The NCAA Tournament begins this weekend.
Stop, take a breath, and refocus. This story is not related to basketball.
While your office might not be tying up the copier with hockey brackets, Black Hawks fans are aware that many of the top contenders for the Frozen Four include Waterloo alumni. In fact, almost every program in the NCAA tournament field of 16 has a former Black Hawk on the roster. Thirteen teams include a total of 27 former Hawks. We break down Friday and Saturday’s opening round, for a Black Hawks perspective:
West Regional – Fargo, North Dakota
North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac, Friday
No love for the Bobcats.
After winning the ECAC regular season championship and reaching the conference tournament semifinal, Quinnipiac has to face a supremely skilled North Dakota team in front of a crowd which couldn’t be more hostile if the game were to be played at Engelstad Arena.
Juniors and former Black Hawks Alex Barron and Soren Jonzzon were both members of the Quinnipiac squad which reached the 2013 National Championship Game. Barron has played in all 38 games this season with three goals and seven assists, while Jonzzon has been out of the lineup just once while recording 15 points.
North Dakota is seeking a big bounce after their only consecutive losses of the season last weekend during the NCHC Tournament Semifinal and Consolation Game. The #3 team in the nation was the regular season conference champion with a record of 27-9-3.
Senior defenseman Andrew Panzarella will be wrapping up his college career, but has been limited to just eight appearances this season. Freshman goaltender Cameron Johnson has also been utilized sparingly, making just a pair of relief appearances.
Michigan Tech vs. St. Cloud State, Friday
On the off-chance your office does have an NCAA hockey pool, go ahead and write “Huskies” on this line of your bracket just to see if you can get away with it.
The Huskies from St. Cloud were the sixth place team in the highly-regarded NCHC but made the field thanks to a strong finish. Before a loss in the conference tournament championship game, Bob Motzko’s boys defeated North Dakota, Denver, and Nebraska-Omaha during the late weeks of the season and into the play-downs.
Those “boys” include Patrick Russell, the Huskies’ top freshman scorer with 24 points in 38 games. Seniors Joe Rehkamp and Andrew Prochno each had abbreviated stints in Waterloo and are now seeking an NCAA first round victory for the third consecutive season. Blake Winiecki has also contributed 10 points in 33 contests during his first year in St. Cloud. Ryan Papa will not participate and has been on the shelf all winter after offseason surgery.
Meanwhile, the Huskies from Michigan have enjoyed a resurgence during 2014/15 and look to raise the WCHA flag against their former conference rivals. Michigan Tech is currently ranked fifth in the country, and a victory Friday would give Tech its first 30-win campaign since 1974/75. That achievement was just out of reach in the WCHA Tournament championship game when the Huskies fell to Minnesota State-Mankato. The Mavericks are the only team to have defeated Michigan Tech since January 17th.
Sophomore defenseman Chris Leibinger has eight points for the Huskies, while skating in 37 matchups.
Northeast Regional – Manchester, New Hampshire
Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota, Friday
If at first you don’t succeed, try again…and again…and again…and again.
That actually has been pretty good advice for the Bulldogs of Minnsota-Duluth. UMD lost the first game of the season to the Gophers but have defeated their in-state rivals on three other occasions. However, the #7-ranked Bulldogs have been idle since a conference quarterfinal series loss to the Denver Pioneers March 13th and 14th. There’s no shame in missing the final weekend of hockey in the ferociously contested NCHC, which sent six qualifiers into the NCAA field.
UMD was led by junior forward Tony Cameranesi with 28 points. The former draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs needs one more goal for 30 in his college career.
It has been an atypical year for the Gophers. The only representative in the tournament field from the Big Ten conferences would have a challenging time claiming to be the top team from the State of Hockey. Minnesota was just 4-5-0 this season against in-state competition. All that will be quickly forgotten if the Gophers can return to the Frozen Four after finishing as the national runners-up in 2014.
Expect plenty of TV time for sophomores Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata. Kloos was fourth in team scoring with 32 points, while Cammarata’s 24 assists ranked second. Junior A.J. Michaelson also appeared in 33 games with two points.
Yale vs. Boston University, Friday
Mitch Witek and Anthony Day already have National Championship rings from Yale’s 2012/13 effort. It was up in the air whether or not they would have another opportunity to play for the title this spring. The Bulldogs were eliminated in double overtime during the third game of a best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series against Harvard. They made the field with an at-large bid and are one of only two tournament teams not ranked in the most recent USA Hockey/USA Today college poll.
