Frozen Four preview

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When last we left you two weeks ago, we were wondering how East Region #4 seed RIT  managed to blow through to the semis like it was no big deal while the other three top seeds (Boston College, Wisconsin, and Miami) powered through their regions to reach the Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit.

If the guys at RIT thought that they saw tough competition from Denver Unive2010frozenfour.jpgrsity and New Hampshire in the East, they’d be liars for the most part, but they haven’t seen anything yet like what they’ll see against Wisconsin (5:00 pm ET). Coach Wayne Wilson’s team is the hands-down Cinderella of this tournament and they’ll being playing the same role that Butler did in the NCAA Basketball Final Four trying to take down all the big dogs. They’ve already knocked off one #1 seed in Denver and if they’re going to do the unthinkable and win the National Championship (in just their third year of tournament eligibility) they’ll have to beat two more to do it. 

That’s a bit of a tall order but if there’s anything the RIT Tigers have proven in this tournament is that they will not be cheated in any game and they will take advantage of all opportunities presented to them. The main man for RIT has been goaltender Jared DeMichiel who stopped 39 shots against Denver and 24 against UNH to help carry the Tigers into the semis.

As for Wisconsin, they powered through the West Region beating on game Vermont and St. Cloud State teams but make no mistake about it, head coach Mike Eaves brings the most talented team into the Frozen Four.  Hobey Baker finalist Blake Geoffrion leads the headlines but stars like Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan and Michael Davies are studs and big time scorers for the Badgers. Containing the Badgers offensively may be tricky for RIT but one area the Tigers may be able to get through is against goaltender Scott Gudmandson. Gudmandson comes in with a 2.32 goals against average with a .915 save percentage while playing in the very defensive-minded Wisconsin system. If you choose to read that as “the trap” you can give yourself a pat on the back. 

If Gudmandson is a little bit shaky, the reliance of Wisconsin’s stars to come up bigger than normal may be required. RIT has shown a great resilience in this tournament and nothing short of blowing them away will keep them down.  If you wanted to call this a “David v. Goliath” match up you wouldn’t be using a strong enough metaphor to describe it.

In the other semifinal, a couple of old tournament foes get to be reacquainted, this time on a much larger stage.  Miami University and Boston College (8:30 pm ET) are more than familiar with each other when it comes to the tournament and if the past is reflective of anything, things don’t bode well for Miami.  In 2006, 2007 and 2008 BC and Miami met in the tournament with each loss more painful than the one before it for Miami. A 5-0 defeat in in the first round in 2006, and back to back Regional Final losses (4-0 in 2007, 4-3 in OT in 2008). 

Of course, all this comes on the heels of Miami’s stunning defeat in last year’s National Championship game at the hands of Boston University. Not to get overdramatic here, but the seniors on this Miami team, including top scorer Jarod Palmer, have seen enough of Boston teams ending their seasons in gut-wrenching fashion you’d have to think that maybe, just maybe, this would be the time to step up and take one back in the name of the Redhawks… Right? Exorcising the BC demons would go a long way towards helping them out psychologically and perhaps keep head coach Enrico Blasi from checking into an asylum.

Boston College head coach Jerry York will have a lot to say about that as he’s one of college hockey’s legends and true masters on the bench and his Eagles have been playing tough, inspired hockey for the better part of a month and a half now.  Cam Atkinson and John Gibbons are red hot in this tournament and junior goaltender John Muse already has a National Championship under his belt as he backstopped Boston College’s 2008 title team.  BC is a confident team and plays a fast, intense game and they’ll need all of that against Miami.

If BC is going to have issues with Miami it’s going to be along their own blueline as BC had a hard time keeping Yale off the board in the Northeast Regional Final (a 9-7 BC win).  Miami can score with the best of them though as Palmer, Pat Cannone, Tommy Wingels, Andy Miele, and Carter Camper all have 14+ goals this season. Miami also rolls into the tournament with a two-headed monster in goal with Cody Reichard and Conor Knapp splitting time all season long beautifully for the Redhawks.

Gudbranson-Hutton pairing will be key for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers in the off-season, answers questions during a news conference ahead of the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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There’s a long list of things that have to go right for the Vancouver Canucks if their playoff hopes are to be realized.

One of the biggest is for new addition Erik Gudbranson to form a cohesive second pairing with sophomore Ben Hutton. If that happens, and if Alex Edler and Chris Tanev can stay healthy, the Canucks should have a reliable top-four defense, and that’s something they rarely, if ever, had last season.

Gudbranson, a big stay-at-home type, and Hutton, a puck-mover, have been skating together at training camp. The Canucks believe the pairing has great potential, with each defenseman’s strengths complementing the other’s.

“I want to get his feet moving and hit him in stride and get him up the ice with the puck as soon as possible,” Gudbranson said, per The Province. “I think we’re going to be a good partnership. We’re both on the same page. We’re both excited to play with each other and grow as a unit.”

