Here are my picks for the tournament as a whole, plus a few parting thoughts:
1. UNH over 4. Notre Dame:
New Hampshire is clearly the better team, they're used to playing on the big ice, and Notre Dame has been playing like absolute crap for at least a couple of months. Both teams have very good goalies--Regan is a Hobey Finalist and Pearce won the CCHA Goaltending Title if I'm not mistaken. The big difference is that UNH can put the puck in the net and Notre Dame really can't. Since February began, Notre Dame has played 13 games. They've scored more than two goals exactly three times. In six of those games, they scored 0 or 1 goal. Now their leading scorer is out for the season. The only way Notre Dame wins this game is if Pearce is absolutely perfect. If UNH scores once, I think it's game over.
2. Colorado College over 3. Michigan State:
CC has the home-ice advantage in this contest, and it's a big advantage. The Tigers were 18-2-0 at home this year. They're used to playing on big ice, they're used to playing at altitude, and with the way games in the WCHA are called, they're used to clutching, grabbing, hooking, and holding. The defending champs still have Jeff Lerg in net, but the Tigers counter with Richard Bachman, the WCHA's Rookie and Player of the Year. Unless Bachman gets Freshman Goalie Face, the Tigers win this one.
Regional Championship: 2. Colorado College over 1. New Hampshire:
The teams met twice this year at UNH, and New Hampshire won both, scoring six of their nine goals on the weekend in the third period. Bachman only played the second game. I think these teams are fairly evenly matched, they both play on big ice, and they both have great goalies. I give the edge to the home team with the home crowd, but this could be the game of the tournament. CC advances to the Frozen Four. Still No Hardware.
1. North Dakota over 4. Princeton:
I don't know a ton about the Tigers, except that I was bored out of my mind watching the ECAC Championship last weekend. North Dakota hasn't had much success finding the net lately (they've scored more than 2 goals in just two of their last ten games) and Princeton hasn't given up many goals lately (just five in their last five games, four of which came in one contest), but this isn't the ECAC. It'll probably be a closer game than it should be, but I'd be surprised if North Dakota doesn't win.
2. Denver over 3. Wisconsin:
I know how much the home crowd can benefit a team in the NCAA Tournament. That being said, Denver doesn't seem to be fazed by the Madison crowd. According to LetsgoDU, the Pioneers are 11-1-2 at the Kohl Center. That stat kind of blows my mind. Needless to say, I like DU in this one. They got on a roll in the WCHA Tournament, Wisconsin kind of sucks, and Mannino is as good as any goalie in the country.
Regional Championship: 1. North Dakota over 2. Denver:
Denver is the trendy pick to win this Regional, but I'm still going with the team that can't score goals, but scares the bejesus out of me nonetheless. NoDak was 3-2 against DU this year, and only scored one goal in the two losses combined (12 in the three wins). Mannino is capable of taking DU back to the Frozen Four--or the Championship--but I'll take North Dakota.
Northeast Regional: 4. Air Force over 1. Miami:
I'm going to take crap for this--since I've argued all year with the WCHA fans that Miami actually is a very good team--but I'm taking Air Force. The Falcons are a good hockey team, and I'm surprised they've been as good as they have been without the services of Eric Ehn. Indications are that Ehn could be back for this game, and his return would help, even if he's not close to 100%. History says that the games between Miami/Air Force and Michigan/Niagara will be very close, and Miami has puckered in the big games this season. Air Force is battle-tested. They've played Boston College, Colorado College, Minnesota, and Denver this season, so a highly-skilled opponent will be nothing new to them. They took Minnesota to the brink last season in the tournament. And they've got a goalie that I've heard of, which is always a plus for a team that isn't from one of the major conferences. They also come in riding the longest unbeaten streak in the country (9 games). Miami is a good team. Would it shock me if they won this game--or even the Regional? Absolutely not. They're a skilled bunch. Davis, Jones, Miele, Camper, Cannone, Mercier, Martinez...they've got some guns, and they've got a really good goalie. For all I know, this could be 7-0 in Miami's favor. History suggests otherwise, and I'm taking the upset in this one.
2. Boston College over 3. Minnesota:
This might be the first round game that I'm most looking forward to. BC took a couple weekends off late in the regular season, but they got on a roll, won the Hockey East Tournament, and they're putting the puck in the net (23 goals in their last 5 games). At the other end of the ice, you've got Minnesota, who took off most of the regular season, played much better once Frazee was benched, assured themselves a spot by making a run in the WCHA Tournament, but still really can't score (for them to have scored 23 goals, you have to go back 10 games). You've also got two of the most disliked fanbases in college hockey. I expect a great game, but I give the edge to BC because they'll have the partisan crowd on their side. I'd probably take Minnesota if this was at the XCel Center.
Regional Championship: 2. Boston College over 4. Air Force:
I'd probably take BC over Miami as well, but after pulling the huge upset, Air Force can't make it past BC, especially not in MA.
East Regional: 1. Michigan over 4. Niagara:
There's no looking past the Purple Eagles in these parts, and I assume that Red has expressed the same concern to his team. These "weaker" opponents have a way of putting a scare in the top-seeded teams. Ted Cook--and actually Niagara in general--does most of his damage on the power play, so it will be critical for Michigan to stay out of the box like they did last weekend for the most part. Michigan has been the best team in the country for a good portion of the year for a reason, and I expect it to shine through. They're deep offensively, solid defensively, they've gotten great play out of their goalie, they're fast, and the special teams are pretty good. Unlike Air Force, Niagara hasn't played the top teams this year. Bowling Green is probably the best team they've faced. That's not to say they can't win, or that they won't keep it close, but they haven't seen a team like Michigan this year. I like the Wolverines in a game that's much closer than I would like it to be.
