Hockey Banter, Week XXII, Part III: Beasts Of The East Regional

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

In our penultimate regional preview, we tackle the East Regional in Bridgeport

Joseph Gravellese: We now move on to the East regional in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I think we've both pretty well established at this point that we think Union is the leading candidate for the national championship. We'll get into Da U a bit more later on.

Let's start with the 2/3 matchup: Quinnipiac vs. Providence. The Q lost many, many players from their 2013 team that went to the national championship game, but much to many people's surprise, they came back this year and slotted new players right into their successful structure and once again put forth a strong season, earning a 2-seed to the NCAA tournament.

The Providence College Friars had an outstanding start to the season and were in fact briefly ranked #1 in the pairwise before Christmas, but started to hit the skids when Jon Gillies left to backstop the World Junior team and never really recovered.

I know that on the radio show the other day, you said you were picking Providence because of Gillies' ability to "steal a game." I'm going to have to disagree, and stick with Quinnipiac here, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it's all well and good for Gillies to "steal a game," but in order to do that Providence is going to need to generate some scoring chances. Quinnipiac is one of the best teams in the nation at limiting chances to outside shots and preventing second opportunities. They only allow an average of 22 shots per game, which is truly remarkable.

Given Providence's offensive weakness all year, but especially since Christmas, I have a hard time seeing them break through.

And then on the other side, Gillies honestly hasn't been all that great since Christmas either. I'm not saying that he's not an elite goalie with a bright, NHL future -- he is. But he wasn't exactly a world beater against Canada or Russia in World Juniors, and has been off and on at best since returning. He looked downright poor on a couple of the goals UNH's Kevin Goumas scored on him in the Hockey East semifinal.

The only wins Providence has since January 24 are against UMass and Maine -- a Maine team with 1 road win all year. I think this one will be a pretty well-controlled win for the Q. Call it 3-1.

Grant Salzano: Well just to be clear -- I'm not picking PC. I just think Gillies has the talent to steal one. I do think this is Quinnipiac's game to lose.

Quinnipiac has some pretty impressive numbers, as you've pointed out. They are good at both ends of the ice, which is part of the reason I like Union. The difference between the two is really that Union is on such a run.

As for Providence, beyond Gillies (who is on his own rough streak despite his raw talent) I don't know what happened to them. I think it probably all centers on that goaltender.

JG: A little bit. It also has to do with their general inability to score goals. They just don't score a lot of goals.

Ross Mauermann started off red hot for PC with 27 points in the first half of the season. #Nerds pointed out his abnormally high shooting percentage; low and behold, he came back down to earth with 7 points in the second half.

Nick Saracino is their leading scorer since new years, with a 6-6--12 line.

GS: Well, it certainly follows based on who people have chosen in the bracket pool thus far that QU and Union are the favorites to come out of their first round games intact. Which brings me to a question I have for you.

In discussing Union vs. Quinnipiac, you've said that "Union has made it clear that they are the better team."

I thought this too, until I saw that they are 1-1 head to head...

What were you referring to?

JG: 1. I never used those words, so I don't know where you're getting that. 2. Union finished 9 points ahead of Quinnipiac in the league. That's a pretty significant gap.

Union also hasn't lost since January 31. That seems like a pretty good time to start your season-ending winning streak based on experiences with BC.

GS: I must have imagined you saying the Union/Quinnipiac thing. Oh well. It sure feels like Union has made it clear, anyway, despite the Head To Head results not being there.

Union really does seem to be riding a very BC-like end of season wave. Is this what it feels like to be the other team most years?

JG: Well, we are talking about a two-game sample. Whereas the overall year, Union only lost 6 games all year.

GS: Let's cut to the chase -- do we both have Union-QU--UNION as this region?

JG: Yes.

I think Union got an epic gift of a bracket, but they probably deserve it, so it's not a problem. I think Union would still be heavily favored over North Dakota rather than Vermont, but at least NoDak would be a bit of a twist to throw at them because of their elite skill and ability to really get hot if guys like Rocco Grimaldi get it going.

But they got a little bit of a gift from the Committee in Vermont -- a well-built, solid team, but not a world beater, and probably similar talent and style wise to a lot of the teams they see in the ECAC.

GS: I forgot we haven't even mentioned Vermont.

They are like the invisible team in this tournament.

JG: Yeah, them and Colgate seem to be the ones that tend to fly under people's radar. Especially in Vermont's case -- they sort of snuck in despite not playing on the last weekend.

They gave Lowell some fits in that quarterfinal series, and played reasonably well throughout the year, but don't really jump out at you. Defense is their strength (2.27 GAA), but they just don't put the puck in the net enough to pose a challenge, I think.

GS: We could put together a pretty good bracket of teams that we just don't think will win, I think. Haha

That does it for Bridgeport. We wrap up with the real show tomorrow, just in time for playoff hockey. Get excited!

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