Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 NCAA Tournament Outlook

Our Writers Weigh-in with Their Predictions and an Upset Special

It is that time of year to look at the 16 teams vying for the one win at the end of the NCAA Hockey Tournament.

The NCHC has three entrants: Saint Cloud State, North Dakota, and Denver.  We do not think that the trio will fair well, or at least not well enough to make the Frozen Four.

The writers here have posted their picks for the Frozen Four with the bonus of an impartial coin flip pick.

The Coin “chose” Boston College, Quinnipiac, Ferris State, and Minnesota.  Maybe the best picks I have seen so far?

Anyway, Andrew Craig (@CollegeHockeyHH) has posted the picks of:
  • Boston College beating UMass-Lowell
  • Providence beating Union
  • Ferris State beating North Dakota
  • Minnesota beating Notre Dame

Our resident prognosticator Andy Fiskness (@afiakness) has posted the following:
  • Boston College defeating UMass-Lowell
  • Union defeating Providence
  • Ferris State defeating Wisconsin
  • Minnesota defeating Saint Cloud State

Upset special: Denver beating Boston College in the first round.  Sam Brittain can carry the Pioneers.  If he is on his game, the Eagles are prime for an early exit from the tournament.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the First NCHC Season

Wild Finish in the Playoffs will be Lasting Memory

The league was turned upside down more than once over the season.

The consensus league favorite Miami ended up on the bottom of the league when the regular season ended.  But it was the Redhawks who pulled the series upset at first place Saint Cloud State moving on to shutting out North Dakota in the first round of the Frozen Faceoff.  It wasn’t until Denver and the championship game that Miami’s run ended in a 4-3 loss.

And it wasn’t just Miami making turn arounds.  Denver was not pegged to be sixth in the league standings, but that did not stop them from grabbing the NCHC auto-bid.  The auto-bid was the only way the Pioneers were to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Speaking of the NCAA Tourney, the NCHC ended up with three teams.  Not necessarily surprising looking at the teams in the league.  But the way things shook out, especially the poor non-conference records by many of the league teams, it is still surprising that three make it.  But the result is North Dakota is seeded #13 and Denver #15 in the 16 team field.  For that matter, Saint Cloud is #9.
Successful?  Yes, for the number of teams in the tourney, but the “super conference” theory proof looks more towards many teams beating each other up for a regular season.  The NCAA tourney seedings is evidence of that.

Frozen Faceoff

In short, the league survived the absence of two of the three near-by schools, Saint Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth, while putting on a good show and getting pretty good attendance.  The Target Center still has room to improve as a hockey venue, but much was learned over the weekend and changes are already in the works for next year.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

NCHC Championship Saturday

By Andrew Fiskness @afiskness

The Saturday of the NCHC Championship is finally here and if you asked fans six months ago what teams will be playing in Minneapolis for Championship game you may have gotten a bunch of people who said Miami and Denver.  If you asked those same people three weeks ago you probably wouldn't anybody have anybody suggesting such a match up.

Denver advanced despite not playing their best game yesterday.  They were able to bounce back from some miscues and get a late third period goal from Ty Loney to beat the Broncos 4-3 to advance to the Championship.  The shots were on the low side with the advantage going to the Broncos 27 to 23.  The biggest surprise to me was the fact only three penalties were called the whole game, two on the Pioneers and one against the Broncos.

Miami continues to wear the glass skates as they are trying play their way into the NCAA tournament.  The Redhawks were able to quiet the crowd that consisted mostly of fans of the North Dakota men's hockey team.  They were able to do just that with an impressive 3-0 win.  North Dakota slightly out shoot the Redhawks 32 to 28, but the Redhawks did great job controlling the tempo when it mattered.  The Redhawks advance to the Championship as North Dakota will play the Broncos in the third place game.  My guess the third place game will be the final game played by North Dakota this season.

Some observations and thoughts from all the college playoffs:

  • There no longer is such a thing a good attendance and college hockey playoffs.  It didn't matter which conference game I watched since this past Thursday when the playoffs started attendance is poor.  My opinion for this is the distance between the Universities and the locations as the cause.  
  • There appears to be less fans of college hockey in general and more fans of their one team only.
  • Living in Minnesota I always hear how great the Minnesota fans (and Gopher fans) are of hockey, how many Gopher fans will be at the Xcel today for the Bi6 Ten Championship game?  My guess is you won't see many.
  • The six conferences will mean more automatic bids so if you want to get into the NCAAs you better be in the top 10 of the pairwise while the conference playoffs are happening or you should win your tournament.
  • Ohio State and Miami are both playing great hockey right now in the State of Hockey.
  • Without a win in the third place game to North Dakota season is done and even with a win it looks like to me there season is over.  They need all of the favorites and high ranked pairwise teams to win so they don't get bumped.
  • Has anyone heard the body clock and different routine as the excuse for the loss by North Dakota?  It must have been uttered yesterday.
NCHC Picks
Championship Game
Miami versus Denver:  Denver managed to find a win despite some poor play to advance.  I like their defense and of course Sam Brittain, I think the Pioneers have the advantage in this match up.  Both teams are playing for another game after this one so it should be a good one.  Miami probably has the scoring advantage right now, but will they be able to bounce back if they fall behind?  My gut says Denver wins and plays in the NCAAs, maybe even playing the Gophers next week.

