NCAA Tournament: West Regional Preview
by Mike Donovan/CHN Reporter
At World Arena — Colorado Springs, Colo.
Friday, March 28
* Notre Dame (24-15-4) vs. New Hampshire (25-9-3), 6:30 p.m., ESPN360.com (tape delay on ESPNU, 1 a.m. on 3/29)
* Michigan State (24-11-5) vs. Colorado College (28-11-1), 10 p.m., ESPNU
Saturday, March 29
Regional final, 10 p.m., ESPNU
1. New Hampshire Wildcats (25-9-3)
Despite a loss in a triple overtime thriller to Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals, UNH was put at the top spot in the West. Despite its top seed, the Wildcats will have the ardous task of beating either defending champ Michigan State or host Colorado College in order to advance to the Frozen Four.
Before they can worry about one of those teams, however, the Cats must get by Notre Dame, who finished fourth in the CCHA.
New Hampshire is led by senior goaltender Kevin Regan. This season Regan became just the sixth UNH player to be a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award and was the unanimous selection as Hockey East Player of the Year. He also finished leading the Hockey East in almost every goaltending category.
Regan, along with his UNH teammates, will look to reach the Frozen Four for the first time. UNH's last appearance was 2003. But Regan will have help up front from senior captain Matt Fornataro, who is the top ten in scoring and assists in the nation. Fornataro will be joined up front by fellow senior Mike Radja, who was a first team All-Hockey East selection.
The Wildcats will be able to win the regionals as long as they are able to maintain their success on special teams. The Cats have had success on both ends of the ice during both penalty kill and the power play.
Head coach Dick Umile will be taking part in his 14th NCAA tournament, however, he has been unable to get over the hump and win a National Championship. His team, despite the No. 1 seed, may not be able to get past CC at their home in the second game.
At least the Olympic ice at the World Arena will not be a factor because UNH plays its home games on a large ice sheet too.
2. Colorado College Tigers (28-11-1)
It feels good to be home for CC. Even though, they secured only a No. 2 seed, the Tigers cannot be upset by playing at home in the West regional. Head coach Scott Owens has stressed to his players throughout the season the importance of playing on home ice. The last time the Colorado Springs school hosted a regional it did not advance to the NCAA tournament.
CC finished an impressive 18-2 at home this season and won the regular season WCHA title, however, they will look to get the sour taste out of their mouths after back-to-back losses in the WCHA tournament. The Tigers haven't dropped three games in a row since the beginning of the season when they dropped two games to No. 1 seed UNH and one to North Dakota.
Freshman goaltender Richard Bachman became the second player in WCHA history to be named both the Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year. He ended the season ranked third nationally in both save percentage and goals against average. However, the freshman will not be able to defeat the defending champion Spartans by himself.
Senior defenseman Jack Hillen will be tasked with putting off MSU's playoff-tested forwards, while junior center Chad Rau will look to continue his regular season success in the tourney. Rau finished the season tied for second in the nation in goals (28).
CC will look to attack Michigan State at every opportunity to try to take advantage of the larger ice. The Tigers will also look to attack on one-on-one and one-on-two situations to stretch the Spartans thin.
It has been more than 50 years since this hockey power has been able to capture the NCAA title, but the team won't have to travel far to take the title home this year. Both the regional and the Frozen Four are taking place in their home state; the Tigers are looking to become the second team in three years to win the championship without leaving its state (Wisconsin in 2006 is the other).
3. Michigan State Spartans (24-11-5)
Michigan State is certainly not carrying much momentum into the NCAA West regional, but that doesn't mean the defending champion Spartans are just going to roll over and give its championship away. MSU comes into the World Arena having lost back-to-back games against undermanned Northern Michigan and will face a tough test from Colorado College in the first round.
But the Spartans will feel comfortable with the third seed in the region, having started last year's magical run in the third spot in the Midwest regional. This year's team is led by junior forward Tim Kennedy, who leads the Spartans in both points (40) and plus-minus (plus-16), and junior goalie Jeff Lerg, who finished with the second best save percentage in the CCHA. Also look for returning Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player Justin Abdelkader to try to continue his success from last postseason.
Head coach Rick Conley said the key to defeating CC on the Olympic sized rink of World Arena is to slow the game down. He believes the Tigers will attack using one-on-ones and not through long passing stretches as teams like Michigan use.
"CC attacks come straight at you, not side-to-side," Comley said. "If you turn it over on them, it's going to be a long day."
Conley's goal for the game is one which is low scoring and is a game with few breakaways.
"We'll do well if we make it a tight game if we play well defensively," Comley said. "And I think scoring has been so difficult for us all year at times this year, at times we've tried to force it, this a game we can't do that."
He also believes that the large ice will be a clear advantage for both CC and potential second round opponent New Hampshire.
"CC would be a tough draw, but beyond that, it's playing on the Olympic sheet against CC," said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels. "But I really like State's chance still (because) they have a real good solid team, and with Lerg in net, in a one-game situation, they would be a gamble.
"They're deep at forward, they have a lot of weapons, and they're pretty solid defensively."
**4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-15-4)
The Irish are making their first back-to-back appearance in the NCAAs, however the trip might be a short one.
Last season, Notre Dame had its best season ever with a CCHA regular season and tournament championship, however, they lost in the second round to eventual champs Michigan State. This season, the Irish had nowhere near the same success as the previous squad but a win against top seed New Hampshire would turn their entire season around.
If Head coach Jeff Jackson's squad will get its first-ever win against the Wildcats it will have to do it without the services of leading scorer Erik Condra, who injured his right knee against Ferris State in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The job in replacing Condra's scoring will fall to fellow right wing Ryan Thang. Thang led the Irish in goals scored with 16 this season and finished second in points with 27 behind Condra.
The Irish will look for seniors Mark Van Guilder and Brock Sheahan to lead the Irish into Colorado Springs. Van Guilder, who is Notre Dame's captain, has played in more games for the Irish than anyone in their 95-year history, while Sheahan will tie for second on that list when he plays against New Hampshire. Van Guilder has currently played in 159 games, while Sheahan has played in 157.
In the net, the Irish are led by junior Jordan Pearce. Pearce, in his first season as a starter, led the CCHA in goals against average during conference play.
For Notre Dame to upset the Wildcats, they must continue their dominance on the penalty kill. The Irish finished the season third in the nation with a 89.2 percent success rate at killing power plays.