Puck Daddy’s Guide to the 2012 NCAA Hockey Tournament: Can anyone stop Boston College?

Puck Daddy

The NCAA hockey tournament begins tomorrow afternoon, so why not do a bit of studying first?

The Boston College Eagles had to be more than a little unsatisfied with their performance last year.

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BC had won two of the last previous national titles, and, while it wasn't the No. 1 seed in that tournament, it was certainly looked upon as a favorite to at least return to the Frozen Four. Instead, it crashed out of the first round 8-4 at the hands of Colorado College, which was bounced itself the following night by eventual runners-up Michigan.Particularly galling was the fact that BC conceded eight goals in that game, given that it had rampaged through its previous eight games, scoring 32 goals and conceding just 17.

And the scary thing for BC, which this year earned the top seed in the NCAA tournament with a 29-10-1 record, that's not even a particularly good run to the NCAA tournament, let alone performance in it.

What you have to understand about the Eagles is that their raison d'être from the time the calendar flips over to February is winning, and winning by embarrassing margins. Last weekend, they collected their third straight Hockey East title, and fifth in the last six years. And where last year's eight-game streak into the national dance looks impressive, it's dwarfed by this season's run of 15.

Yes, 15. Really.

During that scorched-earth run, which admittedly was a little soft down the stretch, it has pumped its terrified opponents for 61 goals. Worse still, it has allowed just 19. The last time it gave up more than two goals in a game was against UNH on Jan. 27, when this absurd streak began. In that one, it gave up three.

How does one contain a team with depth so chasmal, or score against a defense so miserly?

As you might imagine, a team this good is stocked from top to bottom with NHL draft picks — a full nine in all — led most notably, of course, by former Rangers first-rounder Chris Kreider. Based on talent alone, there is really no reason for Kreider, a junior, to still be playing in the NCAA at this point, and it's pretty easy to guess that he's getting on a plane to the AHL the second BC's season is over, which shouldn't be any time soon.

Kreider led the Eagles with 41 points, 20 of which were goals, followed closely by undersized Calgary fourth-rounder and Hockey East tournament MVP Johnny Gaudreau, who was runner-up for the league's rookie of the year award thanks to a fallow middle of the season that gave way to a sensational finish. At 23 games, he had a mere 7-8-15 line. Now, at 40, he's looking at 19-20-39. Much of that, you'll notice, came as BC kicked sand in the face of their 98-pound-weakling opponents.

Senior Barry Almeida, though, might be the team's most dynamic player, with a team-leading 22 goals and a sensational two-way game. Juniors Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney, both undrafted, help Calgary selection Bill Arnold help fill out the deep forward corps.

But all that having been said, the Eagles' real strength is on defense, where massive junior and Carolina draft pick Brian Dumoulin was steady as the Rock of Gibraltar for an Eagles defense that ranked fifth in the nation at 2.17 goals against per night.

Dumoulin, for my money, was Hockey East's best player this season, expertly improving his defensive game even as his point production dropped off a bit from his sophomore campaign to a mere 6-20-26 in 40 games. NCAA hockey doesn't give us enough details about the games to come up with CORSI relative stats or anything like that (most don't even keep track of who blocks shots), but Dumoulin finished the year a plus-23 playing a ton of minutes against every other teams' top line, which tells you at least a little about his defensive wherewithal.

He's complemented by former Bruins second-rounder Tommy Cross, Caps fourth-round pick Patrick Wey, and San Jose's 2010 fifth-rounder Isaac MacLeod, as well as undrafted but very good Patch Alber and Edwin Shea. They all do good enough work that goaltender Parker Milner faces just 26.6 shots per game, and even then, most aren't of particularly good quality.

