By Dan Rubin
Oh NCAA. How I love thee. How I love the drama and passion that only college sports produces. How I love the tournaments, the pageantry, the student bodies, and the cheerleaders. How I love watching young adults so unaware of how their lives are so simple and so beautiful. How I love watching people wearing one color, chanting, singing, living and dying with their school.
Oh how I hate thee. For every regular season that provides a lifetime of memories, you’ve managed to become fangled and foul up just about every postseason you have. There’s the men’s basketball tournament, where the arguments range from expanding to 68 teams (which you did) to 90+ teams (remember that from last summer?). There’s the football BCS poo-poo-platter of issues. There’s the baseball tournament that lasts forever with double-eliminations and Super-Regionals and double eliminations and best-of-3 College World Series rounds (not that I hate that… I actually really like that. But I know plenty of people who don’t like the fact that a team has to win upwards of 12 games to even qualify for the championship round).
And now there’s men’s ice hockey. For the past two days, I’ve railed and ranted about how the NCAA screwed up their hockey field. Now, I get to analyze why on a team-by-team basis. Excuse me while I wipe the drool from excitement from my mouth, before we get into the Northeast Regional. Or maybe I should just call it the UNH Invitational for good measure.
Thanks for bearing with me fans. There was a lot of drool.
#1 Miami University (Ohio) Redhawks
How They Got Here: CCHA Champions, [23-9-6] overall record
Why They’ll Win the Regional: Miami has a couple of major cards to play. Number one – they’re a very good team. 23 wins on the season is a good team. They did a good job with the nonconference schedule this year – beating UNH, St. Cloud, and Maine. In conference, they handled two tournament bound teams to win the conference dance – outscoring Notre Dame and Western Michigan 11-4 in the process. They swept Michigan late in the year, likely costing the Wolverines a top seed. And they’re a top seed, which means they hypothetically have one of the “easier” roads to St. Paul.
Statistically, Any Miele should win the Hobey Baker Award with 24-47—71 totals. Reilly Smith added 28-26—54 totals, and Carter Camper dished out 37 assists. When leading after two periods, this team is dominant, willing 18 of 22 games. They outscored opponents 45-18 in the first period and 53-27 in the second period. They averaged just under four goals a game, second only to Yale and allowed an average of just over 2.1 goals per game, third to Yale and Union. Plus, head coach Enrico Blasi has been here before, and so has the majority of this roster. Remember 2009? They had a two goal lead with one minute to play, before they had their hearts ripped out by Boston University. The goalie in net for that was Cody Reichard, who at the time was just a freshman. He’s a junior now, and he’s much improved, even if he did split time with Connor Knapp.
Why They’ll Lose The Regional: It’s 348 miles from Oxford, OH to St. Louis, MO. It’s 933 miles from Oxford to Manchester. If they played in St. Louis, they’d draw a first round opponent like Colorado College. Playing in Manchester, they’re forced to play the UNH Wildcats. FYI – it’s 35 miles from Durham to Manchester. Take Route 4 to 125. 125 to 101. 101 goes right into Manchester. Now if I know that, I’m sure many of the UNH faithful know that.
What I’m saying is that Miami will lose this regional in the first round. If they beat UNH, I think they’ll make it to St. Paul. But they still have to play an essential road game against a team that earned it by being eliminated in their conference semifinals. All because some mathematical formula made the Wildcats a four seed and the contractual obligation says “oh you’re a host school? Sure…play at home.” If this game was played on neutral ice, I’d take Miami probably 80% of the time. Playing in Manchester, I’m taking it 50-50, and in my pick ‘ems, I’ve picked UNH to win. If UNH wins, there needs to be some serious analysis into how these regionals are setup. Especially since this regional has both UNH and Merrimack, and top seed Boston College (who won those two team’s conference) is getting shipped close to 2,000 miles away.
If Miami makes it past the first round, they’ll still draw an extremely tough draw against either Merrimack or Notre Dame less than 24 hours after playing UNH on “neutral ice.” That’s unfair to the only team in the bracket that won its conference and did enough to garner a #1 seed.
