I think my favorite rambling in the college hockey world as the NCAA Division I pairings were prepared for release today is how Denver somehow got screwed because they finished second in the WCHA and were denied a bid to the Dance.
Unfortunately for the Pioneers and their supporters, the exceptionally fair and equitable system the NCAA has in place didn't forget about DU's holiday tournament loss at home to Princeton. The system also didn't forget DU's overall record of 4-7 in non-conference games, and it didn't forget Denver losing two out of three at home to ninth-place UMD in the WCHA opening round. For DU's outgoing players (I'd say "seniors", but I'm under the impression that junior D Matt Carle will also be leaving), that's a bitter pill to swallow. In essence, three home losses ruined their season, and the last one, a 5-2 loss last Sunday, ended their season.
On one hand, I feel bad for the Pioneers, a classy outfit for the most part. I feel bad for those who follow the program, as DU's fans are among the classiest and most knowledgeable in the WCHA. I feel bad for head coach George Gwozdecky, a good man and a very good coach. But on the other hand, I don't feel bad. The players knew what they had to do last weekend and they didn't get it done. They didn't want it as badly as UMD did in any of the three games, and only some questionable officiating and two very fortunate bounces kept the Pioneers alive for a third game.
Denver fans have a lot to be proud of, with two straight national championships and seven total. And they've handled themselves well this week (most of the pro-Denver whining I've heard has come from people who aren't Denver fans). If they keep supporting the program, they'll see the Pios return to the Dance, probably around 365 days from now. And if Carle somehow decides to come back, they might begin the season as the favorite.
Anyway, the field is set, and it looks like this:
Midwest Regional (Green Bay)
1 Wisconsin vs. 16 Bemidji State
8 Cornell vs. 9 Colorado College
East Regional (Albany)
4 Michigan State vs. 13 New Hampshire
5 Harvard vs. 12 Maine
Northeast Regional (Worcester)
3 Boston U. vs. 14 Nebraska-Omaha
6 Miami vs. 11 Boston College
West Regional (Grand Forks)
2 Minnesota vs. 15 Holy Cross
7 North Dakota vs. 10 Michigan
The West and East regionals are Saturday/Sunday, while the Northeast and West are Friday/Saturday.
Here are some first-glance predictions, which are often more effective than what are produced after painstaking research and actual thinking are done:
Wisconsin vs Bemidji State--> BSU has some spunk, as seen last year against Denver, but they don't have the depth or goaltending to match Bucky. Wisconsin, 5-2
Cornell vs Colorado College--> Cornell has a tough, defensive style with a quality goaltender in McKee. I think their big defensemen will keep CC's smaller forwards away from the slot area, and Cornell will find a garbage goal to hold on. Cornell, 2-1
Michigan State vs New Hampshire--> UNH will be out to atone for Friday's humiliating 9-2 loss to Boston U in the Hockey East semifinals. But they'll find a team in MSU that's too hot and too strong. Michigan State, 4-1
Harvard vs Maine--> Maine has played better since a trip to Florida where they must have left their game at home. However, I think Harvard's speed up front will cause Maine too many problems on Saturday. Harvard, 4-3
Boston University vs Nebraska-Omaha--> For those who haven't seen UNO's Scott Parse play, here's your chance. Unless BU cools off in a hurry, it's going to be your only chance in this tournament. Boston University, 6-2
Miami vs Boston College--> A lot of people are going to pick BC to win this game and force a sixth meeting with BU (BU has won four of the first five). I'm not. I like Miami and star D Andy Greene (a Hobey Baker finalist) to hold off the Eagles. Miami, 4-3
Minnesota vs Holy Cross--> Last year, Denver beat Bemidji State in OT, while Boston College barely held off Mercyhurst. I think Bemidji can give UW a good fight, but can Holy Cross stay with the Gophers? Probably not, though the shaky goaltending that Minnesota will bring to Grand Forks would be enough to give anyone a chance. Minnesota, 7-4
North Dakota vs Michigan--> The Sioux might be the best team in this tournament right now. Michigan's young and talented, but they aren't equipped to beat UND in their building. North Dakota, 3-1
Wisconsin vs Cornell--> It might be in Wisconsin, and it might feel like home for the Badgers, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. The Badgers had lost six games at home before losing any away from the Kohl Center. In a battle of defense, though, I'll take the Badgers to prevail behind Hobey finalist goaltender Brian Elliott. Wisconsin, 2-1
Michigan State vs Harvard--> Can a Eastern team get in the Frozen Four? Former NHLer Ted Donato will have his guys ready, and the Crimson will spring the upset. Harvard, 4-2
Boston University vs Miami--> Boston U's speed vs Miami's grit. In a playoff setting, the grit will usually win, and while BU is the host for the regional in Worcester, it's not usually a home-ice atmosphere for them. I'll take the RedHawks to qualify for Milwaukee. Miami, 5-3
Minnesota vs North Dakota--> Even though North Dakota struggled on home ice this year, I think they have better defense and goaltending, and they're a more physical team. In a battle of WCHA teams, I like the Sioux to go to Milwaukee. North Dakota, 5-2
Wisconsin vs Harvard--> Elliott gets himself ready for Friday's Hobey ceremony (if he ends up getting invited). Otherwise, Elliott shows why he should have been invited. Wisconsin, 3-0
Miami vs North Dakota--> With the Sioux getting hot, Miami has to find a way to slow down those dynamic young forwards while also getting enough heat on Jordan Parise. I don't like their chances. North Dakota, 4-1
Wisconsin vs North Dakota--> I have just projected another WCHA national title, and another all-WCHA national title game. I'm sure that leaves me loved around the country. As for the game, flip a coin. As long as it comes up Sioux, you're a winner. North Dakota, 4-3