Joseph Gravellese: We've spent all week discussing the other regionals. Now it's time to get down to business. Tomorrow, the Northeast regional gets underway in Worcester when BC takes on Denver at 4 PM.
This regional is being generally acknowledged as the deepest and the toughest in the tournament. The fact that the only team in the bracket that isn't a conference champ is BC says a lot.
Let's get our Lowell vs. Minnesota State talk out of the way now, then get to BC.
Grant Salzano: Let's do it.
JG: Well, I'm a believer in Lowell, obviously. Billy Jaffe really said it best this week in what makes them so good, which is the overall buy-in from top to bottom on that roster is just incredible. They have a very real chance of winning the whole thing, I really believe that.
That said... I have a hunch that Minnesota State might knock them off. One of those weird upsets I might put on my bracket. They are a really deep and balanced team that doesn't excel at anything but is generally solid all around.
A couple of things jump out at me about Minnesota State:
They average the most shots of any team in the nation (~35), and have the second best shot margin (~+10/gm). And they have a LOT of 20-30 point scorers.
To round it all off, their freshman goaltender Cole Huggins has taken the reins and done an excellent job between the pipes.
GS: The thing once you get to the NCAA tournament in men's hockey is that outside of any bad autobid teams (looking at you, AHA) all of the teams have some pretty good reasons why you can expect them to do well. And everyone really does have a shot to win. Which was never more evident than last year when the last team to back its way in, Yale, won from the 15 seed. It's crazy.
You're right about both of these teams. They're both real good and I think this might be a tougher pick than a lot of people realize. Minnesota State is kind of the redheaded stepchild of this region.
We've seen in the past from the most successful BC teams that teams with depth can do really well in this tournament. A team with firepower down the lineup like Minnesota State could surprise a few people.
JG: For sure. The big red flag about Minnesota State is that they've put up their impressive numbers against a really bad conference. The WCHA is probably the 2nd-worst conference at this point.
But still, they've done very well. They have good players up and down, like you said; they roll out 40-point scorer JP Lafontaine on their third line.
They're good enough to surprise some people, but I would be surprised if they won the regional, and VERY shocked if they went all the way, based on their 6-6-0 record out of conference.
I think Lowell is a better team and a team that's playing really well right now, but I just have one of those feelings about the Mavericks in round one.
GS: I do too -- I do have Minnesota State coming out of that game. We discussed it earlier but Lowell doesn't blow me away at the moment. I know you disagree and I'm sure my opinion will change once they wipe the floor with the Mavs though. Because reasons.
JG: Yeah also as I mentioned on the radio the other night, you must not have watched the Hockey East tournament games, because God damn they looked impressive.
AGAIN. Just as they did last year.
Anyway, moving on.
Let's talk about BC vs. Denver. There are a couple of things that worry me:
1. The layoff for BC.
2. Sam Brittain, Denver's stellar goaltender.
Those are my primary concerns. But beyond that, I do think this is a good matchup.
I think the best thing that could possibly happen for BC is teams watching too much film of that ND series and thinking they're going to try to "follow that blueprint." Because it only works for Notre Dame because they are really, really good at the way they play. It's not like they're the only team that traps against BC.
Denver is a hard working team with some speed and some jam to their game but they're not a lock down type of team. They allow a lot of shots, so BC will have their chances.
Let's also remember that, while Gaudreau has excelled against everyone this year, historically he's really excelled in non-conference games against opponents that aren't as used to playing him.
GS: Yes, all of those things are really good points.
The layoff is really concerning. BC put out a sick slo-mo video yesterday of the team practicing for the tournament. Aside from being SICKNASTY, I also made me hope BC doesn't come out in slow motion to start the game against the Pios.
I will say -- as I mentioned on the BCI radio show -- that I think we'll have a better first period against a team like Denver that struggles to score than a team like even Robert Morris, who likes to move the puck, and might be able to jump on us after the layoff.
As for Great Brittain (that is the not the first time you will hear this) he definitely has some good numbers. He's right up there with Hellebuyck and Witt with the goaltending leaders. That's definitely a concern.
JG: It is. But BC did beat Witt three times. And according to KRACH, PWR, and RPI, NU was better than DU this year. And that was the same sort of deal, BC got a ton of chances to score, so no matter how good Witt was, the Eagles' talent won out, and was eventually able to cash in on scoring chances.
Northeastern is honestly not the worst comparison for Denver from what little of DU I've seen, because NU also has some real high-skill forwards even though they're not the most explosive team. and has low goals allowed numbers even though they give up a ton of shots.
GS: Well that's encouraging. Though despite our perfect record against NU this year they did play us pretty tough for the most part.
JG: Well, I expect Denver to play BC tough, too... unless the Eagles really come out shot out of a cannon and fly around like that Wisconsin game in October. I wouldn't be totally shocked if that happened, honestly.
GS: That would prolong my life a little bit which would be nice.
JG: Yes, it would be nice. I don't see it happening because of Great Brittain, but it's a possibility.
GS: Hey, who knows. Notre Dame hung, what, 6 on Demko, who had even better stats.
But yeah I don't expect that to happen.
JG: In theory, the fact that Denver doesn't have a prolific offense should be hopefully beneficial for Demko in getting his legs back under him.
He'll certainly need to come through, though. If he played the way he did from January until March 1 two weeks ago, BC would have been at the Garden.
GS: Yep. Hopefully those bad days are behind him. He's a young guy, after all.
JG: Well, I'm not looking past Denver. But since we're previewing the whole region it's worth talking about how BC would match up against their potential second round foes.
Neither would be an easy matchup, but we saw BC really dominate 5 out of 6 periods against Lowell during the season series, going 1-0-1 and really ragdolling Lowell at Conte, not giving them any opportunities.
I kind of think Lowell's defensive aggressiveness plays a little more into the type of game BC likes to play --- not as much as a team that's offense first and likes to go up and down, but their high pressure defending forces quick decisions,and quick passes and BC does well in that category.
Minnesota State is more of a mystery to me, but again, they didn't have much success against Providence or Minnesota. I think BC certainly has the edge on paper.
So I'm picking BC to come out of this bracket, with my head and with my heart. No lock, surely, but I feel pretty good about it.
GS: Yep, I like the way you think. No gimmes for sure but I like BC's chances to come through.
Fortunately the tougher regional, should BC come out of it the winner and head to Philly, should hopefully pay dividends a couple weeks later.
JG: The great wild card is not knowing how BC will look after such a long layoff. Which is kind of a lame, C.Y.A. thing to say, I know. But it's the truth.
If BC looks like they did in game 2 and even in game 3 against ND, they will be fine.
GS: I think the time for prognostication is over. Ready for hockey?
JG: So ready. Today, it all starts with Union-UVM at 2 PM.... I can't wait. AHHH! Go Vermont! Even though that would totally wreck my bracket.
GS: HA. Mine too.
SOOO ready over here. Time to drop the puck. We'll have your coverage all weekend. And Go BC!