NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament: Cincinnati Region Preview
Will Desautelle, Travis Sutton, Anthony Spada and Alissa Divine preview the Cincinnati Region of the NCAA Tournament.
The first round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament is right around the corner and it is shaping up to be a great one.
Starting on March 25th, the top 16 teams in the Pairwise rankings will start their final, and arguably most important, games of the season. The programs are split into four regional divisions consisting of four teams each. Here we will focus on the Cincinnati Region which consists of No. 1 ranked Denver, Michigan Tech, Union, and Penn State.
Starting off with arguably the most dangerous team in all of college hockey, the Denver Pioneers ended their season with a record of 29-7-4. Their schedule was strong enough for a .6041 RPI, which tops the country. Denver’s win percentage of .775 is only second to Harvard, which played seven less games during the season. The Pioneers had a disappointing end to their season with only a third place finish in the NCHC divisional playoffs. It says a lot about how good this team is when third place is a disappointing result in a division where four of their eight teams are ranked in the top ten.
Facing off with Denver in the first round are the Michigan Tech Huskies. The Huskies ended their season as the champions of the WCHA division for the first time in their history with a win over Bowling Green in two overtime periods.
Despite the championship, Michigan Tech doesn’t have quite as impressive a stat line as Denver does on paper with a 23-14-7 record, but it’s always smart to keep in mind that hockey is not played on paper.
Denver’s case for the Frozen Four starts with its defense. Averaging only 1.8 goals per game, it’s the best defense in the country. Denver’s offense isn’t too shabby either, though they’re still wet behind the ears. The Pioneers only managed 12 shots in two quarters in their 1-0 loss to North Dakota, sending them to the third place game.
For Tech, its strength lies in the team’s experience, having played five more games than Denver, and the most of any team currently competing. Even with the extra practice, it’s worth mentioning that the Huskies haven’t faced any teams nearly at the caliber of Denver.
Denver and Michigan Tech will drop the puck at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 25th.
The other matchup in the Cincinnati region will be played between the Union Dutchmen and Penn State Nittany Lions at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Union are the most recent winners of the NCAA tournament in the Cincinnati division, having won in 2014. That also happens to be the last year they were in the tournament. At 25-9-3 on the year and ending tied for first in the ECAC with Harvard, Union have relied on their offense to get this far.
The Dutchmen’s Mike Vecchione leads the country in scoring with an average of 1.68 points per game. He and Spencer Foo strike fear into every opposing defense when they take to the ice. Union’s problem is the opposite of Denver’s: their defense isn’t great. On the season, the Dutchmen defense gives up 2.78 goals per game, good enough for 26th in Division I.
Penn State made a name for itself this year as the still young team fought their way to the tournament in storybook fashion. At the beginning of the season, the Nittany Lions were expected to play well and they exceeded expectations by making it to No. 1 for the first time in their existence. After plummeting post-milestone, they slugged their way through the Big Ten tournament, winning it after two double overtime victories in a row.
The Penn State defense is incredible in late games and their stamina is unmatched. The biggest question will be if their luck in overtime has run out. The Nittany Lion offense is nothing to scoff at with an average 3.97 goals per game, but can they produce goals against high quality opponents?
The region is going to be a must-see as the teams battle it out for the Frozen Four. Denver will exit the first round with a win over Michigan Tech, but the Huskies won’t make it too easy for them. Penn State and Union will fight until the final whistle blows and Penn State will miraculously escape with a win yet again, dragging themselves off the ice in exhaustion. After the first round, Denver will be matched up against Penn State and keep the game in regular time, ending the improbable streak by the bone-tired Blue and White and sending the Pioneers to the Frozen Four.
Tommy Butler is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.