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Road to St. Paul: 16-team tournament field set for college hockey’s championships

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The twists and turns of college hockey are a season-long event and each year the NCAA tournament provides it’s share of drama, upsets, and intrigue. This year’s tournament is shaping up to be no different.

The NCAA announced the tournament pairings for the 16-team dance to see who earns the right to move on to the Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in three weeks. With four regional sites, the talent is spread out around the country. Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament where top seeds are never upset in the first round, the men’s hockey tournament has seen a number one team lose in the first round every year since 2006. The ultimate insanity happened in 2009 when three number one seeds lost in the opening round.

Will we see any major upsets this year? You never know, but here’s how the field breaks down.

Northeast Regional (Manchester, New Hampshire)

1. Miami University vs. 4. University of New Hampshire

2. Merrimack College vs. 3. University of Notre Dame

Miami will be going into a hornet’s nest in New Hampshire in a showdown with the tough and hometown friendly Wildcats of UNH. Miami won the CCHA tournament for the first time and Rico Blasi’s team will be hoping to win their first NCAA title. Opening up with what’s basically the home team will make for a rough start. It helps Miami that they’re loaded with talent including Andy Miele. Miele leads the nation in points with 71. Teammates Carter Camper and Reilly Smith have also been outstanding for the Redhawks this season. UNH has been inconsistent this year, but they’re a very capable tournament team. Last time UNH played in this region was 2009 where they lost to Boston University in the regional final.

Meanwhile rising star Stephane Da Costa and his Merrimack teammates have the school back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988. Taking on coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish will make for a tough battle for them. The Fighting Irish are led by Red Wings draft pick Riley Sheahan on offense in name recognition. Merrimack being a regional team from Massachusetts will help them fill the arena with their hockey-crazed fans. For Da Costa, it’s a chance for him to show off just how good he is on a national stage. Lots of NHL teams are keeping an eye on the young Frenchman and this is a great way for him to make the scouts go crazy. By the way, he’s just a sophomore.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Connecticut)

1. Yale University vs. 4. Air Force Academy

2. Union College vs. 3. University of Minnesota-Duluth

Yale is the top team overall in the tournament and they’re rewarded with a team that managed to beat them earlier this year in Air Force. We’ve seen Air Force as the four seed before in Bridgeport in 2009 when they upset Michigan in the first round before bowing out in overtime to Vermont in the regional final. Yale is coached by 2011 Team USA WJC bench boss Keith Allain. Yale is fast, skilled, and getting much better goaltending than they had in last year’s tournament.

Union College is making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament ever and coach Nate Leaman has his team as one of the more dangerous ones in the tournament and they’ve got stellar goaltending from Keith Kinkaid as well as clutch scoring from Kelly Zajac (brother of Devils forward Travis Zajac). Squaring off with Minnesota-Duluth will present them with a true challenge however as UMD was one of the best teams in the country early on this season. Forwards Jack and Mike Connolly (not related) along with Justin Fontaine lead a potent attack that they hope can lead them to a virtual home game in the Frozen Four.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, Wisconsin)

1. University of North Dakota vs. 4. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

2. Denver University vs. Western Michigan University

The Fighting Sioux get the top seed here and they’re led by the nation’s top scorer in Hobey Baker finalist Matt Frattin. Frattin scored the game winner in double overtime of the WCHA tournament final to get UND past Denver. Frattin’s 35 goals this year lead what is a loaded team with future NHL stars like Danny Kristo (Montreal draftee), Brock Nelson (Islanders draftee), Derek Forbort (Kings draftee), and Corban Knight (Florida draftee) into the tournament looking to rebound after last year’s tournament failure against Yale.  To do that, they’ll first need to get by RPI. The Engineers are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1995 and coach Seth Appert’s team was the last team into the field of 16. Hobey Baker finalist Chase Polacek would love to end his career in front of his family at home in Edina, Minnesota. Beating North Dakota is a tall order for the cherry and white.

Denver is a traditional NCAA tournament team by now but they too are facing a team that hasn’t been to the tourney in a while in Western Michigan. The Broncos haven’t been to the tournament since 1996 but dealing with a Denver Pioneers team that is still stinging from losing in the first round as a number one seed last year will be tough. Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky will have youngsters Drew Shore and Jason Zucker ready to roll this time around.

West Regional (St. Louis, Missouri)

1. Boston College vs. 4. Colorado College

2. University of Michigan vs. 3. University of Nebraska-Omaha

Perhaps the most intriguing region is all the way in St. Louis where defending champion Boston College will look to repeat as Jerry York’s team will have to square off with Colorado College. Cam Atkinson was Mr. Clutch last year for the Eagles but dealing with Jaden Schwartz and the Tigers will make for a tough opponent to start off with. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last few years, it’s to not sleep on BC. They won it all in 2008 and again last year and were finalists in 2007. No one pulls it all together in the NCAA Tournament the way the Eagles do.

