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The first day of the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey tournament brought some surprises, some goals, and most of all, some great hockey. I’ll start by recapping those games and my predictions. In the first game of the tournament, Yale pulled off the major upset beating Minnesota on the quickest overtime goal in the history of the NCAA tournament, winning 3-2. I predicted that Minnesota would win with ease, and that clearly was not the case. The second game in the west regional featured Niagara and North Dakota, in which I predicted UND would win by a goal, and they did, coming from behind to beat Niagara 2-1.
In the Northeast regional, I predicted that Wisconsin would come out and upset UMass-Lowell. That certainly didn’t happen, as Lowell crushed the Badgers 6-1. In the final game of the night, we saw a matchup between New Hampshire and Denver. I predicted that special teams would be the difference and said that UNH would win if they were able to capitalize on their power play, and they were, potting two power play goals, that, minus an empty net goal, were the difference in the game. The Wildcats got the 5-2 win. With that, I went 2-2 on Friday, and hopefully I’ll do a little better today.
WEST REGIONAL FINAL: Grand Rapids, Michigan
(4) Yale vs. (2) North Dakota, 4PM
I went against Yale yesterday, saying that they wouldn’t be able to shut down Minnesota’s strong offense, and they were able to pull it off. North Dakota is another team with a powerful offense, but I don’t think that Yale will be able to make lightning strike twice; North Dakota advances to the Frozen Four with a win over Yale.
NORTHEAST REGIONAL FINAL: Manchester, New Hampshire
(2) New Hampshire vs. (1) UMass-Lowell, 6:30PM
This one is going to be fun, and I’m really lucky to be in the building for this one. A battle of conference foes, each team is within an hour from their respective campuses. The atmosphere in the arena is going to be electric. This is a hard one for me to call, as both teams looked so solid last night. Lowell scored all of its goals against Wisconsin on odd-man rushes and really did not sustain a whole lot of offensive pressure in the offensive zone, and against UNH’s strong defense, they will not get as many odd-man opportunities. At the same time, I know Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck will be strong in net for the River Hawks. This has potential to be a very memorable game. I think UNH will pull it off, but look for this one to go to overtime, maybe even two overtimes. UNH to the Frozen Four.
MIDWEST REGIONAL: Toledo, Ohio
(4) St. Cloud State vs. (1) Notre Dame, 1:30PM
This is going to be another fun game. St. Cloud State features Hobey Baker Award (college hockey’s MVP) finalist Drew LeBlanc, who leads the nation with 37 assists in 39 games. He will be going up against one of the nation’s most underrated goalies in Notre Dame’s Steven Summerhays, who led the Irish to the Frozen Four two years ago. I do not believe Summerhays will be able to keep St. Cloud State’s third ranked offense. I am going with St. Cloud State in the upset in the day’s first game.
(3) Minnesota State vs. (2) Miami (Ohio), 5PM
Miami’s Hobey Baker finalist Austin Czarnik is one of the most fun players to watch in the country, and I believe he will lead the Redhawks in this game. This is only Minnesota State’s second tournament appearance, and their first since 2003. The lack of postseason experience will hurt the Mavericks in this game, as Miami has been on this stage many times before. I think Miami will win this one relatively easily.
EAST REGIONAL: Providence, Rhode Island
(4) Canisius vs. (1) Quinnipiac, 5:30PM
Canisius shocked the college hockey world by winning their conference tournament as the seven seed in the tournament. However, they play in Atlantic Hockey, which is by far the weakest conference in the nation. Quinnipiac is also the number one overall seed in the tournament, and I don’t really think the Golden Griffins have a chance in this one against Quinnipiac’s Hobey Baker finalist between the pipes, Eric Hartzell. If Canisius wins this game, it will be far and away the biggest upset in college hockey history, but I would almost be willing to bet money that this won’t happen. Quinnipiac with a big win.
(3) Union vs. (2) Boston College, 9PM
I have seen Boston College play live twice and seen them on television a number of times, and I believe they are one of the strongest teams top to bottom that the nation has to offer. As the defending champions, I see them going very far in this tournament, and I am calling them my early favorite to win the national championship. Led by sophomore forward and Hobey Baker finalist Johnny Gaudreau, I believe the Eagles will be able to knock off Union in tonight’s matchup. This is a bad matchup for the Dutchmen. I believe this is a very strong team and if they were playing really any other team in this tournament, I would pick Union for the win. I think BC will win, but it will be close for sure, and it will certainly be an entertaining one at that.
Yesterday’s games were really fun to watch and featured a little bit of everything, including a penalty shot for Wisconsin against Lowell (they were not able to convert). I think today’s games are going to be just as good if not better than yesterday’s. In review, my picks to advance to the Frozen Four are North Dakota and New Hampshire, and advancing to the regional finals are St. Cloud State, Miami, Quinnipiac, and Boston College. Look for some great hockey today, and as always, expect the unexpected.