The BF 2012 NCAA Tournament Preview Part 1 – BU/Minnesota + BC/Air Force

The four NCAA bound Hockey East coaches took part in the customary NCAA  Coaches conference call on Tuesday morning and gave a state of the union of sorts, on each of their respective teams. BC, Maine, BU and UMass Lowell all head into this weekend’s 1st round action with varied levels of momentum – or as BU and Lowell are concerned – a lack thereof. Momentum is such a fickle thing and success in the hockey playoffs at any level is predicated on fortuitous circumstance, timing and health – all of these factors seemingly go hand in hand.

The Boston Herald’s, Rich Thompson wrote a nice piece on all four HE participants entitled “Four Score” in today’s edition. This marks the ninth time in league history that HE has sent four or more teams to the NCAA Tournament – that’s why I call Hockey East the SEC of college hockey.

From Hockey East.Com:

With the four entries into the tournament, Hockey East has now placed 88 teams into the NCAA Tournament in the 28-year history of the league. League teams own an impressive 113-94-1 record in the NCAA’s all-time. Over the last fourteen seasons, Hockey East has boasted 21 of the 52 Frozen Four qualifiers, the most of any conference. Since 1999, Hockey East has won five NCAA Championships and have placed 18 teams in the Frozen Four, along with 45 teams in the NCAA Tournament. 

Of the four HE teams entering the dance (one quarter of the field of 16), BC is without a doubt the hottest team, not only in the league, but in the entire country (15 game win streak and counting) – entering the Northeast region as the #1 overall seed in the entire tournament. #9 BU lost 5-3 to Maine in the HE semi-finals and as a result, the committee whisked the Terriers out West to take on Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center – enemy territory to say the least.

#13 Lowell enjoyed a magical turnaround season (just 5 wins last year) but fresh on the mind is an upset QF loss in three grueling games to Providence. #1 Maine had a strong second half to the season (14-5-1 in their last 20 regular season games), including a QF round win over Merrimack in three games. The Black Bears lost to BC in the Hockey East Finals Saturday at the TD Garden 4-1 and will be looking to rebound against defending NCAA champ, Minnesota Duluth in the opening round on Saturday.

Now for the BF’s Puck Drop Preview  and Pot Picks for the HE Rd 1 NCAA Contests:

#3 Seed Boston University- HEA (23-14-1) at #2 Seed Minnesota- WCHA (26-13-1)

West Regional, St. Paul, MN – Sat 5PM EST, Location: Xcel Energy Center (18,064)
Television: Fox Sports North Plus (Minnesota vs. Boston University) FSN+ Channel Listings
Internet Video:
Watch ESPN/ESPN3.com

These two programs have the cache and historical relevance that, for hockey purists like me, make this first round match up by far the most appealing game on the docket this weekend. It’s the Dallas versus Green Bay of college hockey, East Coast Rap (Bad Boy Records) versus West Coast Rap (Death Row Records), Rob McClanahan versus Jack O’Callahan (1980 Olympic Team), in that, although these two programs are not regional or conference rivals, they have a storied history of heated battles as each program is not only vying for program superiority, but on a grander scale – they are battling it out for bragging rights between the country’s top two hockey states.

Minnesota has won 4 of 7 games against the Terriers in the NCAA tournament (11-12-2 overall). However, Boston University has won two straight NCAA tournament games against Minnesota and both games were in the national semifinals. The Terriers ended the Gophers’ season in 1994 and 1995. Boston University won 4-1 on March 31, 1994, at the St. Paul Civic Center and 7-3 on March 30, 1995, at the Providence Civic Center in Providence, R.I.

The Minnesota Perspective:

From Sbnation – Minnesota:

“Despite the Gophers having home-ice advantage, the West regional is the toughest of the four regions. It features the CCHA tournament winner (Western Michigan), WCHA regular season (Minnesota) and tournament champions (North Dakota) and a Boston University team which spent much of the season in the top-five. Even if they beat the Terriers in the first round, there’s a good chance Minnesota will play the last team that beat them, North Dakota.” 

Minnesota Golden Gophers Facts and Figures:

  • Minnesota will play in the NCAA tournament for the 33rd time this weekend when the Gophers face Boston University on Saturday.
  • The Gophers last played in the NCAA tournament on March 28, 2008. Minnesota lost that day 5-2 to eventual national champion Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.
  • Minnesota is 50-33 all-time in the NCAA tournament
  • Minnesota (26-13-1) earned an at-large bid to the tournament after losing to North Dakota in the WCHA Semifinals on Friday.

Gophers to Watch:

F- Erik Haula  (19-27-46), F- Nick Bjugstad (24-16-40), F- Kyle Rau (17-21-38), D- Nate Schmidt (3-35-38)

The BU Perspective:

From the USCHO’s Jim Connelly:

“Friday night proved what many thought after the BU Terriers snuck by New Hampshire last weekend: BU isn’t playing well. In saying that, maybe the word inconsistent is the best way to describe the Terriers play of late. That inconsistency isn’t game to game. It’s minute to minute and needs to improve if the Terriers are to get past a tough Minnesota team on Gopher ice next weekend. “

 

Terrier Facts and Figures:

  • BU (23-14-1) will be making its 32nd appearance in the NCAA tournament and its first since capturing the program’s fifth national title in 2009.
  • The Terriers and Gophers will be meeting for the first time since the teams closed Walter Brown Arena and opened Agganis Arena on Jan. 2 & 3, 2005.
  • BU is 12-11-2 in its 25 previous meetings with Minnesota

Terriers to Watch:

F- Alex Chiasson (15-29-44), F- Matt Nieto (16-26-42), D – Wade Megan (19-9-28), G- Kieran Millan (2.53 GAA)

Notable Quotes from Coach Jack Parker on the NCAA Coaches Conference Call:

“The team is excited to play Minnesota in a big building, there will be a lot of people rooting for Minnesota.”…”Our season has been rewarding on the ice despite the off- ice issues, we have been very resilient.”…”Every club has the same confidence, there is no easy draw.”…”I have only seen Minnesota G Kent Patterson play once on film (versus North Dakota) but he played very, very well.”

