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Your definitive PHT NCAA hockey tournament preview

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College hockey’s version of March Madness gets underway this afternoon and the 16 teams that are in the tournament, they know that one loss ends their season. How do things shake out in the four regionals? Safe to say we’ve got 12 curious games to get us through the weekend.

Here’s the quick and the dirty on the first round games as well as my idea on how things shake out as the road to Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four sets up.

Northeast Regional – Manchester, NH

1. UMass-Lowell vs. 4. Wisconsin

Lowell took down their first ever Hockey East tournament title while Wisconsin roared through the WCHA to win that conference’s tourney. For a 1-4 game, this one’s a doozy. The Badgers have the tourney history, while the Riverhawks have been rolling since December. Lowell will go as far as freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck takes them.

Players to watch: Connor Hellebuyck (G – FR) for Lowell. Nic Kerdiles (F – FR) for Wisconsin.

2. New Hampshire vs. 3. Denver University

Both teams bowed out of their conference tournaments early. Both teams landed extended vacations before the NCAAs. Who does the break help? Who does it hinder? New Hampshire has home ice and Denver didn’t do well in 2010 when they headed east for the tournament. Hmm…

Players to watch: Kevin Goumas (F – JR) for New Hampshire. Nick Shore (F—JR) for Denver.

East Regional – Providence, RI

1. Quinnipiac vs. 4. Canisius

It’s the top seeded team in the tournament against the last seeded team. In the NCAA basketball tourney that usually means the top team wins in a walk. Not so for the hockey tourney. That said, Canisius is on a roll after winning the Atlantic Hockey tournament. Then again, they were not overly good this season. Quinnipiac lost in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament to Brown. This could wind up being the closes of the 1 vs. 4 games in this year.

Players to watch: Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell (G – SR) for Quinnipiac. Kyle Gibbons (F – JR) for Canisius.

2. Boston College vs. 3. Union College

An intriguing match-up of what could’ve been last year’s national championship game had Union beaten Ferris State in the national semis. BC is the perennial vampire of the playoffs. They’re not done until you put the stake through their heart. Union is on fire having won their way through the ECAC tournament on their way to the title. The Dutchmen are a chic pick to make the Frozen Four out of this region and that’s just what Boston College (with Jerry York back behind the bench) likes to hear.

Players to watch: Hobey Baker finalist Johnny Gaudreau (F –SO) for BC. Wayne Simpson (F – SR) for Union.

Midwest Regional – Toledo, OH

1. Notre Dame vs. 4. St. Cloud State

The Fighting Irish battled their way through to win the final CCHA tournament and earn a No. 1 seed. Lucky for them they get to face the WCHA’s co-regular season champs from St. Cloud State. Some reward. Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish played strong throughout the playoffs while St. Cloud disappointed in the Final Five. This one’s an honest to goodness toss-up, but keep in mind that the Huskies did not fare too well out of conference this season (swept by Northern Michigan and New Hampshire, lost to Rensselaer).

Players to watch: Anders Lee (F – JR) for Notre Dame, Drew LeBlanc (F –SR) for St. Cloud.

2. Miami University vs. 3. Minnesota St. – Mankato

The Redhawks have become a fixture in the NCAAs. Unfortunately for them, they have yet to win a national title. They came up short in the CCHA tournament so they’ve got motivation to prove they’re better than that. Minnesota St. is making their first appearance in the NCAAs since 2003 and don’t look for them to take the “glad to be selected” approach. They’re a darkhorse team to come out of this region.

Players to watch: Austin Czarnik (F – SO) for Miami, Matt Leitner (F – SO) for Minnesota St.

West Regional – Grand Rapids, MI

1. Minnesota vs. 4. Yale

The Golden Gophers were a co-dominant force this season along with Quinnipiac and are the definitive No. 2 team in the tournament. Getting rewarded with a mercurial Yale squad doesn’t make life easy for them. If they run into the Bulldogs team that has goalie Jeff Malcolm stopping everything and them pushing the pace offensively, Minnesota will have their hands full. If they get the Yale team that “showed up” in the ECAC semis and consolation game, it’ll be a walk in the park as they haven’t scored a goal since the ECAC quarterfinals against St. Lawrence.

Players to watch: Erik Haula (F—JR) for Minnesota and recently traded for Jarome Iginla prospect Kenny Agostino (F –JR) for Yale.

2. North Dakota vs. Niagara

The formerly Fighting Sioux boast perhaps the best offensive one-two punch in the tournament with Hobey Baker finalist forwards Danny Kristo and Corban Knight. They’ve combined for 99 points this season alone but Niagara boasts a Hobey finalist of their own in junior goalie Carsen Chubak. You can debate the competition he’s faced but his numbers do all the talking (1.91 GAA, .938 SV%). North Dakota is capable of winning it all, but Niagara will look to give them fits.

Other players to watch: Rocco Grimaldi (F—FR) for North Dakota, Giancarlo Iuorio (F—SR; 21 goals) for Niagara.

Prediction: Keep in mind I’m terrible at predictions (but you knew that by now) but I like UMass-Lowell, Boston College, Minnesota St., and North Dakota to make it to Pittsburgh. If I go 0-for-4 on those picks, I won’t be the least bit surprised. There’s no overly dominant team with a gift-like road to the Frozen Four this year.

Report: Graham James granted extended day parole

Graham James
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Graham James, the disgraced junior hockey coach who pleaded guilty in June of 2015 to the latest charge of sexual assault against a former player, has had his day parole extended an additional two months, according to a report from The Canadian Press.

