2012 NCAA Hockey Tournament: Northeast Regional Preview

DETROIT - APRIL 08: Ben Smith #12 of the Boston College Eagles is congratulated by teammates on the bench after he scored a goal in the first period against the Miami Redhawks on April 8, 2010 during the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Previewing the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Tournament Northeast Regional. Minnesota-Duluth and Maine, too.

The Field

Saturday, March 24, 2012
Regional Semifinal #1, (1) Boston College vs. (4) Air Force, 4:00 PM
Regional Semifinal #2, (2) Minnesota-Duluth vs. (3) Maine, 7:30 PM

Sunday, March 25, 2012
Regional Final, Boston College / Air Force vs. Minnesota-Duluth / Maine, 8:00 PM

Location: DCU Center (cap. 12,239), Worcester, Ma.

Participants:

(1) Boston College Eagles (29-10-1, 19-7-1 Hockey East)
Head coach: Jerry York
Leading scorers: Jr. Chris Kreider (20-21-41), Fr. Johnny Gaudreau (19-20-39), Sr. Barry Almeida (22-16-38)
Leading goaltender: Jr. Parker Milner (25-5-0, 1.82 GAA, .931 SV%)

(2) Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (24-9-6, 16-7-5 WCHA)
Head coach: Scott Sandelin
Leading scorers: Sr. Jack Connolly (19-39-58), Sr. Travis Oleksuk (21-30-51), So. J.T. Brown (23-23-46)
Leading goaltender: Sr. Kenny Reiter (22-8-6, 2.40 GAA, .912 SV%)

(3) Maine Black Bears (23-13-3, 15-10-2 Hockey East)
Head coach: Tim Whitehead
Leading scorers: Sr. Spencer Abbott (20-41-61), Jr. Joey Diamond (25-22-47), Sr. Brian Flynn (18-29-47)
Leading goaltender: So. Dan Sullivan (22-10-3, 2.54 GAA, .910 SV%)

(4) Air Force Falcons (21-10-7, 15-6-6 Atlantic Hockey)
Head coach: Frank Serratore
Leading scorers: Jr. Kyle De Laurell (15-23-38), Jr. John Kruse (16-14-30), Sr. Tim Kirby (12-16-28)
Leading goaltenders: So. Jason Torf (8-4-2, 1.72 GAA, .928 SV%)

Air Force Record. 21-10-7, 15-6-6 Atlantic Hockey. Two of those losses came in the Ice Breaker, where the Falcons fell to both North Dakota (4-3) and Michigan State (3-2 OT). The only other non-conference loss suffered all season was to Denver. To the tune of 7-1. At home. Air Force held serve at home, finishing 10-2-0 at home in AHA play with their only two losses coming against Bentley and Mercyhurst (both by 2-1 scores). Though the Falcons did manage to drop a game to UConn in the AHA Quarterfinals. How? I don't know.

Overall, Air Force was great at home (11-4-2) and 'meh' on the road (8-5-5). PairWise has the Falcons ranked tied for 22nd with Lake Superior State, though KRACH is way worse FWIW -- 37th. So we're talking bottom half of Division I-A.

Previous meetings. Five, all won by BC (though just one under York). None of those games have been particularly close, either.

Common opponents. Few. As much fun as it would be to kick American International around, York avoids scheduling AHA teams during the regular season like the plagued. And for good reason. For one thing, there are far too few non-conference games available to BC after a 27-game Hockey East schedule and the Beanpot. Second, this does nothing for the Eagles' tournament resume numbers.

Here's BC's all-time record against Atlantic Hockey opponents (which the BC Hockey Media Guide doesn't even recognize as a real conference ... page 66)*

Air Force -- 5-0-0 (last: 2007-08)
American International -- 4-0-0 (last: 1951-52)
Army -- 36-3-1 (last: 1994-95)
Holy Cross -- 15-1-0 (last: 2004-05)
Mercyhurst -- 2-0-0 (last: 2010-11)
Niagara -- 1-0-0 (last: 2003-04)
RIT -- 1-0-0 (last: 2007-08)

BC's all-time record against AHA teams = good. 64-4-1 good. 0.935 good. How many other ways can I jinx us here?

