Joseph Gravellese: The field is set, and now the waiting begins. Needless to say, we'll have wall to wall coverage of the tournament all week, which will hopefully help the wait go by.
We are also going to have a special edition of Hockey Banter to break down each regional as Grant and I look to make our picks in our annual bracket contest.
Today, we take a look at the West regional, in St. Paul, MN, with #1 seed Minnesota playing in their back yard.
The Gophers will take on the AHA autobid, Robert Morris, in round 1. Our old foe Notre Dame, the #2, will take on a stout St. Cloud State team, who faded late and fell from #5 overall to #9. But they now have the benefit of playing at home.
Let's start with Minnesota vs. Robert Morris. I have to say, this isn't a JCNG thing -- this is probably one of the weakest AHA qualifiers in a long time.
Oh wait, no. By a long time, I mean "since last year" when a pretty similar crazy run happened for Canisius last year in the conference playoffs.
Canisius put a little bit of a scare into Quinnipiac due to some shaky goaltending by Hartzell, and Canisius's goalie standing on his head. I don't really see any hope for the Colonials here.
Grant Salzano: No, I don't either. It would take a Holy Cross-level upset (the Minnesota one, not the BC one) for Robert Morris to pull this off.
JG: I think it would be a bigger upset than Holy Cross, honestly. Especially since the game is in St. Paul.
KRACH suggests Robert Morris is #50 in the nation (out of 59).
GS: It's unfortunate, too, because Minnesota has really stumbled a bit down the stretch. A decent team would cerrainly have a shot of knocking them off.
A lot like us, unfortunately.
JG: Yeah, pretty much. Both BC and Minnesota have the benefit of taking on autobids here, but BC certainly has the heavy lift.
Robert Morris's offense has been pretty prolific, putting up 3.46 goals per game. But honestly, you kind of think that's not really the style of team that could pull this sort of upset in the Gophers.
I imagine the Gophers will be pretty easily able to overwhelm the RMU defense, which has given up an average of three goals per game, and hasn't seen anyone of MN's caliber.
GS: I don't know a thing about Robert Morris because I don't really follow club hockey. I'm going to let Fake New Guy fill me in...
Fake New Guy: THEY'RE GREAT! WATCH OUT FOR BOBBY MO! THEY COULD REALLY SURPRISE SOME PEOPLE, THEY ARE ON A GREAT RUN RIGHT NOW WITH A REALLY HOT GOALTENDER, THEY COULD TOTALLY KNOCK OFF MINNESOTA!
GS: Thanks Fake New Guy.
JG: Let's take a look at Bobby Mo's actual performances against "major conference teams" this year. Since we have infinite internet to fill.
They were competitive back in late October/early November against Ohio State and Penn State, losing 4-3 and 5-4 in those games, respectively.
They were in the Three Rivers Classic that BC won, losing another pair of one-goal games: 3-2 to Penn State and 3-2 again to Bowling Green.
That was it, though. Not particularly inspiring. Safe to say I don't think either of us think they're going to knock off the Gophers.
We'll get back to the Gophers after we talk about St. Cloud State and Notre Dame. As is befitting the 8/9 matchup, KRACH suggests this is the most evenly matched first round game.
GS: Yes, this should be a good one. And without getting ahead of myself too much, either of these teams could certainly beat the Gophers.
But focusing on round 1 -- We're all too familiar with the Irish. Way, way too familiar. They are going to face a pretty similar opponent to BC in St. Cloud, but with a softer D. SCSU has a lot of firepower, with Hobey favorite* Nic Dowd leading the Huskies to 3rd in the nation in scoring. But they're 31st in D, so if Notre Dame's great D can slow them down, the Irish should be able to score.
*According to Dave Starman, which, lol
JG: Ha. You sort of stole my joke.
St. Cloud State is a fast, fast, fast team. Like, really fast. I've watched them a few times on CBS College Sports and that's what stands out, in contrast to some of the more physical teams I remember them having in days of yore.
They don't have much "star power" but they have a lot of depth -- led by Nic Dowd, who is pretty much the definition of a "nice player" and their leading scorer at 39 points.
