With conference play wrapping up last weekend, the bracket is now set for the 2012 NCAA men’s hockey 16-team tournament. Getting to this year's Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., is considered to be college hockey’s Holy Grail—an unqualified measure of any season’s success—and eight Blackhawks prospects will try to reach that stage with their respective teams when postseason action commences this Friday.
Prospects battling for the title
Three will play for top-seeded teams: Sophomore forward Kevin Hayes
will play for top-ranked Boston College, and No. 4 North Dakota will count on a pair of defensemen, freshman Nick Mattson
and junior Joe Gleason
Hayes—whose older brother Jimmy won an NCAA championship with BC in 2009-10—finished the season with 25 points (6G, 19A) in 40 games, including one assist in three Hockey East tournament games. BC (29-10-1) defeated Maine 4-1 to capture the Hockey East championship and sits in a prime spot to emerge from the Northeast bracket, held in Worcester, Mass. The Eagles play Air Force (24-9-6) on Saturday, March 24, at 4 p.m. CT.
The second round of the Northeast bracket could see BC taking on defending NCAA champions Minnesota-Duluth (24-9-6). Junior left wing Dan Delisle has two goals and two helpers in 19 appearances this season, but has not played in UMD’s last seven games, including three in the WCHA tournament. The Bulldogs face Hockey East runners-up Maine in the first round at 7:30 p.m. on March 24.
The most intriguing bracket for Blackhawks fans could very well be the West Regionals, held in St. Paul, Minn., which will feature four of Chicago’s eight college prospects—all of them defensemen. Fourth-ranked North Dakota (25-12-3) is one of the youngest teams in the tournament and among them is Mattson, who was second amongst Fighting Sioux defensemen with 19 points (6G, 13A) in 40 games this season. He registered one assist in five tournament appearances as UND clinched the WCHA title. Mattson is joined by Gleason, who has 14 helpers in 39 appearances. UND plays Western Michigan on March 24 at 1:30 p.m.
The other game in the first round will pit two sophomores against one another, as Adam Clendening and Boston University (23-14-1) face off against Justin Holl and the University of Minnesota (26-13-1). Clendening has been an offensive force for BU this season, registering 31 points (3G, 28A) in 37 games to lead all Terrier blueliners in scoring. Holl has also had a breakout year, notching 11 points (3G, 8A) in 40 games and tying for second among Gopher blueliners with a +17 plus/minus rating.
Two more Blackhawks prospects have a chance to make it out of the West Regional bracket, held in Green Bay, Wisc. Denver (25-13-4), runners-up to UND in this year’s WCHA Final Five, features junior defenseman Paul Phillips, who has a goal and eight assists in 40 games for the Pioneers. DU plays Ferris St. (23-11-5) on Friday, March 23, at 5:30 p.m.
The other first-round matchup in the West will showcase junior defenseman Braden Birch of Cornell University (18-8-7), who placed third at the ECAC championship tournament. Birch logged a goal and five assists in 30 games this season, and the Big Red will try to topple second-ranked Michigan (24-12-4) on March 23 at 9 p.m.
You can find a complete list of Blackhawks prospect stats here and download the NCAA ice hockey bracket here. All games can be seen on ESPNU and EPSN3.com.