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Top-seeded Yale leads pack into NCAA tourney

by Bob Snow
Sixteen teams were selected Sunday morning for the puck version of March Madness which begins this weekend at four regional sites.

Five of those teams won their league tournaments the night before, earning the automatic bid; 11 were selected at-large.

The No. 1 seeds are Miami in the Northeast regional, North Dakota in the Midwest regional, Boston College in the West regional, and Yale in the East regional.

Yale is the No. 1 seed overall.

While these four are historic powerhouses in late March, others like Western Michigan and Rensselaer assume the ultimate underdog role, possibly all the way to a final-game showdown on April 9 in St. Paul. 

"It's like the basketball; you get the Cinderella teams," Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri, who played in three NCAA tournaments at Michigan, said about the lower seeds.

Up-and-coming Union and Merrimack have established themselves as top-10 teams the past two months, earning a new level of respectability in the 2011 tournament.

"It's nice to see those smaller schools succeed," said Cammalleri's teammate and Habs captain Brian Gionta, who played in the tournament all four years at Boston College. "They get hard-working kids, are good schools and play in good conferences."

"The key is getting hot at the right time," San Jose Sharks forward Benn Ferriero, also a BC alum, said about the march through March. 

Teammate Joe Pavelski, a former Wisconsin Badger and hero in the 2006 national-title game with two assists in the 2-1 win over the Eagles, knows a little bit about March on the frozen NCAA sheet.
"It was always about keep building and keep building till the end of the season," Pavelski said about the keys to getting into the NCAA tournament -- and then winning the regional. "You can't turn on a switch. In each game, start fast, score the first goal. You only get one chance."

Sixteen teams get that chance to win the 2011 national championship -- for many players, it's their only chance.

Here's the breakdown of the four regional matchups by seed, how each team got into the tournament, and an comment and prediction on each regional.

Regional winners punch a ticket to St. Paul for the Frozen Four on April 7 and 9.

All times are Eastern.

East Regional -- March 25-26 at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Connecticut

Friday, March 25 at 3 p.m. -- No. 2 Union (ECACHL) (26-9-4) vs. No. 3 Minnesota Duluth (WCHA) (22-10-6) on ESPNU HD/

(Both teams are at-large.)

Friday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m. -- No. 1 Yale (ECACHL) (27-6-1) vs. No. 4 Air Force (Atlantic Hockey) (20-11-6) on ESPNU HD/

(Yale won the ECACHL Tournament; Air Force won the Atlantic Tournament.)

Saturday, March 26 at 6:30 p.m. -- East Regional Championship on ESPNU HD/ analysis: Union is the second-most underrated team in the entire tournament to Merrimack; the Dutchmen have led the nation in total offense and power-play stats most of the second half. Intent on becoming only the second team in NCAA history to go to the Frozen Four in its first tournament since Lake State, getting through a WCHA team to the Saturday final will be a tough test. Duluth has three top forwards in Jack and Mike Connolly, and Justin Fontaine who put up better than a combined 150 points. Union needs to score first and often.

Yale is coming off three straight shutouts by Ryan Rondeau, whose 1.83 goals-against average is tops in the nation; Keith Allain's bench is loaded with senior leadership and also looking for a first-ever Frozen Four. Air Force nipped RIT, 1-0, to punch its ticket to Bridgeport.

The home-ice advantage goes to both Union and Yale, which split their season series in ECACHL play. Look for these two to play Saturday night with one making program history by getting to St. Paul on April 7. predicts Yale.

West Regional -- March 25-26 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri

Friday, March 25 at 5:30 p.m. -- No. 2 Michigan (CCHA) (26-10-4) vs. No. 3 Nebraska-Omaha (WCHA) (21-15-2) on ESPN Syndication HD/ (ESPNU HD tape delay – Friday, March 25, 11:30 p.m.)

(Both teams are at-large.)

Friday, March 25 at 9 p.m. -- No. 1 Boston College (Hockey East) (30-7-1) vs. No. 4 Colorado College (WCHA) (22-18-3) on ESPNU HD/

Boston College won the Hockey East Tournament; Colorado College is at-large.)

Saturday, March 26 at 9 p.m. -- West Regional Championship on ESPNU HD/ analysis: BC's depth across the roster and John Muse's undefeated 8-0-0 record in goal (best no-loss record in NCAA history) and the experience of winning it all last April will be enough for the Eagles to ease by Colorado College in the semifinal. The Tigers are led by Stephen Schultz and Jaden Schwartz up front.

Led by senior Shawn Hunwick in goal, and captains Carl Hagelin and Luke Glendening, the up-and-down-of-late Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (3-5 since February 18) will need a strong showing from seniors Matt Ambroz, Joey Martin and Rich Purslow, the team's leading scorers, and junior John Faulkner's best game of the season between the pipes to escape Michigan.

Aside from Denver and North Dakota in the Midwest, no other regional boasts more postseason history than Boston College and Michigan. That will be the case Saturday night when both meet for the fourth time in postseason play since Michigan's title-game win in Boston in 1998.
They'll need seat belts in St. Louis to keep up with the tempo these two will bring. predicts BC will have a few more RPM's. 

