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UND gets a big gift

Before I get to the incredible gift given to UND by the NCAA Men’s Hockey Committee, I’ll discuss some of the high drama that unfolded last Saturday.

Back in February, in my NCAA tournament preview, I wrote that “the eve of tournament selection can be quite dramatic.” I certainly didn’t think that statement would apply to our North Dakota hockey program, with seven national championship banners hanging from the rafters and more NHL draft picks than any other college hockey team, but UND needed to beat Western Michigan in the NCHC consolation game and have New Hampshire and Ohio State both lose to squeak into the field.

Stumbling into the national tournament at the last minute, needing help from other schools, is not really the way we do things, but that’s how the season played out and luckily, everything broke for UND on Saturday.

North Dakota looked to be quite safe just three weeks ago. How did this happen? Let’s take a look.

Entering the home playoff series with Colorado College, UND was 10th in the Pairwise rankings. North Dakota actually dropped one place after the Friday win, as Providence beat a team with a winning record (Maine) and jumped into 10th. The Saturday OT loss to CC was key, dropping UND down to 15th. The victory in game three of the series brought the green and white back up to 13th. When Michigan lost to Penn State on Thursday in the Big 10 tourney, UND moved up to 12th. The loss to Miami, another team with a losing record, dropped UND back down to 15th and set things up for Saturday.

Two “spoilers” were already guaranteed a spot in the tournament, the Atlantic Hockey winner (Robert Morris or Canisius) and the NCHC winner (Denver or Miami). UND would have to move up to 14th (with a win over WMU) and hope no other spoilers (UNH or Ohio State) would win their conference tournaments. UNH went down quietly to U Mass-Lowell, 4-0. That set up the Ohio State-Wisconsin Big 10 final. It looked like UND’s season was going to end, as Ohio State led for most of the game, but our old rivals from Wisconsin tied it with about 6 minutes left and beat a tired Ohio State squad early in the overtime. You might be wondering why a team with a 23-13-3 record, such as UND, would be struggling to make the national tournament. I’ll explain it in next week’s column.

Now about that gift from the NCAA. This was a gift of such epic proportions, every hockey fan in the state of N.D. should send a thank you card to the NCAA. Let me explain.

I filled in my brackets at the end of play ended on Saturday, and lo and behold, for the first time in recent memory, there were no interconference match-ups in round one (that would have forced the committee to move teams around). In fact, everything looked good “as-is.” UND was headed to Bridgeport for a date with Union, along with Quinnipiac and Providence. But there was talk around the college hockey world that the committee might switch UND with Vermont, to improve attendance. That would place Vermont in Bridgeport and send UND to Cincy to play Wisconsin, still a good team but certainly no Union.

The NCAA made the switch, and UND will face Wisconsin (7 p.m. Friday on ESPNU) in Cincy, a region that also includes Ferris State and Colgate.

From a competitive standpoint, Union is a much stiffer test than Wisconsin, and it’s not even close.

Secondly, in a potential regional final, I’d much prefer the Ferris State/Colgate winner over Quinnipiac/Providence. As far as crowd hostility goes, Bridgeport will be loaded with Union and Quinnipiac fans, while the Cincy region really has no home team. Cincy therefore, should be much less hostile to the green and white. In short, it’s an unbelievable gift.

East Regional:                   Bridgeport, Conn.

No. 3 Union vs. No. 13 Vermont; No. 6 Quinnipiac vs. No. 11 Providence

Union College, Schenectady, N.Y.: 28-6-4. Impact Players: F Daniel Carr, D Mat Bodie, D Shayne Gostisbehere, G Colin Stevens. Notes: Team is 76-27-16 in three years under coach Rick Bennett. Second in nation in team offense, fourth in team defense. Winners of eight in a row (four shutouts).

Vermont, Burlington, Vt.: 20-14-3. Impact Players: F Chris McCarthy, F Mario Puskarich, G Brody Hoffman. Notes: The Catamounts don’t score all that much, but are very strong on defense (8th in the nation in goals per game allowed, 2.24, and 7th in PK, 85.8 percent). Played a strong schedule.

Quinnipiac, Hamden, Conn: 24-9-6. Impact Players: F Sam Anas, F’s Kellen and Connor Jones, F Jordan Samuels-Thomas, F Matthew Peca, G Michael Garteig. Notes: Lost national championship game last year. Second best PK in nation, 90.1 percent. Fourth in team scoring, second in team defense.

Providence College, Providence, R.I.: 21-10-6. Impact Players: F Ross Mauermann, F Nick Saracino, G Jon Gillies. The Friars do it with defense (third ranked PK in nation, 87 percent, 11th in team defense at 2.26 GPG). First trip to the NCAA’s in 18 years.

Comments: Rick Bennett has built a dynasty at Union. Expect an all ECAC final, Union vs. Quinnipiac. These two have battled hard over the last three years. I expect to see Union at the Frozen Four.

Northeast Regional: Worcester, Mass.