Witek, a junior defenseman had eight points in 32 games for Yale, while Day has been limited to just six contests during his senior season.
The Terriers were the Hockey East regular season and tournament championship and boast a 25-7-5 record. Ranked #2 by USA Hockey/USA Today, BU did not lose consecutive games at any point during Bob Quinn’s second year leading the program.
Sophomore Kevin Duane took the ice four times this winter.
Midwest Regional – South Bend, Indiana
Minnesota State-Mankato vs. RIT, Saturday
For Black Hawks fans, the Mavericks might be the sentimental favorite. It’s hard to call them much else but the favorite from the rest of the college hockey-watching world.
Like Boston University, Minnesota State won both their conference regular season and tournament championships. Although WCHA rivals Bemidji State and Alaska caused them a little bit of trouble, the Beavers and the Nanooks are nowhere to be found. No one else has been able to solve #1-ranked Mavericks since November 1st.
Minnesota State is a forward short of being able to put six former Black Hawks on the ice at one time. Goalie Stephon Williams graces the crease, where he has won 25 games with a 1.63 GAA. Senior defenseman Zach Palmquist has had a superlative final season in Mankato with 29 points. While Zach Stepan, Mike Huntebrinker, and Blake Thompson have all been sidelined to varying degrees at different points, but each appeared in at least 23 contests.
While the Mavericks have the most former Black Hawks who could appear this weekend, Rochester Institute of Technology is one of three teams without any. After finishing third in Atlantic Hockey, the Tigers won their way through the conference tournament. They have now won seven consecutive games, however they go into Saturday’s tilt seeking just their second win of the season against non-AHA competition.
Nebraska-Omaha vs. Harvard, Saturday
Despite a sixth place ECAC finish, Harvard keeps on going. The Crimson won the ECAC Tournament, but are more than just a late-season flash-in-the-pan. Early this season, they defeated two of their high-flying cross town rivals, Boston College and Boston University. Even with a 17-12-4 mark, Harvard is still slotted eighth by USA Hockey/USA Today.
Freshman Jake Horton has been dressed for all 36 games and owns four goals and five assists. Sophomore defenseman Victor Newell has nine points in just 16 contests.
If Saturday’s game is close, Nebraska-Omaha’s resume indicates that the Mavericks will be prepared. Six of the last 12 UNO games have gone to overtime. However, the third place NCHC finishers have won only twice in their last dozen games, shootouts aside. Nebraska-Omaha is one of five teams entering the tournament who did not play last weekend due to a loss in their conference quarterfinals.
Aaron Pearce has one point in 19 games during his junior season in Nebraska.
East Regional – Providence, Rhode Island
Denver vs. Boston College, Saturday
There have been three second round NHL draft picks who have played in Waterloo during P.K. O’Handley’s tenure. Two of them are currently at Boston College. Freshman Zach Sanford tied for fourth in team scoring with 23 points. Sophomore Ian McCoshen racked up 16, including six goals which tied for the most among Eagles defensemen.
Currently ranked 12th by USA Hockey/USA Today, BC won five of their last 11 games. They were dispatched in a three-game Hockey East Quarterfinal series against Vermont. During the regular season, Boston College finished third in conference.
Denver meanwhile was fourth in the NCHC, but claimed third place honors during the conference tournament. The Pioneers and Eagles split a two-game series in Colorado Halloween weekend. Both games ended 2-1.
Providence vs. Miami, Saturday
The RedHawks enter NCAA action as the NCHC Tournament champions after they had finished second in the conference during the regular season. Miami blasted to a solid finish with wins in ten of their 14 most recent games. That includes dispatching Denver and St. Cloud State in single-elimination situations last weekend to round out the conference bracket.
Jay Williams has been Miami’s choice in net throughout his junior season. He owns 19 of the RedHawks 25 wins, posting a goals-against average under 2.00 and a save percentage at 92.2%.
Meanwhile, Providence has been held to three goals or fewer by their opponents in seven of their last nine games. After a second place finish in Hockey East during the regular season, the Friars were ousted from the conference tournament during the quarterfinals. All three games during the series against New Hampshire ended with a score of 2-1 in favor of one side or the other.
Where Are They Now is presented by Karen’s Print Rite.