Similarly, the Bentley, Canisius, Connecticut, Robert Morris and Sacred Heart programs do not exist, apparently.

Getting back to common opponents this year ... BC has wins over North Dakota and Michigan State in the Ice Breaker. Air Force dropped a pair of one goal games to both programs, with the game against the Spartans going to overtime. BC lost to Denver at home 4-2 at the beginning of the season. Air Force got bludgeoned by the Pioneers 7-1. That's it. That's the list.

Offense / Defense. Right winger John Kruse has 16 goals, including four game winners. Air Force averages 3.13 goals a game, good for 14th nationally, but its the Falcons' defense that is noteworthy. The D is giving up just 2.13 goals a game, anchored by Hobey Baker finalist Tim Kirby. That's not many goals, though Air Force does play in Atlantic Hockey.

Goaltending. Yes, Jason Torf is hot. He's been the starting Falcons goaltender since the end of January. Torf has gone 8-3-2 to lead the Academy to another Atlantic Hockey Championship, its fifth in the last six years. He's got five shutouts on the year. In Atlantic Hockey, still.

But if Torf is hot, Parker Milner is en fuego. 15-0-0 over his last 15 games, stopping 398-of-417 shots faced for a 1.25
goals against average and a .954 save percentage during this stretch. Sure, BC has played a bunch of weak teams over that span. Still. Absurd.

Special Teams. Or where BC's speed and special teams play gives them a decided advantage over the Falcons. Air Force converted on just 30-of-173 power play opportunities this season, good for just 17.34% and 36th best nationally. BC has fared much better, converting on 21.51 percent of power play opportunities (37-of-172). The power play unit has been even better over the 15 game winning streak, upping that percentage to 30 percent (15-of-50) over that span. Barry Almeida has 11 PPGs, tops in the country.

The Eagles have also managed to kill a whopping 87.5 percent of penalties (154-of-176), including killing 51-of-57 over the last 15 games. Air Force has killed just 104-of-128 for just a 81.2 success rate -- tied with Merrimack for 32nd nationally.

BC is also deadly shorthanded and has 11 SHGs this season, best in the nation. Chris Kreider and Steven Whitney have each scored 3 shorties, Almeida has scored two and Bill Arnold, Paul Carey and Pat Mullane have each scored once shorthanded.Air Force? Just three.

Probabilities. playoffstatus.com gives us a 73 percent chance of playing on Sunday, the highest probability afforded anyone in the field of 16. The other number 1 seeds get a 62% (Michigan), 54% (Union) and 52% chance (North Dakota) of advancing to the 8s. Congrats on a fantastic season. Flip a coin to see if you'll advance to the Quarterfinals. Single-elimination college hockey. Insane.

BC also has a 47% chance of advancing to Tampa, a 28% chance of playing in the title game and a 17% chance of bringing home title number 5. Not great odds, but the best of the field.

The Other Side Of The Bracket Is Offensive. Should BC get past Air Force, they'll face either a Minnesota-Duluth or Maine team that ranks in the top 10 nationally in total offense. Minnesota-Duluth averages a nation-best 3.64 goals a game, while Maine ranks 7th overall with 3.36 a game. BC is two up on Maine, coming in 5th with 3.52 a game. All four teams in the Northeast Regional rank in the top 14th in total offense this season.

What The "Experts" Think. CHN goes BC, UMD, BC, BC, BC, BC, BC, UMD. Poor Maine. Michigan, North Dakota and Miami are the consensus other teams to get to Tampa.

What I Think. BC is just rolling right now and 2012 Air Force <> 2011 Colorado College. The junior class is 16-1 in the postseason; the senior class 24-1. I think the team will use the blowout loss to CC in last year's Regional Semifinal to stay focused and get past the Falcons. Say, 4-2. Minnesota-Duluth tops Maine in the second semifinal in OT, then BC skates past the defending National Champs winning on an OT game-winner from Bill Arnold.

Go Eagles!

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