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.

Even Dylan Larkin is fighting for the Red Wings now

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11:  Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings plays against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Something very strange has been happening in Detroit in the early parts of the 2016-17 season.

The Red Wings … are fighting. A lot.

This is a strange development because not only fighting has been rapidly decreasing across the league for several years now, but also because the Red Wings have been last in the league in fighting majors in 10 out of the past 11 seasons. The one year over that stretch they were not last (2012-13) they were 29th. Nobody fights less than these guys.

In most of those years they never even reached double digits in fighting majors, and have only had eight in each of the past two seasons.

But through the first five games this season they already have five of them, and that includes a rather stunning participant on Friday night during their 5-3 win over the Nashville Predator — 20-year-old forward Dylan Larkin, the team’s leading goal-scorer from a year ago and a top-five finisher in the Calder Trophy voting.

He dropped the gloves with Predators defenseman Yannick Weber early in the third period on Friday night.

Have a look.

According to the Hockeyfights.com database (all fighting stats listed here are via their database) that is Larkin’s first ever fight. And not just in the NHL, but apparently anywhere in hockey. He seemed to handle himself quite well. But let’s be honest, the Red Wings probably do not want to see the guy that is probably their best offensive player risking injury to drop his gloves and fight somebody.

As mentioned above, the Red Wings already have five fighting majors this season a number that currently leads the NHL. No other team in the NHL has more than three.

When it comes to their actual play on the ice the Red Wings have now won three games in a row after the starting the season 0-2.

They received a little bit of extra help late in the third period on Friday when protecting a one-goal lead they were given a full two-minute, 5-on-3 power play in large part because of Predators forward James Neal taking one of the worst penalties of the season when he cross-checked Alexey Marchenko after the play.

Neal’s teammate, Calle Jarnkrok, was already penalized on the play for high-sticking Darren Helm. Those two penalties pretty much ended whatever comeback hopes Nashville had on the night as Helm ended up scoring a power play goal with 22 seconds to play.

Blue Jackets call up Sonny Milano from AHL

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Sonny Milano #22 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates in his first NHL game against the the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 31, 2016 in New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Blkue Jackets 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Immediately after earning their first win of the season — a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks — the Columbus Blue Jackets made a roster move by calling up one of their top prospects, forward Sonny Milano, from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League.

To make room for Milano on the roster the Blue Jackets sent Oliver Bjorkstrand down to the AHL.

The 20-year-old Milano was the Blue Jackets’ first-round draft pick (No. 16 overall) in the 2014 NHL draft. He spent most of the 2015-16 season playing for Lake Erie (now Cleveland) during their Calder Cup winning season, recording 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) during his first full season of pro hockey. He also added another eight points (four goals, four assists) during the Calder Cup playoffs.

His 2015-16 season also included a brief cup of coffee in the NHL with the Blue Jackets where he appeared in three games and recorded one assist near the end of the seasonHe had one goal in two games with Cleveland to start this season..

Milano is a highly skilled player that can do some pretty incredible things with the puck and should bring a little bit of excitement to a team that could really use some fresh talent up front.

Trevor van Riemsdyk could be out ‘for a bit’ for Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05:  Trevor van Riemsdyk #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks shoots against the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on April 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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It turned out to be a tough Friday night for the Chicago Blackhawks in Columbus.

Not only did they lose the game to the Blue Jackets, 3-2, thanks to another rough night for their penalty killing unit, but they also lost a defenseman to injury.

Trevor van Riemsdyk had to leave the game in the first period with what was described as an upper body injury when he crashed into the net. After the game coach Joel Quenneville said that van Riemsdyk could be “out for a bit” due to the injury, via Eric Lear of Blackhawks TV. He appeared in all 82 games for the Blackhawks a year ago and played nearly 20 minutes a night.

Before Friday he had appeared in only one game this season, while his name had been being mentioned in trade rumors. With van Riemsdyk getting back into the lineup on Friday there had been some speculation that it could make veteran defenseman Brian Campbell a healthy scratch, but the Blackhawks instead opted to dress seven defensemen. Even with the injury to van Riemsdyk, Campbell only played 12 minutes on Friday.

In other Blackhawks injury news, Quenneville said that injured forward Marian Hossa — who did not play on Friday — is questionable for the Blackhawks’ game on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Blackhawks PK has another brutal night in loss to Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates after the puck during the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

There will be no 0-8 start in Columbus this season.

The Blue Jackets were 3-2 winners against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night to earn their first win of the season thanks to goals from Zach Werenski, Nick Foligno and William Karlsson. The first two of those goals came on the power play as the Blue Jackets were the latest team to feast on Chicago’s dismal penalty killing unit this season. Those two power play goals came on Columbus’ only two power play opportunities of the night.

Right now everybody is scoring against the Blackhawks on the power play.

With the two more goals against on Friday, Chicago’s penalty kill has already given up 11 goals through the first five games of the season, becoming just the 18th team in the past 30 years to do that.

Their early season penalty kill success rate has been so bad that as Daily Herald beat writer John Dietz pointed out on Friday that even if they successfully kill off their next 20 shorthanded opportunities their PK would still only be at 71.8 on the season. The worst penalty kill in the NHL a season ago was 75.5 percent. In other words: That is not ideal.

After falling behind 3-1, the Blackhawks attempted to rally thanks to a goal from Richard Panik (already his fifth of the season) to cut the deficit from one. They pretty much took over the game in the third period and threw everything they could at the Blue Jackets’ net, but Sergei Bobrovsky was sensational and holding down the fort and helping the Jackets get their first win of the season.

It was a costly win for the Blue Jackets in some ways though as they lost defenseman Ryan Murray to an upper body injury in the first period. Injuries have been a problem for him throughout his young career.

As for the Blackhawks, the loss drops them to 2-3-0 on the young season. There are a lot of new faces on this year’s team, and a lot of young players filling out the bottom half of the roster. Early on it has been a struggle for pretty much everybody.