NCAA Northeast Regional Preview
by Mike McMahon and Matt Taylor/CHN Reporters
The Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H. starts Saturday.
No. 1 New Hampshire vs. No. 4 Miami
Miami forward and the team's third-leading scorer, Marty Guerin, makes a return to his birthplace. Guerin was born in Manchester and learned to skate at UNH's old Snively Arena. Guerin moved to Michigan when he was six.
"It's nice to go back out East," he said after practice Tuesday. "I still have a lot of family friends out there. Hopefully they're not UNH fans but it'll be nice to see them this weekend."
Guerin expects 10 to 15 family friends along with his parents will make the trek to the Verizon Wireless Arena. The arena might also be his future home — he was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2003, whose AHL affiliate also plays at the arena.
Another storyline is the relationship between the head coaches, Enrico Blasi for Miami and Dick Umile for UNH.
"I call him the Godfather," the eighth-year RedHawk coach laughed. "When I was an assistant at Denver, he was one coach who would talk to us. His record speaks for itself."
Umile also recruited Blasi in the early days of Umile's coaching career at UNH. He knows Blasi has the skills needed to become a great coach.
"He's a very talented and passionate coach. He really understands the game and does a terrific job," said Umile. "The team plays with his personality and that's the ultimate compliment. I have great respect for him, he's a special person."
When it comes time for the puck to drop this weekend though, it will be all about the game. The Wildcats come in off a 5-2 loss to Boston College in the Hockey East title game last weekend, while the RedHawks have had an extra week off following a pair of upset 2-1 home losses to Lake Superior State in the CCHA quarterfinals that left them squarely on the bubble.
"We thought we'd be close and we know there were a few scenarios where we'd be in," Blasi said. "This is a fun time and we feel fortunate enough to be there. This is a challenge for our program.
The Miami offense is led by Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Davis. Davis is seventh in the country in scoring with 20 goals and 29 helpers. He is also a force on special teams, with eight of his goals coming with the man advantage and three while shorthanded. He is one of nine RedHawks with at least 20 points, including linemates Guerin and Ryan Jones.
Goaltending is usually solid; the team typically rotates time between Jeff Zatkoff and Charlie Effinger, although Zatkoff has started the last five games. Don't expect to know the starter before Friday though.
"The way we've done it all year is to not name the starter until Friday," Blasi said. "We're confident in either one."
This is the team's fifth tournament appearance and the third with Blasi at the helm. They have yet to win a game, and have gotten used to playing teams close to their home. In the 2003-04 season, they lost to Denver in Colorado Springs. Last year they won the CCHA regular season championship, but lost in the conference final to Michigan State and went on to lose to Boston College in Worcester.
"We're going in there with the expectation of playing a really solid UNH team in front of their own fans," said Guerin. "Now it's up to us to find a way to beat them. We're looking at a lot of tape and hopefully our season doesn't end Saturday."
This is the third NCAA appearance for the Miami seniors, and Blasi says they know what to expect.
"Everyone wants a piece of you, travel is a headache," Blasi said. "Having a lot of distractions focuses the team on what we have to do."
Umile thinks the team reminds him of a familiar Hockey East foe.
"To us, it's kind of like getting ready to play BU because Miami is really skilled, they're good at moving the puck and they're physical."
The Wildcats stormed through Hockey East, winning the regular season title this year rather easily before the loss to BC. Their offense runs three lines deep, and will be bolstered by the return of senior Brett Hemingway, who missed last weekend's games with the flu.
Hemingway forms a potent line with Jacob Micflikier and Mike Radja, but the line (with Josh Ciocco taking Hemingway's spot) was held off the scoresheet last weekend. Additionally, the line of young guns Trevor Smith, Jerry Pollastrone and Matt Fornataro only managed one tally as well.
Regardless, Blasi knows that this is a team that could explode any minute.
