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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.

Canada beats Team Europe 3-1 in Game 1 of World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27: Steven Stamkos #91 of Team Canada is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a first period goal against Team Europe during Game One of the World Cup of Hockey final series at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The good news for Team Europe is they were able to hang with Team Canada for most of the night in Game 1 of the World Cup final on Tuesday night.

The bad news for Team Europe is Canada, while playing perhaps its worst game of the tournament, was still good enough to win, 3-1, and take a 1-0 lead in the series. Canada is now in a position where it can win the tournament with a victory on Thursday night.

Early on this seemed like it was going to be Europe’s chance to get the upper hand in the series, but they just could not generate enough offense, especially on the power play that has still not scored a goal in the tournament, to take advantage of what was probably an off night for Canada. That sort of off night from Canada probably will not happen again on Thursday.

Even though it did not look as dominant as some of their other performances in the tournament, it was still pretty much the same recipe for Team Canada. The Sidney CrosbyBrad MarchandPatrice Bergeron line provided the bulk of the offense, they shut the game down over the second and third periods defensively, and Carey Price built a wall around his net and made the saves his team needed him to make.

Marchand, just one day after signing his eight-year contract extension with the Boston Bruins, opened the scoring just two minutes into the first period when he scored his third goal of the tournament. Ten minutes later Steven Stamkos gave Canada a 2-0 lead when he scored his first goal of the tournament, finishing an odd-man rush with Ryan Getzlaf.

After a Tomas Tatar goal cut the deficit to just a single goal for Team Europe in the second period, they had a great opportunity to tie the game when Andrej Sekera had a breakaway that was turned aside by Price to keep the lead. Even though the game remained close, they never really had a better opportunity to tie the game. They were clearly missing Marian Gaborik who was injured in the semifinal game against Sweden. He could be sidelined for eight weeks as a result of that injury.

Bergeron added to the Canada lead and pretty much put the game out of reach midway through the third period with his second goal of the tournament. That goal was assisted by Crosby, his second point of the game, giving him a tournament leading nine points.

Canadiens’ Andrew Shaw ejected for boarding Capitals’ Connor Hobbs

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Will Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw be the first player to get a phone call from the NHL’s department of player safety this season? Based on the second period of Tuesday’s preseason game against the Washington Capitals, he certainly could be.

Shaw, playing in his first exhibition game with his new team, was ejected from the game late in the second period for boarding Connor Hobbs.

Immediately after the hit, Shaw found himself in a fight with Washington’s Nathan Walker, a sequence that involved Shaw earning 30 penalty minutes — a five-minute major for boarding, a five-minute major for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct, and a 10-minute game misconduct. As Shaw was involved in his fight with Walker, he was gesturing to the Montreal crowd for noise and then managed to get one extra shot in at Walker after he was down on the ice.

It was a eventful period for Shaw who found himself in the middle of multiple incidents in a short period of time. Along with everything mentioned above, he was also taken down in the neutral zone by Jay Beagle on what looked to be a slew foot. Here is a look at both of those incidents (the Beagle on Shaw incident, and the Shaw on Hobbs hit) via @MarcDumont.

Shaw was a major addition for the Canadiens this offseason, along with Shea Weber in the P.K. Subban trade, as they tried to add more toughness to their lineup.

Islanders goalie situation could leave Jean-Francois Berube in tough spot

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02:  Jean-Francois Berube #30 of the New York Islanders watches a shot just miss the net during the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 2, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The problem with having two capable NHL goaltenders is that only one of them can play at a time, and somebody that probably deserves to get more playing time is going to be stuck on the bench.

That situation gets even more complicated when you have three capable goalies, all of whom are signed to one-way contracts.

That is the situation the New York Islanders are looking at as they enter training camp with Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube all under contract for this season. It is a similar situation to the one they faced at times last season when all three goalies were healthy and Berube spent most of the year sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch, never really getting any meaningful playing time at either the NHL or AHL levels.

With Halak and Greiss both playing for Team Europe at the World Cup (Halak is stealing the show, and perhaps the tournament) it is allowing Berube to get some early playing time in camp. But once Halak and Greiss return, things are going to get very crowded, very quickly.

Berube acknowledged that possibility on Tuesday. Here he is talking about the situation this week, via Newsday‘s Arthur Staple:

“I know it’s a possibility to happen again. I have no idea what’s going to come when those guys get back. I’m trying to focus on getting as much work in as I can and use this time to get prepared for the season.”

