By Miles McQuinn
The end of March into April has to be my favorite time of year. The daily grind of college courses start winding down, mother nature is in a happier mood (for most parts of the nation anyway) and hockey takes center stage across the nation.
This time of year signals playoff and tourney time. tourney time. With the NCAA hockey tournament kicking off today, I say let the real "March Madness" begin.
Like basketball, filling out a bracket is a must. Last year my bracket wasn't too pretty with the exception of my Big Ten picks which were spot on (covering them throughout the season educated me well).
This year we only have one B1G team making the big dance. Will the Gophers represent well? There's potential but getting past Jack Eichel and the BU crew will be a true test.
So without further adieu, here is who I have hanging a banner in 2015.
MIDWEST (South Bend, Ind.)
#1 Minnesota State over #4 RIT
#3 Harvard over #2 Nebraska-Omaha
Frozen Four Bound: #1 Minnesota State over #3 Harvard
NORTHEAST (Manchester, N.H.)
#Boston University over #4 Yale
#3 Minnesota over #2 Minnesota-Duluth
Frozen Four Bound: #1 Boston University over #3 Minnesota
EAST (Providence, R.I.)
#2 Denver over #3 Boston College
#1 Miami over #4 Providence
Frozen Four Bound: #1 Miami over #2 Denver
#1 North Dakota over #4 Quinnipiac
#2 Michigan Tech over #3 St. Cloud State
Frozen Four Bound: #1 North Dakota over #2 Michigan Tech
FROZEN FOUR (Boston)
Minnesota State over Miami
North Dakota over Boston University
2015 National Champion -- North Dakota
So there you have it. Now onto my fears for those picks:
· I've got all #1 seeds heading to the Frozen Four. There's almost a guarantee that this won't happen. It never fails. Boston College always seems to bring it come tournament time. Denver never fails to bring a solid group to the table. There might even be a surprise upset. Like I said, it's the best time of the year.
· Yale boasts the best goals against average in the nation (1.59). They're going to need that against some guy named Jack Eichel and the No. 1 offensive unit in the country in Boston University (3.89 goals per game). Scouting reports say that the Eichel kid is a decent hockey player. He might get drafted in the NHL. Might.
· Michigan Tech could upend my national champion, North Dakota. I watched MTU lose to Michigan at the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit and I was pretty impressed by their skill set and offensive strength. I know they got beat, but they put a ton of shots and had a plethora of scoring chances against the Wolverines. Steve Racine stepped up big between the pipes for the Maize and Blue that night, stopping 40 out of 41 shots in the 2-1 win.
· Providence gets a home game against Miami. Could be some food for thought there. Goaltending can take you anywhere and the battle between Miami's Jay Williams and Providence's Jon Gillies will be an entertaining one to say the least.
· Should I have picked a “Miami vs Boston University” just to see a rematch of the collapse from 2009? Not sure. But you're lying to yourself if you wouldn't want to see that matchup again.
Here's why I have our own Minnesota as a one and done.
The Golden Gophers are one of the deepest teams in college hockey. I expected them to runaway with the Big Ten and remain in the top five in the rankings all year. This was pretty far from what happened, but they got the job done regardless in both the regular season and the conference tournament.
But here's the thing: What Minnesota team is going to show up on Friday?
Will it be the team that tied Wisconsin twice? The team that has already lost to Minnesota-Duluth three times this season? The inconsistent bunch that has left many fans scratching their heads?
Or will it be the group we saw in Detroit last weekend? Is another stellar performance in store for netminder Adam Wilcox, playing the way all Gopher fans know he can play?
Most importantly, will their true depth show up?
The senior line of Seth Ambroz, Travis Boyd and Sam Warning have been great over the past month. Kyle Rau, the captain, needs to show his prolific leadership and offensive talents. There's plenty of big guns up front for the Gophers to light the lamp. No excuses there. On the blue line, back to back Big Ten Defenseman of the Year Mike Reilly, Ryan Collins and the rest of the defensive core need to step up to the plate.
I'm not quite sure that we can say that they peaked at the right time. I say this because the Big Ten had a big letdown this year thanks to tough non-conference losses throughout. A win over Michigan is legitimate, but the Big Ten Tourney was no NCHC gauntlet.