"They're the favorites; they have three really good lines and a couple of defensemen that can join the rush. Murray is one of the best I've seen," Blasi said. Murray, who is an assistant captain, had only 13 points in his first three seasons with the team but also got caught up in the offensive juggernaut with 22 points including five game-winning goals.
They are also solid between the pipes with junior Kevin Regan. Regan posted sterling numbers this season. His save percentage of .936 leads the country, and his GAA of 2.06 is fifth. He made 128 saves in the first three games of the conference tournament, including 44 in a double-OT semifinal win against Massachusetts. He had a slipup in the title game against BC though. He misplayed a puck in the corner and got caught out of the net as the Eagles scored. Umile isn't worried about Regan bouncing back though.
"He's the backbone of our team," Umile stated. "Plays like that happen and because it happened to him on a stage like that he's going to be even more ready."
No. 2 Boston College vs. No. 3 St. Lawrence
Boston College is on a roll like no other heading into this weekend's NCAA tournament. The Eagles, fresh off their Hockey East Championship, are undefeated in their last 10 games. Their last loss was a 2-1 overtime thriller against Boston University in the Beanpot final on Feb. 12.
"Well we are certainly on a roll and we have some momentum," Eagles' head coach Jerry York told Boston's Fox 25. "But momentum can only take you so far in this tournament. We only have one game promised to us and we need to remember that."
The Eagles of course will be trying to avenge last season when they lost a heartbreaker to Wisconsin in the National Championship game.
"Everyone remembers what happened last year," said senior captain Brian Boyle after the 5-2 win over New Hampshire last Saturday. "We aren't really thinking about that though. We are focused on this year, that's all we can control."
Boyle has been a big story in the postseason, because he's moved back to defense and excelled. Boyle played some defense on the power play last year, to help compensate for a team with four freshmen defensemen. He also scored over 20 goals and was being pushed to go pro, but decided to come back for another shot at an NCAA title. This season then had some fits and starts for Boyle, but since he's moved back to defense with injuries to Anthony Aiello and Carl Sneep, he has dominated.
Meanwhile BC's opponent, St. Lawrence, has had a nice little run of itsown. The Saints are 9-2-0 in their last 11 contests, despite losing to Quinnipiac 4-0 in the semifinals of last weekend's ECAC Tournament. The Saints beat Dartmouth 5-3 in the consolation last Saturday to solidify their spot for this weekend.
"We are excited to be heading back to the NCAA's; I think it was more exciting considering the emotional weekend we just had," said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh, whose team battled back from two separate deficits against Dartmouth on Saturday. "Obviously Boston College is one of the best teams in the country — a lot of people have them winning the whole thing.
"They are very fast, but a very strong team too. Some people have talked about their weaknesses; but I have to be honest, I've seen the tape of them and I don't see any. They are extremely well-coached and it's going to take our best."
Marsh, a New Hampshire graduate, will be returning at least nearby his old stomping grounds, with this regional in Manchester.
The Saints were 1-3-1 against Hockey East opponents this season losing to Vermont, New Hampshire and Providence while tying Massachusetts-Lowell and beating BC's archrival, BU, in overtime on a penalty shot. The Saints have some dynamic forwards in sophomore Kevin DeVirgilio and 15-goal scorer Kyle Rank. Also, freshman Mike McKenzie had seven game-winning goals.
It took a large portion of the season for St. Lawrence to settle on a goaltender, but freshman Alex Petizian has emerged as the clear cut No. 1.
On the other side, there's no question who's No. 1 for BC — junior Cory Schneider, who has played a higher percentage of his team's minutes than any other goaltender in the country.
Offensively, Benn Ferriero and Nathan Gerbe have led the way with 20-plus goal apiece. Brock Bradford chips in with 18. All three are sophomores.
BC is 1-1-0 in its only two games against an ECAC opponent this year; both of those games coming against Harvard. St. Lawrence went undefeated against the Crimson this season, picking up pair of wins 5-4 and 4-3.
St. Lawrence made the Frozen Four in 2000.