Midwest Regional Preview
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
On February 11, Wisconsin beat the Buckeyes of Ohio State in front of over 40,000 fans bracing the cold at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Now, a month and a half later, the Badgers return to Green Bay as the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
This time, they'll get to play indoors.
Green Bay’s Resch Center will host this year’s Midwest Regional. Joining Wisconsin are Cornell, Colorado College, and Bemidji State. This is the only regional in which the coaches for each team - Mike Eaves, Mike Schafer, Scott Owens, and Tom Serratore - are also alumni of their respective schools. And when the dust - or snow, as it may be - settles on Sunday, one of them will be leading their alma mater to the Frozen Four.
Wisconsin will play Bemidji State in Saturday’s first regional semifinal. The second game pits Cornell against Colorado College, in a contest that will feature Marty Sertich, Brett Sterling, and David McKee - all three of last season’s Hobey Baker Award finalists.
1. Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA), 26-10-3
The Badgers started the season on fire, losing only two of their first 22 games. However, an injury to their Hobey finalist, goaltender Brian Elliot, led Wisconsin to suffer through a 3-7-1 slump.
Eaves’ squad returned to form in the four games preceding the WCHA Final Five, allowing only two goals combined, but on Friday, North Dakota managed four goals against Elliot and relegated the Badgers to the third place game. Wisconsin rebounded nicely, shutting out Minnesota 4-0, and assuring itself the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
"We have fond memories of going up [to Green Bay]," said coach Mike Eaves. "We had a tremendous experience, and in the back of our minds, we were hoping we would have the opportunity to go back up there."
Their first round opponent will be Bemidji State, and Eaves knows his team cannot afford to overlook them.
"We're doing our homework on Bemidji State," said Eaves. "Everybody who talks about them says they absolutely work their fannies off. They skate well, they work well, they have good goaltending. There's so much parity in college hockey that if we had any thought of not having our A game, then shame on us. That's something we'll be focusing on this week."
2. Cornell Big Red (ECAC), 21-8-4
Along with Minnesota and Miami, Cornell has the fewest losses of any team in the country. However, one of those losses was this past Saturday, a humbling 6-2 defeat at the hands of their archrival Harvard in the ECAC championship game. Up next for the Big Red is a first-round matchup with Colorado College.
"They've always had a great program," said coach Mike Schafer. "Scotty Owens has done a tremendous job with them out there. They're always consistently in the top 10, and we're excited to play them.
"You get to this time of the year, you know you're going to be playing quality teams, and [CC] is a quality team with some of the best players in the country. It's going to be two tough games to get to where we want to get to."
And that of course is the Frozen Four. Cornell, which has advanced to the NCAA tournament four of the last five seasons, came just short of the Frozen Four last year, falling in overtime to Minnesota. Certainly, the Big Red have not forgotten.
"Against Minnesota, we did what we wanted to do in the sense of keeping the game close," explained Schafer. "We gave ourselves a great opportunity and obviously lost in overtime. I think going against Colorado College is the same kind of mentality. We want to play a really low-scoring game. We know they're going to get great opportunities with their talented forwards. [The keys are to] keep it close, hopefully frustrate them, and get an opportunity to win it down the stretch."
Another key to the Big Red's success, if they are to advance in the tournament, will be goaltender David McKee. His numbers are among the most impressive in college hockey history, but after a stellar 2004-2005 campaign, the Texas native has struggled to reach perhaps unreasonably high expectations this year. Nevertheless, his 2.16 goals-against average is the 10th best mark in the nation, and his 18 career shutouts are a Cornell and ECAC record.
3. Colorado College Tigers (WCHA), 24-15-2
A year ago, the Tigers advanced to the Frozen Four, only to lose to the eventual champion Denver Pioneers. More recently, CC has only managed one win in their last five games and lost their first round playoff series with St. Cloud State in three games.
Needless to say, the Tigers didn't enjoy watching the WCHA Final Five from home this year.
"We're anxious to get back out for a couple reasons," said coach Scott Owens. "One, we lost that last game at home to St. Cloud, and that didn't leave a good taste in our mouths. Secondly, we're just excited to be in the NCAAs. It's a whole new ball game and a whole new season."
As CC looks to return to the Frozen Four, they must first go through Cornell.
Said Owens, "We're going to have to be playing some of our best hockey of the year. We're going to have to be disciplined so that we're not killing penalties. We're going to need to get some diversified scoring and good goaltending. Cornell is physical and big, and Wisconsin is the same way, so we're hoping to rely a little bit on our quickness."
The Tigers' quickness on offense is led by Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling. As mentioned before, with McKee in net for the Big Red, this game features all three of last season's Hobey Baker finalists and shapes up on paper to be a matchup between a great offensive team in CC and a great defensive team in Cornell.
"I'm not sure if that's ever happened before, where you have all the Hat Trick finalists all in one game," said Owens. "Obviously, Brett and Marty are having very good years as they're top 10 finalists again this year, and McKee is one of the top goaltenders around. That's a lot of talent our there at one time. But as is often times the case in playoff games, it ends up being some of the other people who step up and contribute and make plays in a game like this."
4. Bemidji State Beavers (CHA), 20-13-3
The Beavers represent the only conference champion of the four teams skating in Green Bay this weekend. Bemidji State earned the College Hockey America championship after defeating Niagara in the title game last week.
But their biggest challenge of the season will be on Saturday, in its regional semifinal game with Wisconsin.
"We just have to take care of how we execute," said coach Tom Serratore. "It doesn't matter who you're playing, you prepare the same way. We're preparing a little bit for Wisconsin, but again, more importantly, we're just concerned about how we're going to play. We don't want to deviate from what’s got us here."
And the Beavers got here by playing well not only within its own conference but by earning impressive out of conference wins as well. Earlier in the season, Bemidji State swept two game series with both Minnesota State and Minnesota-Duluth.
Said Serratore, "Our league is a darn good league. You've got to show up every night to play within our league. We've had the best of both worlds, playing in a competitive league and a competitive tournament and also having a very difficult nonconference schedule."
A year ago, Bemidji State almost scored one of the biggest upsets in NCAA hockey history, as the Beavers took Denver to overtime in the first round before falling to the eventual champions.
"It validated how good of a hockey team we had last year," said Serratore, "but this is a different year and a different team playing a different team. We have a good demeanor and a good mentality on our team."