West Regional Preview
by Justin Magill/CHN Writer
When you look at this region, the most striking thing is the star power.
Boston College has won two of the last three national championships, and its coach, Jerry York, has four total to his name. Michigan has been to the tournament a record 21 straight times, and its coach, Red Berenson, has won two titles. Nebraska-Omaha is led by another coach with two titles, Dean Blais, who won them at North Dakota.
That's eight national championships.
The question, though, is whether anyone can knock off Boston College. The Eagles have become almost boring in their efficiency, especially at this time of year.
1. Boston College (30-7-1) vs. 4. Colorado College (22-18-3)
Despite being the Hockey East regular season and tournament champions, the No. 1 seed Eagles have to make the trip West to the NCAA Tournament.
Regardless, the Eagles are in prime position to make it to the Frozen Four in St. Paul and get a chance at their third national title in four years.
First, Boston College will have to take on No. 4 seed Colorado College, a team that took North Dakota down to the wire in the WCHA Final Five semifinals.
“For a few weeks now, we have been feeling pretty good about the way we are playing,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said. “At the same time, we know who we are going against. They are the defending champions and they have one of those intangibles going into the tournament. I think they are one of the best teams in the country.”
Colorado College is led by Stephen Schultz, who plays on a line with brothers Rylan and Jaden Schwartz. Schultz has 43 points to lead the Tigers and is deadly on the power play with a hard slapshot that can beat goalies from anywhere on the ice. He did so against North Dakota, when he blasted one by Aaron Dell late in the first period to put Colorado College back in the game.
Back from injury, Jaden Schwartz, only a freshman, has helped Schultz and brother Rylan become a force that could spark an upset in the West Regional.
“They have good chemistry going right now,” Owens said. “It took some time to get it back once Jaden went down, but lately, they have been playing well and it has helped us out a lot lately.”
Not being a big team, Colorado College will need to use one of its biggest assets – speed.
It can coast up and down the ice with most teams and will get a big test against Boston College, which can do the same and will also have to beat Tigers goalie, Joe Howe, who has been playing well during the last month.
“From what we know about Colorado College from watching tape, they’re a real skating team,” Eagles coach Jerry York said. “They’re very quick and Joe Howe has had an outstanding year for them in goal.”
Howe will need to keep up his strong play of late because he and the Tigers will be going up against Hobey Baker candidate Cam Atkinson, who has 30 goals and 21 assists so far in his junior season. Brian Gibbons has been right there with 18-32—50.
“They have a lot of skill and confidence,” Owens said. “There isn’t a lot of room to breathe against them.”
In goal for Boston College is senior John Muse, who was part of the Eagles championship teams in 2007 and 2009. He would be the first goaltender to ever win three national championships. He holds a 27-5-1 record with a 2.13 goals against and a .926 save percentage.
If Colorado College hopes to advance to the regional finals and get to its first Frozen Four since 2005 when four teams from the WCHA made it to Columbus, it will have to not only stop a talented offensive Eagles team, but solve Muse in the crease.
No. 2 Michigan (26-10-4) vs. No. 3 Nebraska-Omaha (21-15-2)
UNO had to wait and see what its fate was after being swept in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs by Bemidji State. With no major upsets in the big conferences, the Mavericks made it in by the skin of their teeth, but drew the Wolverines.
Taken out in the semifinals of the CCHA playoffs by Western Michigan, the Wolverines come in with wins in nine of their previous 10 games, which included a victory over Notre Dame in the third-place game.
UNO and Michigan played earlier this season and split at Yost Arena.
Despite an upset loss to the Beavers in the WCHA playoffs, UNO comes in somewhat battle tested with games against Denver and Minnesota-Duluth recently under its belt. Also playing in the tough WCHA for the first time and finishing third in the conference, UNO has proved it can play with the elite teams in the country.
It also has a man behind the bench that knows a thing or two about big games. Dean Blais coached North Dakota to two national titles, was named WCHA Coach of the Year this season and was just named the coach of the U.S. National Junior Team for 2012. Blais led the U.S. to the gold medal in 2010.
Michigan will play without one of its top forwards in David Wohlberg, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone. Steady defenseman Brandon Burlon is also questionable because of an illness.
Seniors Carl Hagelin and Scooter Vaughan, a converted defenseman, lead a strong group of senior forwards. Overall, this is more of gritty team than Michigan usually brings to the tournament.
UNO is led by three senior forwards as well, the team's top three scorers — Matt Ambroz, Joey Martin and Rich Purslow. These are not Dean Blais recruits, but he's already molded the team into his image — the style that he loves to play — quick, speedy, tenacious up front and offensive minded. Eight players are in double digits in goals.
Despite that experience, the Mavericks have eight freshmen that contribute regularly, led by 14-goal scorer Matt White.