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2012 NCAA Hockey Tournament Preview: Frozen Four Panel

[Ed. note -- Front Page'd. That first panelist is a stud.]

Greetings, all. @HokieGuru here - yes, March Madness is in full swing, but we also have the ever awesome NCAA Men's Division I Ice Hockey tournament coming up. For some of us folks in the upper Midwest and those that live in the great Northeast, this is the college postseason tournament that matters most. The NCAA Regional Tournaments will be held March 23 - 25, 2012. The Final Four, otherwise known as the Frozen Four, will be held April 5 and 7 in Tampa, Florida.

I'm here to host a panel for this great event. But first, here's some information about our panelists:

-- @BCInterruption - Brian Favat is a founder and co-writer for BC Interruption, the SB Nation Boston College sports blog. Brian and Jeff created the blog in 2007 as a way of debating and discussing all sorts of topics about BC football, basketball and hockey. Brian is a 2004 graduate of Boston College, and a 2010 graduate of Northwestern University.

-- @fetch9 - Steve Fetch is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and also is the operator of The College Hockey Blog. He is currently in law school at Kansas and writes for Rock Chalk Talk.

-- @HJBosch21 - H. Jose Bosch covered Michigan hockey for the Michigan Daily during his sophomore year in college. He's loved college hockey ever since. Today he's the media relations manager for FC Tucson, a PDL soccer team in Tucson, Arizona. He must have a thing for niche sports.

-- @MTBadgers - Editor Andy Coppens has been covering Wisconsin Badgers Hockey for this season and has been a fan of Badger Hockey since an early age, which has also made him a huge WCHA guy ever since then as well. He also witnessed last years Regional in Green Bay, WI and will attend once again.

-- @WillsWorldMN - Will Ojanen is an ACC fan living in Gopher Nation.

-- @kensing45 - Kyle is a freelance sports writer in Southern California. His first gig was covering college hockey at the University of Arizona -- yes, it had a hockey team that spent 2011-'12 on a bizarre hiatus.

-- @govloop - Steve Ressler is a Miami (OH) alumni (go Redhawks!) who witnessed many hockey games in college sober unlike others. He loves all things Internet as the founder of govloop.com, the largest online community of government employees

Before I get into the 2012 Frozen Four, I would really like to take a holistic look at the NCAA Men's Division I Ice Hockey Tournament. @BCInterruption brought up a good point in a Twitter conversation - where to hold the future Frozen Four - the NCAA has had a strategy to hold it in different places to grow the sport (like Tampa, FL this year, for example) - others think that the tournament should be held in near the states where there the majority of college hockey programs are located (e.g. Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan). Give me your top four sites that should receive priority Frozen Four bids and a short explanation of your picks.

-- @BCInterruption - Boston is number one. It's almost criminal that the event won't return to the Hub until 2015 at the earliest (and 2016 or 2017 more likely, with both 2013 and 2014 back east in PA). That's over a decade with no Frozen Four in the epicenter of college hockey. Minneapolis / St. Paul, Detroit and New York City should be the other three locations in heavy rotation. NYC isn't a college hockey city per se, but the exposure and buzz generated from playing a championship in the media capital of the world (and MSG) should help grow the sport. Denver, Washington D.C. and Toronto are other suitable locations. Anyway, there should be a new bylaw that mandates that the Frozen Four get to both Minneapolis/St. Paul and Boston twice in a six-year period.

-- @fetch9 - St. Paul is the first one that jumps out at me. I also think Denver was a great one when it was there and thought DC put on a good show. In the future I'd like to see some in California and maybe even venture into Canada. I know Toronto was planning on bidding and I think that would be a great time.

-- @HJBosch21 - Minneapolis, Detroit, Boston, New York. I'm a fan of hockey and would love to see the game grow. But you can't grow something where there isn't any soil. Once you go west of the Mississippi and south of the Mason Dixon line, hockey is an afterthought. Why not reward the pockets of the country that actually care about hockey by giving them the Frozen Four every year. The best part about those four locations: they all have football stadiums (at least nearby if not in the city) that can provide records numbers for future Frozen Fours (a la Ford Field in Detroit).