All this talent is, of course, marshaled by the legendary and endlessly likable Jerry York, the winningest active coach in NCAA hockey. Earlier this year, he won his 900th game — he's now at 909 — and is a good half-season away from passing retired Michigan State coach Ron Mason for the all-time record. In doing all this winning, you won't be shocked to learn that York has been phenomenally successful in the NCAA tournament, winning four national titles. Three of them have been with BC (2001, 2008, 2010). If the Eagles somehow don't advance to the Frozen Four, it will be just the sixth time since 1998 that they failed to do so. Just think about that.

There's very little reason to doubt the Eagles can win this tournament. Their seniors this year — and there are only four of them who get regular time — have lost a total of two postseason games in their careers.

The other 18 went a lot better, just as you'd expect them to. This is BC we're talking about here.

Meet the field...

No. 1 Boston College Eagles

Key stat: Junior netminder Parker Milner's stats during BC's 15-game winning streak are quite impressive: a 1.25 GAA and a .954 save percentage.
Top player: Junior forward Chris Kreider is easily the team's most talented player, and if you're a fan of guys who can skate, Kreider can do that better than anyone in the country. It's transfixing.
NHL draft picks: 9 (Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold, New York Rangers' Chris Kreider, Colorado's Paul Carey, Carolina's Brian Dumoulin, Chicago's Kevin Hayes, Boston's Tommy Cross, San Jose's Isaac MacLeod, Washington's Patrick Wey)
Quick fact: It's hard to question the way BC finished the season, but it also did so against some pretty bad teams. Just four of its final 15 games, were against teams that finished in the top half of Hockey East.

No. 2 Michigan Wolverines

Key stat: The Wolverines score very much by committee, with no player having more than 16 goals, but the team still finished 10th in the nation with 130 goals in 40 games.
Top player: Senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick, a Hobey Baker finalist with a 1.98 GAA and .933 save percentage.
NHL draft picks: 11 (New Jersey's David Wohlberg and Jon Merrill, Montreal's Mac Bennett and Greg Pateryn, Dallas' Alex Guptill, San Jose's Lee Moffie, Phoenix's Chris Brown, Colorado's Luke Moffatt, Columbus' Kevin Lynch, Florida's Zach Hyman, and Winnipeg's Brennan Serville)
Quick fact: Michigan won 24 games this season, but never more than four in a row.

No. 3 Union Dutchmen

Key stat: Union has lost just two games since the beginning of the new year, going 15-2-2 down the stretch after a so-so start.
Top player: Sophomore goalie Troy Grosenik is the team's first-ever Hobey candidate, and put together a stat line of 1.65 GAA/.936 save percentage.
NHL draft picks: None.
Quick fact: Nate Leaman, the coach who led Union to its first NCAA appearance ever last season, is now coaching at Providence. First-year coach Rick Bennett, ironically a Providence alum who had worked under Leaman for the Dutchmen, led his team to a 24-7-7 season.

No. 4 North Dakota Fighting Sioux

Key stat: North Dakota didn't start the season so hot but has rampaged to seven straight wins. And after falling behind in the WCHA semifinal 3-0 against archrival Minnesota, they scored the next 10 goals in their games, winning that one 6-3 and whitewashing Denver 4-0 in the final.
Top player: Sophomore forward Brock Nelson, who scored 27 goals this year after netting just eight as a freshman.
NHL draft picks: 15 (Florida's Corban Knight and Rocco Grimaldi, New York Montreal's Danny Kristo and Mark MacMillan, Chicago's Nick Mattson and Joe Gleason, Islanders' Brock Nelson, Philadelphia's Michael Parks, Ottawa's Ben Blood, Edmonton's Dillon Simpson, Los Angeles's Derek Forbort, Toronto's Andrew MacWilliam, Tampa Bay's Brendan O'Donnell, New Jersey's Derek Rodwell, and Buffalo's Brad Eidsness)
Quick fact: The Sioux were as deep in the WCHA as 10th in December, having lost six of its first eight league games, but rallied nonetheless to finish fourth, then won their third straight league tournament title.

