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SILVER CLIFF…. It’s two a.m. in the morning, and sitting around a nice little campfire atop this magnificent perch high above the majestic Gitche Gumee are myself along with the Grand Hockey Mystic, the Very Reverend Swami Puckta. I have been sipping some excellent, well, let’s call it “extract of cactus,” and the Swami—I’m not sure, but it looks like he has some kind of exotic Indian smoking device that he has been puffing upon. We had been locked in a dizzying array of stats and hockey-ranking conversation, and now the Swami hasn’t said a word or opened his eyes for about 2 ½ hours. But by looking at his Nehru jacket, it does appear that he is still breathing. The arguing back and forth and maybe whatever he has in that pipe appear to have rendered him unconscious.
Before the Swami knocked out, I think he was about to divulge his picks for the upcoming Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida, and he had some deep insights into the tournament that he shared with me. But since he hasn’t uttered a word for some time now, that gave me an opportunity to clarify my thoughts on the upcoming tilts. Thursday eve there will be two games featuring Union College vs. Ferris State and Boston College vs. Minnesota. For my own reasons of superstition and greed, I’ll not be making any prognostications, at least any that I’ll make public until perhaps after the tourney. I will say, though, that I called last year’s tourney and the eventual champ UMD without flaw. I was 3-0 for the FF.
What we have this year, though, are two first-time entrants in UC and FS, and a couple of longtime prominent combatants in BC and the U of M. Trivia shows that UC and FS have a total of two NHL prospects, while the other semifinal features 23 prospects between the two schools. However, I wouldn’t read a lot into that, as UC and FS have both shown themselves to be very strong teams. It is my feeling, though, that the winner of the BC/UM game will also be the team to win the tourney, unless they beat the absolute snuff out of each other thus opening the door for the other side of the bracket to pull off a win. But to be truthful, I wouldn’t discount anyone’s chance to win the tourney. They are all good teams or they wouldn’t be in it.
In examining some basic stats, here is how the entrants look: UC, team offense, 4th, team defense, 1st, power play, 4th, penalty kill, 10th. FS, TO, 21st, TD, 5th, PP, 25th, PK, 6th. For BC, TO, 6th, TD 2nd, PP, 11th, PK, 3rd. For the Gophers, TO, 1st, TD, 8th, PP, 5th, PK 36th. All four teams have 10-14 players in double-digit points scoring, and all four leading net minders are in the top 23 in the nation. The numbers make UC and BC appear to be the tougher clubs, while the Gophers’ PK percentage is the only number that drags them down, and FS appears to be stronger defensively and a bit less so offensively. The intangibles say to look out for BC’s PK to transition quickly and be a threat to score shorthanded, but the Gophers aren’t far behind them in that category.
Most of the pre-tourney talk seems to be centered around BC and that based upon their current 17 game win streak and tourney experience on their roster, they are the hands-down favorite. I have no doubt they are a tough opponent for anyone, but I also am amongst the first to acknowledge the parity in today’s college game. However, I would also point out that within the streak are 11 wins against teams with a collective win percentage of .389. I can’t say who will win the FF but I can say that the favorites or the “best” teams don’t always win. The teams that play the best in all phases of the game, make the least mistakes and play their hearts out do. Should be a great tourney….
IF THE NHL REGULAR season ended today in the Western conference playoffs, you would have Vancouver vs. San Jose, St. Louis vs. Phoenix, Los Angeles vs. Chicago, and Detroit vs. Nashville. I would take VAN, STL, LA and NASH to advance from the first round, but it remains to be seen if SJ can hang on to the eighth spot over the Dallas NorthStars. In the Eastern Conference you would have the NY Rangers vs. Washington, Boston vs. Ottawa, Florida vs. New Jersey, and Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia. In these series I would go with NYR, BOS, FLA, and the Pengwah, although that series would promise to be WWIII based on some recent tilts betwixt the two. In addition, the Pengwah have gone 5-5 in their last 10, and if they don’t get back on top of their game, the Flyers would end their season quickly. It also remains to be seen if WASH can hang on to the eighth spot over BUFF, who has one of the best records in the show since New Years day. Should be an interesting final week….
MFAN NOTES: Caught the TAMPA-WASH tilt on SAT radio last night and the NHL debut of former UMD Bulldog JT Brown for the Bolts. T-Bay color man and HOFer Phil Esposito was gushing over the play of Brown. His excellent skating and passing caught the eye of Espo during the game, and he was effusive in his praise. Brownie didn’t get on the score sheet but gave a good account of himself in his debut game. Good luck, kid! PEACE
THE MASKED FAN TOP 5 NHL POWER RANK, THE M5 FOR 4/3/2012:
1. VANCOUVER, getting game back together, #2 goalie might be better than #1...
2. BOSTON, pesky Broo-ah also back on top of it, how far could they go?
3. LOS ANGELES, 7-2-1 in last 10, could be a tough out in the tourney…
4. CHICAGO, don’t look now but are on verge of another 100-pt season…
5. BUFFALO, poised to knock Ovie and the Caps out of the eighth playoff spot…
OVER & OUT!
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County Chronicle for the past ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710 AM in Duluth.