April 08, 2010
NCAA Hockey 101 is a weekly feature on U.S. Division I college hockey. Stick around and you just might learn a thing or two.
There are a ton of storylines for this year's Frozen Four.
There's the Cinderella story Rochester Institute of Technology. Boston College is playing for its second national title in three years. Miami trying to win a championship to cap an incredibly trying, emotional season. Wisconsin has played like an unstoppable juggernaut in the three games since its loss on March 19. There's even the bonus storyline if Wisconsin and Miami advance to the title game: Brothers Brendan and Reilly Smith would have to play against each other.
But really, this tournament highlights that for all the talk of parity on a national level, that the little guys are catching up with the big dogs at long last, it's more like "Business As Usual Plus RIT."
I have nothing against RIT, except that I disagree with the mechanism by which they got into the tournament; it's nice that a team with such likeable players has made it this far, but this isn't their rodeo.
Wisconsin won a national title four years ago, BC is looking for its third since 2001, Miami was a fluke BU offensive explosion from a national title last season. Combined, those three teams have made 20 NCAA tournament appearances in the last 10 years of a possible 30. Only Wisconsin has missed more than one tournament since 2004, and they just missed two.
Those three teams' records in their 20 tournaments is 35-14. The last time all three missed the tournament in the same year was 2002.
BC has now made six Frozen Four appearances (and four finals appearances) this decade, while this is the second Frozen Four for both Wisconsin and Miami since then. BC won titles in both 2001 and 2008, and Wisconsin won in 2006, when it beat BC.
And for some reason we're supposed to believe that, in a given year, anyone can win the tournament? Please.
Just six teams have won titles in the last decade, with BC, Denver and Minnesota winning two apiece.
Even this year, we're being told about parity because RIT and Bemidji and Huntsville made the tournament. Great. The three juggernauts in the Frozen Four have a combined record of 83-27-14. And people act like Wisconsin and BC had mediocre seasons.
So yes, I am looking forward to that title game between Wisconsin and the winner of BC/Miami, but not because I want RIT to lose. It's just silly to expect anything but that outcome. Obviously everyone said that prior to their squeaker against Denver and again before UNH's annual Chernobyl act, but these courageous Tigers have to run out of luck at some point, right?
Maybe you want to believe in the underdog; I don't begrudge that attitude. Just don't be surprised when the three teams that have been to eight Frozen Fours in the last five seasons keep right on winning.
Boston College (27-10-3)
Why the Eagles will be national champions: They know what they're doing. As detailed above, going to the title game is what they do. They've done it four times in the last 10 years. They've won it all twice. Jerry York is the best coach in college hockey, and his team can beat you in any kind of game you care to play. The Eagles are frighteningly versatile and devastatingly lethal.
Why they're going home disappointed: To put it simply: defense. The Eagles have conceded 14 goals in their last three games, and that's despite only allowing one against Alaska in the regional semifinal. Six goals to Maine in the Hockey East title game, seven to Yale in the regional final. Tempting fate like that against Miami seems like a really bad idea.
Why the RedHawks will be national champions: They have to be, eventually. Enrico Blasi has gotten his team to six of the last seven tournaments. The first two appearances, they were bounced in the first game. The second two, they advanced but lost in the regional final. Last year, they went to the national title game and were less than two minutes from winning. They can't knock on the door forever without having it finally open.
Why they're going home disappointed: They're playing BC. Normally that would merely be a daunting task, but for the RedHawks, it's like climbing Everest backwards. These two teams have met three times in the NCAA tournament, and BC has won every game, by a combined score of13-3. That's ugly.
Why the Tigers will be national champions: Jared DeMichiel is a hell of a goaltender and the whole team plays strong defense. They proved it against both Denver and UNH. They're also capable of an offensive explosion. In this tournament the Tigers proved they can play white-knuckle hockey and that they can win a laugher.
Why they're going home disappointed: They haven't proven they can play from behind. They never trailed in the regional, and actually scored just five minutes into the Denver game. I'm sure they had a few comeback wins in Atlantic Hockey, but the Frozen Four doesn't have any teams like Army or UConn. Unless they go up on Wisconsin early in the game (unlikely), it's probable they'll have to play with a deficit.
Why the Badgers will be national champions: They have two players that should be up for the Hobey Baker on Friday night. Blake Geoffrion actually is, and he's been a monster in this tournament with two goals and three assists in two games, and a 6-4-10 line in his last five games. The other is defenseman Brendan Smith, who led the nation in scoring from the blue line with 47 points, and should absolutely be up for the award instead of Bobby Butler(notes). Oh and they have two other guys with 50-plus points. They've got to be the prohibitive favorite.
Why they're going home disappointed: They've let teams hang around far too much in this tournament, take too many penalties, and leaned too heavily on Geoffrion. Yeah, Geoffrion can handle it, but if someone can shut him down, I'm not sure how the rest of the team will react to it. Plus Scott Gudmandson hasn't exactly been stellar between the pipes so far in the tournament.
Thursday (All times Eastern)
Wisconsin vs. RIT, 5:30 p.m., ESPN2
Miami vs. BC, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Championship game, 7 p.m., ESPN