Bracket Breakdown: Midwest
Grand Rapids is the site of our Midwest Regional. It features three very good teams, three in fact who could win the regional, but it also features the best team in the country, and my pre-tournament pick for the national championship.
The Fighting Irish come in on a hot streak, having won both the CCHA regular season and playoff championships. The Irish can bring it both offensively and defensively. Although players like Erik Condra, Christian Hanson and Ryan Thang steal all the headlines, Calle Ridderwall is the player who leads this team with 17 goals. The Irish don’t have a player over a goal per game, but they have six guys who are in double digits in goals. Defensively they are led by first round pick, and one of my personal favorite players, Ian Cole. Cole does everything for this team. He can score (26 points) and he plays very solid defense. In net, Jordan Pearce has been fantastic, although it’s a bit easier for him to be given the defense he has in front of him. They’ll easily run Bemidji out of the building.
The second game features Northeastern and Cornell, two teams who started the year out great, but have faded down the stretch. Cornell is all about defense. They have some great defensemen and it all starts in net with goalie Ben Scrivens who is 5th nationally in save percentage. He is also 4th in GAA. Up front, Riley Nash has been playing amazing hockey for the Big Red, and is a threat to leave school for the pro ranks after this year. Cornell has struggled a bit lately, but beat Princeton in a thrilling ECAC semifinal and advanced to the ECAC title game. If nothing else is true about Cornell, they will put up a fight.
Northeastern has played some games on the biggest stages this season. But they haven’t always come through. In December they lost the final of the Dodge Holiday Classic to Northeastern. They made the Beanpot final, but lost to BU. They were one of the last 4 of Hockey East, but lost in the semifinals. They too start in net, with goalie Brad Thiessen. We were all over him at the start of the season, and he has rewarded our good faith, as he was the player of the year in Hockey East with a 2.09 GAA and .932 save percentage. Thiessen also made more saves than any goalie in the country. Up front, the trio of Wade McLeod, Ryan Ginand and Joe Vitale get most of the headlines, but the Huskies roll more than just three deep.
In the end I think Cornell’s NCAA experience will give them the advantage and lead them to a first round win, before succumbing to Notre Dame in the regional final.