"It's one and done once you get to the NCAAs," said Florida Panthers standout defenseman Keith Ballard who developed his talents at the University of Minnesota from 2001-04, playing on back-to-back national-title teams at Minnesota in 2002 and 2003.
"Our whole focus was to be playing our best hockey of the year," Ballard said. "You don't want to back into the playoffs and leaking oil coming down the stretch. You gotta be ready and be able to face a little adversity.
"For the new teams, they should be excited; it's a huge statement for their programs and their university. There have been some smaller schools with some upsets. They have nothing to lose when they get in there. Stay loose, play hard and get some good goaltending. Anything can happen."
Sixteen teams learned their matchups Sunday for the 2009 NCAA Tournament at four regional sites this weekend. Six earned the auto-bid by winning their respective league tournament; 10 teams received at-large invitations based on power rankings. The winner of each regional advances to the Frozen Four in Washington, April 9 and 11.
The No. 1 seeds are Boston University, Notre Dame, Denver and Michigan.
Here's the breakdown of the four regional matchups by seed, how each team got into the tournament, and an NHL.com comment about each regional. All times are Eastern.
March 27 and 28 at Bridgeport Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.
March 27 at 3 p.m. -- No. 1 Michigan Wolverines (CCHA, 29-11-0) vs. No. 4 Air Force Falcons (Atlantic Hockey, 27-10-2)
(Michigan is at-large; Air Force won the Atlantic Tournament.)
March 27 at 6:30 p.m. -- No. 2 Yale Bulldogs (ECACHL, 24-7-2) vs. No. 3 Vermont Catamounts (Hockey East, 20-11-5)
(Yale won the ECACHL Tournament; Vermont is at-large.)
March 28 at 6:30 p.m. -- East Regional Championship
Skinny -- Sophomore Bryan Hogan has done yeoman work between the Michigan pipes (30 games -- 1.97 GAA) in a season of obstacles and challenges for Red Berenson's squad. The Wolverines finally have a healthy team across the bench. Air Force has some guns, but too much misfiring during the second half. Yale rolled to their league and tournament titles over the past two months, and will be on "home ice" in nearby Bridgeport. If they can handle Vermont -- which has played one of the toughest schedules all season -- the Bulldogs can be one of the Cinderella stories in NCAA history by beating Michigan for a trip to a first-ever Frozen Four.
March 27 and 28 at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis
March 27 at 5:30 p.m. -- No. 1 Denver Pioneers (WCHA, 23-11-5) vs. No. 4 Miami (Ohio) Redhawks (CCHA, 20-12-5)
(Both teams received at-large bids.)
March 27 at 9 p.m. -- No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (WCHA, 21-12-8) vs. No. 3 Princeton Tigers (ECACHL, 22-11-1)
(Minn.-Duluth won the WCHA Tournament; Princeton is at-large.)
March 28 at 9 p.m. -- West Regional Championship
Skinny -- This regional has the most balance across the four teams. None appears to have the total package necessary to win a national championship, but all have an equal shot at getting to the Frozen Four. Minnesota-Duluth is the best regular-season-ending story, winning the WCHA Final Five against Denver rather handily, 4-0. That rematch may take place Saturday night. However, Rico Blasi's Redhawks have the most motivation to get to a first Frozen Four. They lost two heartbreakers to Boston College in the 2007 and '08 regional finals with no puck luck. Is three a charm for Miami? If not, look for Duluth to advance. Princeton will lean heavily on ECACHL Player of the Year Zane Kalemba in goal as the Tigers face their stiffest competition all year.
March 28 and 29 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
March 28 at 4 p.m. -- No. 2 Northeastern Huskies (Hockey East, 25-11-4) vs. No. 3 Cornell Big Red (ECACHL, 21-9-4)
(Both teams are at-large.)
March 28 at 7:30 p.m. -- No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA, 31-5-3) vs. No. 4 Bemidji State Beavers (CHA, 18-15-1)
(Both teams won their league tournament.)
March 29 at 8 p.m. -- Midwest Regional Championship
Skinny -- Hard to figure how any team in this field can compete with Notre Dame and its nucleus of Jordan Pearce in goal, and a deep and talented core of forwards led by Erik Condra, and defensemen led by Ian Cole. Bemidji needs to replicate the efforts of past CHA entries: keep it close against the Irish -- and work for puck luck. If Northeastern gets by Cornell, Hockey East Player of the Year Brad Thiessen will need the game of his three-year career in goal -- and the Huskies will need their most-disciplined game of the year to play in its first Frozen Four. Big Red's problem in postseason play is scoring goals. Denting Thiessen's armor is an easier task for Cornell in the semifinal than Pearce's in a possible final. Notre Dame is the most battle-tested team across the regionals, having played for all the marbles last April against national champion Boston College.
March 28 and 29 at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.
March 28 at 2 p.m. -- No. 2 North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA, 24-14-4) vs. No. 3 New Hampshire Wildcats (Hockey East, 19-12-5)
(Both teams are at-large.)
March 28 at 5:30 p.m. -- No. 1 Boston University Terriers (Hockey East, 31-6-4) vs. No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (CCHA, 23-14-4)
(BU won the Hockey East Tournament; Ohio State is at-large.)
March 29 at 5:30 p.m. -- Northeast Regional Championship
Skinny -- No regional boasts two more talented and historic teams in NCAA play than Boston University and North Dakota. Both hit their stride after Jan. 1, and each should roll over Ohio State and host New Hampshire, respectively, in the semis. Touted by many as one of BU's best teams ever, especially along the blue line that is led by Matt Gilroy and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Terriers and Notre Dame have swapped the No. 1 rank most of the season. If the Fighting Sioux get by the Wildcats, they will need to excise their Achilles' heel of taking penalties in a BU final to compete for an NCAA second-best 8th national title. BU's power play is the best in the country. But what makes North Dakota go is its up-tempo style and physical play. These two should provide the best regional final.
NHL.com's predicted regional winners: Notre Dame, Boston University, Michigan, Miami
On Campus clips -- League Players of the Year in each conference include: Princeton sophomore goaltender Zane Kalemba in the ECACHL; Northeastern junior goaltender Brad Thiessen in Hockey East; Air Force junior forward Jacques Lamoureux in Atlantic Hockey; Wisconsin junior defenseman Jamie McBain in the WCHA; Niagara senior goaltender Juliano Pagliero in the CHA, and Alaska senior goaltender Chad Johnson in the CCHA. ... Coach of the Year honors go to: Yale's Keith Allain in ECACHL; Northeastern's Greg Cronin in Hockey East; Alaska's Dallas Ferguson in the CCHA; Bemidji State's Tom Serratore in the CHA; Bentley's Ryan Soderquist in Atlantic Hockey, and North Dakota's Dave Hakstol in the WCHA.