They also have a couple of defensemen among their leading scorers. #Puckmovingdefenseman alert. Which is not really dissimilar to BC either.
I'm not ready to make a prediction on this game; I need to think on it. It feels a little too easy to say "St Cloud is a lot like BC, Notre Dame owned BC, therefore Notre Dame will win."
St. Cloud State had a very good season and had a shot at pinning down the last #1 seed before they crapped the bed and got swept by Miami in the NACHO playoffs. But make no mistake, they are a damn good team. And they no longer have the monkey on their back about having never won a tournament game after their run to the Frozen Four last year.
GS: I totally forgot they were in the Frozen Four last year. I feel like that tournament was illegitimate haha.
You're right that this is a tough one. A lot of these games are really tricky to make a prediction because if history has shown is anything, it's that anyone really can -- and does -- win these tournament games based on no logic nor reason whatsoever.
Except Robert Morris. They won't.
With this game in Minnesota you might lean toward giving the edge to the Huskies. But then again, BC's games were in Chestnut Hill. So who the hell knows.
I guess, gun to my head, I'm picking Notre Dame. They have been excellent out of conference. That's the tipping point for me.
JG: And they're battle tested having faced excellent teams all year... whereas Notre Dame will be a step up for SCSU compared to teams they've played since getting flattened by the Gophers at the North Star Beanpot Thing.
But yeah, this is a wholly unpredictable game.
That brings us to the Gophers against (take your pick). Minnesota has been comfortably strolling toward #1 overall all year and have had it locked up, really, since March 1 when BC lost to Notre Dame. But they haven't exactly been lights out down the stretch either, leading to suspicions that they might flame out early again.
GS: I have Notre Dame coming out of this region but for kind of bullcrap reasons.
I think that because it's so obvious that Union, BC, and Minnesota are the cream of the crop, that there's no way all three of them make it to Philly. Because that's how this tournament works. So who is the one to screw it up?
JG: Well, there's some sound logic.
GS: It won't be Union. They will walk.
Call me a blind optimist (you would never!) but I think BC will come through against Denver and Lowell (we looked really good against the Riverhawks for 5 of 6 periods.
That leaves Minnesota. And I could totally see the mild upset happening to either one of Notre Dame or SCSU. Since I have the Irish taking round 1, they're my pick.
The thing about this tournament is that sound logic never prevails, so I'm trying to think outside the box here.
JG: Fair enough.
Minnesota could make all this overthinking look dumb and just pulverize in both games and I wouldn't be *shocked*. They are really good.
But what I think might hurt Minnesota this year -- and it's probably hurt them in each of the recent seasons when they've crashed our earlier than expected, and sadly, might be hurting BC this year -- is that they are really super, super talented, but don't really excel in terms of having "glue guys," "sandpaper," whatever you want to call it.
The 2012 BC team didn't win because of "glue guys." They won because they rolled three absolutely stacked lines at you. But the 2010 and 2008 BC teams comlpemented their elite skill with great two-way players who were physical, feisty, reliable, and occasionally would pop in with the occasional goal -- your Lombardis and your Prices and your Orpiks and your Kucharskis and what have you. Mike Brennan on D. The list goes on and on. BC has Pat Brown and then ... ???...
Quinn Smith looked like that kind of player last year, but not as much this year.
I watch a LOT of Minnesota games, and they seem to be lacking in that department. I think a lot of people will probably see them getting upset by one of the very good teams in their region.
So yeah, maybe they'll come out and destroy everyone. Because no logic need apply here.
GS: I like Arnold and Santini as glue guys. I don't think you have to lack skill to be that kind of player. Oh, and they hit people which is nice.
Santini "hits" people in the sense that stuff "hits" other things in the LHC. /NerdReference
JG: Arnold is not a glue guy, because he's on the first line. I interpret that term to mean they hold things together when the superstars aren't out there. But anyway, we'll get into BC later.
GS: Yeah, sorry, sidetracked.
JG: Well, that's our look at the West regional. We'll chat tomorrow about the Midwest regional, the winner of which will take on the Western winner in Philly.