East Regional - (Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, Conn.)
Miami vs. Umass-Lowell - Friday, 6:30 p.m. EDT
In terms of players to watch, there's really no contest. Hobey Baker finalist Reilly Smith is coming into the tournament with 30 goals on the season (and 18 assists) and there's little doubt the junior hailing from Ontario will be the deciding factor for the favored Miami squad. However, when you consider the second-highest goal total is 12, kinda makes you think, doesn't it? (Record: 24-14-12)
Dealmaker: Miami has been a streak-y team - two eight-game runs without losses earlier in the season, taking nine of the past ten - and with the loaded roster they've got, it should be no surprise to find them continuing through the bracket.
Deal-breaker: Against the UMass Lowell squad, filling a spot in the bracket for the first time in 16 years, the odds of an upset aren't really, you know, realistic, but when you consider Miami was in a fairly similar position going into the tournament last year - spending every week in the top 15, eventually splitting the field before falling to the similarly ranked New Hampshire in the first round - just hope that history doesn't get repeated.
This is a team that definitely skews a bit younger - 20 of the 27-man roster is made up of freshman and sophomores - but a lot of the talent that's driven them through the season has been coming from the young end, especially from freshman Scott Wilson, who leads the team in goals (16) and is tied for points with Junior Riley Wetmore (37). (The fact that Doug Carr, despite a few hiccups, comes into this game boasting a .930 save pct, should probably get noted as well.)(Record: 23-12-1)
Dealmaker/What it's going to take for them to win: Neutralizing the scoring chances given to Reilly Smith. Finding leadership in the wounded (but still active) captain Riley Wetmore (who's been reported to have a broken hand). Defying the lack of experience to advance the team to a stage and opponent they're more attuned to.
Deal-breaker: Minus the singing mice and glass slippers, the team we've seen come out for UML this season, especially when stacked against the team it was last year, has been pretty close to a Cinderella story. (Also, minus the dresses.) However, no matter how well coach Norm Bazin has turned this team around, when faced with a team like Miami, it's almost like you're hearing the clock striking midnight. (In case you didn't get enough references: Evil stepsisters, prince charming, balls and giant freaking pumpkins.)
Additional Takeaway: In more than a few ways, these two teams are awfully similar on paper.
Miami's had 119 on 1234 shots (.096 pct), while Lowell's had 120 on 1215 shots (.099pct). UML's got 3.3 goals/game. Miami with 3. Really, however, it seems this game's going to come down to experience and all the intangibles going on in the locker room. However, with all that said, even with everything you could stack against them - and we've clearly been trying - Miami's got a pretty solid team, one that certainly has the potential to break the ranks in Tampa a week into April, one we have a hard time imagining getting stonewalled this time around.
Prediction: Miami wins 3-2
Union vs. Michigan State University - Friday, 3 p.m. EDT
Michigan State University:
As Mr. Chris Peters over at United States of Hockey put it in his write-up: "When it comes to Michigan State, perhaps there only needs to be one player listed: Torey Krug." Although he later does make a point of saying that there are other players who "pick up the slack," there's little doubt that Krug is certainly one of the main ones to keep an eye on. The junior defenseman - who also so happens to be a top-10 Hobey Baker finalist as well - has been a force throughout the season, especially on the offensive end of things, where's notched 33 points to lead the team. (He also leads in goals (12) and assists (21)). (Record: 19-15-4)
Dealmaker: From the NCAA: "Krug has the unique distinction to be one of only five defenseman in college history who has led his league in points; he tied for first with 29 points in 28 games.")
Deal breaker: As has already been observed around the web: That 2.89 goals per game does not bode well against a Union defensive corps and goaltending that doesn't allow much past. If MSU finds a way to advance, it'll be in a pretty miraculous revitalization of the offense that requires some intervention on the divine order of things.
There's a reason the Dutchmen have scored two goals for every one scored against them (a 3.6 goals-scored compared to 1.8 goals-against). And you know what that reason is? They're pretty gosh darn good. Also, that the first Hobey Baker nominee ever to come out of Union, Troy Grosenick - and his .936 pct - back in goal probably doesn't hurt. What's more, as if you needed any additional reason to back the Dutchmen, the Dutchmen - a name that you couldn't overuse if you tried - have gone 15-2-2 since the beginning of the season, thanks in large part to first-year coach Rick Benett. (Record: 24-7- 7)
Dealmaker: Dutchmen. Also, everything that we just said.
Possible Deal-breaker: If MSU somehow finds and channels the spirit of the team they were a few years back, the offensive lines start picking up, and Grosenick is forced to play blindfolded, then we'll chat. Until that time, we don't really see this one working out in MSU's favor. Sorry, Sparty.
Additional Takeaway: Not really necessary. Sorry, MSU.
Prediction: Union takes it 3-0
East Regional Final - Bridgeport, Conn. - Saturday, 6:30 p.m. EDT
We've seen the argument that Union hasn't really been exposed to the competition that Miami has - and while there's certainly more than a few grains of truth to that, it seems that Union in their own right has faced off against their own fair share of competitive challenges, (though when it did, teams like Michigan - who they beat in November - didn't have the strength or ranking they do now). So, although the wins against Colgate, Harvard, etc. have shown them to be a solid team, whether that can hold up against serious caliber goal-scorers such as Reilly Smith, is open to skepticism. And we're going with the skeptics on this one.
Prediction: Miami wins over Union 2-1