Joseph Gravellese: One more day until the NCAA hockey tournament gets underway! And we're back to preview the Northeast Regional and, finally, BC's East regional.
The Northeast Regional kicks off tomorrow and is certainly one most locals will have their eyes on.
#1 LOWELL vs. #4 WISCONSIN - 4:30PM
I'm pretty sure it's federal law at this point that you're not allowed to say "Wisconsin" without throwing "red hot" in there before or afterward. But, as any Lowell fan would (probably angrily by now) point out, Lowell has been even hotter since the holidays.
Everyone knows how highly I rate this Lowell team. I think they have just enough offense in guys like Wetmore, Pendenza and Arnold to compliment their top-notch defense, which hsa given up just 79 goals this season. There are questions about their ability to handle this stage. But not, at this point, about their talent level, I think.
I touched on this on Tuesday, but I chalk up Wisconsin's run to the WCHA title as much to a parity-filled league as Wisconsin being some world beater. They've certainly got some national-caliber talent and are riding a nice 8-2 run into the tournament. But Lowell is deeper and has been playing better longer. I've got Lowell, 3-1.
Grant Salzano: I have to say, this is a very tough choice. Both teams are playing very good hockey, in very good leagues, and won their conference title.
JG: I just don't know how you can look at Hellebucyk's .949 save percentage and give Lowell the slight edge, at least. Dude has been absolutely absurd.
Though.... it could be a system thing, because Carr looked absurd last year before fizzling this year.
GS: I'm fairly certainly you're going to see a low scoring, one goal (maybe plus an empty netter) game. Given how Lowell's wins have been going, this is going to be close all game. It's going to be tied or close late and whoever can play the best third period will win.
Fortunately -- that's Lowell's Thing. And I do think they are going to pull out the win. I'm calling it 2-1.
JG: Oh, it'll certainly be close.
Hey, remember when The Riverhawk Hockey Blog guys were laughing at us because we considered Parker Milner as good as Doug Carr, which they thought was patently ridiculous?
Funny how a few months can change everything.
GS: HA, I do remember that.
JG: #3 DENVER vs. #2 UNH - 8PM
I somewhat infamously jumped on the "Denver for national championship" bandwagon early in the year when they looked hot, before they really went through a rough stretch for a couple of months. But their roster certainly is stacked on paper, highlighted by Nick Shore (the Shores over there are getting to be like the Biegas at this point) and Joey LaLeggia.
They rebounded nicely from their slump and are up to #9 in KRACH, which sounds about right for their talent level.
UNH... well, they've gone in the other direction since the New Year, managing to somehow be even less impressive than us since the turn of the calendar, honestly.
But, like your SCSU over Notre Dame prediction, I kind of have a gut feeling to pick this one as an "upset", with UNH doing a magical reemerging act similar to what they did two years ago in Manchester when they knocked out Miami (OH) as a 4 seed.
I'ma say 3-2.
GS: Fair, I guess we're each entitled to one off-the-wall, based-on-nothing-but-the-gut upset prediction. But I've got Denver taking this one -- I'll call it 4-2 -- and most of the reasoning is because of New Hampshire's recent collapse.
Denver is playing okay hockey but they're right in the thick of a group of teams entering the tournament without much momentum to speak of.
Like you said though, they've got superior talent in this game. Denver takes it.
One additional point worth mentioning: Neither one of these teams have played hockey for two weeks. Who's going to be rusty? As we've seen on the women's hockey side, the lack of games come playoff time can prove to be a disadvantage. In this case, either team does have the ability to win if they are able to quickly shake the rust.
JG: Okay... time for the East Regional. AKA, the Group of Death!!!!!!!
#1 QUINNIPIAC vs. #4 CANISIUS, SAT 5:30 PM
JG: This has to be the least hyped game in NCAA hockey tournament history, yeah? Other than maybe when Air Force played Yale in 2009? Quinnipiac seemingly locked up the #1 overall seed in the PWR back during the first Bush administration, then proceeded to have a stretch of hockey so unimpressive that every week you'd look at their scores and say "really?"