-- @MTBadgers - Wow, this is a good question and I get the strategy that the NCAA is going for, but pushing away the fans from areas that love the sport is a bad idea. For me the four places I'd like to see hold the tournament are St. Paul/Minneapolis, Denver, Boston, and Detroit. All are relatively easy to get to for fans and all have great arenas to host the tournament and frankly there's nothing more exciting than seeing a full arena with the fan bases going nuts, something that won't be easily achieved this year in Tampa Bay.

-- @WillsWorldMN - Minnesota is the state of hockey, and having it at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is a guaranteed sellout every game. Aside from that, I would look at Denver on the west coast, and two among Boston, Detroit, New York City. Maybe Canada would be interested in hosting it once in a while.

-- @kensing45 - I understand the concept, and Tampa shows decent enough support for the Lightning, but a half-full venue isn't going to win over cynical fans tuning in on TV for the first time. Fans can be a sheeplike bunch in that sense. A raucous crowd in Boston, which has shown tremendous support for its college hockey programs (Fenway Classic, Beanpot) would do more for the sport. Detroit is another worthwhile option, with strong programs in the area and the moniker Hockeytown.

-- @govloop - Like Omaha, Nebraska for College World series, I'd go mid-major cities where it means something to the town.

Okay, let's get into the 2012 Frozen Four. Take a look at the bracket and give us an under the radar team in the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey tournament that could make the Frozen Four. In other words, who could be this year's 2010 Rochester Institute of Technology?

-- @BCInterruption - I don't expect any of the no. 4 seeds to make it to Tampa this year, but watch out for Denver. The Pioneers made a run in the WCHA Tournament and knocked off a very talented Boston College team in Chestnut Hill towards the beginning of the year. Not sold on either Michigan or Ferris State's chances of advancing out of the Midwest Regional and like Denver's chances to get to the Frozen Four. (Aside: Air Force over BC? C'mon now).

-- @fetch9 - All of the 4 seeds look like they could win a game, but I'm going to say Cornell. I think Michigan has been a bit overrated all season, and as good as Shawn Hunwick is all it takes is one game where he's not on and Michigan is out. Rightly or wrongly the Wolverines have a bit of a reputation of struggling in the tournament as well, and you know Cornell won't let the moment get to them.

-- @HJBosch21 - Look out for Air Force. Yes, I'm calling an upset over the No. 1 overall seed. Why? I believe in Jason Torf, who has been the starting goalie since the end of January. In that time (13 games) he hasn't given up more than three goals in a game and notched four shutouts. Torf went 8-3-2 and led Air Force to the Atlantic Hockey Association conference tournament championship. Also, the last two trips for the Falcons have left a bad taste in the program's mouth. An overtime loss in the first round last season and an overtime loss in 2009 that stole a trip to the Frozen Four. That may not matter to Torf, but he's been playing well and no team, no matter how powerful, can beat a goalie on a hot streak.

-- @MTBadgers - I'm going to echo the thoughts of H. Jose here and say Air Force is a team to watch out for and I think they got jobbed with having to face No. 1 overall seed Boston College. I love a team that has a red-hot goaltender in the playoffs and that's exactly what the Falcons have in Jason Torf. They are also a team that has experience in the NCAA Tournament and that could be of some help to the program as a whole. It also helps that Torf has one of the best defensemen in the country in Tim Kirby (a Hobey Baker finalist) in front of him. Should they get beyond the Eagles this team could make a very deep run.

-- @WillsWorldMN - I'm going to agree with Fetch and say Cornell. I have a hard time going against BC or any WCHA teams. Cornell has done quite well on the road this year (6-2-5), and I think could hang with anyone they play.

-- @kensing45 - Can the defending champion be considered a dark horse? Drawing the overall No. 1 in the Round of 8 would indicate so, but until someone knocks off Minn.-Duluth, it's still the champion.

-- @govloop - Miami (OH) all day every day...Ohio is 8-0 in men's bball tournament right now and they are bringing that to hockey

Please give us your "Frozen Four." Who will win each of the regional finals? Put on your media hat!!

-- @BCInterruption - North Dakota, Boston College, Denver and Miami. North Dakota and BC are the hottest two teams in the country and I expect both the Sioux and the Eagles to get to Tampa. Denver out of the Midwest Regional and Miami in the East. UMass-Lowell is a talented team, but I don't trust the River Hawks given that they are only making their second NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996. I am extremely down on the ECAC this year, and think both Union and Cornell could get bounced before the Regional Finals.

