March 29, 2013

Five alive: New England teams set for NCAA tournament

By Andy Merritt

Jeff Malcolm and the Yale Bulldogs kicked off the 2013 NCAA Tournament with an upset win over Minnesota in the West Regional. (Photo by Yale Athletics)

For five New England teams, the golf clubs stay in storage for at least another weekend.

Boston College, New Hampshire, UMass-Lowell, Quinnipiac and Yale begin the NCAA tournament this weekend, having earned spots in the 16-team Division 1 field that opens play at regional tournaments in Providence, Manchester, N.H., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio.

The roads the five teams took to reach the tournament vary quite a bit, but four of the five lucked out in drawing regional assignments close to home. Yale was the only team to get sent away from the East Coast, and kicked the tournament off with a shocking 3-2 opening round win over Minnesota Friday afternoon.

BC and Quinnipiac were sent to the East Regional in Providence, which starts Saturday, while UMass-Lowell and UNH head to Manchester for the Northeast Regional. Both teams play Friday night.

Yale has arguably the hardest road to a Frozen Four berth of any of the region’s teams. The Bulldogs went 18-12-3 this year, but just barely snuck into the tournament as the 15th seed, according to the NCAA-selection-mimicking Pairwise Comparison Ratings. The only thing, in fact, that ended up keeping Yale alive was that BU didn’t beat UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East final, which would have given the Terriers the Hockey East autobid, made UMass-Lowell an at-large team, and knocked Yale out of contention.

The Bulldogs were riding pretty high at the beginning of February, sitting on a 13-5-3 overall record and a 9-4-1 mark in the ECAC. But a five-loss tailspin knocked them down to third place in the conference, and after a sweep of St. Lawrence in the first round of the ECAC tournament, they were blown out of the water in a 5-0 loss to Union, falling in the consolation game 3-0 to Quinnipiac.

Yet they’re still alive – and boy are they. Their 3-2 overtime victory over Minnesota, the top seed in the West Regional, on Friday afternoon out in Grand Rapids, could end up being the biggest upset of the tournament. It won’t get much easier from there, though. North Dakota and Niagara are the other two teams in the regional, and the Sioux and Purple Eagles are both pretty fearsome squads this year.

Coming back to the Eastern time zone, UMass-Lowell’s remarkable season continues today at 4:30 against Wisconsin, the surprise winner of the WCHA. The Badgers had a decent regular season, finishing 17-12-7, but they’ve turned on the afterburners in the postseason, sweeping Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA First Round, then streaking to the league title despite being the fourth seed in the Final Five.

Of course, the River Hawks know a little bit about streaks. Their nine-game run in the middle of the season took them to the top of the Hockey East standings, and a subsequent seven-game surge helped them claim the program’s first regular-season league title (and the first Hockey East crown not won by BC, BU, Maine or UNH). UML is 12-1-0 in its last 13, including a sweep of Maine in the Hockey East quarterfinals, a 2-1 win over Providence in the semifinals, and a 1-0 victory over BU to pick up the program’s first league title.

UML kicks off the Northeast Regional in Manchester, and UNH has the nightcap, playing Denver in what amounts to a home game for the Wildcats. That’s good, because the way UNH is playing, it can use all the help it can get. The Wildcats have just three wins in their last 13 games (3-5-5), as the second half of the season has not been kind to a team that was 12-3-2 when the new year began. Sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith, who was among the best in the country in the first half of the year, came back to earth a little as the season wore on, although his 2.24 goals against average and .924 save percentage are very comparable to his 2011-12 numbers. Offensively, UNH has had a little trouble finding the net over the last few months, though the Wildcats’ losses (and draws) have often come as a result of ill-timed goals allowed.

Denver (20-13-5) has had some inconsistency troubles this season, and they reared their ugly head at the wrong time, as the Pioneers fell to lower seed Colorado College in the opening round of the WCHA tournament. They’re a three-seed, and the 2-3 game in the Northeast ought to be a pretty evenly matched affair between teams that have shown signs of both brilliance and struggle this year.

Which brings us to the East, where the Quinnipiac juggernaut gets ready for a first-round matchup with Canisius, the surprise Atlantic Hockey champion. For about four months this year, from November until the beginning of March, Quinnipiac was basically unbeatable, going 20-2-4 during that stretch. Yet March has found the Bobcats looking downright average, with a bad loss to Harvard on March 1 setting the tone for an up-and-down month. QU survived a loss to Cornell in the first game of the playoffs, coming back the next night to trounce the Big Red 10-0, but lost to Brown in the ECAC semifinals, falling 4-0 to a non-tournament team that finished just over .500.

The key for the Bobcats this year is obvious: Defense. With just one skater (Jeremy Langlois) among the nation’s top 100 scorers, it’s all about goaltender Eric Hartzell, a Hobey Baker finalists who’s got a 1.52 GAA and .934 save percentage, both in the nation’s top 10. The Bobcats need a few more big nights from Hartzell if they want to make something tangible out of this year to remember.

Finally, it’s trophy season at Boston College, but for all the high flying the Eagles did in the first half of the year, when they had a stranglehold on first place in Hockey East, they’ve come back to earth over the last couple of months. Injuries have all but derailed BC’s season, with top defenseman Patch Alber missing 20 games this year with a knee injury suffered before their Dec. 29 game against Alabama-Huntsville. Forward Kevin Hayes had surgery at the end of February to relieve compartment syndrome in his thigh after taking a bruise there, and he’s out for the rest of the season. Even coach Jerry York, who earlier this year became the all-time winningest coach in college hockey history, has had to miss significant time with a detached retina.

But the Eagles, too, are still alive, with a Hobey Baker finalist in Gaudreau leading their offense. They’ve got a tough draw in Union for the first round, but BC teams have often found a little magic when there’s hardware on the line.



Saturday, March 30

Canisius (4) vs. Quinnipiac (1), 5:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Union (3) vs. Boston College (2), 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Sunday, March 31

Canisius/Quinnipiac vs. Union/BC, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)


Friday, March 29

Wisconsin (4) vs. UMass-Lowell (1), 4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Denver (3) vs. New Hampshire (2), 8 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, March 30

Wisconsin/UML vs. Denver/UNH, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)


Saturday, March 30

St. Cloud State (4) vs. Notre Dame (1), 1:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Minnesota State (3) vs. Miami-Ohio (2), 5 p.m. (ESPN3)

Sunday, March 31

Minnesota State/Miami vs. St. Cloud/Notre Dame, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)


Friday, March 29

Yale 3, Minnesota 2 (OT)

Niagara (3) vs. North Dakota (2), 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, March 30

Yale vs. Niagara/North Dakota, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)


Thursday, April 11

Semifinal 1: 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Semifinal 2: 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, April 13

Final: 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Twitter: @A_Merritt