The 2011 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Tournament field got whittled down from 16 teams to four over the weekend. North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame are your Frozen Four participants this year, setting up a possible Michigan-Notre Dame Championship Game. Boo.
Let us recap the things we learned from college hockey's best weekend of the year.
BC Hits The Road, Comes Up Empty. So maybe there is something to BC's success when getting to play close to home in the NCAAs? The Eagles played in an NCAA Regional west of the Mississippi for the first time since the 2000 tournament and went 0-for-2011, getting waxed 8-4 by Colorado College. I'm sure playing in front of a three-quarters empty stadium over 1,100 miles from campus had nothing to do with the end result.
That Other Displaced #1 Loses. Because Yale earned a 1 seed and was hosting this year's East Regional and New Hampshire fell to a 4 seed in the Northeast, this sent BC out west to St. Louis. But the Eagles weren't the only 1 seed to suffer as a result of the NCAAs screwy selection process. Because BC got sent to St. Louis, this left the Northeast Regional as the only place to slot CCHA champion Miami. The problem for Miami was the selection committee asked the RedHawks to get past Hockey East's New Hampshire and possibly Merrimack in Manchester, less than 40 miles from either's campus. The RedHawks got bounced in the First Round, looking terrible in a 3-1 loss to UNH. This is the sixth straight season Miami has been eliminated by a Hockey East program in the NCAAs. Miami coach Enrico Blasi has nightmares about Jerry York, Jack Parker and now, Dick Umile.
2006: Lost in NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinal, 0-5 (Boston College)
2007: Lost in NCAA Northeast Regional Final, 0-4 (Boston College)
2008: Lost in NCAA Northeast Regional Final, 3-4 (OT) (Boston College)
2009: Lost in NCAA National Championship, 3-4 (OT) (Boston University)
2010: Lost in NCAA National Semifinal, 1-7 (Boston College)
2011: Lost in NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinal, 1-3 (New Hampshire)
Nebraska-Omaha Got Hosed. The UNO Mavericks were victims of possibly the worst call of the weekend. At 2:35 of overtime, U-M's Kevin Lynch possible game-winner was waved off. At the next stoppage, the referees determined that there was "reasonable evidence" to review the non-goal. But after a lengthy, 10 minute, 21 second review, the referees determined that there was "conclusive video evidence" that the puck had completely crossed the line. Having watched the replay of the goal about 15 different times during the two BC-CC intermission reports, I honestly didn't see anything that was "conclusive" suggesting that the puck crossed the line. Seemed more "speculative" than "conclusive." Personally, I didn't think there was enough evidence to overturn the initial call on the ice. Further, why is a review like this taking over 10 minutes to complete? Michigan was awarded the goal, and advanced to the Frozen Four the following night by defeating Colorado College 2-1.
ECAC Takes A Hit. The ECAC laid claim to this year's number 1 overall seed (Yale) in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs had everything lined up to make the program's first Frozen Four appearance since 1952 (it wasn't even called the Frozen Four back then). Yale drew Atlantic Hockey champ Air Force and then the winner of Duluth / Union. Yale needed overtime to beat Air Force before falling to Minnesota-Duluth 5-3 in the Regional Final. The potent Yale offense managed just five goals over the weekend. Union, which went into the Tournament with the nation's best power play, managed to go 0-for-9 on the man advantage in a first round 2-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth. RPI, ECAC's third team, got waxed by North Dakota 6-0 in the Regional Semifinal. The ECAC finished this year's Tournament with a mere 1-3 record, getting outscored 14-5.
... Hockey East, Too. I suppose a conversation about under-performing conferences wouldn't be complete without a discussion about Hockey East, too. Like the ECAC, Hockey East finished just 1-3, getting outscored by a tad more respectable 15-11 margin. Hockey East had a nice setup in this year's Northeast Regional field, with both 2-seed Merrimack and 4-seed UNH playing close to home. The end result is the first Frozen Four since 2005 that will not feature a Hockey East program.
Not All 4-Seeds Are Created Equal. I mentioned this in my Midwest Regional Preview, but what was Rensselaer doing in this year's NCAA Tournament field of 16? While RPI did win 20 games this year, they finished fifth in the ECAC regular season standings and got bounced in the first round of the ECAC Tournament by last-place Colgate. The result of RPI earning the tournament's 15th and final at-large seed was a 6-0 spanking by North Dakota. In this year's First Round, we saw four 1-goal games, two 2-goal games, a 4-goal game ... and a 6-goal game. I know RPI beat Boston University during the regular season, but I would argue that either Boston University (who finished third in the Hockey East regular season standings) or Maine (who finished fifth) or both were better teams this year than RPI. Gotta love the PairWise.
... North Dakota Is The Country's Best Team. Hate to admit this given my dislike for North Dakota and the WCHA's superiority complex, but it's probably true. The Fighting
Sioux rolled in the Midwest Regional, beating RPI and Denver by a combined score of 12-1. North Dakota gets Michigan in the National Semifinal and if they advance, will play the winner of Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame. While North Dakota hasn't faced Michigan this season, they are 2-1 against UMD and 1-0-1 vs. Notre Dame. The Sioux are the favorite to win this year's National Championship -- the program's eighth overall but first since 2000 -- but as BC fans are well aware, anything can happen in a single-elimination hockey tournament.