#2 Merrimack Warriors
How They Got Here: Hockey East Runners Up, At Large Bid; [25-9-4] overall record
Why They’ll Win: This isn’t your older brother’s Merrimack team. As I broke down in my HEA Final Four preview, this is a team that’s beaten everyone. They beat BC, BU, UNH, and Maine. In fact, they beat UNH three out of four meetings. There was the sweep in February in the regular season, and then there was the 4-1 win in the HEA Semifinals. Merrimack looked VERY good against BC in the HEA Championship, especially Ryan Flanigan. Flanigan is joined by Stephane Da Costa, Joe Cucci, and Chris Barton. After that game, sitting in the press conference with the legend himself Dan Libon, we talked about how they looked so downtrodden over losing to BC. They knew they could win that game. That makes them a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. Flanigan said it best after the game when he alluded to remembering this feeling and using it as motivation. This is a very mature Merrimack team, and even Jerry York said he wouldn’t be surprised to see them in St. Paul.
Distance from North Andover to Manchester – 34 miles. That makes it shorter (by a whole mile) than UNH according to MapQuest. That will create a home-ice advantage for a team that honestly earned their way to play here. There were a ton of Warrior fans at the Garden. They had some great chants (“Daddy’s Money” at the BC students was a personal favorite), and they bring a great energy. This is new territory, and they’re savoring it by creating great passion at the rink. They’re my pick for a trip to St. Paul out of this regional.
Statistically, nothing’s really changed from my review last week. So I won’t eat up bandwidth by retyping it all.
Why They’ll Lose: They’ve never been here before. Merrimack played in its first HEA final four this weekend, and they’re in the midst of their best season since 1988-1989. They haven’t been to a national tournament since 1988. Their last national championship was in 1978 – in Division II. This is all new territory for them, and they’re drawing a regional against three teams that are playoff seasoned. Miami is the national runner up from 2009. Their first round opponent, Notre Dame, is the runner up from 2008. UNH has been knocking on the doorstep of the Frozen Four for years. Merrimack lost 27 games in 2007. Not exactly a storied history.
#3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
How They Got Here: At large Bid; Eliminated in CCHA Tournament by Michigan; [23-13-5] overall record
Why They’ll Win: Only one team in this regional can boast the support of God. That’s a pretty impressive booster.
The Irish hold wins over BC, Western Michigan, Michigan, Miami, and a shootout win over BU in the Shillelagh Tournament they hosted So they lost four of their last six…who cares? This is a good team, and they’re seasoned. TJ Tynan and Anders Lee lead the scoring, and Mike Johnson provides adequate protection in net. They went [20-3-4] when leading or tied after the first period, and they only blew four third period leads. They’re also one of the few teams with a winning record when trailing after two periods, going [6-5-2]. This is a team that outscored opponents 42-29 in the third period this year. That should put Merrimack on alert in the first round, especially in the later stages when they seemed to run out of gas against BC.
Why They’ll Lose: Bad stat time. [3-10-1] when losing after the first period. Note to Merrimack – score early. This team is bombs away shooting, so it would behoove you put them on their heels early. It’s also important to note that, while the case can be made for a Warrior “home game,” this is technically neutral ice. Notre Dame on neutral ice? [1-4-1]. Now for the double stomach punch portion – last year, BC, the team that beat ND in the national title game in ’08, won the Northeast Regional when it was hosted by Holy Cross. There’s a religious reference in there somewhere.
#4 UNH Wildcats
How They Got Here: Loophole City!
Actually, UNH does belong in the NCAAs. They went [21-10-6], finished 2nd in Hockey East, and made the conference Final Four. They just don’t belong playing in this regional. But I’m sure you figured that out by now.
Why They’ll Win: They’re a much better 4-seed than RPI.
See also: “Why They’ll Lose” section on Miami. See also: “Why They’ll Win” section from my Hockey East preview a week ago.
Why They’ll Lose: See my “Why They’ll Lose” section of Hockey East from last week. I know this is barebones at the end, but I’m pushing 1,700 words at this point. And I don’t want to rehash the obvious that I’ve already stated. Folks, I’m calling it like I see it, as an angry hockey observer and a Boston College fan – UNH will win a game in this regional. But, if they run into Merrimack in the 2nd round, the Warriors are heading to St. Paul. If it’s Notre Dame, all bets are off. You can take that to the bank.
See you tomorrow with the West Regional preview.