Northeast Regional Preview
by David Kensa/CHN Staff
Worcester is where things get started in this year's NCAA Tournament, where No. 1 seed Boston University takes on No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha in the early game, and No. 2 Miami meets No. 3 Boston College in the nightcap. Jerry York called it the "Hockey East-CCHA Invitational," with two teams from each conference participating, for better or worse.
Worcester's DCU Center is a familiar site for BC and BU since both ended up there for last year's regional. But neither made it out alive as North Dakota bested the field and secured a spot in the Frozen Four.
Fast forward 12 months and both Boston schools are back and eager to improve upon last year's performance. Meanwhile, Miami, making its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years, and Nebraska-Omaha, making its first in the program's nine-year history in Division I, each hope to prevent a Frozen Four celebration from happening anywhere on Commonwealth Ave.
1. Boston University (25-9-4)
Fresh off a No. 1 ranking in the final poll, BU comes into this year's tournament on a tear, having won the Beanpot, and the Hockey East regular season and tournament titles. The Terriers are 18-2-2 in 2006 and have only allowed five goals in the four games since the Hockey East tournament began. While BU's defense and goaltending were getting the job done, its offense was holding up its end of the bargain. Senior forward David Van der Gulik, the tournament MVP, scored two hat tricks in a steamrollering of Massachusetts and New Hampshire en route to the title matchup against BC. The Terriers' late-season accomplishments would not go unrewarded, as they earned a top seed and will play a mere 42 miles from home.
Team Leaders: BU's front line of Van der Gulik, Brad Zancanaro and John Laliberte were responsible for half the Terriers' scoring during the league tournament. Look for them to roll that momentum into Worcester. Sophomore forward Peter MacArthur leads the team in scoring with 37 points and is sure to be a factor. Seniors Jekabs Redlihs and Dan Spang lead the defensive corps in front of junior goaltender John Curry, who continues his strong play, taking a 23-7-6 record and 2.16 GAA into the weekend.
2. Miami (26-8-4)
The second seeded Red Hawks come into Worcester with a major axe to grind. They're recovering from an upsetting loss to Michigan State in the CCHA championship game, a loss that dropped them out of a No. 1 seed spot. They now find themselves a two seed, forced to face Boston College in its own backyard.
Miami has never won an NCAA game, losing one under George Gwozdecky, one under Mark Mazzoleni, and another, two years ago, under current coach Enrico Blasi. Miami lost its goaltender before the season started, but sophomore Charlie Effinger ranks second in the nation with a goals-against-average of 1.76 and a save percentage of .933, and freshman Jeff Zatkoff, who alternates, has also been excellent.
"They've committed to defense and it's been proven during the year," said BC coach Jerry York. "When you win during the year with three big 10 schools in your league, that's pretty good."
An interesting note, Boston College senior defenseman Peter Harrold had a brother, Josh, who played at Miami.
Team Leaders: Sophomore forward Nathan Davis is the team's offensive sparkplug with 40 points (20-20) on the year, while his brother Matt, a senior who converted from defense, also contributes. Senior defender Andy Greene, a Hobey finalist, and sophomore forward Ryan Jones add to the mix.
"(Greene is) just like our guy Harrold," said York. "He's good defensively, but a real factor offensively. He has more points than Peter. Both are four-year seniors. Both are among the elite. ... (Greene is) excellent. When you talk about (best defensemen) there's (Matt Carle), Greene and Harrold."
3. Boston College (23-12-3)
The Eagles were eight points in front of their conference and ranked No. 1 for a time in January. Fast forward three months later, not so good. February into March saw the Eagles go 1-5-1 and relinquish their precious league lead.
But all was not lost on Chestnut Hill. BC gave a strong showing in the Hockey East tournament, beating Vermont in two games, then Maine in the semis before losing the championship to BU in overtime. This young BC team has taken its lumps as of late, but has managed to pull itself together while simultaneously pulling itself off the NCAA bubble.
"We had lost our edge," said York. "Now we're more assertive going into this tournament, after going deep with BU. Our psyche is much better. We're hoping it will lead to positive things. We feel pretty good about ourselves."
If BU and BC advance, it will be the sixth time the two teams have played; BU has won the last four.
BC has a lot more experience winning NCAA games as a program, but not necessarily players on the team (though the Eagles did defeat Mercyhurst, barely, in last year's first round).
"It would be an advantage if we had a lot of our guys back, like (Andrew) Alberts, (Ryan) Shannon," said York. "We're very similar (teams). Greene is like Harrold. The two big forwards are catalysts, Davis and Jones."
Team Leaders: Much of the Eagles' ability to finish strong in the stretch is credited to senior Chris Collins. Collins, the Hockey East Player of the Year and 2006 Walter Brown Award winner, had five points in the series versus Vermont during the league playoffs, including a hat trick in Game 2. Linemate Brian Boyle, another of the team's main scorers, had four points against the Catamounts, while sophomore goaltender Cory Schneider was second in Hockey East with a 2.15 GAA and has taken home numerous Hockey East honors.
The only question is Collins' health. He left Friday's Hockey East semifinal with a bad hip pointer, then played at less than 100 percent in the final. York said he's still not totally healthy.
"He took off Monday practice, he doesn't have that jump," York said. "We're hoping one more day will help."
4. Nebraska-Omaha (20-14-6)
The new kid on the block, this is the Mavericks' first NCAA appearance in its history. Coach Mike Kemp led the team in contention for a No. 1 seed at one point, until late-season stumbles to Western Michigan and Northern Michigan knocked the Mavericks to the bubble. But UNO earned this bid with key non-conference that helped vault it over Northern Michigan in consideration for the NCAAs; now UNO wants to prove the committee's decision was a good one.
Like Miami, UNO lost its goaltender before the season when Chris Holt went pro in August. And after losing the first four CCHA games, the Mavericks were in serious trouble. But freshman Jerad Kaufmann, expected to be a third-stringer, emerged out of the blue, and got stronger as the year went on.
BU assistant coach David Quinn was part of Kemp's staff during the UNO program's inaugural stages. "The bottom line is we want to win a national championship here and I think this team is real focused and [Nebraska-Omaha] just happens to be our opponent," Quinn told the BU Daily Free Press. "I have to look at it that way whether I want to or not. Once the puck drops, you don't have to worry about who is on the other side. You just want to beat them."
Team Leaders: Hobey hopeful and CCHA Player of the Year Scott Parse leads the Mavericks into Worcester. The junior forward finished up the regular season by pacing the team with 61 points on 20 goals and 41 assists. Not far behind is sophomore forward Bill Thomas, the team's leading goal scorer with 26.