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For college hockey fans, this is the wildest weekend of the year. Sixteen teams take to the ice in four arenas across the country in hopes of punching their ticket to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
This year’s field looks as strong as ever, and, as is part of the annual fun of regional weekend in college hockey, any team can beat any other team in the field. I have filled out college hockey brackets in the past, and it often happens that brackets are completely busted after one just one day. If anything, expect the unexpected this weekend. I’m going to try to predict this weekend’s games, but if I’ve learned anything in the past, don’t hold my word to anything.
WEST REGIONAL: Grand Rapids, Michigan
(4) Yale vs. (1) Minnesota, 2PM
Minnesota comes into this game as one of the hottest teams in the country, and also the angriest. The number two overall seed in the tournament, the Golden Gophers got upset 2-0 by Colorado College in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament last weekend, ending a five game winning streak dating back to March 2.
Yale made it to the Final Four of their ECAC tournament last weekend, but got shutout 5-0 in the semifinals by Union, and shutout again 3-0 by Quinnipiac in the third place game. The Bulldogs haven’t scored a goal in the last 132 minutes and 51 seconds of game time. This is not a recipe for success by any means against the nation’s top offense by goals per game, and third best defense by fewest goals allowed per game. Minnesota shouldn’t have any problem in this one.
(3) Niagara vs. (2) North Dakota, 5:30PM
Niagara is an interesting team to me. Being in the weakest conference in college hockey, they don’t play very strong opponents, but they take care of them easily. It should be very interesting how they stack up against perennial power North Dakota. In order for Niagara to win this game, their star goaltender Carsen Chubak needs to be completely on his game and keep North Dakota, the nation’s fifth ranked offense, to as few shots as possible.
Unfortunately for Niagara, I think the Fighting Sioux are just going to be too much to handle offensively and I think North Dakota will win. Look for this to be a good one though; I expect a one-goal game here.
NORTHEAST REGIONAL: Manchester, New Hampshire
(4) Wisconsin vs. (1) UMass-Lowell, 4:30PM
This is probably one of the most intriguing games of the tournament from my perspective. Many people in the college hockey world are saying that the winner of this game could well win the national championship in two weeks. The game features two of the hottest teams in the nation at the moment, both coming off conference championships last weekend.
Don’t expect a lot of goals in this one, as these are two teams that really rely on their goaltending to win games. Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck is one of the hottest goalies in the nation right now, and he stood on his head throughout the Hockey East tournament, allowing just four goals in four games. If Wisconsin comes out fast and puts the puck in the net early, I would expect to see them really turn on their defense, ranked fourth in the nation. I believe they will be able to pull this off, and I think Wisconsin wins this one in a low-scoring upset.
(3) Denver vs. (2) New Hampshire, 8PM
Whereas the first game in this regional features two of the nation’s hottest teams, this game features two teams that have kind of stumbled into the tournament. The two teams met in Denver way back in November in a highly anticipated matchup between teams that were ranked second (DU) and third (UNH) nationally at the time of the game. UNH won a thriller with a 6-4 comeback victory, but I certainly wouldn’t expect to see the same kind of game tonight. This game will be won by the team that wins the special teams battle.
UNH’s so-so power play will really have to turn it on against Denver’s so-so penalty killing, as Denver is the third most penalized team in the country. On the opposite side, UNH ranks fourth in the nation in penalty killing, so if Denver can reverse this trend, their chances are very good. I say the team that has the best special teams tonight will win. Given the amount of time Denver spends in the penalty box is so high, I think UNH will be able to capitalize on the power play, and win this game. Not to mention, UNH is hosting this regional right in their backyard, and Denver is travelling cross country to play this game. UNH wins an entertaining one.
That’s all for today, but I will be back at it tomorrow to predict the regionals scheduled for Saturday-Sunday, as well as to predict the regional championships that will be played between today’s winners. To recap, my winners today are Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. If you like a lot of goals, you may not get it today, but like I said in the beginning, expect the unexpected.