No. 5 Miami RedHawks

Key stat: Like BC and NoDak, this is another team that got hot late in the season, winning nine of its last 10 games. That loss, though, was a 6-2 thrashing at the hands of eventual CCHA champs Western Michigan. It was the first time they conceded more than one goal in a game since Feb. 4.
Top player: Goaltender Connor Knapp (this is becoming a common theme), who led the nation in GAA at 1.64 and was second in save percentage at .937, was somehow not a Hobey Baker finalist.
NHL draft picks: 9 (Dallas' Reilly Smith and Curtis McKenzie, Columbus' Trent Vogelhuber and Will Weber, Tampa Bay's Jimmy Mullin, New Jersey's Blake Coleman, Ottawa's Chris Wideman, Toronto's Tyler Biggs, and Buffalo's Connor Knapp)
Quick fact: John Buccigross's kid goes to Miami so if you watch Friday's contest, it's going to sound like Jack Edwards calling a Bruins game. Fair warning.

No. 6 Ferris State Bulldogs

Key stat: Ferris is one of only three teams in the tournament to crash out of their conference quarterfinals, this after winning the CCHA regular-season title with a league record of 16-7-5.
Top player: Senior netminder Taylor Nelson backstops a 10th-in-the-nation team defense with his 2.18 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
NHL draft picks: None.
Quick fact: This is only Ferris' second-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. The other was in 2003, when they upset North Dakota in the opening round.

No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Key stat: Duluth, the reigning national champions, lost just seven players from last season's team, and just five were regular players. One was Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, who went pro after his freshman year.
Top player: Undrafted senior center Jack Connolly led the team in scoring with 19 goals and 58 points in 39 games despite having lost his two regular linemates last summer. Connolly has 195 points in his 164-game career, which is a lot. He was very much the reason UMD had the nation's best offense.
NHL draft picks: 6 (Washington's Caleb Herbert, Montreal's Scott Kishel, Florida's Joe Basaraba, St. Louis' Max Tardy, Chicago's Dan DeLisle)
Quick fact: It's reasonable to assume that since ESPN spent all of the last tournament focused on the fact that everyone on Duluth dyed their hair platinum blond, you can go ahead and expect a lot of coverage of them all having mohawks this season.

No. 8 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Key stat: If there's one time the Gophers are ever vulnerable, it's the second period. Almost half the 88 goals they gave up all season were scored in the middle frame, compared with just 21 allowed in the first and 23 in the third.
Top player: Sophomore Nick Bjugstad is really, really good. He had 24 goals and 40 points in 37 games.
NHL draft picks: 17 (Florida's Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, Columbus' Jake Hansen and Seth Ambroz, Washington's Travis Boyd and Nick Larson, Colorado's Nate Condon and Kent Patterson, Minnesota's Eric Haula, Nashville's Zach Budish, Carolina's Mark Alt, Vancouver's Taylor Matson, New Jersey's Seth Helgeson, Detroit's Ben Marshall, Chicago's Justin Holl, Dallas' Nico Sacchetti, and Buffalo's Christian Isackson)
Quick fact: Three of Minnesota's top four scorers (Bjugstad, Haula, and defenseman Nate Schmidt) were sophomores. The other, Rau, was a freshman. They combined for 162 points.

No. 9 Boston University Terriers

Key stat: BU has five players who have recorded more than 100 shots on goal this season. No one else has more than 78.
Top player: Sophomore and Predators draftee Garrett Noonan was tied for second on the Terriers in goals, which isn't easy to do for a defenseman. But his 16-goal campaign was also good for a tie for first in the nation from the blue line. And just so you don't think it's all O and no D with this kid, he's also BU's best defenseman in his own zone.
NHL draft picks: 9 (Dallas' Alex Chiasson, San Jose's Matt Nieto, Chicago's Adam Clendening, Florida's Wade Megan, Nashville's Garrett Noonan, Tampa Bay's Justin Courtnall, Winnipeg's Yasin Cissé, Colorado's Kieran Millan, and Toronto's Grant Rollheiser)
Quick fact: BU lost three players midseason (the Islanders' Corey Trivino, Detroit's Max Nicastro and Minnesota's Charlie Coyle) for various reasons, but the team has actually improved without them.

