top team the entire year, and have only lost seven games all year. Junior Goalie Tanner Jaillet has a .930 save percentage and 1.82 goals against average. Will Butcher, Troy Terry, Dylan Gambrall, and Henrik Borgstrom all have over 35 points. They are a team that is complete in all facets, but are also facing extreme expectations being a number 1 seed and winning the NCHC. Coach Jim Montgomery will hope that the Pioneers do not falter, unlike a lot of the Pioneer teams in the past.
Union won the tournament in 2014, and is led by two of the most prolific scorers in Spencer Foo (60 Points) and Michael Vecchione (62 Points). Coach Rick Bennett has done amazing work, getting D1 talent to play at a D3 price. Union is not allowed to give any athletic scholarships (unlike Clarkson, RPI, etc.). His teams are physical and cause problems for teams offensively. The Dutchmen went 25-9-3 and finished tied for first, with Harvard, in the tough ECAC. Their only weakness may be in-goal, but they make up for it with their offensive prowess and their defensive ability.
Penn State and coach Guy Godowski have the Nittany Lions in their first NCAA Tournament in just their fifth year having Division 1 college hockey. Godowski won the B1G Tournament, defeating Wisconsin in double OT. They are led by two amazing freshman, Dennis Smirnov (17-28-45) and B1G goalie of the year Peyton Jones (.907 save percentage and a 2.51 goals against average). The team has been up and down all year; showing people they can be one of the best teams, and also looking like a mid-table B1G that they finished (fourth place finish). Will the moment be too big for the Blue and White? Can they take advantage of the matchup with Union?
West Region: Fargo, ND
1 Minnesota-Duluth vs. 4 Ohio State
2 Boston University vs 3 North Dakota
The Duluth Bulldogs have been battling it out with Denver for the top team in the NCHC. They finished the year 25-6-7 on the year. They don’t pack an amazing offensive punch, but their physicality and defensive prowess are their major points. Their goalie, freshman Hunter Miksa does not have the greatest numbers, 2.23 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. These numbers show the potential he has, but that if you get to him early the Bulldogs could be in trouble. This region is the toughest region, and one where a one seed can be ousted early.
The Buckeyes (21-11-6) make their return to the tourney for the first time since 2009. They are a great blend of youth and experience. Sophomore Nathan Jobst, Senior Nick Schilkey, and freshmen David Gust are leading the team. The team finished third in the B1G and have also been up and down the entire year. They have a tough draw, and need to play one of their best games if they want to advance.
The Terriers (23-11-3) have talent. Clayton Keller, Patrick Harper, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Chad Krys, Kieffer Bellows, Jordan Greenway, and Doyle Somerby are NHL talent. Freshman netminder Jake Oettinger has a 2.09 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. This team is a trendy Frozen Four pick, but they will have to make it out of a tough region. Boston University lost in the finals two years ago, and coach David Quinn, are locking to add to their program’s trophy case.
North Dakota, and their new nickname the Fighting Hawks, are looking to go back-to-back. They lost a bunch of talent to the NHL, but also still have a lot in the cupboard. The Hawks finished 21-15-3 and amazingly do not have a lot of offense despite NHL talent in Tyson Jost, Brock Besser, Shane Gerisch, and others. Cam Johnson has been their goalie (2.38 goals against average, .904 save percentage). NoDak has been, outside of Penn State, extremely inconsistent. The have talent, but can they finally put the pieces together to make it to the United Center in Chicago?
East Region: Providence, Rhode Island
1 Harvard vs. 4 Providence
2 West. Mich vs 3 Air Force
The Harvard Crimson did lose Jimmy Veesey to the Rangers, but they have been a top team all year and won the ECAC. At 26-5-2 they are led by Sean Malone, Tyler Moy, and Alexander Kerfroot. Junior goalie Merrick Madsen posts a 2.18 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. The Crimson are another trendy pick to make Chicago, but can they, and coach Ted Donato, handle the expectations and the draw they have? Harvard has been one of the more consistent teams in the country.
The Friars and their 22-11-5 record come into the tourney having had to overcome a lot of talent leaving. They are a team with hunger and talent, but that comes with the ups and downs with that. They are another team that does not have a lot of offensive prowess, but they have depth with their scoring. Taking over in the net, with the best name in hockey, Hayden Hawkey posts a 2.20 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. They will have to step up their game and play a complete game if they want to take down the Crimson. Providence will also need to take advantage of the home games that they have been given by the NCAA committee.
The Western Michigan Broncos return to the tournament for the first time since 2012. This will be their second appearance under former NHL coach Andy Murray. They are dealing with some injuries, but if they are close to a hundred percent they could make it our of this region. The Broncos finished 22-12-5 on the year and are led by Matheson Iacopelli and Griffen Molino. Ben Blacker is helping Western’s crease with a 2.46 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
Northeast Region: Manchester, New Hampshire
1 Minnesota vs. 4 Notre Dame
2 UMass-Lowell vs. 3 Cornell
The 23-11-3 Golden Gophers won the B1G Regular Season crown and are one of the deepest teams in the nation. Tyler Sheehy, Taylor Cammoratta, Justin Kloos, Vinnie Letteri, and others are giving the Gophers punch. Eric Schierhorn is having a “down” year after winning the B1G goalie of the year last year, .908 save percentage, 2.67 goals save percentage. The Gophers have a tough matchup with the Fighting Irish, and will need to rebound from their B1G Tournament.
Notre Dame, who will be moving to the B1G in hockey next season, 22-11-5, are led by Anders Bjork and goalie Cal Petterson. Peterson has a 2.14 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. They are a team that is in every game, and their goalie has the capability to “steal” a game. They have been in the top eight of the PariWise all season. They have an opportunity for an upset, but will need to play a complete game.
The 26-10-3 Riverhawks of UMass-Lowell won the Hockey East Tournament. They will need to ride this momentum against a Cornell team that has been dangerous the entire year. The Hawks have a two-headed monster of Joe Gambrdella and CJ Smith, who each have at least 50 points. They have a goalie, with another great goalie name, Freshman Tyler Wall who has a 2.1o goals against average and .917 save percentage. Wall is continuing the success of great goalies that coach Norm Bazin has been able to recruit. The team plays fast and with a purpose.
FROZEN FOUR PICKS:
Harvard/West. Mich (depends on Mich’s health)