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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.

‘It’s embarrassing,’ says Gulutzan after lopsided loss to Oilers

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Glen Gulutzan of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on November 21, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Battle of Alberta was a tad lopsided Saturday.

The Edmonton Oilers scored early. They scored often. And despite holding a distinct advantage in shots on goal and puck possession, the rival Calgary Flames couldn’t get much going until the third period and by then the damage had been done.

The Oilers, tied in points with the San Jose Sharks, are one point back of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead after their 7-3 win over the Flames. Laurent Brossoit also collected his first career NHL victory.

This game wasn’t even six minutes old when Jordan Eberle scored to give Edmonton a three-goal lead. Chad Johnson was promptly pulled from the Calgary net, making one save on four shots faced.

The Flames were bad from the start. They didn’t get any better in the second period, falling behind five goals after 40 minutes and watching as the likes of Eberle and Connor McDavid piled on for a regular-season series sweep of Calgary.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan had some strong words to describe the play of his team, which still holds down a wild card spot in the West.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said, per the Calgary Sun. “Our resolve to stick to it wasn’t there.”

“That’s a bunch of games in a row now where we’ve fallen behind and haven’t been able to get any push-back. And in our rink, it’s unacceptable,” added Mark Giordano.

The coach was utterly perplexed by his team’s breakdown on Edmonton’s third goal, which started off as a rush in the neutral zone and finished with Eberle, wide open down the right wing with a clear path to the net, beating Johnson on the shot.

“I don’t know what we were doing,” said Gulutzan. “I actually have no explanation for what our ‘D’ were doing on the third goal. It was a complete mistake.”

That should be concerning for the Flames.

They hold a playoff spot, but just barely with the Vancouver Canucks one point back and with two games in hand.

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.