Posts Tagged ‘Frozen Four’
The NCAA regionals have been over for two weeks, and even though the Frozen Four begins on Thursday, I’m still thinking about the past.
Grand Forks is a reasonably small town (about 55,000 people) on the eastern side of North Dakota. It sits along the Red River, which is good for one flood every year that ranges from slightly disconcerting to massive destruction. Grand Forks has the typical eating fares one would expect from a town of its size. The people are friendly, even to outsiders.
Home to the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks has firmly attached itself to the school and its athletic programs. It’s no different from other college towns like Ann Arbor, Bloomington, Madison or Iowa City. While those towns embrace football or basketball, Grand Forks loves its ice hockey – and not just as something to do on a Friday night. It’s the thing to do on a Friday night. Fans pack the Ralph Engelstad Arena, almost all of them clad in green, white or black, and loudly support their favorite team.
Last week, two teams that probably shouldn’t have ended up in the NCAA Tournament were on the cusp of making the Frozen Four. I picked both of them to get bounced in their opening game, so I was intrigued to see if they would prove me wrong and make it to Tampa.
In the end, Ferris State and Minnesota-Duluth got eliminated in the regional final and I ended up picking three of the Frozen Four participants correctly. (One of these years I’m going to get all four.) Ferris was the team I was particularly focused on because I didn’t think they had a chance in hell of winning the WCHA Final Five. Thanks to the goaltending of Darren Smith, the Bulldogs managed to take out top-seeded Michigan Tech and last year’s winner, Minnesota State, on consecutive nights to earn the automatic bid. Ferris was placed in the West Regional against No. 1 seed St. Cloud State, where it caught the Huskies sleeping and outlasted them in overtime.
After watching that happen on TV, I was perplexed. I had seen the Bulldogs play twice in person and they didn’t look sharp at all. Where was all this coming from? Confusing as it was, I was convinced Ferris would get exposed, and it came at the hands of Denver. Ferris kept it close, but the Pioneers plowed through the Bulldogs and fired six goals past Smith to move on to Tampa.
The other Bulldogs squad’s fate had been determined the day before. Duluth visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula back in January and frankly, the Dogs didn’t look anything like I expected. They were supposed to win the NCHC this season and be a lock for the Frozen Four, but ended up coming significantly short of that. Still, Duluth ended up getting an at-large spot in the NCAAs and upset defending champion Providence in double overtime out in Worcester (Mass.). However, Duluth fell behind Boston College 3-0 in the regional final and its rally in the third period came up short. So now the Eagles will be moving on to Florida where they won the national title in 2012.
The other two regionals played out as expected. Quinnipiac rolled past RIT and shut down UMass Lowell to win the East and make their first FF since 2013. Down in Cincinnati, North Dakota crushed Northeastern (a team that somehow became a popular pick by national columnists), and contained Michigan’s top-ranked offense to make its third straight trip to the Frozen Four. So in the end, two NCHC rivals, a traditional Hockey East powerhouse, and a rising ECAC contender will get a second Spring Break and be heading to Florida.
Just like last season, this weekend portends some compelling storylines.
Heading into this past weekend, I had a pretty good idea of how the NCAA brackets would look this year. By the time Saturday night rolled around, my idea went out the window thanks to some topsy-turvy conference tournaments.
As I sat isolated in a corner putting together the Sunday paper, things got wacky. In the WCHA, Ferris State surprised analysts by punching their ticket. The Bulldogs, who barely earned home-ice in the first round, managed to shut out top-seeded Michigan Tech and defeat second-seeded Minnesota State to make the NCAAs. As a result of its loss to Ferris, Tech ended up on the outside looking in after winning their first conference title since 1976. Minnesota State, the WCHA preseason favorite, was also left out, while Northern Michigan was left wondering what might have been. A late-season swoon caused the Wildcats to lose home ice to Ferris in the first round and the fact that the Bulldogs ended up running the table had to be like salt in an open wound.
Across the country in Hockey East, Northeastern ended up surprising analysts as well. The sixth-seeded Huskies upset Notre Dame in the first round, Boston College in the semifinal and UMass-Lowell in the final to earn the automatic bid. It was also Northeastern’s first conference tournament title in 28 years and now that the Huskies have made it, all of the Beanpot teams will be represented this year in the national tourney.
This year’s pairings are interesting. They are the hardest ones that I have had to pick since I started writing about them for this website. So after analyzing stats, putting aside any biases, and turning my head away from an exciting NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I’m ready to make my picks.
The puck was in his glove and then it was in the net. Just like that, one team took control of the game, while the other was left shaking its heads and wondering what just happened.
Last week’s NCAA National Championship game was something else.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over and I’m patting myself on the back. I correctly predicted three of the four Frozen Four participants, including upstart Providence making it out of the East Regional. I’m particularly proud of that pick because I had the Friars making it to the Frozen Four back in my preseason predictions. Right now I feel like a smart fellow.
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My favorite time of the year has arrived. The college hockey postseason has been going for two weeks. Now it’s time for the main event, the NCAA Tournament. Before I get into profiling the tournament, here’s a brief look back at my first year in the Division I world.
You’ve probably heard the story by now. An old man with a history of controversy is recorded in the middle of a racist rant. The tape is distributed to media outlets. As it turns out, this old man owns the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and the league is in a tough position. A couple of days after the tape is released, the NBA bans the old man for life and begins the process of taking over his franchise.
The first thought when I heard the tape of Donald Sterling’s rant was “I’m not surprised.” My second was to ask how would people react if an NHL owner was the person being taped?
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There’s been quite a bit going on over the past two weeks since the NCAA Regionals, most of the big stories being players leaving school early for the NHL.
Two stories stand out above the rest.
The first is that longtime Colorado College head coach Scott Owens resigned. Owens has been at the helm since taking over for Don Lucia in 1999. During that span, the Tigers made the Frozen Four in 2005 on top of six other NCAA appearances. No reason was given for his resignation, but my theory is that maybe the powers that be wanted to move in a different direction, like Denver was last year with George Gwozdecky. The Tigers haven’t made the NCAA tournament in three years and just went through their worst season in 20 years. Whatever the reason, it’s a sad day because Owens is a talented coach who kept a small school competitive on a national stage. I’m sure he’ll be missed by the Tiger faithful.
The other is that NCAA seems willing to reconsider its idea to stage the Regionals at neutral sites. On paper it seemed like a sound plan; it isn’t fair for one team to have a distinct home-ice advantage over the other teams in the region. The plan backfired because attendance at the Regionals has been terrible. Attendance turned around a little this year, but it’s still bad. A total of 8,893 fans for a regional championship between Minnesota and St. Cloud State sounds fine — except that the game was in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center, which holds more than twice that number (18,568).
If the NCAA is smart, they will return the games to campus sites. Yes, it gives one team an advantage, but a good team overcomes that. I’ve seen it happen. Miami beat Minnesota-Duluth in 2009 in front of a loud, very partisan crowd at Mariucci Arena. (How partisan was the crowd? I was cheering for both teams and when the Redhawks scored first, I cheered and pumped my fist. I was the only one in the arena to do so outside of the Miami pep band. It was weird).
Both of those stories pale in comparison to the Frozen Four, which starts Thursday. This year features three powerhouse progams and one on the rise. I got three out of the four teams correct with my predictions two weeks ago, which was my best performance in the Regionals so far. Let’s see if I can keep my luck going.
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