By Ryan Stieg, AllPuck.com
In two weeks, Pittsburgh will be hosting its first Frozen Four.
The Steel City is ecstatic about the NHL’s Penguins and it will be interesting to see if the natives will turn out in droves to watch college hockey. The only local team is Robert Morris, a small school that plays in Atlantic Hockey. The next-closest team geographically is fellow Atlantic member Mercyhurst. They play in Erie. Some locals are skeptical about the crowds.
At the same time, people thought having Tampa as a host last year would be a disaster and it ended up being a big success. I’m thinking everything will be okay. Pennsylvania loves hockey and when you have a host that enjoys and follows the game, you can’t go wrong.
As for the field, the national championship is completely up for grabs. No teams clearly stand above the rest in terms of talent. Everybody is playing on an equal level. Without further ado, here are my 2013 Regional predictions.
East Regional, Providence, R.I. (Quinnipiac, Canisius, Union, Boston College)
Gee, do you think the NCAA had attendance in mind when it stuck four eastern schools in Providence? It used to be a lot more discreet about these things.
Anyway, this Regional is fairly easy to predict. Canisius is just happy to be there after getting lucky in the Atlantic Hockey tournament and will promptly be swept aside by number one overall seed Quinnipiac. The Golden Griffins are obviously a capable team with 42-point scorer Kyle Gibbons and 28-point scorer Preston Shupe, but the Bobcats are having the best season in team history and they aren’t going to let a team like Canisius trip them up.
The other game will be closer, but BC should get around Union. The Dutchmen have a great goaltender in Troy Grosenick (2.05 GAA, .928 save percentage) and a very balanced offense. However, the Eagles have more weapons. Four players have more than 30 points and three of those four (Hobey Baker candidate Johnny Gaudreau, Steven Whitney, Pat Mullane) have more than 40. With that much firepower, it’s hard to see Grosenick stopping the defending national champs.
The Regional final is going to be interesting. Logic says to go with BC, who has been almost unstoppable in the tourney for the last decade, but I’m going with Quinnipiac. It’s going to be close with the Bobcats relying on their Hobey Baker candidate — goalie Eric Hartzell leads the nation in wins and has a sparkling 1.47 GAA — to slow down the Eagles attack. I think he does it. Quinnipiac gets a late goal to break a tie and makes their first ever trip to the Frozen Four.
Northeast Regional, Manchester, N.H. (UMass Lowell, Wisconsin, Denver, New Hampshire)
This is a harder Regional to predict. Three of the four teams could end up going to Pittsburgh and two, UMass Lowell and. Wisconsin, are in the first matchup. UMass Lowell just missed out on the Frozen Four last year and the RiverHawks are even better this season.
Joseph Pendenza and Scott Wilson both scored more than 30 points and goalie Conner Hellyebuck (1.38 GAA, .949 save percentage) can steal a game if the offense struggles. Wisconsin counters with four 30 point scorers and a slick goalie of their own in Joel Rumpel. The Badgers also needed to run the table in the WCHA playoffs to get into the tournament and they did so, so they are heading in with a lot of momentum and a lot of hype (ahem, Barry Melrose). Even though I respect Melrose’s expertise, I’m going with the RiverHawks in a tight one. Lowell will have a good crowd in Manchester, whereas Badgers fans are notorious for not traveling with their team and I see the seventh man coming into play late.
Eight years ago, Denver won back-to-back national titles. Since then, they’ve been all hype and no substance. UNH has never won a national title, but are the same way. They have a solid regular season and stumble in the NCAA tourney. It’s hard to pick a winner with two choke artists (both got bounced in the first round of their conference playoffs), but I’m going with the Wildcats. Forty-two point scorer Kevin Goumas will lead New Hampshire to an easy win over the Pioneers.
I like Lowell in the final. The Wildcats will have a raucous crowd, but UNH will once again disappoint its loyal fans when Hellyebuck stonewalls them. The RiverHawks will score just enough to win and punch their ticket to Pittsburgh.