Northeast Regional -- March 26-27 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in  Manchester, New Hampshire

Saturday, March 26 at 4 p.m. -- No. 1 Miami (CCHA) (23-9-6) vs. No. 4 New Hampshire (Hockey East) (21-10-6) on ESPNU HD/

(Miami won the CCHA Tournament; New Hampshire is at-large.)

Saturday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. -- No. 2 Merrimack (Hockey East) (25-9-4) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (CCHA) (23-13-5) on ESPN Syndication HD/ (ESPNU HD tape delay – Saturday, March 26, 11:30 p.m. Eastern time)

(Both teams are at-large.)

Sunday, March 27at 8 p.m. -- Northeast Regional Championship on ESPNU HD/ analysis: Neither New Hampshire nor Miami has ever won a national title after coming oh-so-close in gut-wrenching OT losses -- the Wildcats in 1999 and the Redhawks in 2009. UNH is led by Player of the Year in Hockey East, Paul Thompson; Miami by CCHA Player of the Year in Andy Miele. Miele's 71 points lead the nation, complemented by Carter Camper's 56 and Reilly Smith's 54. While UNH has "home ice" in Manchester, Miami's depth from the goal out will prove a tough test in what should be a high-scoring affair.

The Merrimack Warriors are capable of winning it all. They, like UNH, will be playing only 30 miles from campus. Mark Dennehy's gang is led by standout ironman goaltender Joe Cannata's 25 wins, and Stephane Da Costa, captain Chris Barton, and Joe Cucci; the defense is rock solid. Notre Dame is led by Rookie of the Year T.J. Tynan's 52 points.

Look for Miami and Merrimack's depth to punch a ticket for each to Sunday's championship game. predicts Miami's overall tournament experience to prevail in a nail-biter.

Midwest Regional -- March 26-27 at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Saturday, March 26 at 1:30 p.m. -- No. 1 North Dakota (WCHA) (30-8-3) vs. No. 4 Rensselaer (ECACHL) (20-12-5) on ESPN Syndication HD/ (ESPNU HD tape delay – Sunday, March 27, 12:30 p.m. Eastern time)

(North Dakota won the WCHA Tournament; Rensselaer is at-large.)

Saturday, March 26 at 5 p.m. No. 2 Denver (WCHA) (24-11-5) vs. No. 3 Western Michigan (CCHA) (19-12-10) on ESPN Syndication HD/ (ESPNU HD tape delay – Sunday, March 27, 3 p.m. Eastern time)

(Both teams are at-large.)

Sunday, March 27 at 5:30 p.m. -- Midwest Regional Championship on ESPNU HD/ analysis: No team in NCAA play brings tenacity like North Dakota. The No. 1 ranked Fighting Sioux have the leading goal scorer in the nation in Player-of-the- Year Matt Frattin and sophomore Aaron Dell has a second-best-in-the-nation 1.87 GAA. Rensselaer has sputtered, in winning only three of its last 10 games. No shortage of senior leadership on the Engineers' pine in repeat Player of the Year in the ECACHL, Chase Polacek, as well as Tyler Helfrich, Bryan Brutlag and John Kennedy. An RPI win would rank among the biggest upsets in tourney history.

Ditto for a Western Michigan win over Denver in the second semifinal. The Broncos are young -- and on a mission under first-year coach Jeff Blashill and seniors Max Campbell, Mike Levendusky and goalie Jerry Kuhn. But Denver's history and WCHA play will pay usual dividends, led this year by Drew Shore up front, and a pair of blue line titans in Matt Donovan and David Makowski, with 58 points of offense.

Last Saturday night, North Dakota and Denver played a 2-OT thriller in the Final Five WCHA championship game. The Fighting Sioux prevailed, 3-2. predicts a carbon copy this Sunday night in the Midwest regional final.

The 2011 Frozen Four? Yale, Boston College, Miami and North Dakota.

Big Ten Conference to establish six-team league to begin play in 2013-14

The Big Ten Conference announced Monday that men's ice hockey will be recommended as an official conference sport beginning in the 2013-14 academic year. Ohio State will be joined in the league by Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin.

The recommendation includes both the establishment of the inaugural Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in March 2014, with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, and a 20-game conference schedule with each team playing the other five current CCHA schools four times (two home games and two away games).

On Campus Clips

2010-11 Players of the Year in each league include forwards Andy Miele from Miami (CCHA), Paul Thompson from New Hampshire (Hockey East), North Dakota's Matt Frattin (WCHA), Niagara's Paul Zanette (Atlantic), and the ECACHL's Chase Polacek from Rensselaer, who repeats as Player of the Year from 2009-'10. ... Rookies of the Year from each league respectively are also all forwards: T.J. Tynan from Notre Dame, BU's Charlie Coyle, Denver's Jason Zucker, Taylor Holmstrom out of Mercyhurst, and Princeton's Andrew Calof. ... Coaches of the Year include Notre Dame's Jeff Jackson, BC's Jerry York, Nebraska-Omaha's Dean Blais, Holy Cross's Paul Pearl, and Union's Nate Leaman.
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