Vermont has been idle since the second round of the Hockey East Tournament. Union is less than one week removed from winning a third Whitelaw Cup. The Catamounts went 3-10-1 over the entire season against teams that are in the national tournament. Sneddon is good, despite his alma mater, but I doubt he will be able to right his team's course that drastically with a week of layover and while staring down one of the best teams in the tournament's field. Union wins.
Colgate - Ferris State: Midwest Regional Semifinal, 4:30 pm March 28, 2014
Ever since watching Colgate play in the Mariucci Classic, I have adopted one common refrain: Colgate is going to stun some people in the national tournament. Two addenda usually followed that statement. The first was so long as the Raiders do not meet Minnesota again in the first two rounds. As good as Colgate is, Minnesota's raw talent alone, when irritated by an embarrassing shootout loss at home in its own tournament, could hurl a dominant power to new heights in decimating Colgate. Colgate has played Ferris State three times. Three times is not once, so I think the fourth encounter will be a toss-up in which the better team wins. Colgate has matched up well against defensively minded teams including Cornell throughout the season, notwithstanding a loss to a defensive Union squad last week. It will not happen twice in one week. It will do so again with Colgate's first win in the national tournament since 1990. Do it for Terry. Colgate wins.
Providence - Quinnipiac: East Regional Semifinal, 5:30 pm March 28, 2014
Mark this as one of the most intriguing match-ups in the first round of the tournament. Nate Leaman, architect of Union's rise to relevance and prominence, squares off against Rand Pecknold, the man at the helm for a similar rise at Quinnipiac. ECAC Hockey defector against ECAC Hockey head coach. Leaman is one of my favorite coaches in college hockey. However, I think that the skill of Quinnipiac and the raw desire that Pecknold and the Bobcats have will give Leaman his second one-and-done appearance. Pecknold got his team to respond well last season to a disappointing showing in the league's championship weekend. Even though he fared better this season, his team and he left without the hardware they sought. Expect a similar rebound. Quinnipiac wins.
North Dakota - Wisconsin: Midwest Regional Semifinal, 8:00 pm March 28, 2014
I was very bullish on North Dakota and very bearish about Wisconsin last season. This year, things are the reverse. Wisconsin proudly won its first B1G Championship last weekend. North Dakota, the perennial tournament champion of the WCHA, fell short of winning the NCHC's tournament championship. Its place in the league's hierarchy is upset. North Dakota is a much improved team since it lost to St. Lawrence at The Ralph. North Dakota hockey lives by high scoring and speed. The former has been missing in the postseason. Wisconsin, the more defensively minded of the two teams, has been outproducing Hakstol's squad by a margin more than two to one in goals scored. I think the historic powers of the WCHA exchange blows, but Mike Eaves comes out on top. Wisconsin wins.
Quinnipiac - Union: East Regional Final, 3:00 pm March 29, 2014
Another rematch? Why not? Expect the same outcome. Last season, I was far from mum about saying that I thought that Quinnipiac was achieving results well beyond its level of execution. This season, they are executing at a level far higher than last season and playing far sounder. Watching the game between Cornell and Quinnipiac at Lynah Rink made this clear. Last season, the Bobcats tended to coast at times on the play of their hot players, whether it was Hartzell, Peca, the Joneses, or Samuels-Thomas. This season, there are no freeriders. The Bobcats and Dutchmen have not tangled in the playoffs this season. The superb execution of Pecknold's squad should send the Dutchmen back to Schenectady early for the second season in a row. Quinnipiac wins.
Denver - Boston College: Northeast Regional Semifinal, 4:00 pm March 29, 2014
Denver had to win its way into the national tournament through a tough NCHC field for a championship. Boston College did not travel down the road to the Garden. The national tournament is not very kind to Jerry York when he does not win his league's tournament. York suffers early exits the few times that he has made it when he has not hoisted the Lamoriello Trophy. This year, the tournament will be no kinder. It may take Sam Brittain to steal the contest, but I think Boston College's last victory of the season was against Notre Dame in game two of that quarterfinal series. Denver wins.
Robert Morris - Minnesota: West Regional Semifinal, 5:30 pm March 29, 2014
You know the bracketology cliché: consider most of the favorites and then choose a key upset. Well, here it is. Derek Schooley has done phenomenal things with his Colonials program. For those who do not know, Schooley played under Schafer at Western Michigan and coached briefly with the Cornell coach on East Hill before taking the position of founding coach of Robert Morris hockey a few seasons later. He is a disciple of Schafer with regards to his emphasis on little battles, defensive mindedness, and shot-blocking. In other words, his teams do all the little things required to unseat and frustrate a skill-based and finesse team like Minnesota. In fact, Schooley has done it several times in the past with major upsets over teams ranked among the nation's elite including Miami when they were the best program in the nation. The Colonials will need a great outing from Shafer, Robert Morris's netminder, and a slightly less than average outing for Wilcox, but I think the Colonials become the second Atlantic Hockey program to upset Minnesota. Robert Morris wins.
Colgate - Wisconsin: Midwest Regional Final, 6:30 pm March 29, 2014
Spiro Goulakos stated in pre-tournament press conferences that his team is trying to build a culture at Colgate. Well, that culture has a strong foundation. Terry Slater in 1990 led his team from Colgate to the national title game. It was in that game that the Raiders fell to Wisconsin, 7-3. The Raiders may not be in Joe Louis Arena this time around, but the result likely will be no kinder and Mike Eaves's team no more forgiving than was that of Jeff Sauer. I would love to see Colgate in the Frozen Four, but I think history and perhaps psychology (a lack of knowledge on the team of the 1990 season may work to its benefit if it does in fact exist) ends Vaughan's third trek into the national tournament with just one win. Wisconsin wins.
