Frozen Four Preview: West Region

By Dan Rubin

So here we are, at the final stage of a week of previews.  After all the griping and complaining, I’ve reached the final frontier.  Naturally, as a Boston College fan, I left the Eagles for my final preview.  But I also did it because I think that if BC qualifies for the Frozen Four, they will win the National Championship again.  It would establish an Eagle Dynasty of sorts, winning three of the last four titles and two in a row.  And this is a team that honestly still hasn’t hit its ceiling.

Let’s dive right in and take a look at these teams.

#1 Boston College Eagles

How They Got Here: Hockey East Champions: [30-7-1] overall record

Why They’ll Win The Regional:  Sending BC out west to St. Louis might be a terrible thing for the remainder of the nation.  They took a team that was arguably one of the best teams in the nation and made them mad.  Jerry York indicated after the Hockey East Championship that it wasn’t right that a #4 seed dictated where top seeded teams were going.  Even though he was joking about it in that press conference, a prominent fellow writer mentioned to me that Jerry was mad.  And if Jerry’s mad, then so is the rest of the team. And, if you go back over my Hockey East championship preview, this is a very good team.  Chris Kredier is returning from injury to round out what is essentially the best lineup in college hockey, one that can score from anywhere.  This team can outskate, outhustle, and out talent anybody.  And now they’re mad.  Plus, remember that John Muse, the goalie, has never lost an NCAA tournament game.

Why They’ll Lose The Regional:  It’s a long way from Boston to St. Louis.  And if the Eagles show any sign of propeller lag because they had to travel as far as they did, there are three teams that can capitalize.  This is one of the toughest regionals in the nation, so they’ll need to be on top of their game.  And even though Muse has been huge on the grandest of stages, I still have doubts about him.  He let in a couple of soft goals against Merrimack in the HEA championship.  Plus, their road to the Frozen Four goes through extremely tough teams, and the road to the national title essentially goes through Colorado College, Michigan/Nebraska-Omaha, and then potentially North Dakota.  Yikes.

Couple that with a tepid fan support for the Eagles in the Gateway District.  Yes, BC has possibly one of the most fickle fan supports in college sports.  Eagle students and die-hards are known for being spoiled, slacks-wearing, golfing types, and home games sometimes have no energy.  The student body is known for being extremely fair-weather, evidenced when the football team struggled this year and they just plain stopped showing up.  So I can guarantee that BC will not have much fan support in St. Louis, and it’s definitely not nearly as much as if they played at home.  But I guarantee you this – that’s a motivational tool.  And Boston College is a team ready.  The Eagle Dynasty may be upon us.  Jerry York will have the best team playing the “us against the world” card, and that’s a very dangerous position for them to strike from.

#2 Michigan Wolverines

How They Got Here: CCHA Consolation Game Winners, At Large Bid; [26-10-4] overall record

Why They’ll Win: Michigan is a strong team that’s completely under the radar.  They have goal scorers in Carl Hagelin, David Wohlberg, Scooter Vaughan, and Louie Caporusso. They beat Colorado College, the #4-seed in this regional, to win the Great Lakes Invitational earlier this year.  They hold wins over tournament teams in Notre Dame, Western Michigan, and Nebraska-Omaha.  They have great leadership.  They’ve also made every tournament dating back to 1991.  That’s a pretty awesome streak for head coach Red Berenson, who’s in his 27th season at the helm with over 700 career wins.  They’ve made the Frozen Four in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2008.

Why They’ll Lose: They haven’t won a national title since 1998.  So even though they’ve made the tournament continuously for a really long time (I was all of 4 years old when they didn’t make it last), they didn’t win the conference tournament despite being a top seed.  That ultimately cost the Wolverines a #1-seed in the tournament.  Think of it this way – when Miami won the conference tournament, they were given a top seed and sent to Manchester.  Michigan won the consolation game, but they got relegated to a #2-seed in a virtual group of death.  And even if they get past UNO, a team they’ve played before, they’re most likely running into the Eagles.  That’s a titan-style contest.

Lastly, Michigan has question marks in goal.  Shawn Hunwick stopped 42 in the consolation game win over Notre Dame, but he averages over 2 goals per game.  This is his first year seeing extended action, and two of his shutouts came with 12 and 13 saves.

#3 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks

How They Got Here: At Large Bid, Eliminated by Bemidji State in the WCHA Playoffs; [21-15-2] overall record; coolest logo and mascot in the field of 16

Why They’ll Win:  Because their mascot is the best, simply, the best.

Like so many other teams in the field, they hold wins over top-notch opponents.  Playing the majority of their games against western schools includes wins over Colorado, Denver, North Dakota, and Duluth. They won the Maverick Stampede to open up the season by beating Clarkson and RIT.  And they’re playing Michigan in the first round, a team they split a series with early in the year.  They’re also qualifying for the tournament in their first year in the WCHA, moving over this year from the CCHA.  The level of competition altered just enough to aid UNO; not all the WCHA teams knew what to expect, and when a team enters a conference for the first time, they tend to make some noise (look at Air Force in their first few years Atlantic Hockey, along with what Niagara and Robert Morris did in the same conference).

Eight double-digit goal scorers, three of which are freshman, lead them.  Most notable, though, is senior Matt Ambroz‘s 17-17—34 totals.

Why They’ll Lose: They ended the year pretty badly, losing three of their last six regular season games before being swept by Bemidji.  The sweep nearly cost them the entire tournament, and it definitely cost them a #2-seed.  And despite notching five shutouts this year, their goalie, John Faulkner, allowed well over two goals per game.  Coaching-wise, Dean Blais is in his second year, which is nothing when you look at Red and Jerry from Michigan and BC, respectively.

#4 Colorado College Tigers

How They Got Here: At Large Bid, Eliminated by North Dakota in WCHA Semifinals; [22-18-3] overall record

Why They’ll Win:  BC is more angry than good.  The Eagles’ plane gets delayed.  The empty arena caused by no fans showing up from Boston leads to a flat game that they win by surprise.  Then they shock Michigan or UNO.  Stranger things may have happened, but since I think Colorado got lucky in getting into the tournament in the first place, they’re probably not beating BC.

Why They’ll Lose: Because they had a .500 season in conference, got through Wisconsin and Alaska-Anchorage in the conference playoffs, and kept it close against UND in the semifinals.  They have a few quality wins on the schedule, including regular season wins over North Dakota, Denver, and Air Force, but Minnesota, Yale, and Minnesota State smoked them. It’ll take a Herculean performance to get past Boston College even with all of these factors in play regarding BC’s travel.

I don’t think this team is making it out of the first round, but it’s not any different if any other team was playing here.  They’re just the team that the numbers fell for.

Some great hockey on tap on both Comcast SportsNet and ESPNU as the next three days will produce four teams that will play in St. Paul, Minnesota for the right to win the national championship.  Local teams on tap today include the BC-Colorado College game at 9 PM, and Air Force-Yale this afternoon as the East and West get underway.  Northeast Regional and Midwest Regional action get underway tomorrow.

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