Hockey Preview: Providence Region
It’s tournament time in college hockey. Starting on Friday afternoon, we will finally get to see the top 16 teams in the Pairwise rankings begin their quest for an NCAA title. The 16 teams have been divided into four regions: Cincinnati, Manchester, Fargo, and Providence. Only one team will come out of each region and have the opportunity to compete for the title in the Frozen Four. All it takes is two wins to advance to the national semifinals, but no game from here on out will be anything less than strenuous. Here is a look at the Providence region:
The No. 3 overall seed, the Harvard Crimson, headlines the Providence region. Harvard will enter the tournament as arguably the hottest team in the country, having not lost one game since Jan. 17. After that night, where they were crushed at Dartmouth, the Crimson have posted a scorching 15-0-1 record, which included their second straight Ivy League title and an ECAC Tournament championship.
Harvard’s flow offensively is a thing of beauty. They are by far the highest scoring team in the country at 4.21 goals per contest, while ranking fourth nationally in power play percentage. Their three leaders in total points, Sean Malone (43), Tyler Moy (42), and Alexander Kerfoot (42), all rank in the top 25 nationally in that category. All three of those players are seniors and have been outstanding leaders for the Crimson. Their two other most noteworthy seniors, Luke Esposito and Clay Anderson, have been terrific as well, contributing 36 and 15 points, respectively.
Harvard also has a plethora of talented young players to complement their seniors, starting with a versatile sophomore forward in Ryan Donato and a masterful setup man in freshman defenseman Adam Fox. Donato has tallied 38 points this season, while Fox’s 32 assists on the season are tied for 12th nationally.
As good as Harvard is offensively, they are also one of the best defensive teams in the country. Junior goaltender Merrick Madsen is saving almost 92 percent of opponent shots, and the Harvard defense allows just 2.21 goals per game. The Crimson are one of the top seeds in the tournament for a reason.
They will take on a very good all-around Providence team on Friday at 4 p.m. Providence was eliminated by Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament. The Friars will have a major geographical advantage, as their opening round contest will be played in their home city at the Dunkin Donuts Arena.
The Friars are ranked as the No. 12 scoring defensive team in the nation, and they will need to be at their best against the high-flying Crimson. Providence is also well balanced offensively, with plenty of playmakers from multiple positions. Brian Pinho is their leading point scorer at 40, and Erik Foley has tallied 34 of his own. Their goaltender, Hayden Hawkey, has also had an outstanding year. Harvard will no doubt be the favorite, but Providence has the ability to give them a tough test. Also, the fact that this matchup is being played in Providence’s backyard could be a factor.
The other matchup in this region will be between the No. 6-seeded Western Michigan Broncos and the No. 12-seeded Air Force Fighting Falcons. This will be the third contest of the season between the two squads, as Western Michigan defeated Air Force 4-1, the day after a 5-5 tie between the clubs.
The Broncos play in arguably the toughest conference in the nation in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. With a grueling schedule that contains Denver, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State four times per year each, they are as prepared for the tournament competition as anybody.
Western Michigan is young and does not have any single player that stands out among the national elites, but they are the 10th-highest scoring team in the nation and are extremely balanced. Matheson Iacopelli and Sheldon Dries are their leading goal scorers at 20 and 15 apiece. Beyond them, the Broncos have 11 players who have recorded double-digit assists this season.
Where they have struggled at times this season is on the defensive end, even with goaltender Ben Blacker saving nearly 92 percent of opponents’ shots. Western Michigan has played against tremendous scoring teams all season, but they will need to play more consistently on the defensive end if they expect to make a run in the tournament.
Air Force, on the other hand, may not quite be elite offensively, but they are as good as anybody defensively in college hockey as any team in the nation not named Denver. Since November 26th, the Falcons have allowed two or fewer goals in all but one game. The Atlantic Hockey Conference champions have also lost just one game since January 21st.
The Falcons are led by sophomore goaltender Shane Starrett, one of the best in the nation. Jordan Himley is their top point scorer at 31, with a team-high 19 goals. They also have numerous playmakers, such as Phil Boje, Kyle Haak, and Evan Feno. Each team specializes on the opposite end of the ice, so something will have to give.
It will be an exciting region to watch in the early stages of the tournament. Providence will give Harvard a very tough test in the opening round, but the Crimson simply have too much firepower all over the ice for the Friars to pull off the upset. On the other side, Air Force will play a tough, physical game, but Western Michigan has too many weapons offensively and is well prepared from playing in the trenches of the NCHC. This will lead to a Harvard-Western Michigan matchup in the second round, where we can expect an up-tempo, high-scoring affair. At the end of the day, Harvard might be the hottest team in the tournament, and they are peaking just at the right time. Harvard wins and advances to the Frozen Four.
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.