‘Pot Pick – The BF likes Minnesota’s top end talent and home ice advantage, Minnesota 4 BU 2

 

 

#1 Seed Boston College – HEA (29-10-1) at #4 Seed Air Force – Atlantic (21-10-7)

Northeast Regional, Worcester, MA – Sat 4PM EST, Location – DCU Center

#1 BC enters the 2012 NCAA Tournament as the prohibitive favorite and because of their regular season exploits – HEA Regular and Post Season Champions – the Eagles have earned the right to play in Worcester, MA and stay close to home. The Eagles will face Atlantic Conference Champion, Air Force in the first round on Saturday afternoon; a team that BC will not be able to take lightly given their recent NCAA Tournament experience. Air Force shut out RIT for the second consecutive year and claimed their 5th Atlantic title in 6 years.

This game could be looked at as a David versus Goliath type of battle but in reality, with only 16 teams earning the right to dance, the margin of difference is considerably less than most folks think. To equate this to an NCAA College Basketball round one game, this would not be of the disparate level of say a Syracuse versus UNC-Asheville, but more along the lines of a Duke versus quality mid majors like – Butler or Gonzaga. Air Force has fared considerably well in recent NCAA history and even knocked off Michigan in 2009. The Falcons boast one of the top defenseman in the country in Tim Kirby who recently was named a Hobey Baker finalist.

That said, BC is riding a 15 game winning streak and has arguably the deepest team in the country. BC can roll four lines and has some top line NHL caliber talent in Chris Kreider, Brian Dumoulin (Hobey Baker finalist) and freshman sensation Johnny Gaudreau. They have found a stabilizing force in net as Parker Milner has spearheaded the 15 game winning streak that turned the Eagles fortunes around. I still don’t believe Milner is a top flight goaltender but given the talent and experience level of BC’s defensive corps (Dumoulin, Cross, etc..) he will only be required to make the key saves.

The Air Force Perspective:

From USCHO’s Chris Lerch on Air Force’s success in the Atlantic Conference:

“After the closest finish on record, with so many teams within just a few points of first place in the final standings, it came down to the two teams that have dominated the postseason for the past six years, and the one team that has won five of those six playoff championships. The consistency shown by Air Force year-in and year-out is astounding.”

Air Force Facts and Figures:

  • 5th NCAA Tournament in the last 6 years
  • In 2007, Air Force, the No. 4 seed in the NCAA West Regional in Denver, nearly upset Minnesota, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament
  • Air Force is 1-4 all-time in the NCAA Tournament with four one-goal losses, one in regulation, two in overtime and one in double overtime

Falcons to Watch:

F- Kyle DeLaurell (15-23-38), F- John Kruse (16-14-30), D – Tim Kirby (12-16-28)

The BC Perspective:

Brian Dumoulin speaks of the Eagles’ long term goals on ESPN.com:

“We always have that picture of a national championship in the background but we look to get better every day,” said BC defenseman and Hobey Baker Award finalist Brian Dumoulin. “I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing and why we we’ve become successful because we all want the same thing as a team — we all have that similar goal in mind and that’s the next game and trying to win that one.” 

 

BC Facts and Figures:

  • BC becomes the 14th team to win both the regular-season and league tournament championship and of those teams, nine have made the Frozen Four with seven advancing to the title game and four having won the NCAA Championship.
  • The Eagles are making this 31st NCAA Tournament appearance, including their 13th under coach Jerry York. Snooks Kelley and Len Ceglarski each led BC to nine NCAA Tournament berths.
  • BC and Air Force have met five times in school history. The Eagles have won all five match-ups between the teams, including an 8-2 win in the most recent game on Dec. 29, 2007.

Notable Quotes from Coach Jerry York on the NCAA Coaches Conference Call:

“Air Force has our attention because of how well the Cadets have done in recent NCAA games.”…”Our players to a man are big sports fans and our players have taken notice of notable upsets in the basketball tournament.”…”I expect Maine to beat Duluth, could set up a HE final rematch.”

Eagles to Watch:

F- Chris Kreider (20-21-41), F- Johnny Gaudreau (19-20-39), D – Brian Dumoulin (6-20-26), G- Parker Milner (1.82 GAA)

BC Eagles -NHL Draft Picks from the United States of Hockey web site:

NHL Draft Picks: 9 – Brian Dumoulin (CAR), Tommy Cross (BOS), Patrick Wey (WSH), Isaac MacLeod (SJS), Kevin Hayes* (CHI), Johnny Gaudreau (CGY), Chris Kreider* (NYR), Paul Carey (COL), Bill Arnold (CGY)
* – First-rounder

‘Pot Pick- The BF likes BC, 6-2..Eagles have far too much depth for the Falcons to handle

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