Monday, March 24, 2008

The West Regional

Here's my take on the West Regional.

Game 1: #1 New Hampshire vs. # 4 Notre Dame

This is a tough draw for Notre Dame. They're probably just thankful to be in the tournament after they were able to avoid a deadly tie and instead squeak out a loss against Northern Michigan to sneak into the tournament. But really, they probably should have been a third seed ranked ahead of Wisconsin. The Irish were another team unfairly punished by the flaws in the PWR. They somehow lost comparisons to the 22nd and 25th ranked teams in the RPI, which makes very little sense.

That said, they are the 4th seed and they've got to play a very good New Hampshire team. Losing twice in the CCHA tournament may have been the result Notre Dame needed to get into the tournament, but I felt that they, probably more than anybody, needed a good win in their conference tournament finals to really get back on track for the NCAA tournament.

Their end-of-season slump was well documented, and other than an early season split with Denver and Miami, the Irish don't really have any "big wins" that they can hang their hat on. Add the fact that they're missing their leading scorer in Erik Condra, and it doesn't look good for Notre Dame.

The Wildcats come into the tournament with a nice mix of young and old, led by two great seniors in Mike Radja and Matt Fornataro, and two good freshmen in James vanRiemsdyk and Danny Dries(a Victory Honda-alum from Lake Orion, Michigan). The real leader of the team however is goalie and Hobey Baker finalist Kevin Regan.

Of all the 1-4 match-ups, this one seems the most likely to produce an upset, since UNH was the weakest one seed, and Notre Dame is the only four seed that didn't rely on an autobid to get into the tournament. But I still think that New Hampshire will come out ahead in this game. For whatever reason, Notre Dame just doesn't seem to play their best against top competition, and I think New Hampshire is too strong in goal for the Irish to put up a lot of offense.

Game 2 #2 Colorado College vs. #3 Michigan State

I think this is probably the best, most intriguing first round game. Colorado College won the WCHA regular season title and is playing on their home ice, where they had a fabulous record against a very tough, tournament-tested team in Michigan State.

Colorado College had an amazing year, but two things concern me about them. First, everyone points to the 18-2-0 home record, but those two losses came fairly late in the year to pretty good, but not great teams in St. Cloud and Minnesota State. Second, the team is coming off of two tough losses in the WCHA Final Five, so momentum isn't on their side.

On the positive side, CC will be playing on Olympic-sized ice, which I think benefits them more than any other team. Also, I'm pretty sure Richard Bachman will be starting in goal, so I don't expect them to give up much in the way of goals.

On the other side of the ice, there doesn't seem to be much in favor of Michigan State. They were off last week after losing to Northern Michigan in the CCHA quarterfinals, and didn't play great down the stretch.

But it's still really hard to pick against Michigan State after what they did last year. They may have sleepwalked through games during the regular season, but the talent is definitely there, and in a big game, when they play their best, they can match up with anyone in the country. A player like Tim Kennedy may not have been as consistent as a Chad Rau this year, but at his best, Kennedy can be every bit as electrifying. The same can be said about Jeff Lerg.

It's probably a dumb move to pick against a team on their home ice, but I think Michigan State will find a way to pull this out. I think the Spartans will still manage to keep this a tight, low-scoring game even on the bigger ice surface, and catch a break late to win the game. They won a national title last year by essentially turning all of their games into a coin flip, and it just happened to come up heads for them four times in a row. I see the same formula working for them again here.

Regional Final: #1 New Hampshire vs. #3 Michigan State

This should be another very close game with not a lot to choose from between the two teams. But again, if Michigan State is playing their best, I just like them a little more. I'll take Jeff Lerg over Kevin Regan in a battle of the goalies, and I think MSU's tournament experience will help them pull off the upset.


Anonymous said...

You live in an absolute dreamworld if you think MS comes out of this regional. CC has faced way better goalies all season than Lerg. UNH has a trillion times more of an offense than MS. CC-UNH is the final and CC gets payback for two let down's earlier in the season.


Anonymous said...

Wow, This one won't even be close as a hungry CC in their own building is a force to be reckoned with. 6-1 CC

Anonymous said...

CC was "hungry" last week too and they went home with two losses and their tails between their legs.

Anonymous said...

CC survives only if Bachman can get control of his rebounds again. The puck was bouncing all over in front of the crease during the Final Five.

Anonymous said...

The only way Sparty beats CC is to get lots of rubber on Bachman and hope for a lucky bounce or two. Otherwise CC dominates this game. Way too much speed and skill, especially on the big ice sheet. MSU had a nice run last year. In the WCHA they are a middle of the pack team at best.

RR said...

I think CC has the distinct advantage in this regional due to the altitude. It won't be that easy for MSU,UNH or ND to adapt quickly to the altitude in Colorado Springs. Especially when playing games back to back. It makes a big difference. The edge goes to CC.

James said...

I know the WCHA folks can't pass up a chance to pick CC over MSU, but I would at least mention that MSU's best performances all season came against Michigan -- a team VERY similar to CC in many respects. MSU is less effective against physical, defensive minded teams like themselves. Match them up against a speedy attacking offense and they seem to do well.

I'm still picking CC to win because of the home ice (altitude and big sheet included), but this is not a good matchup for them. Both in terms of style, and experience.

Chris said...

"You live in an absolute dreamworld if you think MS comes out of this regional."

Dreamworld or déjà vu world? These comments seem like comments recycled from MSU's play-off run last year. MSU is still the underdog, but then, they've been there before.

Red Cedar Semi-Believer said...

I do like your optimism and prediction... you're more a believer than I. This MSU alum/fan is queasy. The 2007-08 team is befuddling... when on, it's as good or better than last year's championship squad. But often it's not, particularly against good/semi-good teams that aren't Michigan or Notre Dame. A WCHA squad on Olympic-sized home ice is a bad combo. It's not as if I expect the late-Mason-era NCAA goalless string to reappear, but MSU's NCAA advancement the past two years' NCAAs will probably not be repeated this year. A first-round MSU win would tickle me, with anything beyond being icing on the cake.

I feel UNH will take this region.

Anonymous said...

"You live in an absolute dreamworld if you think MS comes out of this regional."

The dreamworld doesn't look so bad now. Are there houses for sale there? Watch how far out on that limb you go with the things you speculate about.

Defense, albeit it boring, win's championships.