Bracket Breakdown: East
It’s a couple years old, but damn I love that picture. It must be the helmets.
Anyways, the East regional in Bridgeport is definitely the most balanced of the four regionals. It features two conference champions, a team that was in the Frozen Four last year, and one that is back to the tournament after a looooooong absence.
The #1 seed Michigan Wolverines are incredible up front, led by a Sophomore trio that actually reminds me of North Dakota’s amazing trio two years ago of Jonathan Toews, TJ Oshie and Ryan Duncan. Aaron Palushaj and Louie Caporusso were each in the top 10 nationally in points per game, and this came in one of the most defensive conferences in the country this year. With Mark Mitera out for much of the year with a knee injury and Steve Kampfer out after being attacked by a Michigan football player Michigan survived defensively, especially once Bryan Hogan took over in net, and now that those two defensemen are back Michigan will be even tougher to crack defensively.
Hogan has had a couple of rough ones lately, however, including giving up 5 goals to Notre Dame in the CCHA title game. Michigan definitely won’t overlook Air Force given the Falcons’ last two efforts in the NCAA Tournament, but they will be in for a dogfight.
Air Force, on the other hand, comes into their third straight NCAA tournament after giving Minnesota a run for their money 2 years ago and Miami a run for their money last year. They of course are led by Sophomore forward Jacques Lamoureux, who leads the country with 32 goals, .82 per game. He also leads the country with 15 power play goals. Unlike the past couple of years, Air Force has more defensive help, led by Greg Flynn, and they have a great goalie in Andrew Volkening who has been great, especially lately with 2 shutouts in a row at the Atlantic Hockey semis and finals.
Oh and by the by, Lamoureux also leads the nation with 9 game winning goals. For that reason, I’m going with the shocker and taking Air Force to upset Michigan.
The second semi pits Yale and Vermont, two of the surprise teams of the season. I had each team pegged as the middle of the pack in their respective conference. This winter I gave Vermont my midseason team of the year award, and they kept it up in the second half. Led by Hobey finalist Viktor Stalberg (23-20–43) Vermont can put the biscuit in the basket as they say, as they were 2nd in Hockey East in scoring. Vermont also swept BU at BU this year, one of the few teams to ever accomplish that much less just this season, so they definitely have the ability to be a Frozen Four team.
Yale also gets it done offensively, albeit with a bit more of a balanced approach. The 8th best scoring team in the country has just four players in double digits in goals, but 4 players over 30 points. Two Juniors, Mark Arcobello and Sean Backman lead the Bulldogs. Senior Alec Richards has done a very admirable job in net as well, switching back and forth from backup to starter for much of his career. Finally a starter, he siezed the reins and put up very impressive numbers.
I think Yale will hold Stalberg and the rest of Vermont’s top line down, and Vermont doesn’t have the depth to keep up with Yale. For that reason I see Yale and Air Force facing off for the region title.
And you know what? The heck with it. I’m taking Air Force to go to the Frozen Four.