Since Sunday afternoon, we have known both the Boston College Eagles’ seed and opponent in the opening round of the 2014 NCAA Hockey Tournament. Today, we look at their path to the Frozen Four and the two games they would have to win to get there, sizing up their potential opposition along the way.
Regional Semifinal 1
(1) Boston College vs. (4) Denver
In order to prevent another one-and-done like they had last year, Boston College will have to beat the #4 seed in their region and the 15th overall seed in the tournament, the Denver Pioneers.
Denver played their way into the tournament after winning the inaugural NCHC championship last weekend, posting a 4-3 win over the Miami RedHawks. Despite that big run to a title, however, the Pioneers enter the NCAA Tournament with an overall record of 20-15-6. Had they not gone all the way to victory in their new conference, they would be watching the Northeast Regional at home. Instead, they are playing in it.
The Pioneers rank directly behind a familiar foe, Notre Dame, in team defense, allowing just 2.24 goals per game. Senior goalie Sam Brittain sees to that. Their problem is that they’re very average offensively, coming in a little below the middle of the pack nationally with 2.68 goals scored per game. It is worth noting that they do have a good power play, and on the flip side, their penalty kill is one of the best in the nation.
The Eagles stumble into Worcester having lost three out of four against Notre Dame, and are the only team in the Northeast to not have won their conference tournament. Yet, Boston College blasted through Hockey East’s regular season, have a top-four resume, and will most likely be able to boast this year’s Hobey Baker winner, Johnny Gaudreau.
Boston College got a favorable location as expected, and all of their recent runs to a national championship have begun at the DCU Center. Will this be the next? Perhaps, but the Eagles are going to be quite substantially favored in this game. It may be closer than you think, since the Eagles are running into a hot team that’s good on defense, and are coming off of yet another two-week layoff. A nailbiter is not out of the question, but Boston College should advance.
Regional Semifinal 2
(2) UMass-Lowell vs. (3) Minnesota State
Two conference tournament champions meet here in the nightcap as the River Hawks (Hockey East) and Mavericks (WCHA) do battle in Worcester. UMass-Lowell has consistently been one of the best teams in the nation this year and are looking to make back-to-back Frozen Fours.
Minnesota State had to beat some decent teams to make it to the big ice dance as an autobid, but their PairWise Ranking suggests they were in good shape, anyway. In the finale, they beat Ferris State, the team Boston College took down to win it all in 2012, who are a #2 seed in the Midwest.
Minnesota State boasts one of the most productive forwards in the nation in junior Matt Leitner and a tremendous freshman goalie, Cole Huggins, but in 5-on-5 defense, it’s a case of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better. UMass-Lowell, arguably the best defensive team in the nation, is also led by its goalie, sophomore Connor Hellebuyck. Their shortfall has been their below-average penalty kill at just 81.3 percent. Meanwhile, the Mavericks rank fourth nationally in both power play and penalty kill.
Win or lose, Minnesota State deserves to be here. UMass-Lowell is going to be the favorite, but this is an intriguing matchup in what figures to be a low-scoring game.
Likeliest Regional Final
(1) Boston College vs. (2) UMass-Lowell
A Hockey East battle royale for a trip to the Frozen Four between the conference’s top two teams. That’s a difficult draw for the Eagles, given that the River Hawks are an exceptional hockey team, but it’s no picnic for Lowell, either, given that Boston College is also a legitimate top team, trying to grab its fourth title in seven years.
The Eagles have had some success against the River Hawks this year. Most recently, they went 1-0-1 in a weekend home-and-home between Chestnut Hill and Lowell, but that was the regular season; this is the big boy tournament.
Boston College’s high conversion rate on the power play could be the difference in this one, if they meet.