This weekend the 2009 Division I NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Tournament Field was announced. Six schools earned automatic bids after winning their respective conference tournaments with 10-at-large bids being given out to fill the last of the 16 spots.
No. 1 Boston University Terriers were given the number one overall seed in the tournament after they won the Hockey East Association Tournament earning one of the auto-bids and regaining the number one spot in the national rankings.
The other five schools were No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish from the CCHA, No. 5 Yale Bulldogs from the ECAC, No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs from the WCHA, No. 14 Air Force Falcons from Atlantic Hockey and the Bemidji State Beavers from the CHA.
Bemidji State is the only school not ranked in the USCHO.com poll in the tournament. They are the 16th seed in the tournament.
Air Force is the only team not in the Top 15 to make the tournament.
Notre Dame and BU are the only Auto-bid schools to receive a No. 1 seed. The other two one seeds are No. 4 University of Denver Pioneers and the No. 3 University of Michigan Wolverines.
All games will be played starting Friday, March 27th - Sunday, March 29th. If a regional starts Friday it finishes Saturday, if it starts Saturday, it finishes Sunday.
Number of Teams by conference: HEA, CCHA (4), WCHA, ECAC (3), AHA, CHA (1).
The East Regional will be played in Bridgeport, Connecticut with the host institution being Yale.
This regional starts off on Friday with Michigan playing Air Force. After which Yale will play No. 11 University of Vermont Catamounts.
The only regular season meeting between any of these teams was won by Yale against Air Force, so the first round out here should consist of either a lot of goals or a lot of feeling out.
In the Michigan vs. Air Force game, I imagine it will be quite one sided. Michigan is playing well lately and are one of the best teams in the nation, not to mention, all of the one seeds have a decisive advantage over all of their four seeds.
I expect Michigan to either show up ready to go and get by Air Force with little to no trouble, or to show up a little lazy and either get down early or come out flat and have to rally back to get the win.
In the Yale vs. UVM matchup, this will be two teams that again haven't seen each other all year so their will be some feeling out. Afterwards I think we can expect to see a fast paced game with lots of scoring chances and some great goaltending.
In the end, I think I am going to pick UVM to end Yale's season. Forwards Viktor Stalberg and Peter Lenes of Vermont are two of the most exciting players in the nation to watch.
They are two of the few guys I actually hold my breathe every time they get the puck, and sometimes I close my eyes because they are so dangerous.
In the Regional Final on Saturday, I think Michigan will be too much for UVM or Yale. Again there will be that feeling out period, but I don't think the Wolverines will need more than the first few minutes to figure it out.
The Northeast Regional kicks off action with No. 7 North Dakota Fighting Sioux taking on host institution, No. 12 University of New Hampshire Wildcats on Saturday.
BU is the one seed in this regional, they will take on No. 14 Ohio State University Buckeyes in the evening game.
BU hasn't play Ohio State this regular season but they are a combined 3-1 against UNH and UND, with the loss coming on the road against New Hampshire. These were the only regular season meetings between all of these teams.
Ohio State has been pegged as a potential bracket buster as they have had some impressive wins this season, but have trouble with the weaker teams.
Still, the Terriers are just about everyone's unbiased favorite to win it all. This may be one of those games in which one team overlooks it (BU) and the other (OSU) swipes their feet right out from under them and comes away with the upset.
I don't think so though, BU will win this game, and it should be pretty comfortably.
I think North Dakota will be skating into a really hostile environment. The Wildcats are 12-5-2 at home with two of them at the hands of No. 20 Boston College Eagles in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.
North Dakota is not very good away from home with an 0-5 record at neutral sites and a 10-6-2 road record for a combined 10-11-2.
This looks like a perfect scenario for New Hampshire to come away with the win and redeem themselves for a poor start to the post season. And I think they will be able to pull it off.
As far as the regional championship goes, if anyone is going to beat BU, I think it will be New Hampshire. I do not see anyone beating the Terriers if they make it out of their regional.
So I am going against the grain and taking the Wildcats.
The West Regional kicks off play on Friday with the first seeded Denver playing No. 13 Miami-Ohio Redhawks.
Then the No. 10 Princeton Tigers take on Minnesota-Duluth in the late game.
All of these match-ups will be firsts for all four of the teams. But in the final, we could see Denver and Duluth, who just got done playing their conference championship.
Denver holds a 3-2 edge in the regular season series, unfortunately one of those losses came in the WCHA championship game.
Other than that, none of these teams have faced each other. Just for the sake of interesting games I am going to pick Denver and Minnesota-Duluth to advance to the West Regional Final.
The only things I honestly know about these teams is Princeton plays a pretty good trap when they have the lead, from the one game I saw them play, and UMD's goalie Alex Stalock is pretty nasty.
I think for the Bulldog's to advance, they will need Stalock to keep going and keep them in games. A repeat of the WCHA title game shutout would be nice too.
I also am pegging this as the easiest road to the Frozen Four, I think Minnesota-Duluth will advance on the shoulders of their netminder.
The Midwest Regional kicks off on Saturday when the No. 6 Northeastern Huskies and the No. 9 Cornell University Big Red face-off in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The number one seed, Notre Dame, then takes on Bemidji State.
None of these teams have met in the regular season, yet they all have similar styles, albeit at different levels.
I think this is the easiest game of the first round. Notre Dame is coming off a decisive 5-2 CCHA title win against Michigan, and the Beavers haven't played a game since March 14th, that was against Robert Morris.
I don't see Notre Dame having any problem with Bemidji State to the point where I am going to call this game the blowout of the first round.
Northeastern vs. Cornell will prove to be a very interesting game. Both squads play a defense first type of game and rely heavily on their goaltending.
Both sides have fast skaters and both sides will probably generate their fair share of scoring chances, but this game will probably be very low scoring. I would not be surprised to see 1- or 2-0 (the two if a team scores on the empty net).
However, the Huskies have played two straight overtime games. In both, they gave up the tying goal with less than 40 seconds to go in the game.
On the other hand, NU has looked real good in their last two games with the exception of closing out their last two games, they have controlled the puck and game very well and have even started putting bodies in front of the net.
I think NU will shock the college hockey world this weekend and down Cornell, then move on and catch Notre Dame, a team coming off what will probably be an easy win, off guard for the upset.
I am not going to go into my predictions for the Frozen Four yet, I will wait til the pairings are actually set.
However, if I am right, this is what the Semifinals will look like:
New Hampshire vs. Michigan
Minnesota-Duluth vs. Northeastern
We will find out in a few short days how right I am. At which point I will reveal the rest of my bracket and tell you what my championship predictions are, or tell you what my new ones are.