-- @fetch9 - Just at first blush, I think it will be Minnesota, Boston College, Denver and Miami. But I really could see any team (except for Air Force) make a run. Union was probably the best team in their regional last year so I wouldn't be shocked to see them this year, and the West regional should be a fun one if North Dakota and Minnesota can get out of their first round matchups. You would think that Minnesota would have the edge in that one playing basically at home, but the Final Five featured a lot of green last weekend and Sioux fans travel as well or better than any fanbase in the country. The Midwest to me is probably the weakest regional, as I haven't loved either Michigan or Ferris State all year, but Denver has been plagued by injury problems.

-- @HJBosch21 - Air Force, North Dakota, Union and Michigan. We know why I think Air Force will be there. I like North Dakota because of its defense and power-play killing ability, which is huge in the postseason. Union is a gut feeling having never watched them play, but I like that they're a high-scoring team with a solid defense. And while Union isn't great at killing the power play, they top the nation in power play scoring. Finally Michigan. Almost purely a homer pick, but again, I love goalies, especially those who get hot in the postseason. Shawn Hunwick has had a great career at Michigan, if not up and down. Plus, throw in the fact that he's a senior. I love seniors desperate for just one last game.

-- @MTBadgers - Minnesota- Duluth, Minnesota, Michigan, and Miami (OH) are my picks. I think the region that features Union as the No. 2 overall seed is the most wide open of the regions to pick and the Redhawks are a solid team, but one that is also prone to playing way below their talent level. For my money they could be the best team in the CCHA if they were more consistent. UMD and Minnesota are really battle tested out of the WCHA. I'm going with the Gophers because Minnesota's regional is right in it's backyard at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN and their fans will be out in full force. UMD on the other hand will benefit from facing the easiest regional in my opinion and could very well take care of Union because it's a much more tested team in my opinion and they have this pretty good forward in Jack Connolly (2nd in points w/ 58 on the year so far).

-- @WillsWorldMN - Miami (OH), Boston College, Minnesota, Michigan. I had a hard time choosing between Minnesota and North Dakota, and I don't think Don Lucia will let them melt down again like they did in the last game against North Dakota.

-- @kensing45 - Boston College, Minnesota, Miami and Michigan

-- @govloop - The four "M" schools...Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine

Please give us your "Frozen Four" winner. Who will win the national title?

-- @BCInterruption - Abstain. Conventional wisdom says go with the Eagles here, but I don't want to jinx anything. Boston College has won an incredible 15 straight games and looks to make it 19 for the school's fifth National Championship. But rarely does the best team in the field win it all since single-elimination hockey is insanity. So I'll go with the North Dakota Fighting [REDACTED] in a sort of reverse jinx. Will the NCAA blur out the Fighting Sioux logo a la Cops if NoDak takes home the title?

-- @fetch9 - I think BC is going to find a way to get it done after being upset in the first round last year. They have talent, experience and speed. The key will be if Parker Milner can avoid a blowup. He led Hockey East in save percentage at .928 but as we see every year goaltending is very volatile, especially in a single elimination tournament, so anything can happen.

-- @HJBosch21 - It'll be Union against North Dakota in the final since Michigan always seems to underachieve and Air Force won't be any match for the Fighting Sioux (can I still say that?). Ultimately college hockey royalty will prevail and North Dakota will be your national champions. Like Air Force, North Dakota has had a bad taste in its mouth from its last six appearances (four Frozen Four losses) and they have been on fire to end the season (12-2-1 in their last 15 games including a conference tournament championship).

-- @MTBadgers - I'm liking a future Big Ten matchup as Michigan will take on Minnesota. At some point in time the Wolverines have to stop underachieving and it will be this year. They play some great defense (4th in team defense in the nation at 2.15 goals a game) and they also have a hot goaltender and I have a hard and fast rule of not betting against those type of teams.

-- @WillsWorldMN - Minnesota over Michigan. This is the only sport that the Gophers can actually beat the Wolverines at this time.

-- @kensing45 - I'm taking Boston College over Miami in the title round -- however, if it's not BC, I say the other team from its region, UMD, repeats.

-- @govloop - Let's just go all in for Miami. After that one year where they choked this is the year. Let's do this!

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