Midwest Regional, Toledo, OH (Notre Dame, St. Cloud State, Miami, Minnesota State)
Every once in a while, the NCAA will pick a bizarre Regional location and as a result, attendance will be atrocious. This is that Regional. Toledo has an ECHL franchise and Bowling Green is nearby, but so does Anchorage, so why not put it there? Next year, the worst governing body in athletics will attempt to have a Regional in Cincinnati, which bombed as a Frozen Four host. Logic is lost on people sometimes.
This region also serves as the annual Region of Death. Each team can beat the other three teams, so expect a close game each time. CCHA tournament champ Notre Dame takes on WCHA regular season champ St. Cloud State in the first matchup. The Fighting Irish are led by Minnesota native Anders Lee (38 points) and goalie Steven Summerhays (1.93 GAA), while the Huskies counter with Hobey Baker candidate Drew LeBlanc (most assists in the nation and 50 points) and 39-point scorer Nic Dowd. St. Cloud State will score first, but Notre Dame will emerge victorious.
The other matchup sees CCHA regular-season champ Miami and upstart Minnesota State. The Redhawks are a tournament regular, while the Mavericks are making their first appearance since 2003 and only their second in team history. Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik (38 points each) are Miami’s leaders, while the Redhawks flip goalies between Jay Williams and Ryan McKay. Minnesota State, on the other hand, relies on a balanced scoring attack led by Matt Leitner’s 47 points. It’s a tough call, but I’m going with the powerhouse. Miami moves on.
In the final, two strong programs backed by two great coaches will battle it out, probably into an extra session. There, the Irish will come out on top as Summerhays will slam the door on the Redhawks.
West Regional, hosted by Grand Rapids, MI (Minnesota, Yale, North Dakota, Niagara).
Another Regional rigged by the NCAA. Minnesota and North Dakota are routinely placed in the same Regional because they are archrivals and have strong fanbases that travel well. As fun as it is to watch two powerhouse programs potentially tangle, it is getting ridiculous. It’s like the NCAA is screaming “Please fix our massive attendance problem!”
This year, it’s almost like they wanted to ensure a Regional matchup between the two schools by throwing the two weakest teams outside of Canisius in the first round. Some will point out that Minnesota overlooked Holy Cross in 2006 and got bounced in a legendary upset. True, but head coach Don Lucia will make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Yale needed Michigan to lose in the CCHA final to even make the tournament and although they have some talent with Kenny Augustino and Andrew Miller, the Golden Gophers are stacked with 49-point scorer Erik Haula along with 30-point scorers Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish, and will easily defeat the Bulldogs.
In the final first round matchup, North Dakota takes on Atlantic Hockey regular season champ Niagara. The Fighting Sioux (until they actually come up with a new name, I’ll continue to call them that) are led offensively by the Hobey Baker tandem of Danny Kristo and Corbin Knight, and like Miami, they switch goalies between Clarke Saunders and Zane Gothberg.
Both teams have played well, but I see head coach Dave Hakstol going with the more experienced Saunders.
The Purple Eagles are, out of all the small schools, the one most likely to pull an upset. Ryan Murphy and Giancarlo Iuorio (the coolest name in the tournament, hands down) are strong scorers. Carsen Chubak has had a very good season (1.90 GAA, .938 save percentage). If they played another team like Denver for example, I could see them moving on. However, the Sioux want to play Minnesota for a chance to get to Pittsburgh and they won’t let the Purple Eagles stand in their way.
The Minnesota-North Dakota Regional final will probably be the best overall. It will be intense, hard-hitting and surprisingly low-scoring. Like the Midwest final, it will probably go to overtime where one team will get a garbage goal to move on. It’s really a coin flip on who it will be and my quarter said North Dakota.
Enjoy the Regionals and stay tuned next week for my Frozen Four predictions.