But on the flipside, tho, Canisius. Really?
GS: Quinnipiac right now is playing Bad hockey. Bad. It's unbelievable to me that given their weak schedule, they were able to build enough of a PWR lead to trip all over themselves and still wind up tops overall.
A few people are calling this the upset pick of the tournament, Canisius over the Q. But for God's sake, look at the KRACH ratings... Canisius is 48th out of 59... WHAT?
Having said that -- crazier things have happened. And the Q has lost to a worse team this year in American International.
I'm not going to call the upset though. But it will be close. I say QU ekes it out and pulls off a 3-2 win.
EDIT: I was just told that Canisius is a Jesuit college. THAT IS AWESOME and now I'm all aboard the Canisius over Quinnipiac bandwagon. If only they weren't so bad at hockey...
GS: Honestly. Canisius. Could you even hand-pick a more obscure team?
JG: American International is, I think, more obscure. I know of Canisius because of that huge brawl they got into with RIT back in like 2007. Remember that?
GS: Holy hell -- no, I've never seen that before.
JG: Yeah, that was nuts. I think one of the two teams had to forfeit the rest of the season or something.
GS: THERE WAS A GOALIE FIGHT?! IN COLLEGE?!
JG: Yeah. Ha, enjoy this line from an article about the brawl in a newspaper from wherever Canisius is:
"In 2008, Scarsella went as far to say that the rivalry with RIT was even greater than the one with Niagara University. Those feelings have still continued five years later."
Bigger than the Canisius-Niagara rivalry. Can you imagine?
GS: That's adorable.
JG: As the proud owner of a 2010 RIT Tigers Frozen Four shirt, go Q.
Now, enough about that.
GS: Alright, we can stop talking about Canisius now.
JG: #2 BC vs. #3 UNION. Saturday, at 9 PM, because why not, I guess.
As I said on Tuesday... all jokes about this bracket aside, Union is a very good hockey team, and with the way these two teams have been playing, I wouldn't consider BC to be overwhelming favorites at all. Slight favorites, maybe.
Union is a stout team that, by all accounts, plays smart hockey. They haven't been on TV much this year, so I can only go by what I read, but they supposedly play a lot like one of the quality mid-pack Hockey East teams that play physical and smart defense and are not afraid to do some trapping.
Most scary to me about Union is their solid power play, clicking at 23.5%. BC's tendency to have penalty box parades could really hurt them. Staying out of the box will be critical.
The most well-known name on Union's team is Shayne Gostisbehere who won a gold medal with the US junior team this January and is a quality puck-moving defenseman. But they're a deep team with a lot of good players overall.
Nobody else really jumps out as a big name, but they have 8 players with 20+ points.
GS: This game scares me. Honestly, between Union's solid winning streak and BC's recent struggles, this game is a complete tossup to me.
I went back and forth on my bracket between picking Union and picking BC. I finally chose BC, because despite our struggles, we've definitely been improving (culminating in the best 30 minutes of hockey we've played all year before our collapse against BU) and we've certainly got more talent.
I would not be surprised in the slightest if Union wins. But I'm going with a 3-2 BC victory.
I'd like to add, by the way, that I consider BC, Union, and Quinnipiac all to be very close to equal right now. This should really be one of the more competitive regions, Canisius aside.
Of course -- EZAC tho. So yeah.
JG: I've got the same score, 3-2 BC. But I think BC hammers the Q in the second round.
GS: Quinnipiac may have Zero quality wins, but they did win quite a few games. I don't know. They may be terrible but they did climb to #1 overall for a reason.
I do think we beat Quinnipiac though, should we face them on Sunday.
JG: Oh, and I've got Lowell beating UNH in the regional final in Manchester.
GS: Yeah, gimme Lowell over Denver. And the Riverhawks are going to be a battle-tested team going into the Frozen Four if they do indeed get out of that bracket.
JG: So that's that.
GS: And now -- hockey.
Prognostications over. Let's play.