No. 2 Boston College vs. No. 15 Denver; No. 7 U Mass-Lowell vs. No 10 Minnesota State

Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass: 26-7-4. Impact Players: F Johnny Gaudreau, F Kevin Hayes, C Bill Arnold, D Mike Matheson, G Thatcher Demko. Notes: Great special teams (PP 24.4, PK 90.5). Scores over four goals/game, allows just 2.27. Gaundreau-Hayes-Arnold line almost unstoppable.

Denver: 20-15-6. Impact Players: F Trevor Moore, F Ty Loney, F Quentin Shore, D David Makowski, D Joey LaLeggia, G Sam Brittain. Notes: High scoring defense corps, goalie Sam Brittain capable of stealing a game. Should play like they have nothing to lose.

U Mass-Lowell, Lowell, Mass.: 25-10-4. Impact Players: F Joseph Pendenza, G Connor Hellebuyck. Notes: Hellebuyck threw a pair of shutouts in Hockey East tourney. Lowell has allowed just 11 goals in last eight games, including three shutouts. Frozen Four appearance last year. Stingiest team in nation.

Minnesota State, Mankato: 26-13-1. Impact Players: F Matt Leitner, F JP Lafontaine, G Cole Huggins. Notes: Comes in on a roll (unbeaten in 13). Great special teams (PP 25.3, PK 86.7) Repeat tournament appearance under coach Mike Hastings.

Comments: Brittain will need to steal one for Denver. MSU/Lowell should be a great game. Boston College favored to move on, but Lowell or MSU will have something to say about it.

Midwest Regional: Cincinnati, Ohio

No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 North Dakota; No. 5 Ferris State vs. No. 12 Colgate

Wisconsin, Madison: 24-10-2. Impact Players: F Mark Zengerle, F Nic Kerdiles, F Michael Mersch, F Tyler Barnes, D Jake McCabe, G Joel Rumpel. Notes: Have won 8 of 9. Loaded with seniors, well coached. Defense tightened up in second half, Rumpel playing extremely well in goal.

UND, Grand Forks: 23-13-3. Impact Players: F’s Rocco Grimaldi & Michael Parks, D’s Dillon Simpson & Jordan Schmaltz, G Zane Gothberg. Notes: High scoring defense corps. Also tightened things up defensively in second half. A hard working team with balanced scoring. 4-4 in last eight.

Ferris State, Big Rapids, Mich: 28-10-3. Impact Players: F Garrett Thompson, F Justin Buzzeo, G C.J. Motte. Notes: Tenth in team offense (3.26 GPG), seventh in team defense (2.20 GPG). Sixth in PK (86.5 percent). Another team with balanced scoring. Went to Frozen Four two years ago.

Colgate, Hamilton, N.Y.: 20-13-5. Impact Players: F’s Tyson & Tylor Spink, F Darcy Murphy, G Charlie Finn. Notes: Shocked everybody by winning Mariucci Classic in early Jan., went 13-4-3 since, allowed just 2.15 goals/game over that stretch. First NCAA appearance in nine years.

Comments: Wisconsin and Colgate are hottest teams in bracket. Would not rule out UND or Colgate staging an upset here. Rumpel might be the key to this bracket.

West Region: St. Paul, Minn.

No. 1 Minnesota vs. No. 16 Robert Morris; No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 St. Cloud State

Minnesota: 25-6-6. Impact Players: F Kyle Rau, F Sam Warning, F Hudson Fasching, F Justin Kloos, D Mike Reilly, G Adam Wilcox. Notes: Best team in the nation for most of the season. Coming off two straight losses. High scoring offense, stingy defense. Special teams average.

Robert Morris, Moon Two, Penn. Impact Players: F Cody Wydo, F Zac Lynch, F Scott Jacklin. Notes: Great second half (17-5-3). 10th year in Division I, first NCAA tourney appearance. Scores 3 1/2 goals/game, allows 3. Wydo is second in the nation in goals scored. Team is 0-7 out of conference.

Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind. Impact Players: F TJ Tynan, F Vince Hinostroza, F Bryan Rust, F Mario Lucia, D Stephen Johns, G Steven Summerhays. Notes: 8-2-1 in last 11. Loaded with seniors. Fifth stingiest team defense in nation (2.10 GPG). 3-1 vs. BC in last month.

St. Cloud State: 21-10-5. Impact Players: F Nic Dowd, F Jonny Brodzinski, F Kalle Kossila, F David Morley, G Ryan Faragher. Notes: Weak finish (4-4 in last 8). Great PP (25.5), weak PK (76.9). Third highest scoring team in country (3.67 GPG), but suspect defensively.

Comments: St. Cloud eliminated Notre Dame last year. Don’t be surprised to see a Lucia vs. Lucia, Fighting Irish vs. Gopher, regional final. Teams are 2-2 against each other over the last three years.

Frozen Dozen

And my final Frozen Dozen of the season. 1) Minnesota, 2) BC, 3) Union, 4) U Mass-Lowell, 5) Ferris State, 6) Quinnipiac, 7) St. Cloud St., 8) Wisconsin, 9) Notre Dame, 10) Providence, 11) Minnesota St, 12) North Dakota.

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