Minnesota State - UMass-Lowell: Northeast Regional Semifinal, 7:30 pm March 29, 2014
This is one of the more challenging first-round match-ups to predict. Both are league champions. Both faced opponents with similar philosophies to the opponent they will confront in this meeting. Norm Bazin has done great things at Lowell over the last few seasons, from a regional final loss to Union to the Frozen Four. I think that Mike Hastings at Minnesota State is too focused on ending his program's one-and-done luck and it will be enough to topple the River Hawks. I do not expect the Mavericks to ride that wave for long, but I think they will break a trend. Minnesota State wins.
St. Cloud State - Notre Dame: West Regional Semifinal, 9:00 pm March 29, 2014
St. Cloud State did not do its part to boost attendance at the Target Center. The Huskies failed to reach a benchmark for that program by not appearing in the NCHC's championship weekend. The fact that a sweep arrested their progress makes that fact all the more painful. Notre Dame dominated Boston College in games one and three of a quarterfinal series. Notre Dame exited its new league's tournament in the semifinals. Rust will take its toll. The Irish likely will spring on the Huskies in a rematch of the game that ended Jeff Jackson's season last year. Jackson and the Irish may be without the leadership of Anders Lee who abandoned his program early, but Lucia, Tynan, and Rust with Summerhays were more than enough for the Eagles. Jeff Jackson and his corps of leaders does not lose rematches. Notre Dame wins.
Denver - Minnesota State: Northeast Regional Final, 5:00 pm March 30, 2014
Will Jim Montgomery make what once seemed like a foolhardy decision seem brilliant? That will be the narrative for this final. Well, that and the fact that it is possible that no Eastern team is present in the Northeast Regional Final. Unlike the preceding game, I do not think Brittain will need to steal this one. Hastings's run will have ended and that talent of a battle-tested, but generally healthy, Pioneer squad (something that Gwozdecky had not had in a few seasons) will advance with a victory over the Mavericks. Minnesota State wins.
Robert Morris - Notre Dame: West Regional Final, 7:30 pm March 30, 2014
The clock inevitably strikes midnight. It is apparent that I have much respect for Schooley and his program. But, I think the rising power that is Notre Dame hockey under Jeff Jackson may prove too much for a young program dealing with the emotional highs of a national tournament win and championship all within one week. The Fighting Irish were spared a letdown like that of last season with its Mason Cup victory. Jackson, like I, think that a postseason loss can purge bad tendencies. I think Notre Dame will have purged most of their demons. This game will be close, but I think that Jeff Jackson takes Notre Dame to Philadelphia while Derek Schooley returns to the hockey town of Pittsburgh. Notre Dame wins.
Denver - Quinnipiac: National Semifinal, April 10, 2014
This game will be a roller coaster. The Bobcats will be so close that they can taste it again. Denver's team has been marginally better in the postseason than has Quinnipiac. Denver has been better in scoring margin, goals allowed, and goals scored. Quinnipiac has been better on both sides of special teams. That may tilt the balance. Call it intuition. Call it blind faith. I think that Quinnipiac does exactly what it did last season in the Frozen Four; it finds a way to win with its leadership stepping up for big plays and big goals. Quinnipiac wins.
Notre Dame - Wisconsin: National Semifinal, April 10, 2014
I think a low-scoring affair in which Rumpel and Summerhays duke it out will take center stage to decide which program will battle Quinnipiac for the national championship. With talents like Kerdiles, Mersch, and Zengerle and Johns, Lucia, Rust, and Tynan, I doubt that the game will be 1-0, but it will not see ten goals scored either. Both coaches are seasoned in the ways of winning national titles. Notre Dame's senior class tasted the Frozen Four in 2011. Wisconsin has not been back to college hockey's final weekend since 2010. Experience favors Notre Dame and even though I think Rumpel is one of the best, most reliable goaltenders in college hockey, I think the Irish in front of Summerhays go to the title game. Notre Dame wins.
Notre Dame - Quinnipiac: National Final, April 12, 2014
What's the lay definition of insanity? Well, let's walk down that road together. Again. Last season, I predicted that Jeff Jackson and Notre Dame would win Irish hockey its first national championship. Well, here I am again, looking at the bracket, and well, it falls that way again. I do not want to condemn Quinnipiac to a UNH-like always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride fate, but I think Notre Dame wins if it makes it this far.
Notre Dame and Quinnipiac resemble each other. Both had great teams last season. Both lost tremendous parts of their programs. Both came back stronger than they were last season. A feat that many thought was impossible in such a short span. They are back. And I would not be surprised to see them in the biggest game of the season.
Quinnipiac is a more whole team than it was last year. The Bobcats ran through the national tournament last season behind tremendous individual efforts from their best players. This season, I expect all hands to be on deck and the team to deliver one of the best performances at both ends of the ice in recent memory in the national tournament. I want the Bobcats to win and I will be there supporting them in Philadelphia, but in a game that will be a close toss-up, I think that the Fighting Irish come out on top.
Keys to Quinnipiac's victory will be getting the first goal and preferably the second. Quinnipiac was winning last year's national title game until Yale deflated the Bobcats's bench with a late second period goal. If Rand Pecknold, Reid Cashman, and Bill Riga can keep their team on an even keel, not inflating the stakes of a national title game, then the Bobcats easily could pull this out even if by a razor's edge I think it prefers Notre Dame right now. Notre Dame wins.