March 23, 2014 by conteconfidential
For the second consecutive year, BC has earned an at-large bid in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament after bowing out of the Hockey East Tournament in underwhelming fashion.
In the Northeast Region in Worcester, No. 1 Boston College will face Denver, a No. 4 seed and winners of the first NCHC Tournament, on Saturday, March 30 at 4:00 p.m. In the other region semifinal, No. 3 Minnesota State (WCHA Tournament champion) will play No. 2 Lowell (Hockey East Tournament champion). Sunday pits the winners for a chance to advance to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.
The tournament format rewards BC with a high seed because it won a ton of games and played a tough schedule. But the formalities end there; Lowell’s ability to defend and momentum coming out of the Hockey East Tournament presents a definitive challenge. Read on for Conte Confidential’s Northeast Region preview.
Boston College Eagles (26-7-4) vs. Denver Pioneers (20-15-6)
The Eagles bring close to zero momentum and many questions into the tournament after going 1-3-1 over their last five games while being outscored 17-11. It is admittedly tough to take the pulse of a team playing the same opponent four games in a row, especially because Notre Dame’s shutdown style probably handled BC as well as any opponent did this year.
Nonetheless, the most prolific offensive attack in the country may be struggling to find a balance. Notre Dame showed that if BC’s magnificent top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes can be successfully checked, BC is beatable. Secondary scoring from guys like Patrick Brown, Austin Cangelosi, Ryan Fitzgerald and Adam Gilmour will be a major factor in determining whether BC can reach the Frozen Four.
Captain Patrick Brown was BC’s lone secondary scoring threat for much of the Notre Dame series. The Eagles will need their second through fourth lines to step up offensively if they are to reach the Frozen Four this season. (photo credit: Boston College Athletics)
Yet, the biggest question the Eagles have may be on defense. Talented as it may be, the Eagles’ defensive unit is young and plays a risky style that emphasizes puck movement through the middle of the ice. To make matters more precarious, young Thatcher Demko’s game in net has been vulnerable to soft goals as of recent, and so far he has not handled postseason pressure well enough to advance.
On paper, Denver is one of the weakest teams in the tournament field. DU finished sixth in a rather pedestrian eight-team NCHC during the regular season, and has only scored eight more goals then it has surrendered (while BC’s goal differential is plus-66). But the Pioneers have recently shown the all-important ability to win close games as an underdog, beating Western Michigan and Miami by scores of 4-3. Look for Trevor Moore, Quentin Shore and Joey LaLeggia to lead Denver offensively.
BC has the advantage in almost every area beyond recent momentum, and if the well-rested Eagles focus on using hard-nosed defense to generate offense, they should get through to the region final, especially if Gaudreau and Hayes find the scoresheet.
Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks (25-10-4) vs. Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks (26-13-1)
Here’s a matchup where both teams should have plenty in their opponent’s game to respect, though UMass-Lowell is the favorite heading into the weekend.
If you’re Minnesota State, you are worried about UMass-Lowell’s defensive prowess, which recently allowed the River Hawks to stomp all over Notre Dame and New Hampshire en route to another Hockey East championship without conceding a goal. UMass-Lowell boasts only three NHL draftees but plays smart hockey.
UMass-Lowell’s backend, led by future NHL free agent and monster defenseman Christian Folin, is solidified by perhaps the best two-deep goaltending in the nation. Connor Hellebuyck has the reigns with a .943 save percentage, but the veteran Doug Carr is capable as a starter as well. Offensively, the scoring on this roster is balanced with Joseph Pendenza, Adam Chapie and Derek Arnold holding the biggest share of the scoring.
Minnesota State presents an intriguing dark horse team in this region, owning the nation’s longest current unbeaten streak (12-0-1). Its biggest weapon is clearly special teams, which boast the country’s fourth best power play (25.3 percent) and penalty kill (86.7 percent) led by Jean-Paul Lafontaine’s 14 power play goals. The Mavericks’ ability to possess the puck is also impressive, although its strength of schedule as a WCHA team is not.
The River Hawks are among the most disciplined teams out there, but they do have a fairly weak penalty kill. If Minnesota State advances, it may involve soundly winning the special teams battle. But expect a tight checking game in which UMass-Lowell limits offensive chances, and if the River Hawks stay out of the box and get relatively stable goaltending, they should find themselves playing on Sunday.
Boston College could win the region because: The Eagles can overpower and outskate any team offensively and opponents usually struggle to forecheck against a fast and skilled defensive unit that moves the puck quickly.
UMass Lowell could win the region because: The River Hawks are disciplined, have the best goaltending in the region and suffocate opposing attacks with smart hockey.
Minnesota State could win the region because: The Mavericks are hot, have a potent power play and know how to beat teams that are better on paper (such as defeating Ferris State all three tries this season).
Denver could win the region because: The Pioneers are able to be opportunistic in close games, having recently played tight elimination games, and are able to draw on the experience of making the tournament every year since 2007.
By Peter Rothmeier