Bracket Breakdown: West
Starting our bracket breakdown is the West regional in Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. All regionals are going to be wide open affairs. This Friday-Saturday regional is no different. It features a coach going against his old coach, the WCHA tournament champs, and the only Hobey finalist in the region.
Denver, the 2nd place team in both the WCHA regular season and conference tournament, locks horns with Miami, a team that quite frankly shouldn’t be in the tournament. Their best non-conference win (and indeed their only wins) was against RPI. They have however swept both Notre Dame and Michigan, so the talent is at least there. But for the CCHA to have 4 teams while ECAC Hockey and the WCHA only have three is a bit of an injustice to those two leagues. Both St. Lawrence and either Minnesota or Wisconsin would be a better NCAA tournament team than the RedHawks. That being said, Miami will be a tough out. Miami has gotten solid contributions from their two Freshmen goalies all season, and they are the 9th best defensive team in the country going into the tournament.
The Pioneers, meanwhile, have been suffering from injuries, most notably to Tyler Bozak and Tyler Ruegsegger. Bozak however is expected to return to the lineup for the NCAA tournament, giving Denver a much needed boost offensively. The 10th best scoring team in the country already, Denver is sure to put up some numbers and Miami’s goaltenders will need to be ready. They also have gotten good goaltending from Marc Cheverie, who is 2nd team all WCHA and has 4 shutouts this season. In the end I see the Pioneers moving on to the regional final.
In the other semi, Minnesota-Duluth takes on Princeton. Duluth became the first team in the history of the Final Five to win 3 games in 3 nights to win the WCHA playoff crown. Duluth is led by Alex Stalock, this season’s best goalie in the WCHA, and the owner of the 10th best save percentage in college hockey. Up front, MacGregor Sharp has been phenomenal in the last couple weeks, including a hat trick in the WCHA title game. Duluth will need to bring some of that scoring touch to Mariucci to get the puck past Zane Kalemba enough times to win the game.
Kalemba comes into the NCAA tournament with a .935 save percentage, second best in the country. Princeton has also been playing its best hockey as of late, which perhaps ties in with them getting Cam McIntyre back into the lineup. Princeton has gotten balanced scoring, but they don’t feature a stud scorer.
In the end, I am going with the upset and picking Princeton to upset the Bulldogs.
In a short and sweet prediction of the regional final, I think Denver has just too much for the Tigers and will advance to their first Frozen Four since they won it all in 2005.