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HAMPTON… The coffee is hot and today’s breeze off of the Chesapeake Bay is cool but I’m thinking hockey, hockey, hockey. This weekend the NCAA Men’s D-1 Ice Hockey tourney kicks off and it promises to be as exciting as ever. The North Star State has two entrants in the mix with the UMD Bulldogs and the Minnesota Golden Gophers each getting bids as well as Number One seeds in their respective regions. The Bulldogs will be in Fargo in the West Regional and the Gophers will be going to Manchester in the Northeast regional. Most expert analysts are looking at the Bulldogs and Denver as the top two favorites for a shot at the National title. I can’t disagree with that line of thought but I would caution those analysts that with the parity in today’s collegiate game that there is actually a handful of teams that could successfully come through this event.
The way the brackets are constructed, if Denver and the Dogs win their regions and their semifinal games they could meet in the National title contest. They played in early December of this season and split in the Mile High City. There could be other familiar opponents as well if those teams won their early tourney games. North Dakota is also in the Fargo regional and they and the Dogs are fairly cozy with each other having played 5 times this year with the Dogs a perfect 5-0 versus the Hawks. Notre Dame is in the Northeast Region and they split early in the season in Duluth. Western Michigan is also in and they and the Dogs met 5 times with the Dogs gaining a 3-2 edge, with the latest tilt going to the Dogs in the NCHC tourney. They have also played another entrant U-Mass Lowell and went out East and returned home with a pair of ties. Michigan Tech is in and UMD swept them in their season opening series and finally in their only meeting of the season UMD bested the Gophers 3-2 in the final North Star Cup event.
However, to focus on the West regional at Fargo, and to kick off my prognostications you will have UMD/2 meeting Big Ten contestant Ohio State/15 on Friday and I have UMD advancing past the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes simply aren’t on the same level as the Dogs. In the other tilt in this region you will have the host North Dakota/10 engaging the Boston University Terriers/7. North Dakota comes in as the defending Champion but is an entirely different team then last years model. BU features 7 players that competed in this years World Junior tourney (6 Americans & 1 Canadian) and that equates to some big game experience. NoDak has several players with that too but I have a feeling that BU wins this tilt. In the Region final I see UMD over BU and heading for the F4.
In the East regional at Providence, Western Michigan/6 meets Air Force/12. WM has Head Coach Andy Murray and I have always admired his coaching. Not many NHL players did though and it was back to school for Murray, he has moved that program forward. The Broncos will have too much for the Airmen and will advance. Providence/14 meets Harvard/3 (3rd overall) in the other tilt and I’ll take Harvard in that game and I will also take them to best WM in that Regional final.
In the Midwest regional at Cincinnati, Denver/1 (the overall #1) meets Michigan Tech/16 and while MT could give the Pioneers a competitive game, Denver walks away with a win. Surprising Penn State/9 takes on Union/8 and part of me thinks that PSU, having played a pair of 2OT games in order to win the B10 tourney and get the auto bid has perhaps shrank their karma and fuel tank, but I see them getting past Union. They won’t however get past Denver as the Pioneers emerge from this region to the F4.
In the Northeast region at Manchester, Minnesota/4 is the top seed and 4th overall and they will play Notre Dame/13 in that regions 2nd tilt on Saturday afternoon. Next year the Irish will join the Gophers in the B10 Conference but on this day the Golden G’s will be giving them a rude welcome. Take the Goph’s. In the opening tilt you will have a very good Cornell/11 taking on an even better U-Mass Lowell/5 club that has had a very strong season. I am taking U-Mass Lowell in that tilt. In that regional final I would like to take the Gophers to win it but my feeling is that Lowell may be playing a little bit better at this juncture and they are my pick over the Gophers.
Now, if my brackets work out as I picked them I would see Denver vs. Lowell in one National semifinal and then UMD vs. Harvard in the other. I’ll save those picks for next weeks column and even if they don’t come through I’ll tell you what they were and re-adjust for real world as it will unfold in Chicago. If I’m not mistaken this F4 to be held in the United Center, home of the NHL Blackhawk’s, would be the 2nd biggest venue ever for this tourney with a seating capacity of 23,500 which includes potential Standing Room ticket sales. To list all there is to do in the Windy City would take another entire column. I am considering going to the tourney, but I’m not sure yet. What would my first stop be? Gold Coast Dogs at Union Station for a Chicago Dog! Any questions?
THE MINNESOTA WILD are basically in freefall right now and if they didn’t have a playoff spot locked up like, in December, they would be flailing about like a salmon on a hot parking lot right about now. Really, there isn’t much else to say about them today. They face the Sharks Tuesday eve and SJ has been struggling as well. How exasperating has it been? After blowing a tilt in Winnipeg today, Bruce Boudreau had a 20 second presser after the game and abruptly left. Yeah, I’m at a loss too. And with the passing of a Rock n’ Roll Legend in St. Louis yesterday, I’ll end with these iconic lyrics;
Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B Goode
Who never learned to read or write so well
But he could play a guitar just like ringing a bell
Go! Go Johnny Go! Go!
Rest in Peace Chuck Berry….