Vancouver’s third pairing remains to be seen. Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen is the most likely at this point, though Nikita Tryamkin and Andrey Pedan on the left side, and Alex Biega and Troy Stecher on the right, could make things interesting. Jordan Subban is another wild card. Olli Juolevi too, though he’s a long shot and will likely end up back in junior.

The Canucks were decimated by injuries to their best defensemen last season. Edler only played 52 games, Dan Hamhuis 58, and Tanev 69. Other teams with more depth could survive that, but Vancouver floundered.

That’s why health is another big thing that has to go right for the Canucks. Another injury-filled season and it’s hard to picture them staying in the playoff race.

Vancouver opens its preseason schedule tonight in San Jose.

Boedker to make Team Europe debut in World Cup final

DENVER, CO - MARCH 09:  Mikkel Boedker #89 of the Colorado Avalanche controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on March 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Ducks 3-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Mikkel Boedker‘s first game for Team Europe will be a big one.

Boedker, a healthy scratch throughout the World Cup, will make his European debut on Tuesday, replacing the injured Marian Gaborik (foot) in the first of the best-of-three final.

Head coach Ralph Kreuger opted for Boedker rather than dressing Luca Sbisa as a seventh defenseman, and lamented losing Gaborik’s presence in the lineup.

“We’re losing some leadership and smarts on the puck that were exemplary,” Krueger said, per the L.A. Times.

What the Europeans will gain, however, is speed. Boedker’s one of the fastest skaters in the league and is coming off a good offensive campaign, tying a career-high with 51 points.

The 26-year-old appeared in two of Europe’s exhibition games, both against Team North America. He received a ton of ice time in the first — 19:46 — but had that cut in half for the rematch, when he had 13 shifts for just 9:22 TOI.

Related: Gaborik (foot) to miss eight weeks

 

Under Bednar, Avs won’t ‘slow the game down’ like they did with Roy

Nathan MacKinnon
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Though it’s hard to pinpoint just one standout from the high-flying North American team at the World Cup, speedy Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon was certainly in the conversation.

Now, MacKinnon wants that tournament success to translate over to the regular season — and he’s confident Colorado’s coaching change will make it happen.

From the Denver Post:

Is [Jared] Bednar’s system different from what the Avalanche did under Patrick Roy?

“Yeah, it is,” MacKinnon said. “Now every puck we get, we want to move it up quickly and use our speed and not wait and go D-to-D, back to D and slow the game down.

“We have very good skaters on our team, and we want to use that.”

One of the blueliners responsible for moving the puck quickly, Tyson Barrie, echoed those sentiments.

“There’s going to be no messing around with the puck, no playing around with it in our end, in the neutral zone,” Barrie said of Bednar’s system, per NHL.com. “We’re going to be pushing the pace, getting it into the forwards’ hands. We’re going to play fast and our defensemen are going to be jumping.

“I’m super impressed.”

Not utilizing Colorado’s speed was considered one of Roy’s major failings as head coach. With the likes of MacKinnon and Matt Duchene in the mix, it seemed like playing an uptempo game was the obvious choice — yet, as stated above, the Colorado blueliners were instructed to play more east-west than north-south.

That figures to change under Bednar.

In his previous stop, Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie, Bednar led a high-octane group that had no problem finding the back of the net. The Monsters led the American League in playoff scoring en route to the Calder Cup, and did it with a talented, versatile blueline that delivered pucks to the forwards.

(Bednar also had a glut of good, young talent at his disposal. Zach Werenski, the eight overall pick in 2015, anchored the blueline will the likes of Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano were up front.)

Needless to say, Colorado should be a fascinating team to watch this year.

Related: Keep an eye on the goaltending situation in Colorado

Pouliot’s goal is to become ‘full-time player’ for Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 27: Derrick Pouliout #51 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center on December 27, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, it’s fair to say that Derrick Pouliot has yet to reach his full potential. He’s only played 56 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins, stretched over two seasons. And compared to the rest of his draft class, that’s not very many NHL games.

Granted, it’s also fair to say that Pouliot’s still only 22, and defenseman are known to take longer to develop. This year, he says he’s come to camp in better shape, with the goal of staying with the Pens all season.

“That’s the goal. I know things can change pretty quick, but I’m confident with the shape I’m in and in my ability to play,” he said, per the Times Leader. “Hopefully I can make myself a full-time player here.”

Pouliot is still waivers-exempt, so he’ll need to earn his spot. The Penguins re-signed Justin Schultz for another year, and that could be his competition.

“We have high expectations for Derrick,” said head coach Mike Sullivan, per the Post-Gazette. “We’ve kept close tabs on him all summer long, and we knew he was coming into camp in the type of shape that he’s in. … He’s a very talented kid, and when he put those two things together, we think he’s going to improve another level.”