Northeast Regional Preview | Manchester, N.H.
Saturday, March 27
No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 4 Niagara
EST: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 New Hampshire
4 p.m. EST:
plays. Whether it’s at home or on the road, when it comes
to the NCAA Hockey Tournament, it captures attention like a J
have made it to the Frozen Four four times in the last six years.
Three of those years the regionals were held at Yost Ice Arena,
and the fourth was across the state in Grand Rapids. Each time,
Michigan beat a higher seed to the get to the Frozen Four. Each
time, fans seethed and opposing coaches grumbled over the Wolverines’
those gripes arrives in spades this season, as Michigan not only
gets sent away from the state, but also to what should be the
most hostile environment of the tournament. Verizon Wireless Arena,
while not New Hampshire’s home rink, will be filled with
Wildcat fans – they sold out the place faster than any previous
NCAA regional, including those games at the smaller Yost Ice Arena.
What’s more, New Hampshire is familiar with the rink, and
the Wildcats have never lost there (3-0-2).
can’t contain their glee over the Wolverines’ fate,
after they dashed the hopes of North Dakota, St. Cloud State,
Denver and Colorado College in recent regionals. But Red Berenson
doesn’t seem to mind.
personally, it's good for us,” said Berenson, who has led
his team to a record 14 straight tournament appearances, in the
Detroit Free Press. “I'm tired of hearing about
how we're the favorite team, week after week and game after game.
All that's done is hurt our team. Finally, that's off our back."
about Michigan’s locale overshadows what shapes up as the
tournament’s best first-round matchup, regardless of where
it’s played. Both teams have perennial high hopes, but have
been inconsistent this season. Each has the talent that, if playing
well, could bring a national championship home from Boston.
Wolverines can get to Boston without the home crowd’s support
remains to be seen.
College's Matti Kaltiainen
At least two
of the three schools among Boston College, Michigan and New Hampshire
have reached the Frozen Four in every year but one since 1998.
With each school in Manchester this weekend, this year will be
the second exception.
if you’ve followed the sport all season, is that BC may
not be among the semifinalists. The Eagles were the nation’s
most consistent team through February, not having lost back-to-back
games to that point, and seemed an easy pick to saunter into the
Then the roof
caved in, and BC lost five out of six. No team in the tournament
has struggled as much as the once-invincible Eagles have in the
last half-dozen games.
Back in February,
Jerry York seemed to sense that there might be a speed bump ahead.
“It’s so hard to stay at a plateau all year,”
he told INCH at the time. “You always have to be working
to get better.”
For BC, those
struggles have been caused by unpredictable goaltending, hot opposing
goaltenders, a lack of any tangible goal to play for, and perhaps
an over-reliance on Ben Eaves’ return from his fractured
kneecap. We’ll find out Saturday afternoon whether a week
off has given the Eagles renewed focus.
The one team
in this regional that could be considered on a roll is Niagara,
which levels the ice surface a bit for the underdog Purple Eagles.
The rest are reeling in one way or another – BC has lost
five of six, Michigan sleep-walked through most of the CCHA title
game, and UNH collapsed in the third period of the Hockey East
semifinals. Niagara, meanwhile, beat Bemidji State in overtime
to capture the College Hockey America championship, with Joe Tallari
netting the game-winner.
and head coach Dave Burkholder for the Purple Eagles’ season-long
success, especially after the mid-season loss of freshman Jeremy
Hall. The CHA’s best rookie to that point and a fixture
on the top line alongside the crafty Barret Ehgoetz, Hall left
the team to return to the USHL (he’ll attend UMass Lowell
next season). What could have been a major disruption didn’t
seem to bother Niagara, which went 12-6-2 after Hall’s departure.
In seven of
the Purple Eagles’ last eight victories they allowed one
goal or less, with the lone exception being the CHA title game.
Goaltender Jeff VanNynatten turned in arguably his best game of
the year in the CHA final; his continued strong play will be a
key to their hopes of producing a first-round upset, as they did
in their earlier NCAA Tournament appearance, vs. New Hampshire.
staff of The
Hippo, Manchester’s city guide, offers three suggestions
for fans looking to catch the out-of-town games on the dish:
Sports Bar: 20 Old Granite St., Manchester; 626-4898. Lively
place making a good effort to establish a permanent niche
in prime location across from the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Reliable menu, abundance of TVs.
50 Phillipe Cote St., Manchester; 626-7636. Sports-themed
establishment occupies prime riverfront / milliard, about
five blocks from the rink. Pretty loud inside, but the outside
deck is nice enough when the weather cooperates.
Sports Bar: 34 Tarrytown Road, Manchester; 625-6294. More
than 40 TVs available; the wide-ranging menu includes buffalo
burgers. Brave souls may take the Billy Burger challenge
– eat four in 30 minutes or less. About a 10-minute
drive from the rink.
many things NHL scouts like about Michigan goaltender Al Montoya
is this, one said: “He seems to play his best in the biggest
games.” And that was before he backstopped Team
USA to its first gold medal at the World Junior Championship.
Montoya was spectacular down the stretch for the Wolverines last
season, taking them to the Frozen Four and nearly past Minnesota
in the semifinals. It’s been an up-and-down year for Montoya,
who was terrific upon his return from Finland, but has had a hamstring
injury plague him for the past several weeks. You can bet the
NHL scouts will be watching the draft-eligible sophomore closely
this weekend, and if he stays true to form in big games, he’ll
occasionally boils over for Mike Ayers, and that’s when
stick meets crossbar. The crossbar wins those battles, and chances
are, New Hampshire’s opponents win the games.
A year ago
Ayers was the nation’s best goaltender not named Dave LeNeveu;
this year he’s been plagued by a defense that can be lackadaisical
at times, and he’s also allowed the odd soft goal that never
seemed to get by before. Yet the broken sticks show not just his
frustration, but also his intensity. Ayers enters his final NCAA
Tournament with something to prove, and that could be dangerous
for opponents. If he can recapture the brilliance of 2002-03,
which he’s shown at times this year, New Hampshire will
be an awfully tough team to beat.
All eyes will
be on Boston College captain Ben Eaves, and how well he has recovered
from the fractured kneecap that limited him to power-play action
against Boston University two weeks ago. But if you want to really
see whether the Eagles are on their game, keep an eye on defenseman
215 pounds, he’s tough to miss, and he’ll make open-ice
hits that will definitely turn heads. But he’s made huge
strides in smaller, less appreciated areas this year, like making
a crisp outlet pass and filling opponents’ shooting and
passing lanes. His play leads a BC defensive style that limits
shots on goal, especially grade-A opportunities.
and New Hampshire met at the Verizon Wireless Arena back in November,
when the Eagles carried the play but UNH salvaged a 2-2 tie. Obviously
the fans want the Wildcats to advance, but to truly get their
money’s worth, they’d like another shot at the Hockey
East regular season champions.