“We all know it’s not the greatest situation,” Berube said of having three goaltenders. “For me, I play my best when I play a lot and I’m used to playing a lot. We just have to see what happens.”

Halak is by far the most established of the three goalies, both in terms of experience and performance.

His overall career numbers don’t put him among the NHL’s elite at the position, but he has always been a solid starter. Plus, as he has shown in the World Cup (just as he did in the 2010 playoffs) he is capable of going on hot streaks where he carries his team. There is a lot of value in that. He still has two years left on his contract.

Behind him you have Greiss and Berube. Greiss has turned into a rock solid backup over the past few years and played great for the Islanders in the playoffs last season while Halak was sidelined due to injury. Berube has pretty much established that he has little left to prove in the AHL and is probably ready to be a full-time NHL player in some capacity.

A trade at some point is probably the easiest way to remedy this situation for the Islanders, but even that isn’t going to be easy. Trading Halak (which the Islanders reportedly considered over the summer until he had surgery) doesn’t seem like it would make a great deal of sense at this point because there are almost no teams that are in the market for a starting goaltender. That would make it next to impossible to get a worthwhile return, and you don’t want to just give him away.

Berube is still only 25 years old and still eligible for restricted free agency after this season, is still cheap against the cap, is still the youngest out of the trio (by a few years), and seems to have an upside that the Islanders like. That leaves Greiss, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

The only other option, outside of a trade emerging at some point (even though the market is slim now, it should pick up once the season begins as teams need upgrades for starters and backups), is a repeat of most of last season where they carry three goalies until one gets injured, which means Berube is likely to once again be the odd man out.

The NHL will reveal its 100 greatest players as part of centennial celebration

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL icon Wayne Gretzky attends the unveiling the league's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday the NHL announced all of the festivities that will take place during its centennial celebration that will kick off on Jan. 1.

The first major announcement was that Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player in the history of the league, will serve as the ambassador for all of the celebrations that will take place on Jan. 1 during the outdoor game in Toronto at BMO field between the Detroit Red Wings and Maple Leafs. It’s fitting that Gretzky is going to be a part of this celebration because naming the greatest player in league history is going to be a big part of the celebration.

“A century of great players, great plays and great moments deserves a year-long celebration, and we invite everyone to join our party in 2017,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Tuesday, via NHL.com.

“We are delighted that Wayne Gretzky — whose spectacular contributions on the ice matched his immeasurable graciousness and popularity off the ice — will serve as our Centennial’s official ambassador as we honor all the drama, suspense, excitement and memories that have thrilled the best fans in sports for generations.”

Along with the outdoor game in Toronto, the NHL has a full schedule planned to mark its 100th anniversary, including the top-100 most iconic moments in league history, NHL time capsules that look back at the history of the league, and a number of documentaries that cover everything from the Stanley Cup, to all of the key moments and milestones in league history.

But the one event that seems like it will draw the most attention (mainly because we love to argue about lists) is the announcement of the top-100 players in the history of the league. According to the league, the list was assembled by “a blue ribbon panel of distinguished members from across the hockey community – including former and current executives, media members, and NHL alumni.”

“It’s like when you’re a kid and you collect hockey cards, you want to trade this guy for that guy, and everybody wanted to have the right cards,” said Gretzky. “Here we are now, we’re going to pick the top 100 players and it’s not going to be easy because there has been so many great players all the way back to the 30s and 40s and 50s. So obviously it’s a tough task for everyone. There are so many great young players today, there were great players when I played and before I played. So picking this is going to be difficult, but it’ll be a thrill for anyone who is part of that top 100.”

The list will be announced in two parts.

As part of the outdoor celebration in Toronto on Jan. 1, the league will announce the players on the list that played their career between the 1917 and 1966 seasons, covering the pre-Original Six and Original Six eras. The remainder of the list, which covers the post-expansion era, when the league doubled in size from six teams to 12 in 1967, will be announced during the All-Star weekend celebration in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Kings were one of the six teams that gained entry into the league during the 1967 season.

It seems quite likely that Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists, and points, and also the ambassador of the centennial celebrations, will top that list. He become the NHL’s all-time leading scorer while a member of the Kings.

The big question for debate then becomes the order players like Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau are in after him.