Thursday, March 25, 2010

NCAA West Regional Preview

Wisconsin, Saint Cloud State, Northern Michigan, and Vermont will be converging this weekend in Saint Paul for the NCAA West Region at the Xcel Energy Center. That combination of teams is very interesting in that they have at least one common factor, they have all played UMD this year. Bulldogs record in those games is 1-4-1 with the lone win coming against the Badgers. One more interesting fact that leads UMD out of the NCAA Tournament.

What is also interesting about this field is that two of the teams have lost to Michigan Technological University. SCSU and NMU account for two of MTU’s five wins this season. UMD twist on this is the Bulldogs account for two more of the five MTU wins. The fifth was against Minnesota State – Mankato.

Two of the four teams just played at the X in the WCHA Final Five, Wisconsin and Saint Cloud State. Actually, they played each other in the tournament with SCSU winning 2-0, before losing 5-3 to UND in the Championship game. Wisconsin won the last WCHA 3rd Place game over Denver 6-3.

A Look At the Teams. The HighHorse will be at the X to take in the west Regional, so a more in depth preview of the teams is below.

Wisconsin (#1): Coming off of a convincing win over a Denver squad is good for the Badgers. Of course, the Pioneers were pretty much mailing in their effort in the 3rd Place game as it was never close on the scoreboard or in the quality of play.

Wisconsin went 1-1 in the Final Five and that is the way the second half of the season has gone for the Badgers. From Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal:

The casual observer might not have noticed, but the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team spent much of the second half of the regular season getting by on its good looks.

“We played OK,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “We found ways to win games.”

Outside of a fantastic Western Collegiate Hockey Association series performance against then-No. 1 Denver in late January — a 3-3 overtime tie and a 4-3 victory in a playoff-like atmosphere at the Kohl Center — the Badgers were maddeningly inconsistent.

They could be dynamic one night, like the 5-2 win at Minnesota-Duluth when they put up 52 shots against a top-10 team. They could be disconnected the next, like the 6-5 loss at Colorado College when they allowed four goals in the first 15 minutes to another top-10 team.
Even with the variability of the team, they are talented on offense and defense and that is why they will win the West Region.

Saint Cloud State (#2): Perseverance, attitude, and confidence have propelled this Huskies team into the NCAA Tournament and a #2 seed. The question is can they keep the attributes listed above going to win two games here to advance out of the West Region.

Or should the question be if they can even win one game in the NCAA tournament? The Huskies are 0-8 in NCAA Tournament play since entering the Division I ranks in the 1987-88 season.

The addition of Garret Roe who was injured during the Final Five would be a big boost to this team. According to the St. Cloud Times, Roe has been practicing and is expected to play in Friday’s game.

Nonetheless, I cannot help but look at the spotty play late in the season highlighted by the collapse in the WCHA Championship game where the Huskies scored two goals in the first minute of the game only to surrender four unanswered in losing to the Sioux. Therefore I will say that the Huskies winless NCAA streak will continue when they lose to the upstart Northern Michigan Wildcats.

Northern Michigan (#3): In an up and down season that ended on a 10 of 13 game winning streak, the Wildcats of NMU qualified for the Tournament. Their record against teams in their year’s tournament is 4-5-4, nothing to write home about. But this team wins when they need to. Evidence the late season run into the CCHA Championship game which they lost to Michigan 2-1.

The key to this NMU team is their goaltending. Even though they cannot rely on it every night to totally shut down the opponent, it has been enough to allow the scoring to take care of the game. If netminder Brian Stewart plays his game, the scoring will be there and NMU will beat SCSU before falling to Wisconsin.

Vermont (#4): With an overall record of 17-14-7 the Catamounts secured one of the last at-large bids to the Tournament. In a down year for Hockey East, Vermont had an unimpressive 9-11-7. In fact, Vermont just barely bested Northeaster for the last spot in the Hockey East Tournament by one point even though Northeastern had 11 conference wins. As a note, Hockey East only has 8 of the 10 teams in the conference qualify for their tournament.

The reason Vermont is in the Tournament is their non-conference wins over ranked teams along with taking out New Hampshire in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament. Wins over Yale, Denver, and UMD propelled Vermont’s PWR and thus landed them in the Tournament.

Some say that Vermont doesn’t belong in, but they have the numbers to back it up in the PWR. Their accomplishment is great, but their stay will be short lived. Wisconsin will take them out in the Region Quarterfinals.
Again, prediction here is Wisconsin will emerge and go on to the Frozen Four. We will ad the predictions for the other regionals in an article in the near future.

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