NCAA Northeast Region Tournament Preview

Here’s a closer look at the four teams in the NCAA Northeast Regional (Worcester, Massachusetts):

Game 1: (1) Miami (OH) vs. (4) Air Force (Saturday, March 29, 4:00 p.m. ET)

Miami Team Profile
National Rankings: #2/#2
PairWise Ranking: #2
KRACH Strength of Schedule: 25th of 59 teams
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (9th season at Miami, 186-137-28, .570)
This Season: 32-7-1 Overall, 21-6-1 CCHA (2nd)
Team Offense: 4.08 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.80 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.1% (50 of 249)
Penalty Kill: 89.6% (198 of 221)
Last Season: 24-14-4 Overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Finalist), 16-8-4 CCHA
Key Players: Senior F Ryan Jones (30-17-47, Hobey Baker Finalist), Senior F Nathan Davis (8-9-17), Junior D Alec Martinez (9-21-30), Junior G Jeff Zatkoff (26-7-1, 1.67 GAA, .934 SV, 3 SO)
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: 6th (most recent, 2007)

Air Force Team Profile
National Rankings: #20/-
PairWise Ranking: –
KRACH Strength of Schedule: 52nd of 59 teams
Head Coach: Frank Serratore (11th season at Air Force, 170-200-30, .463)
This Season: 21-11-6 Overall, 14-9-5 Atlantic Hockey (3rd)
Team Offense: 3.37 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.32 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.1% (39 of 216)
Penalty Kill: 84.2% (154 of 183)
Last Season: 19-16-5 (NCAA West Regional Semifinalist), 13-10-3 AHA (5th)
Key Players: Junior F Brent Olson (18-20-38), Sophomore F Jeff Hajner (15-22-37), Junior D Greg Flynn (8-23-31), Junior G Andrew Volkening (21-10-6, 2.08 GAA, .912 SV, 4 SO)
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: 2nd (most recent, 2007)

What to watch for: Will 2007 Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn (6-19-25 in 24 games) return to the lineup for the Falcons after missing two months with a broken fibula? Air Force brings the nation’s longest unbeaten streak (8-0-1) to the NCAAs, and still remember last year’s collapse against Minnesota (the Falcons led 3-1 midway through the third period before losing 4-3). Can Miami score early and often against Volkening, who has four shutouts in the past five weeks?

Who will win: On paper, it’s Miami. They’re the only team in the country scoring more than four goals per game, and have the ability to shut the game down defensively as well. Air Force will need to keep the game close through two and hope for things to go their way in the third, but I think the Redhawks have too much for the Falcons to handle. Miami 4-1.

Game 2: (2) Boston College vs. (3) Minnesota (Saturday, March 29, 7:30 p.m. ET)

Boston College Team Profile
National Rankings: #7/#7
PairWise Ranking: #6 (tied)
KRACH Strength of Schedule: 16th of 59 teams
Head Coach: Jerry York (14th season at BC, 332-180-50, .635)
This Season: 21-11-8 Overall, 11-9-7-Hockey East (4th)
Team Offense: 3.52 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.1% (45 of 204)
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (169 of 202)
Last Season: 29-12-1 Overall (NCAA Runner-up), 18-8-1 Hockey East (2nd)
Key Players: Junior F Nathan Gerbe (28-29-57, Hobey Baker Finalist), Sophomore F Ben Smith (21-22-43), Junior F Benn Ferriero (16-22-38), Freshman G Jon Muse (21-11-8, 2.26 GAA, .919 SV, 3 SO)
NCAA Championships: 2 (most recent, 2001)
NCAA Appearance: 28th (most recent, 2005)

Minnesota Team Profile
National Rankings: #10/#11
PairWise Ranking: #11
KRACH Strength of Schedule: 8th of 59 teams
Head Coach: Don Lucia (9th season at Minnesota, 239-112-38, .663)
This Season: 19-16-9 Overall, 9-12-7 WCHA (7th)
Team Offense: 2.43 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.36 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 12.7% (24 of 189)
Penalty Kill: 87.3% (165 of 189)
Last Season: 31-10-3 Overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 18-7-3 WCHA (1st)
Key Players: Junior F Blake Wheeler (15-19-34), Senior F Ben Gordon (14-14-28), Senior D Derek Peltier (4-16-20), Freshman G Alex Kangas (12-9-9, 1.92 GAA, .932 SV)
NCAA Championships: 5 (most recent, 2003)
NCAA Appearance: 32nd (most recent, 2007)

What to watch for: If Gerbe is involved, the Eagles win. In 11 BC losses this season, the junior forward scored a total of one goal and two assists. Minnesota enters the tournament on a 7-3-2 run, and will be playing for Tom Pohl, who suffered a severe head injury in the WCHA playoffs. How will freshmen goaltenders John Muse and Alex Kangas handle the pressure of the big stage?

Who will win: Minnesota comes into this game with momentum, inspiration, and the goaltending necessary to make this a tight contest. The Gophers will need to stay out of the penalty box and avoid the potent Eagle power play. In front of the home crowd, BC takes this one, but it’ll go down to the wire. BC 3-2.

Northeast Regional Final: Boston College vs. Miami (OH). These two teams met last season in the Northeast Regional championship, and BC blanked Miami 4-0. It’ll be closer this time around, but Jerry York will find a way to contain the Redhawks offense, and Gerbe will score enough to land in the Hobey Hat Trick and send his team to the Frozen Four. BC 4-2.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Check back throughout the weekend for more previews, predictions, analysis, and reaction from the NCAA tournament.

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