Would anyone care for some hockey? Anyone? Anyone?
Well hey, it only lasts one more week, and this is it, so deal with it. And besides, it’s pretty damn exciting if you give it a chance. So please do.
The first two rounds of the NCAA hockey tournament were ridiculous — if you wanted upsets in basketball and didn’t get enough you should’ve watched hockey — and now the Frozen Four is set with no interference from the other, “more important,” tournament.
In my effort to make you look informed when you actually do watch this, here is my Frozen Four preview.
You should also know these things before we start: There are 58 Division I hockey teams, 16 of which make it into the single-elimination NCAA Tournament by either automatic or at-large bid. Four teams are placed in each regional and the winner of that site moves on to the Frozen Four.
The four teams still left standing are Boston University, Vermont, Miami (Ohio) and Bemidji State. Miami plays Bemidji in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. today and BU plays Vermont in the second semi at 8:30 p.m. Both games are on ESPN2.
The final is at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. All the games are being played at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
Now for the preview, with predictions and everything!
Who they are: The Boston University Terriers have been one of the two best teams in the country all year long. They won the Hockey East regular season and tournament championships. Oh yeah, and they won the Beanpot.
How they got to the Frozen Four: BU is the only No. 1 seed to get past its first round game. The Terriers beat Ohio State 8-3 in the first game then edged New Hampshire 2-1 in the Northeast Regional final to advance.
The storyline: BU is the only top seed left and is the clear favorite going into the Frozen Four. The path to coach Jack Parker’s third national championship is wide open.
Player(s) to watch: BU is loaded up with talent, but leading the pack is Hobey Baker finalist Colin Wilson. The sophomore forward has 52 points (15-37) in 41 games and is a plus-18. He was a first round choice of the Nashville Predators in 2008. Also keep an eye on freshman goaltender Kieran Millan. He’s been studly all year long.
Bottom line: I just don’t see any way BU loses. There’s tons of talent in both zones and even though you don’t know what to expect from a freshman goaltender in the Frozen Four, Millan has been great all year.
Who they are: The Vermont Catamounts have perhaps the best mascot in the Frozen Four. They finished in a tie for third in Hockey East and lost in the tournament quarterfinals to UMass-Lowell.
How they got to the Frozen Four: Vermont upended the East Regional host, Yale, 4-1 in its first game then scored 14 minutes and 10 seconds into the second overtime to beat No. 4-seed Air Force 3-2 in the regional final.
The storyline: Vermont is another Cinderella in this tournament, although when you’re a top-three team in Hockey East it’s hard to be called such a thing. The Catamounts are 2-1 against BU this year, winning both games in Boston. They certainly won’t be intimidated come puck drop time.
Player to watch: Viktor Stalberg. The junior forward is Vermont’s top scoring threat. He led Hockey East in goals (19) during the regular season and has 45 points in 38 games overall. He was a sixth round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006.
Bottom line: Any time you’ve beaten BU twice on the road you’ve got the chops to beat them at a neutral site. If there’s one team capable of of the upset it’s certainly Vermont. Don’t think it’s going to happen, but as crazy as this tournament’s been, it just might.
Who they are: This is Miami University in Ohio, folks, not The U. Don’t think they play hockey on South Beach. The RedHawks hail from Oxford, Ohio, and play in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
How they got to the Frozen Four: Miami finished in a tie for second in the CCHA regular season and lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals to Northern Michigan, so they sneaked into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team with a No. 4 regional seed.
They upset top-seed Denver, 4-2, in the West Regional semifinal then beat Minnesota-Duluth, the No. 2 seed in the West Regional, 2-1, to punch its ticket to Washington D.C.
The storyline: Head coach Enrico Blasi played at Miami and beat his mentor, Denver coach George Gwozdecky, in the first round. Notre Dame was the first No. 4 regional seed to reach the Frozen Four last year, but either Miami or its opponent, Bemidji State, will make a No. 4 seed in the final for the second straight year.
Player to watch: Carter Camper. Camper is Miami’s leading scorer with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games. The 5-foot-9 sophomore can fill up the scoresheet but is as yet undrafted.
Bottom line: Miami has shown all year it can play with the big boys with series sweeps over Notre Dame and Michigan and its postseason run. But it’s also had some weird losses (Clarkson, Army, Michigan State at home and losing twice in a row at home against Northern Michigan in the CCHA quarters after taking a one-game lead in the series. That said, Miami is more skilled than Bemidji. Then again, you should read about Bemidji first.
Who they are: This is the fun part. There aren’t very many people that have heard of Bemidji State. The Beavers hail from upstate Minnesota and won the tournament for soon-to-be-defunct College Hockey America to get into the NCAAs.
How they got to the Frozen Four: Bemidji was seeded dead last heading into the tournament and pulled a titantic upset in the first round, hammering No. 2 overall seed Notre Dame 5-1 in the Midwest Regional. It then beat Cornell the next night to advance to D.C.
The storyline: The Beavers are a legitimate underdog. They have something like one NHL draft pick on the roster, play in a conference that’s going to fold up after next season, come from a tiny town in upper-Minnesota and pulled off two major upsets to get to the Frozen Four. Two more wins would make them national champions and after next season they don’t even have a conference to play in.
Player to watch: Brad Hunt. The freshman defenseman has made an instant impact, especially quarterbacking one of the country’s best power plays from the point.
Bottom line: It’s hard to believe Bemidji has a chance against Miami, but then again everyone said that a coupole weeks ago against Notre Dame.
PREDICTIONS: Even though there’s been plenty of upsets to this point, I’m going with all chalk. Miami beats Bemidji in the first semi, BU beats Vermont in the second and the Terriers win another national championship for Jack Parker.