Back to Class: Your PHT NCAA tournament preview

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year in college hockey. The NCAA tournament field is set and the regionals get under way starting on Friday. Once this weekend is through, we’ll know who will be headed to Tampa for the Frozen Four set for April 5 and 7 at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The tournament’s top four teams are Hockey East tournament champions and No. 1 ranked Boston College, CCHA tournament runner-up Michigan, ECAC tournament champs Union College, and WCHA tournament champions North Dakota. Those four are the top seeded teams in their regions and set the table for what could turn out to be a memorable tournament.

That’s enough talk for now, here’s how the field of 16 breaks down.

Northeast Region – Worcester, MA (March 24-25)

source:  1. Boston College vs. 4. Air Force
2. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 3. Maine

A bracket with the top team in the country as well as the defending national champions will grab your attention. Should the seeds hold here, a regional final with BC and UMD would be as dramatic as it gets. With Chris Kreider (pictured) and Johnny Gaudreau for BC and Hobey Baker Award finalist Jack Connolly for UMD, there’d be plenty of star power. UMD might have to worry about Maine, however, should Hobey finalist Spencer Abbott be able to play. Abbott was knocked out of action against BU in the Hockey East semifinals.

Atlantic Hockey champions Air Force come into the tournament as the 16th overall seed and have a history of being hard to eliminate. Just ask Michigan who was upset by Air Force in the first round back in 2009.

East Region – Bridgeport, CT (March 23-24)

source:  1. Union College vs. 4. Michigan State
2. Miami University vs. 3. UMass-Lowell

What you don’t know about Union College could come back to burn you. The Dutchmen powered their way through the season on the back of Hobey Baker Award finalist goalie Troy Grosenick (pictured) and top scorers Kelly Zajac and Jeremy Welsh. They’re fast and their power play is dangerous.

The highlight game of this region features Miami and Lowell, however, as the Redhawks are many people’s favorite to go to Tampa. Miami boasts Hobey finalist Reilly Smith and his 30 goals while Lowell has freshman Scott Wilson who leads them in points. One guy they might be without, however, is their second leading scorer Riley Wetmore. His absence hurt them in the Hockey East tournament as they were knocked off by Providence.

Midwest Region – Green Bay, WI (March 23-24)

source:  1. Michigan vs. 4. Cornell
2. Ferris State vs. 3. Denver University

Michigan and Cornell stand out as the featured game of this region and for good reason. They’re two premiere programs with historic legacies. The two haven’t met in the NCAAs since 1991 when Michigan took them down in three games. It’ll be a goalie battle between Shawn Hunwick of Michigan (pictured) and Andy Iles of Cornell. Having Ferris State there lurking as the two seed is intimidating as they sat at No. 1 for a while this season.

The only question they’ll deal with against Denver is which Denver tournament team will show up. Denver will either wind up going deep or get bounced in the first round in lackluster fashion. Going without star forward Jason Zucker won’t help their chances of knocking off the Bulldogs.

West Region – St. Paul, MN (March 24-25)

source:  1. North Dakota vs. 4. Western Michigan
2. Minnesota vs. 3. Boston University

This is the region of death, plain and simple.

North Dakota and Minnesota just met this past weekend in the WCHA semifinals where the Fighting Sioux scored six unanswered goals to win 6-3. With future NHLers like Brock Nelson (pictured), Danny Kristo, and Corban Knight the Sioux are tough. No doubt the Gophers would like to get another shot at them, but they’ll have to get through a mercurial BU team that’s very capable of making a run themselves.

It’s not like the Sioux have it easy either as they’ll have to fight through coach Andy Murray’s Western Michigan team that just won the CCHA tournament over Michigan on Saturday. Surviving this region should earn the winning team a special commendation.

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.

3 KHL players suspended after testing positive for banned substances

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The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced that three KHL players have been suspended after testing positive for banned substances.

Here’s an excerpt from the KHL’s website:

The IIHF has informed the KHL that three players – forward Danis Zaripov (then with Metallurg Magnitogorsk), defenseman Andrei Konev (Admiral Vladivostok) and defenseman Derek Smith (Medvescak Zagreb) – have tested positive for banned substances.

Derek Smith tested positive for a category S6.а stimulant.

Andrei Konev tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant.

Danis Zaripov tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant plus category S5 diuretics and masking agents.

Zapirov, who was part of Team Russia at the 2010 Olympic Games, has been banned from suiting up in “competitive hockey” until May 22, 2019. Konev will be unable to play until Nov. 19, 2017, while Smith, who is Canadian, will be suspended until Sep. 2, 2018.

Smith, 32, played in 94 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

Report: John MacLean could join Tocchet’s coaching staff in Arizona

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The Arizona Coyotes have a new head coach, but Rick Tocchet still has to fill out the rest of his staff.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the ‘Yotes might be looking to add John MacLean to their coaching staff.

MacLean, 52, spent six years as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils (2002-2009) before becoming the head coach of their AHL affiliate. After one year of coaching in the minors, MacLean was promoted to head coach of the Devils. His tenure didn’t last very long, as he was fired after just 33 games (they were 9-22-2 under his watch).

He spent the following three seasons as an assistant in Carolina, but he was let go after the 2014 season.

MacLean hasn’t been back behind an NHL bench since being let go by the ‘Canes. Instead, he’s served as a hockey analyst on various television networks.

Related:

Tocchet wants Coyotes’ young players to be ‘creative’ and ‘calculated’

Tocchet brings lessons from past mistakes (and successes) to Coyotes

Sabres re-sign Robin Lehner to one-year, $4 million deal

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The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with goalie Robin Lehner, as they inked him to a one-year, $4 million contract on Tuesday morning.

Lehner and the Sabres were scheduled to have their hearing on July 27, but that obviously won’t be necessary anymore.

The 26-year-old played a career-high 59 games in 2016-17. He finished the year with a 23-26-8 record, a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.

There’s no doubt that he’s a talented netminder, but he’s had his share of struggles when it comes to staying healthy and being consistent. Of course, the team in front of him hasn’t been very good either.

Both of Buffalo’s goalies (Lehner and Chad Johnson) will have something to prove this season because they’re both on one-year contracts. When their deals expire next summer, Lehner will be a restricted free agent again, while Johnson will be free to test the market on July 1st.

The Sabres now have just over $10.9 million in cap space with RFAs Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu and Evan Rodrigues still needing new contracts.

A huge extension for Jack Eichel is also on the horizon, but his new salary won’t count on the cap until 2018-19.