Michigan will look to get back to their glory led by forward Louie Caporusso and goalie Shawn Hunwick. Legendary head coach Red Berenson would love to get Michigan back to their first Frozen Four since 2008 but dealing with coach Dean Blais and his UNO Mavericks will make things rough. UNO is making just their second ever appearance in the tournament and if you need anything to know it’s that Blais can coach with the best of them, including coaching the 2010 Team USA WJC team to the gold medal. If nothing else, it makes for a great chess match between two of the great coaches in college hockey.

Trade: Canadiens send Philip Samuelsson to Hurricanes for Keegan Lowe

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 25:  President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe of the Edmonton Oilers and son 73rd overall pick Keegan Lowe by the Carolina Hurricanes look on during day two of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 25, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes completed a minor trade on Tuesday afternoon when the Canadiens sent defenseman Philip Samuelsson to the Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Keegan Lowe.

Neither player has played a game in the NHL this season and both will report to their respective AHL teams.

The most interesting aspect of this deal is that Samuelsson’s dad, former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, is the head coach of the Hurricanes’ AHL team, the Charlotte Checkers.

Samuelsson, originally a second-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, has spent this season with the St. John’s IceCaps where he has one goal and four assists in 40 games. He has played in 13 games at the NHL level, most recently with Arizona last season, and has yet to record a point. He signed with the Canadiens over the summer as a free agent, inking a one-year, two-way deal.

Lowe, a second-round pick by the Hurricanes in 2011 and the son of former NHL player Ron Lowe, has two games of NHL experience (both in 2014-15) and has spent the past two seasons playing in Charlotte. He has three goals and nine assists in 49 games this season. The Canadiens announced he will immediately report to St. John’s of the AHL.

Injuries adding up for Senators as Stone, Hoffman out tonight; Ryan to miss month

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 15: Mark Stone #61 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on November 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators, currently making a serious run at the top spot in the Atlantic Division, have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL.

Unfortunately some major injuries are starting to hit them at the wrong time as they will be without several top forwards on Tuesday night when they take on the New Jersey Devils.

We already knew Bobby Ryan was going to be sidelined due to a hand injury, but coach Guy Boucher confirmed on Tuesday that the veteran winger is going to miss 4-6 weeks due to a broken finger. Adding to the injury issues on Tuesday is the fact forwards Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone will also be sidelined.

Stone, who was injured on Sunday night when he was on the receiving end of a Jacob Trouba hit that resulted in a two-game suspension, is going to miss the game due to a neck injury and there remains no timetable for his return.

Hoffman was also injured in that game against the Jets and will not play on Tuesday due to a groin injury.

These are some pretty significant injuries to the Senators, especially when it comes to Hoffman and Stone, two of the top-four scorers on the team and two of their most dangerous offensive players. The injury to Stone couldn’t have come at a worse time for him, either, as he has been on a roll over the past month, recording 13 points in the team’s past 13 games, including a five-point game against Toronto on Saturday night.

Entering play on Tuesday the Senators are just two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. A Senators win in New Jersey, combined with a Montreal loss in regulation to the Rangers, would move the Senators into a first-place tie and for the time being give them the edge on tiebreakers (fewer games played).

Maple Leafs place Brooks Laich on waivers

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29:  Brooks Laich #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 29, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Just one day after saying that he wants another shot in the NHL to win a Stanley Cup and that his best hockey might be ahead of him, the Toronto Maple Leafs have placed veteran forward Brooks Laich on waivers.

The 33-year-old Laich has been with the Maple Leafs organization since the middle of last season but has spent this entire season playing for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

He has just one goal and five assists in 22 games this season at that level.

Given Laich’s comments yesterday it is pretty clear that he still believes he has something to offer a Stanley Cup contender. Unfortunately for him there does not seem to be anything to suggest that when taking an objective look at his current position and recent performance. The Maple Leafs already placed him on waivers at the start of the season (he cleared), and his overall production has steadily dropped for several years now.

In 81 games last season between the Capitals and Maple Leafs he had just two goals, 12 assists, and was only 40 percent in the face-off circle. Another year older, combined with only six points in 22 games in the AHL, isn’t likely to inspire many teams to jump at him.

With a salary cap number of $4.5 million ($1.2 million for the rest of the season for any team that claims him) he would not be a cheap addition, either.

Flames see a ‘style fit’ with Stone

Michael Stone #26 of the Arizona Coyotes passes the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on February 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames wanted to add depth to their defense, and they didn’t want to wait until the last minute to get it done.

So, after signing Matt Bartkowski last week, they added Michael Stone yesterday in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

The trade deadline isn’t until next Wednesday.

“We have five games before the deadline, so we tried to get out ahead of it a bit,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said, per the Calgary Herald. “We’re deeper than we were a week ago, so we’re happy with it.”

Stone, a right shot, is expected to skate on the Flames’ second or third pairing with T.J. Brodie or Bartkowski, respectively. He may replace Dennis Wideman, who logged just 13:35 in Saturday’s OT loss at Vancouver.

“T.J. has some tempo to him so that could be a good fit. Whether it’s him or Bartkowski, we feel there’s a style fit,” Treliving said, per Arizona Sports. “We have some left-side guys who can skate and when Stony is at his best he’s playing with a partner who can skate and retrieve pucks so he can stabilize.”

The Flames play tonight in Nashville.