No. 10 Maine Black Bears

Key stat: Maine's top line of Spencer Abbott, Joey Diamond, and Brian Flynn combined for 63 of Maine's 131 goals. They were also a combined plus-47, where the rest of the team was a combined minus-14.
Top player: Abbott was the nation's leading scorer with 20-41-61 in just 38 games, but suffered a concussion in the Hockey East semifinals against BU, and his status for the tournament is unclear.
NHL draft picks: 4 (Anaheim's Ryan Hegarty and Nick Pryor, Winnipeg's Will O'Neill, and Columbus' Martin Oullette)
Quick fact: Goalie Dan Sullivan carried the water for Maine, playing 85.9 percent of his team's minutes over the season. He's also college hockey's answer to Chris Osgood: a 2.54 GAA and .910 save percentage were good enough to win him 22 games behind the juggernaut Maine offense.

No. 11 Denver Pioneers

Key stat: Denver really likes giving its fans some value for their money. Before it got steamrolled in the WCHA title game, its last three games had gone to at least one overtime. In all, 11 of its games needed extra time to determine.
Top player: Sophomore Jason Zucker, a Minnesota draft pick, scored a team-leading 22 goals for the Pios in just 37 games this year, but, like Abbott, is questionable for its NCAA games after leaving last Saturday's WCHA title game and not returning. However, because his team was already getting killed by NoDak and the game was a lost cause, that may have just been precautionary.
NHL draft picks: NHL draft picks: 10 (Florida's Drew Shore, John Lee and Sam Brittain, Minnesota's Jason Zucker, Los Angeles' Nick Shore, Pittsburgh's Beau Bennett, New York Islanders' Scott Mayfield, Chicago's Paul Phillips, Phoenix's Jason Larraza, and Montreal's Josiah Didier)
Quick fact: Injuries are a common theme for Denver, with six players listed as "day-to-day" as of the end of last weekend's WCHA Final Five, and remaining that way in this tournament.

No. 12 UMass Lowell River Hawks

Key stat: Lowell won just five games last year, and the 18-game improvement under new boss Norm Bazin is the biggest improvement by first-year coach in NCAA history.
Top player: Goaltender Doug Carr faltered a bit down the stretch but was the centerpiece for Lowell's success, routinely making difficult saves look easy with top-notch positioning. He was the runner-up for Hockey East Player of the Year behind Maine's Spencer Abbott.
NHL draft picks: 1 (Pittsburgh's Scott Wilson)
Quick fact: Speaking of injury trouble, junior center Riley Wetmore, the team's second leading scorer behind the rookie Wilson, is dealing with one. But though it was termed a lower-body injury by Bazin, Wetmore was seen at the team's Selection Sunday viewing party with a cast on his right hand. Bazin has said Wetmore is expected to play. (Also, I went to Lowell and Lowell rules because Lowell is the best team ever so go Lowell I don't care how unprofessional this is.)

No. 13 Cornell Big Red

Key stat: If you want to beat the Big Red, there's a pretty easy way to do it: Get them to commit penalties. Out of the nation's 58 teams, the Big Red's PK ranked 48th at 78.9 percent. That's not gonna help.
Top player: Junior forward Greg Miller led the team in points and plus-minus, and even though 30 points in 33 games isn't a lot, it was enough thanks to the entire team's commitment to defense.
NHL draft picks: 6 (Columbus' Sean Collins, Los Angeles' Joel Lowry, Boston's Brian Ferlin, Pittsburgh's Nick D'Agostino, Tampa Bay's Kirill Gotovets, and Chicago's Braden Birch)
Quick fact: Talk about a close call. Cornell lost its ECAC semifinal last Friday to Harvard, 6-1, and needed to win and get a couple bounces across the country to get into the NCAA tournament. Goalie Andy Iles, who played every minute for Cornell this season, silenced the nation's leading goalscorer, Austin Smith (36 goals), in a 3-0 shutout.

