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

1 Comment

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.

For Oilers, trading Eberle was about ‘long-term thinking’

AP
Leave a comment

CHICAGO —  Peter Chiarelli was there to talk about one thing, and one thing only.

That was today’s big trade that sent Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in return for Ryan Strome.

Not surprisingly, the Oilers’ general manager liked a lot of things about the deal — starting with Strome.

“He’s got some things to his game that we feel can help us in our division,” Chiarelli said Thursday. “He’s got good size, a terrific wrist shot. Very, very cerebral player. He can play center or the wing. Very good on the half wall.”

Not that Eberle doesn’t offer a few good things himself. Like scoring goals. That’s pretty important, right? Eberle’s scored 165 goals in his NHL career.

But with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl requiring extensions soon, the Oilers needed to be wary of their cap situation. In Chiarelli’s estimation, Eberle’s $6 million hit had to go.

“This is about cap management, and this is about replacing good players with good players, and this is about long-term thinking,” said Chiarelli.

When he’d finished selling the trade, reporters naturally took the opportunity to inquire about the rest of his team.

Does he want to get Kris Russell re-signed?

Yes, he does. Still hoping to get that one done.

How would he characterize negotiations with McDavid and Draisaitl?

“Not going to characterize.”

What about Patrick Maroon? Could he get an extension this summer?

“This isn’t the state of affairs for who I’m signing, who I’m not signing.”

Fair enough. Onto the draft then.

Friday at United Center, the Oilers will have the 22nd overall pick. It’ll be the first time since 2008 that they don’t make a top-10 selection.

“Certainly not as high a pick,” said Chiarelli. “We’ve got a cluster of four players and we think we’re going to get one of them.”

That pick in 2008, by the way?

Jordan Eberle, 22nd overall.

Related: Strome pumped for opportunity to play with McDavid and Draisaitl

Ryan Strome pumped at prospect of playing with McDavid, Draisaitl

Getty
Leave a comment

Ryan Strome seemed to feel he took a positive step with the Islanders when Doug Weight took over behind the bench in January.

He had a five-game point streak (seven points in that time) and a pair of three-point performances for the Islanders before a broken wrist ended his regular season. On Thursday, he was dealt to a new team, as the Oilers and Islanders made a trade. Going the other way to New York is Jordan Eberle.

“He was great for me,” said Strome of Weight following today’s trade. “Little disappointed I got hurt but I was starting to feel really good and that’s the best I’ve felt in a couple of years.”

Selected fifth overall in 2011, Strome is two years removed from a 17-goal, 50-point sophomore season in the NHL. But he’s never reached more than 30 points in each of the past two years, and the frustrating times continued when he was made a healthy scratch earlier this season with Jack Capuano behind the bench.

Eberle called this trade a fresh start for himself. The same can be applied to Strome.

From an Oilers perspective, the motive for today’s deal, based on the comments of Edmonton’s general manager Pete Chiarelli, was to free up cap space. Strome has one more year left on a two-year, $5 million deal that has an annual cap hit of $2.5 million. The priority is to get pending restricted free agent Leon Draisaitl, as well as the organization’s phenom and Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, a pending RFA at the end of next season, under contract.

A fresh start for Strome could mean an opportunity to play alongside McDavid or Draisaitl.

A number of times during his media availability, Strome mentioned how excited he was to go to Edmonton. Playing on a line with one of — or both — McDavid or Draisaitl is a valid reason why.

“I remember sitting in my basement a couple of months ago watching the playoffs. I was like, ‘Holy, these guys are good players,'” said Strome.

“I played with (John Tavares) a little bit, so I kind of know how those great players are. John’s a very one-on-one type player, but Connor and Leon, just the way they distribute the puck and how they can skate, their skill is just exceptional.”

Habs ‘have holes in many positions,’ and Bergevin’s busy trying to fill them

Getty
2 Comments

Consider, for a moment, what’s currently on the plate of Montreal GM Marc Bergevin.

Last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov, is an unrestricted free agent that might go to market. Trade calls are coming in on Alex Galchenyuk, who also needs a new contract. The Habs would like to keep Andrei Markov, but he’s a UFA as well. There’s still no clear answer as to who the team’s No. 1 center will be next year, or what the defense will look like.

Needless to say, Bergevin has lots of balls in the air.

“We have holes at many positions,” he said Thursday. “I don’t think many teams could walk in and say, ‘We’re all set, we’re not taking calls.’

“We’ll try to address those needs. But it’s not easy. People who have good assets, they usually keep them. It has to be a match, put it this way.”

The center position, one that’s long been an issue in Montreal, remains in flux. Bergevin said he was unsure if Jonathan Drouin could play the middle, which has been an ongoing debate with Galchenyuk over the last few years. Tomas Plekanec and Philip Danault remain on the roster, but neither are No. 1 caliber.

Given that pressing need down the middle, Bergevin might need to allocate some cap space for a solution. And if that’s the case, it could hamper his ability to re-sign Radulov, who’s rumored to be angling for a big payday.

“We have limits, we have price,” Bergevin said of Radulov. “He’s got the right to test the market, if that’s what he decides.”

In addressing Radulov, Bergevin added he’d like to retain the services of Markov, who’s 38 and coming off a deal that paid $5.75 million annually. The Habs GM said there hasn’t been much in the way of negotiations with the veteran Russian rearguard, though.

On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

But before that happens, Bergevin needs to upgrade the players in front of Price.

“I need help everywhere,,” he said. “It’s not that easy.”

Two fewer defensemen means Canucks less likely to trade Tanev

Getty
1 Comment

CHICAGO — Three months ago, Jim Benning might’ve considered trading defenseman Chris Tanev.

But after the Vancouver Canucks lost Nikita Tryamkin to the KHL and Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft, their general manager no longer enjoys the depth on defense that he used to trumpet.

“I’m going to look at all our options, but for us to move [Tanev] off our blue line, we’d have to get a good defenseman back,” Benning said Thursday.

Among Vancouver d-men, only Alex Edler logged more ice time than Sbisa in 2016-17.

“He provided physicality on the back end,” Benning said of Sbisa. “He was a good penalty killer for us. I thought last year, on a game-to-game basis, he was one of our better defensemen. So we’re sorry to see him go. It’s going to be a new opportunity for him and it gives us a chance to kind of reshape our blue line.”

Of course, Benning’s reluctance to deal the 27-year-old Tanev is bound to make people wonder if the Canucks are truly committed to a long-term rebuild. When they traded veterans Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows, that appeared to be the direction they were finally headed.

Shouldn’t a rebuilding team be less concerned about next year, and more concerned about four or five years down the line?

“That’s a good point,” Benning said, “but I think we’re going to have a lot of young players in our lineup next year, and we want to be competitive in the games. Chris Tanev is still a relatively young player for a defenseman. We’re going to have him for the next seven or eight years. But like I said, if something makes sense and we can get a player back that can play on our blue line, we’ll look at it.”

The Canucks will draft fifth overall tomorrow at United Center, and most expect them to select a center like Cody Glass, Gabriel Vilardi, or Casey Mittelstadt.

But don’t be shocked if they go for a power-play defenseman like Cale Makar or Timothy Liljegren.

“Anytime you can get a high-end offensive defenseman in today’s game, that drives the play for your team, I think that’s something we’re going to look at,” said Benning.