Northeast Regional - (DCU Center – Worcester, Mass.)
Boston College vs. Air Force - Saturday, 4 p.m. EDT
If you spend any time looking at or putting together or posting the results of the national polls - in this case the USAToday/USA Hockey Magazine one, just in case you were wondering - you get something of a twinge of pleasure when you see one team after another occupy the top slot. Because it gets fairly monotonous otherwise. (Case in point: Wisconsin's women's team was sitting pretty at No.1 virtually the entire year - week after week after week - before getting dethroned in the championship by Minnesota.) Not quite the case for the men's. For a time there, it seemed almost a week-to-week changing of the guard between Minnesota, UMD, Ferris. But for the last few weeks, it was BC. And you have to wonder: How weren't they up there longer BC?
The east-coast powerhouse comes into the tournament with a 15-game streak, a roster bursting at the seams with talent, a pair of championship runs to their credit back in 2010 and 2008. It just seems natural for them to occupy the top spot. Although they're bound to have their work cut out for them against UMD or Maine on Sunday, there's little doubt that the Eagles will probably end up sustaining that winning romp through Tampa.
Dealmaker: Everything. Also, Coach Jerry York, outscoring opponents through the regular season 141-87. Outscoring opponents 61-19 during the aforementioned 15-game streak. Overall, just a really, really good team.
Deal-breaker: It's not a gimme for BC by any stretch of the imagination - stranger things have happened - but assuming they don't inexplicably lose momentum, there's not much to write here.
There's really no way that you could say that Air Force isn't a good team. The talent that's on that bench - from the very talented Tim Kirby Hobey Baker Finalist (First Team all-star, AHA Player of the Year, fact that he's never missed a game, etc.) - to the leadership behind in the legendary Frank Serratore, the fact that they've managed to topple some very good teams through the regular season. All in all, there's a good reason that they're in the tournament. That they're going up against BC in the first game, Maine or UMD in the second ... Well, it's unfortunate, but you never know. (Even though you might be pretty darn sure.)
Dealmaker: Tim Kirby could be the deciding factor in this game. Why? Funny you should ask. Might be because ...
Deal-breaker: Depending on what sort of Air Force team comes out of the gates, there are two different games we might be seeing. And if AF gets bogged down early by the BC offense, odds are they won't be resurfacing. If they can stifle it a bit, like we said, you never know.
Prediction: BC wins 4-1.
University of Minnesota-Duluth vs. Maine - Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EDT
If you run your eyes down UMD's schedule/results from this past season, it's just about impossible not to collide in that unbroken streak of Ts and Ws (mostly the latter) that stretches from Oct. 21 against Providence all the way down to Jan. 14, when they (finally) took a loss at Nebraska-Omaha. Even though it almost seems that Nebraska - the state or the loss - might have sapped some of the magic* from this past year's championship team, writing them off - or even suggesting it, really - would be pretty irresponsible. The team boasts some pretty serious depth, with five players topping 13 goals on the season, and a good chunk of whom played for the golden-haired squad this past year and know what it's like to play on collegiate hockey's biggest stage.
*(Of course, that's kind of relative when you consider they still ended up winning 12 of the last 18.)
Dealmaker: Some serious experience here. Some serious talent. Just a lot of seriousness. And lots of it.
Deal-breaker: Things get too serious. Abbott plays. UMD gets caught up thinking about the potential game against BC.
For the first time since the 2007 seasons, Maine is heading to the NCAA regionals - when they took the East Regional and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four - something for which many Maine-o-nites are probably more than a little excited. Throughout the regular season, Maine posted some pretty respectable numbers, didn't have the record-breaking streaks that some of their contemporaries posted, but knocked BU and BC off their respective pedestals a few times. All considered, you can expect them to play some pretty solid hockey and expect a good showing against the returning-champion UMD team. What'll happen if and when they show up against BC in the quarterfinals - a team that might have trounced them 4-1 just a few days earlier in the Hockey East championship - is probably not quite as certain.
Dealmaker: Abbott. NCAA's point leader. Only thing is ...
Deal-breaker: He may not be making an appearance, having sustained (what's probably) a concussion. Although it's true that one man can't carry a team alone, when you consider the fact that Abbott's line was responsible for nearly half of the team's 131 goals, you have to wonder what that sort of absence could do to the team's chemistry. Especially when going up against a team such as UMD.
Prediction: UMD wins it 3-2
Northeast Regional Final - Worcester, Mass. - Sunday, 8 p.m.
There's so much to like about UMD. There really is. The fact that for the better part of the season it seemed they'd be a shoo-in for another championship. The fact that they've got enormous reservoirs of talent in the likes of Connolly, Oleksuk, Brown, etc. But the truth of it is, barring an upset, it's tough to imagine beating the very hot BC, especially coming off a lackluster end-of-the-season run.
BC wins 3-1.