Two teams have already collected their golden tickets to Tampa, and they're a pair of bluebloods: Boston College and North Dakota.
Two games will be played tonight on ESPNU to determine who joins them at Amalie Arena. At 5 PM, Denver looks to add another historically elite program to the field when they take on Ferris State. The winner of that game will take on North Dakota.
At 7:30 in Albany, Quinnipiac faces UMass-Lowell for the right to take on BC next Thursday night. Both programs have been strong in recent years, but are seeking their first national championship.
Obviously, whichever team advances from the regional final will be an incredibly tough challenge for the Eagles.
Quinnipiac is by most measures the best team in the country; they're the #1 overall seed, #1 in the polls, #1 in various computer rankings, and have lost just 3 times all season. They're an incredibly well-balanced team, as the only team in the country in the top 5 nationally in both offense and defense. After a slightly shaky start, they went on to make fairly easy work of RIT, blanking them 4-0 yesterday.
A hypothetical matchup with Quinnipiac would carry with it both the fear and the opportunity of the unknown. QU could well be a juggernaut befitting its record, similar to Union in 2014 who were clearly a superior team to BC. If their possession and offensive numbers translate against elite national opponents, they will win the whole thing.
But there are still doubters about Qunnipiac, who has had great regular seasons before and haven't necessarily followed up with tournament success. ECAC stalwarts Yale and Harvard have already been iced from the tournament by Hockey East teams. In their three games against Hockey East opponents since December, QU has lost to BU, tied Northeastern, and tied Maine (?), though they did go 3-0 against UMass and UConn in the fall.
On the other hand, we know UMass Lowell very well, and the good and the bad of that is that we have a pretty good idea of how the game would play out. It would likely be a close, defensive game, with BC's ability to win likely dependent on Thatcher Demko being sharp, BC's defense continuing to limit mistakes, and the Eagles pouncing opportunistically - not too dissimilar to the game we just saw against Minnesota-Duluth last night.
So what would you prefer? The predictable, probably close and tight contest against a solid Lowell team? Or a roll of the dice against a Quinnipiac team BC has never faced before, and a game that could theoretically be much higher scoring?
Personally, I'm rooting for Lowell tonight. I'd like to see another Hockey East team make it to the Frozen Four and guarantee the league gets back to the final. I also like our chances with last change against Lowell, as line matchups could be key in the chess match that would likely ensue if the two teams faced off. BC was able to jump on Lowell early and then hang on in their contest at Conte Forum when BC had last change; at the Tsongas Center, Lowell was pretty dominant, but that was not a very good effort for BC.
It's a tough call, but it should be a fascinating game to watch tonight from Albany.