After the opening round of the NCAA College Hockey tournament, only one regional site (Albany) saw an upset. This is the first time that I can remember 7 of 8 top seeds all moving on in the NCAA tournament. Keep in mind that I’m notoriously forgetful and generally an idiot, but the point remains. With all that being said, this idiot was able to correctly predict 7 of these 8 games in the opening round preview. The top seeds were in the drivers seat for most of the season and proved why they were rated so highly. The pairwise ranking system had each of the teams advancing in the tournament at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9.Coming into the tournament, there were still some doubters and east-coast elitists who believed that there was favoritism towards the western conferences throughout the season. Not only were they proven wrong after the first games, it wasn’t even a contest. Of the six eastern teams that made the tournament, only Quinnipiac was able to win a game. The Bobcats also only won by one goal with St Cloud having their backup goaltender taking the start due to Hrenak’s “Emergency Only” designation following a bout with pneumonia.
We’re now on to the final games at each of the regional sites. The eight teams that are left have proven themselves “elite” in relation to the rest of the field. None of the games are easy in the postseason of College Hockey, but they’re about to get even more nerve wracking for each of the fanbases.
(1) Michigan vs (2) QuinnipiacDespite the majority of the nation cheering on AIC, the Yellow Jackets fell to the Wolverines in the opening round. Despite a 3-5 score to end the game, it wasn’t that close on the ice. Michigan did exactly what people expected them to do. Not only did they control pace of play, but they were making circus plays all over the ice too. The talent on this team is undeniable, but allowing 3 goals shows that there is a chink in the armor that might be able to be exposed by a more experienced and capable opponent.
The Quinnipiac Bobcats have moved on as the last remaining hope for eastern hockey representation at the Frozen Four. While they did pull out the (narrow) victory, they were only able to put up sixteen shots against St Cloud State. Five of those shots found the back of the net and that was the difference in the game. Yaniv Perets didn’t have his best night in net, but he came up big when it counted for his team and that’s why he’s in the conversation for the Mike Richter award. If Quinnipiac can’t find a way to get some more looks to help him out in their next game, their celebrations will be short-lived.Prediction: Michigan does what St. Cloud couldn’t and ends eastern hockey for the season
(1) Denver vs (2) Minnesota-Duluth
The Pioneers of Denver University were breathing a sigh of relief late on Thursday night. They narrowly escaped what could have been one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. UMass Lowell came out of the gate strong and took a 1-0 lead halfway through the first period before Denver was able to tie it up with a little over a minute left. That score would stand for almost a half hour until Carter Savoie put the Pios up in the third. The Riverhawks battled back, but ultimately lost 3-2 in the end.
Denver has not scored on their last NINE power plays. That includes four against UMass Lowell this weekend, three against UMD in the NCHC championship game, and their last two against Miami-Ohio in the NCHC’s opening round of conference playoffs. What was once a high-scoring unit has seemingly been out of sync lately. Magnus Chrona has also looked a little bit shaky between the pipes. He only saw eighteen shots on Thursday’s game, saving sixteen of them, so we’ll see how well he can track the puck on Saturday.
Despite winning by three goals on Thursday, the Bulldogs did NOT play their best game against Michigan Tech. They were able to break the puck out pretty well and kept most of the action in the corners in the defensive zone, but weren’t about to hold much of anything for sustained pressure unless they were on the power play. Speaking of power plays, UMD was gifted a five-minute major that they were unable to capitalize on following the ejection of Tech’s star player, Brian Halonen after a two-handed shove to the numbers of a UMD skater. That was their only power play of the game, but if the Bulldogs want to keep their magic alive and beat Denver for the fourth time this season, they cannot afford to come up empty handed on those opportunities.Prediction: Bulldogs keep their March magic alive and make it to a FIFTH straight Frozen Four.
Albany, New York
(1) Minnesota State vs (3) Notre Dame
The Mavericks know how to do two things well. One is win a TON of games in the regular season. That’s been well documented for a long time in Mankato. The other is give their fans heart attacks when it comes to the playoffs. Minnesota State skated to what appeared like an easy 3-0 start against Harvard in the opening round of the playoffs. The Crimson would not go quietly as they scored two in a row and took control of the latter half of the second period. Each team would score one more for a 4-3 final, but the last few minutes were nothing short of intense. Mankato will have to find a way to shore up their defense…scoring chances against Notre Dame wont be as prevalent.
The Fighting Irish played cat and mouse with North Dakota for the duration of their opening game. North Dakota scored with a minute left in the opening period but the Irish answered quickly putting their own in the net just a minute into the second. Graham Slaggert and Landon Slaggert were a problem for North Dakota for the duration of the game. Graham put one on the net with his teammate Karashik hammering it home at the buzzer to end the game. After yet another LENGTHY postseason review, it was waived off as it had crossed the line after time ran out.
The fighting Irish closed overtime out less than a minute into the period with none other than Graham Slaggert tucking the game winner away. If the Mavericks want to win this game, the game plan is simple. Take away BOTH of the Slaggerts and find a way to score if you have a power play. Notre Dame is sneaky good on the PK preventing goals on 90.6% of shorthanded situations throughout the year. Minnesota State has the nations second most efficient PP, scoring on 27% of their chances. That special teams matchup is going to be the difference in this game.
Prediction: Minnesota State wins another nail biter
(1) Western Michigan vs (2) Minnesota
Minnesota came out of the gates slow in their Friday matchup against UMass. That is not something that they can afford to do against Western Michigan. The Broncos have the defensive ability to shut teams down when protecting a lead. UMass clearly didn’t have that and they hadn’t had all year. With that being said, Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies cannot play tentatively or cautiously either. They’re both at their best when flying at full speed and snapping it around the offensive zone. If Minnesota can find a way to sustain pressure for extended periods of this game, it might be over quick.
The Broncos need to do one thing. Replicate. They had gotten enough pressure throughout the game to put up 36 shots. The only reason the score was so low was because they were against one of the best goaltenders in the nation. Justen Close has been stellar in his own right for the Gophers, but I don’t know he can withstand that kind of barrage with the same result. If Western can manage to take the Olympians on the Gophers roster out of play without taking penalties, that’ll be the key to victory.
Prediction: Western Michigan takes down the high-powered offense in a 1-goal game
Bet on the College Hockey Games
If the opening round of regional play has you more confident in your team than ever, you can finally place wagers on it against other people. If you’re not as confident in your squad, you can always hedge your happiness and bet the other way as well! Bettor Edge has their College Hockey odds up and ready for the Saturday games. Don’t worry, lines to be released shortly for the Sunday matchups too. Everybody knows that betting is the main reason why March Madness has grown as big as it is today. That’s because it makes it fun! Anything can happen during any game in amateur athletics and having a vested interest in teams you wouldn’t otherwise care about makes every game interesting. Just be responsible and remember, I’m not a financial advisor.
College Hockey TV Schedule
Nearly half of the opening round games went in to overtime. Not only is that impressive in it’s own right, but three others ended as one-goal contests too. This has been the most electric thing on TV for all of March, and I sincerely mean that. Saint Peter’s run in the basketball universe has been incredible to watch. I’ll be the first to admit that. Outside of that storyline though, the basketball tournament has MAYBE 3 minutes of excitement per game. Do your part to grow the game. Put College Hockey on the TV.
I’ve been hit by cars three times, which is an indication of how stubborn I am.
I write about everything across the board, but focus on Hockey and the pain that is Minnesota sports.
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