Third Place Game
Western Michigan versus North Dakota: I don't like third place games, maybe the only thing worse is deciding hockey games with a shoot out like in the Olympics.  Will the Broncos take this last game of the season  seriously as they have nothing more to play for this year?  We know North Dakota will be trying to win.  I like North Dakota more but wouldn't be too surprised to see a tie.  No as I say that North Dakota would probably pull the goalie in overtime since a tie won't help them for the NCAAs.  For this I will go with a North Dakota win. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Frozen Faceoff Preview

The first ever NCHC Frozen Faceoff is upon us and one could argue that all four teams are playing to continue their season.  As we now already three of the four are underdogs on the outside if the NCAA bubble and North Dakota is in right now but a couple of losses could change that.  

Unfortunately for Bulldog fans it was a season of what could have been and so close.  Hopefully next year they can find some success at home as the younger guys get a year older.

Friday games
Miami versus North Dakota:  Based on the regular season games this should be a no-brainier North Dakota men's hockey team win against the Redhawks, but my gut tells me otherwise.  The Redhawks played great hockey against the Huskies last weekend and will they be able to keep it up.  They have great scoring and talent and definitely under achieved this past season.  North Dakota usually plays good in post season but this year the game is in Minneapolis instead of St Paul.    Basically I am going excuse computer body clock and different hotels then St. Paul leading to a Redhawks win to advance to the final game.

Western Michigan versus Denver: This is a great match up.  The Pioneers have great goal tending from Sam Brittain and will need him to stand on his head to get to the championship game.  Western did not put up many shots against UMD last weekend but they made them count.  I like the way Shane Bershbach and Chase Balisy have played recently and I have a feeling that will continue.  My head says Denver my gut says Western.  I will pick the Broncos to advance to the final game.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

NCHC Playoffs

The season has ended and the Bulldogs ended up in fourth place securing home ice and as I predicted the Huskies of St. Cloud State took home the Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup in the inaugural NCHC season.  As a Bulldog I wanted home ice even though the team has played better on the road.  I am hoping the team and the fans will both show up.

Discipline will be the key winning this weekend.  I my opinion the team has taken too many penalties this season and recently the penalty kill has not been as good.  This weekend with the Bulldogs hosting the Broncos the games will probably be more like roller hockey than ice dancing, so hopefully the PK holds it's own.

My picks
Western Michigan @ Minnesota Duluth:  this is probably the two closest matched teams of the weekend.  Because both teams play similar styles i do like the Bulldogs even though their home record has not been great this year.  I am going with UMD in three games.

Denver @ Nebraska Omaha:  The defensive play of the Pioneers will stop the scoring prowess of the Mavericks.  The Pioneers win in three games.

Miami @ St Cloud State:  Even if the Redhawks haven't checked out on this season they don't have enough to take down the Huskies twice this weekend.  In fact I will go with a Huskies sweep.

Colorado College @ North Dakota:  the Tigers have actually played some good hockey in recent weeks.  However their lack of scoring will be their down fall again this weekend.  The North Dakota men's hockey team will win the series but the Tigers will get one win before the weekend is over.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Last Regular Season Series: UNO at UMD

Bulldogs Look to Move into Home Ice, and More, with Wins

Thoughts on the weekend are short and maybe sweet.  Looking forward, I see the need for five wins in the next six to get back on an NCAA track.  That would be four straight wins with the loss in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.  But, hey, win the Frozen Faceoff and then there is no need to fret!  The Bulldogs should concentrate on this weekend first, then move on to more grand thoughts.


Picks by @afiskness.  We come into the last weekend of NCHC regular season games and we are still waiting to see who will be the Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup winner.  It should come down to St. Cloud or North Dakota but if both should falter and Nebraska Omaha wins they could still end up in first.  Last weekend, it was good to see the Bulldogs go into Oxford, Ohio and beat a team that should beat two nights in a row.  Hopefully they have gained some momentum.  One thing that cautions my excitement is that fact that Miami's last Saturday night win was a 6-1 win on January 25th against Colorado College.  Since then they have scored a total of four goals in four games on Saturday nights and have been shutout twice.  
Nebraska Omaha @ Minnesota Duluth:  I don't like this match up one bit.  The Bulldogs have not played good at home and the Mavericks have had some big road wins this season.  No Chipotle in Duluth has me going with a Mavericks win and tie. 
Western Michigan @ North Dakota:  Both teams still have something to play for this weekend which should result in two good games.  The home ice should be an advantage for the men's home team from North Dakota, but I think the Broncos will be able to get a split. 
St. Cloud State @ Colorado College:  The Tigers have nothing to play for this weekend as they know they are locked into the seventh place.  The Tigers have severe difficulties in scoring goals and playing Huskies isn't going to be easy.  In fact this looks like a Husky sweep. 
Miami @ Denver:  The Redhawks travel to Denver to take on the Pioneers.  It appears that the Redhawks may have checked out a few weeks ago.  The Pioneers are still trying to find some consistency and I think this weekend may be to late in the season for the Pioneers to find it.  Pioneers win and tie.