Friday, March 27, 2015

NCAA Hockey Tournament: Predicting the Games

The NCAA Tournament is finally here!

Four games Friday, six games Saturday and two games Sunday will determine who moves on to play in the Frozen Four.

Although the tournament was a tough one to pick for the bracketologists (including yours truly), everyone has an opinion and I'll use mine to try and pick the games.  This year is especially tough, as I think the top 15 teams have a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.  All game times listed are in Central time.

West Regional - Fargo, ND

(2) North Dakota vs (14) Quinnipiac
7PM Friday March 27th, TV ESPNU
I like Quinnipiac, the ECAC regular season champion, but they piled up the non-conference losses this year and could be without leading scorer Sam Anas.  In their backyard, I think North Dakota wins this one.

(7) Michigan Tech vs (12) St. Cloud State
3:30PM Friday March 27th, Stream ESPN3
This is a battle between two good teams, and we will really see how good the NCHC was this year.  St. Cloud is just one game over .500 on the year, and made the tournament mostly due to their league's overall non-conference success.  Michigan Tech was ranked as high as #1 during the season, and a win against Mankato in the WCHA Final Five would have moved them up to a one-seed.  I think Tech will win this one, but if St. Cloud wins it could signal that the NCHC is even better this season than we've realized.

Regional Final: (2) UND vs (7) MTU
8PM Saturday March 28th, TV ESPNU
This is another game between two very good teams.  In the playoffs, goaltending is in high priority, and UND's Zane McIntyre (formerly Zane Gothberg) is one of the best in the country.  Playing in Fargo, I expect North Dakota to punch its ticket to Boston, but I think it will be a great hockey game and could probably go either way.

Northeast Regional - Manchseter, NH

(3) Boston University vs (13) Yale
1PM Friday March 27th, TV ESPNU
While I think Yale is a good team, BU has Jack Eichel and just too much firepower.  I really believe BU is one of the best teams in the country this year, and they'll advance to the regional final without much difficulty.

(6) Minnesota-Duluth vs (10) Minnesota
4:30PM Friday March 27th, TV ESPNU
Two teams going opposite directions.  UMD's ranking is boosted by playing in the NCHC this season, while Minnesota had to scratch and claw to make it because of how terrible the B1G was.  That being said, UMD has lost three in a row and has only won one game in its last seven contests.  Minnesota has won four in a row in do-or-die situations to claim the B1G regular season and playoff titles.  The preseason #1 Gophers are trending in the right direction at the right time, and I expect Minnesota to dispatch Duluth to advance to the regional final.

Regional Final: (3) BU vs (10) Minnesota
4:30PM Saturday March 28th, TV ESPN2
This is a Gopher hockey fan blog... you didn't expect anything else, did you?!  My head says BU in this one, but my heart says the Gophers are peaking at the right time.  Definitely will be a barn-burner of a game that can go either way.  If Minnesota can limit Jack Eichel like they did Johnny Gaudreau last season, they very well could be the second team advancing to the Frozen Four in Boston come Saturday night.

East Regional - Providence, RI

(4) Miami vs (15) Providence
5:30PM Saturday March 28th, TV ESPNU
It seems like every year now a four seed upsets a one seed, and this game is probably the most likely one for it.  The #2 team in the Hockey East regular season table (yes, ahead of BC), Providence is playing in Providence and is facing a Miami squad that, although a very good team, will be missing their two top goal-scorers in Riley Barber (injury) and Blake Coleman (suspension).  Again goaltending is crucial in the playoffs, and Providence's Jon Gillies is one of the best in the country.  I like the Providence Friars in an upset

(5) Denver vs (11) Boston College
2PM Saturday March 28th, TV ESPN2
BC had a similar season as Minnesota this year, struggling in in the first half of the season before turning it on in the second half.  However, BC has cooled off recently, winning just one out of their last four games and being ousted in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.  Denver, another NCHC darling, has been better of late and moved all the way up to the #5 overall seed.  The two teams split in a Halloween series at Magness Arena in Denver, but in this one-and-done format I like Denver to advance.

Regional Final: (5) DU vs (15) Providence
4PM Sunday March 29th, TV ESPNU
DU is the better of these two teams, but there are a lot of intangibles to factor in here that in in Providence's favor.  The game is in the city of Providence, and the Friars have a goalie who can get hot and steal a game at any time.  Right now I'm thinking that Providence takes it to advance to the Frozen Four, but strong play by Denver's NCHC counterparts early on in the tournament could change my mind.

Midwest Regional - South Bend, IN

(1) Minnesota State vs (16) RIT
3PM Saturday March 28th, TV ESPNU
I think RIT is the only team in the field that doesn't have much of a chance to win a game.  Minnesota State is just too good and has been all season.  The Mavericks breeze through.

(8) Nebraska-Omaha vs (9) Harvard
6:30PM Saturday March 28th, Stream ESPN3
Omaha always seems to struggle in March.  This year is no exception, as the Mavericks have only won two out of their last 11 games.  Harvard, on the other hand, is hot as a pistol, having won seven of their last eight games behind the scoring touch of Jimmy Vesey.  The junior forward leads the nation in goals and is second in points scored.  I think his firepower gets Harvard through to the final.

Regional Final: (1) Minnesota State vs (9) Harvard
6:30PM Sunday March 29th, TV ESPNU
A matchup between a team that is hot right now in Harvard and a team that's been solid all season in Mankato.  Although Jimmy Vesey will do all that he can to get Harvard to Boston for the Frozen Four, I think Minnesota State is just too good.  Stephon Williams is another one of those goalies that can steal a game in net for the Mavericks, and combined with all of their firepower up front I think Minnesota State is the team to beat in the Midwest.

Frozen Four - Boston, MA

(2) UND vs (10) Minnesota
4:00/7:30PM Thursday April 9th, TV ESPN2
Another Frozen Four matchup of the game everyone wants to see.  When playing at their peak, both teams are among the three or four best in the country.  North Dakota has played at their peak more consistently this season, and the rational, unbiased fan would probably have to pick them to advance to the championship game.  However, I am not unbiased, and I think Kyle Rau and Adam Wilcox are playing too strong to be beaten right now.  Minnesota advances to the title game.

(1) Minnesota State vs (15) Providence
4:00/7:30PM Thursday April 9th, TV ESPN2
Providence's miracle run will end in the penultimate game, as Jon Gillies finally faces a goalie that's as good as he is.  Stephon Williams will steal the show and move the Mavericks into the championship game to face their in-state rivals.

National Title Game: (10) Minnesota vs (1) Minnesota State
6:30PM Saturday April 11th, TV ESPN
First of all, this scenario isn't all that likely to happen.  Hockey is a funny game, and even the best team can run into a hot goalie or a few bad bounces and lose a game (see: North Dakota in 2010-2011).  However, this is my blog and I get to pick whatever I want to!  The Gophers avenge their loss to Union last season and Mankato earlier this season to claim their sixth NCAA Title.

Leave me a comment and let me know who your Frozen Four and National Champions are!  Go Gophers!

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