NCAA Hockey Tournament: West Region Preview

Story posted March 25, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Christopher Hess

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

16 teams heard their names called on Selection Sunday and we are just a few short weeks away from crowning a national championship during this unforgettable year of college hockey.

The West Regional will be played in Loveland, Colorado this time around and the two matchups consist of three of the best goalies in the nation and a team looking to prove that it belongs with the big dogs.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the participants of the West regional.

No. 4 Omaha (14-10-1) vs. No. 1 Minnesota (23-6)

The Mavericks have been a surprise team this season and have the ability to create a buzz in this year’s tournament.

Taylor Ward, Tyler Weiss and Chayse Primeau anchor an offense that averages 3.29 goals per clip and have teamed up for 64 points in 25 games played.

Defensively, Omaha has gotten a big spark from North Dakota transfer Jonny Tychonick alongside Brandon Scanlin and Jason Smallidge contributing on the offensive end as well.

Isaiah Saville has played well in net with a 12-10-1 record, a 2.86 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage and will be tested mightily against a Gophers offense that knows how to put pucks on net.

The Big Ten tournament champions from Minnesota have explosive players at almost every position and they have the ability to win it all this season.

Seven Golden Gophers have over 20 points and Colorado Avalanche prospect Sampo Ranta is the ringleader of that vaunted attack with 18 goals.

Sammy Walker, Scott Reedy, Ben Meyers and Blake McLaughlin are other players to look out for on the attack and they too can light up the stat sheet.

Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe and Ryan Johnson have been stout on the backend for Bob Motzko’s team and can clamp down on a team’s best player with ease.

But the story of the defense is Richter and Hobey Baker Award finalist, Jack LaFontaine.

LaFontaine also won Big Ten goalie of the year and comes into the matchup with Omaha holding a 21-6 record, a 1.74 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.

Minnesota is locked and loaded for a run in the tournament and should get a win, but it won’t come easy. Omaha has played teams like Duluth and North Dakota close all season long, but depth usually prevails.

Prediction: Minnesota

No. 2 Minnesota State (20-4-1) vs. No. 3 Quinnipiac (17-7-4)

Before we get into the offense and defense, let’s start with the goalie matchup because it could potentially be the best one of the first-round matchups.

Dryden McKay vs. Keith Petruzzelli

McKay has been virtually impenetrable all season long for Minnesota State and has found himself on the Richter and Hobey Baker Award finalist list, even after getting pulled in the WCHA semifinals against Northern Michigan.

The junior leads the nation in goals-against average with a 1.40 and shutouts with nine. He also has a 19-3 record to go along with a .930 save percentage.

Like McKay, Petruzzelli is also on the two lists and he too, has been a tough code to break. In 28 games, he has a 17-7-4 record, a 1.82 goals-against average and a solid save percentage sitting at .927.

Now, when looking at Minnesota State’s offense, there’s one word to describe it.

Balanced.

Julian Napravnik has 25 points on 10 goals and 15 assists, and three other players have over 20 points to go along with eight other players that have over 10.

Defensively, Akito Hirose, the little brother of Detroit Red Wings player, Taro Hirose, has been the best point-scoring defenseman along with fellow freshman Jake Livingstone, scoring 13 points a-piece.

Quinnipiac, like Minnesota State, has quite a bit of point-scorers, but one player in particular, is a cut above the rest.

Senior forward, Odeen Tufto, is a literal human cheat code with the puck in his possession and the statline of seven goals, 38 assists and 45 points tells the whole story. He is lethal.

Ethan de Jong and Ty Smilanic each have 14 goals and can light the lamp from virtually anywhere in the offensive zone.

Vegas Golden Knight prospect Peter DiLiberatore has been strong on the defensive end, and has even chipped in 19 points consisting of five goals and 14 assists in 28 games played.

Minnesota State has never won an NCAA tournament game and is in desperate need of one after missing out on the WCHA tournament final.

Quinnipiac got tripped up by St. Lawrence in the ECAC finals, but the Saints had to withdraw from the national tournament due to COVID-19 cases, even though the Bobcats would have likely made it anyway.

McKay wants to make that final push towards Ryan Miller’s career shutout record and make a strong case for the Richter Award. He will do so in this game.

Prediction: Minnesota State


Christopher Hess is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email christopherhess22@gmail.com.