2. St. Cloud over 3. Clarkson:
St. Cloud has never won a tournament game. It's been 12 years for Clarkson. I like the Huskies to finally get rid of the o'fer in this contest. They split two games earlier in the year (St. Cloud won 4-1 and lost 3-2, though they were badly outshot in their win), but despite history and despite a crowd that will likely be favoring the Golden Knights, I think St. Cloud has too much offensive talent. And as I said before, this isn't the ECAC.
Regional Championship: 1. Michigan over 2. St. Cloud:
Much to Mark Hartigan's chagrin, I think the Wolverines knock the Huskies out for the third time in eight years. A great game wouldn't shock me. St. Cloud has been feisty against some good teams this year, splitting twice with CC and going 1-1-2 against North Dakota. Again, staying out of the box will be crucial for Michigan because St. Cloud's power play is excellent.
1. Michigan over 4. Colorado College:
I'm a homer. CC is a really good hockey team. They can score, their goalie is excellent, but Michigan is a really good hockey team as well. I don't really like going into Denver to play CC in the Frozen Four, but Michigan has been great on the road all season, and we'd get em on the smaller ice.
3. North Dakota over 2. Boston College:
The Sioux missed a golden opportunity last season by losing to the Eagles in the National Semifinals. Two years ago, another loaded North Dakota team lost to Boston College in the National Semifinals. Maybe three times is a charm.
1. Michigan over 3. North Dakota:
The thing that would worry me in this matchup is that North Dakota has been there many times before. They've made the Frozen Four the last 3 years, made the Championship three years ago. Porter and Kolarik are the only players on the Michigan roster who have even won a tournament game coming into this year's NCAAs. The Sioux are good, but aren't the force they have been the past two seasons. They've had trouble scoring goals, and that's one thing that Michigan has not had problems with this season. It blows my mind that six months ago I wasn't sure this team would make the NCAAs and now I'm picking them to win the National Championship (and it's not even going out on a huge limb). If we beat St. Cloud, CC, and NoDak on the way to the title, do we get the WCHA Championship as well? I think MSU won Hockey East last year.
Parting Thoughts Before the Games:
I'm really looking forward to this tournament. One, because we're not in the Region of Death for a change. Two, because even though Michigan is probably the favorite, there's no team that's head and shoulders above everyone else. I could realistically see Michigan, Miami, NoDak, New Hampshire, and Colorado College winning the National Championship, and you have to include Denver and Michigan State as well because of their goalies and the fact that both teams have done it fairly recently.
The games in the first round that I'm most looking forward to are BC/Minnesota, Wisconsin/Denver, and CC/MSU (either it'll be a CC blowout or it'll be a great game, and either way it's fun).
Michigan: Stay out of the box. Stay out of the box. Stay out of the box.
Scooter: Keep being unnoticeable out there. You've been really solid and I'm impressed with how fast you made it back.
Summers: Keep being one of the most underrated players in college hockey.
Kampfer: See above.
Langlais: If you see Clarkson, be careful with the puck at the point while on the PP. They have 12 shorties this year.
Palushaj: I love the emotion, just keep it in check. Also, channeling Mike Legg at some point during this tournament wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. You're going to make a goalie look really silly with that fancy stick-handling at some point. Might as well do it this weekend.
Turnbull: Keep being so clutch when the top line isn't going.
Porter: Relax a little. Don't worry about impressing voters. The chances are there, bury em like you have all year.
Hagelin: Bork bork bork! Keep skating your ass off and doing what you do on the fore-check and back-check. It's a joy to watch.
Lebler: Use that body, but be smart about it. You've been doing much better about staying out of the box.
Winnett: Whatever you ate last weekend, eat it again. That's more like the player I was expecting!
Mitera: I'm not sure what turned you into an offensive dynamo all of a sudden, but I like it. But our zone is still where we need you the most.
Miller: Just pretend it's Joe Louis Arena.
Rust: You've got balls, man. Just please, for the love of Parise, if it's a one goal game in the last two minutes, don't take a penalty. My heart can't handle another one.
Naurato: Keep back-checking. Hugely improved this year. And keep firing away.
Kolarik: Keep being the emotional heart-and-soul of this team and the sniper that you are. And make good on your promise to win Kevin Porter the Hobey. A few points would help that cause.
Fardig: Keep digging and being the Little Ball of Hate that's hard to play against.
Caporusso: Again, the chances are there. You're going to bury em. And keep winning those draws.
Llewellyn: Keep it simple. No dumb penalties, no bad turnovers. Be ready, if you see St. Cloud, they're fast, but if you hit those little buggers, they'll pucker.
Sauer: Keep your confidence up, even if you let in a bad goal. You've exceeded everyone's expectations this year, and if you keep doing what you're doing, we're gonna win this thing.
Pacioretty: No fights. Keep being the beast that you are. And no bailing for Montreal in the offseason.
Black Aces (Fragner, Ciraulo, Elmblad, Hunwick, and Hogan): Thanks for the contributions this year, boys. Stay ready though!
Edit: As promised, MHNet dug up the clip of Hartigan going Esa Tikkanen during the game at Yost. That net was more open than Molly's legs.
Hoover Street Rag finishes up with their previews of the East and Northeast Regionals.