From the Canadian Press:

Documents from the Parole Board of Canada show James’s day parole, which was granted in January, has been extended for two months while the board schedules a hearing to consider his request for more freedom.

“You would like to be granted full parole,” states the decision dated July 8. “You have rented an apartment where you plan on living on your own. There are no financial concerns. Family members have been deemed to be positive supports.

“Your (case management team) supports your release on full parole.”

Former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, who was a victim of sexual abuse from James, his coach in Swift Current at the time, has spoken out against the decision from the parole board.

From Global News:

“There has to be commitment and a proven commitment to change and currently there is no commitment to change by the Parole Board of Canada,” he said. “To me what it all comes down to is a lack of understanding of the true impact of this crime by the parole board.”

Kennedy predicts James will leave the country where he can operate under the radar. He has previously moved to Spain and Mexico. Kennedy also believes it’s just a matter of time before James reoffends.

“Oh absolutely, there’s no question,” Kennedy said.

In February of 2013, James had his original two-year sentence increased to five years for sexually assaulting two of his former players.

James is serving seven years, following the latest charge from last year that resulted in a two-year sentence, according to Global News.

Get to know Nolan Patrick, early favorite to go first in 2017 NHL Draft

KELOWNA, CANADA - OCTOBER 25: Rourke Chartier #14 of Kelowna Rockets faces off against Nolan Patrick #19 of Brandon Wheat Kings during the first period on October 25, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s Central Scouting staff put out a full list of 2017 NHL Draft “futures” on Saturday, supporting the notion that it’s never too early to hype up the next wave of prospects.

At the moment, the top pick speculation revolves around Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings, including in NHL.com’s breakdown of the biggest names among those futures.

In vague terms, his size and willingness to go to high-danger areas distinguishes Patrick. Scoring 102 points in 72 games in the WHL with the Wheat Kings doesn’t hurt his cause, either.

It’s only natural to seek comparables, of course, and there are plenty streaming out already.

Craig Button compares Nolan to Jonathan Toews in this introduction for TSN:

Nolan’s style of play is similar to that of fellow Manitoban Jonathan Toews. He’s skilled, smart and capable of playing and making a difference in all situations of the game. Like Toews, he does it without much flash, but brings significant determination and reliability every time he steps on the ice. 

Meanwhile, his coach compared his style to that of Brayden Schenn, as Buzzing the Net noted in February.

There’s hockey in his blood, too, as his father Steve Patrick was an NHL forward.

Maybe that explains the notable lack of fawning from his dad in this Sportsnet article.

“Nolan was a funny little player at eight. I certainly didn’t look at him and think he’s gonna be a special player,” Steve Patrick said in May. “But he always saw the ice well and even when he was little he could pass the puck. He was a smaller kid and he sometimes played up a year, so I thought he had to be little sneakier to hold on to the puck.

“Plus, he had an older sister who could throw him in a snowbank, so he had to figure a way to keep the puck from her.”

Now that is a scouting report.

Speaking of scouting reports, NHL.com and Sportsnet both discuss other players who will jockey for top draft position with Patrick.

Of course, plenty can change in the season, so Patrick must dodge hurdles as if they were siblings readying to “throw him in a snowbank.”

Related: Nolan Patrick, potential No. 1 overall pick in 2017, undergoes sports hernia surgery

There is a report about Islanders eyeing a new arena in Nassau, too

UNIONDALE, NY - MAY 05:  A closeup of arena workers tools used to help remove the ice and the rink from the Nassau Coliseum on May 5, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The New York Islanders have played their last game at the Nassau Coliseum and will begin to play at the Barclay's Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City next season.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders’ new owners claim that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is “our home,” yet there are all kinds of rumors going around about where they may settle.

Things really heated up with talks of moving next to the New York Mets with a new arena in Queens, but apparently that’s not all.

New York Newsday reports that the Islanders have met “several times” with the New York Racing Association to build a new arena in Belmont. This would mean that the Islanders would (wait for it) bring the team back to the Nassau area.

It was emphasized that such talks were in early stages and that the ownership group is “weighing multiple options, including remaining in Brooklyn.”

When it came to the rumors about Queens, more than a few people believed that it may have come down to leveraging Barclays for a better situation in Brooklyn. The Isles’ ownership group hasn’t discussed these rumors, so it’s difficult to gauge how seriously the team would consider moving again.

In the grand scheme of things, it feels far too early to get too excited or bent out of shape about these murmurs. Even if something significant happens – and there have been plenty of gripes about Barclays – it sounds like it would take some time for plans to formulate.

Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 20:  Luke Schenn #52 of the Los Angeles Kings in action against the San Jose Sharks in Game Four of the Western Conference First Round during the NHL 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 20, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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While Brayden Schenn hopes to hammer out a favorable deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, his brother Luke Schenn inked a two-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.

Arizona didn’t confirm these details, but the cap hit looks to be $1.25 million, according to reporters including Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“We are very pleased to sign Luke to a two-year contract,” New Coyotes GM John Chayka said. “He’s a good, young defenseman and we feel we can optimize his performance here. He will be a solid addition to our blue line.”

Chayka is making some significant changes to the Coyotes’ blueline, even if Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still the star of that group.

The Coyotes traded for and then signed Alex Goligoski. They possibly grabbed a falling star in the draft, too, as they selected Jacob Chychrun. Adding Schenn might not be the last move, either.

Schenn isn’t necessarily an analytics darling, but a two-year, $2.5 million deal is reasonable even with some flaws. This contract seems even more reasonable when you consider the five-year, $18 million deal that just expired.