No. 14 Western Michigan Broncos

Key stat: For a team that scored just 113 goals this season, the Broncos sure piled on the offense in the last couple weeks. Three goals at Ferris State, four and then five against Lake Superior in the CCHA quarterfinals, six against stingy Miami in the semis, and three against Michigan for the title. That's 21 goals in their last five.
Top player: Chase Balisy, a sophomore forward, led the team in offense with 37 points in 40 games. And his goal against Michigan stood up as the game-winner as WMU won its first CCHA championship since 1986.
NHL draft picks: 3 (Nashville's Chase Balisy, Tampa Bay's Luke Witkowski, and Washington's Garrett Haar)
Quick fact: If you ever found yourself wondering what former St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray was up to, the answer was "Taking a CCHA title with a team that won 21 games this year."

No. 15 Michigan State Spartans

Key stat: The Spartans' offense is the worst among teams in the tournament, finishing the year 24th in the country at 2.89 goals for per game. Its defense is 20th.
Top player: Junior D Torey Krug was just outstanding from the blue line this year. A team-leading 12 goals, a team-leading 21 assists, and a team-leading plus-18. Only one other player on the team had a broke plus-9.
NHL draft picks: 3 (Anaheim's Brett Perlini, Winnipeg's Daultan Leveille, and St. Louis' Trevor Nill)
Quick fact: With a record of just 19-15-4, and the stats highlighted above, I really have no idea how this team made the tournament except that the CCHA is just super-deep and their strength of schedule must have been phenomenal. Because they sure weren't.

No. 16 Air Force Falcons

Key stat: Air Force won both the Atlantic Hockey regular-season and postseason titles, but also had the 49th-ranked strength-of-schedule. Every team behind it was also in the AHA.
Top player: Senior defenseman Tim Kirby was Atlantic Hockey's best defenseman and league MVP, and therefore not surprisingly its obligatory Hobey nominee.
NHL draft picks: None.
Quick fact: Yeah, BC will probably kill these guys. Probably. Air Force had to fly to Massachusetts to play BC about 45 minutes from its home rink. But last year, the 1-versus-16 game was Air Force versus Yale, and the Bulldogs needed overtime to get past the Falcons. So it's possible. But it's sure as hell not probable.

Schedule (all times Eastern)*

Friday

3 p.m. - Michigan State vs. Union, Bridgeport, Conn. (ESPNU)
5:30 p.m. - Denver vs. Ferris State, Green Bay, Wisc. (Syndication, ESPN3)
6 p.m. - UMass Lowell vs. Miami, Bridgeport (ESPNU)
9 p.m. - Cornell vs. Michigan, Green Bay (ESPNU)

Saturday

1:30 p.m. - Western Michigan vs. North Dakota, St. Paul, Minn. (Syndication, ESPN3)
4 p.m. - Air Force vs. Boston College, Worcester, Mass. (ESPNU)
5 p.m. - Boston University vs. Minnesota, St. Paul (Syndication, ESPN3)
6:30 p.m. - East Regional final, Bridgeport (ESPNU)
7:30 p.m. - Maine vs. Minnesota-Duluth, Worcester (Syndication, ESPN3)
9:30 p.m. - Midwest Regional final, Green Bay (ESPNU)

Sunday

4:30 p.m. - West Regional final, St. Paul (ESPNU)
8 p.m. - Northeast Regional final, Worcester (ESPNU)

*Yes, all those things that say ESPN3 means they are available for viewing online only. Yes, it's stupid as hell and shameful on the part of the "Worldwide Leader in Sports." But it's also hockey on ESPN we're talking about.

Follow Ryan Lambert on Twitter while he's in Bridgeport watching the tournament, for reasons he doesn't fully understand. Go Lowell.

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