Midwest Regional Preview | Grand Rapids, Mich.
College get screwed by the NCAA selection committee? OK, so that
won’t be on the Tigers’ minds while they’re
on the ice. But if they
have a tough time with Colgate, or – gasp! – lose
to the Raiders, there will be plenty of griping on the south side
of the Rockies. CC had a better record and better RPI than McNaughton
Cup co-champion and archrival Denver, but the committee, apparently
leaning heavily on head-to-head competition and Denver’s
WCHA tournament title, made the Pioneers the No. 2 overall seed
and pitted them against lightly regarded Bemidji State in the
to the No. 3 slot and must play a presumably stronger Colgate
squad. Plus, the Tigers might have to face Michigan – a
strong No. 2 seed – in front of a hostile crowd in the regional
final. If Colorado College survives and advances to Columbus,
this won’t be much of an issue. But after also getting a
raw deal in 2003 (see Saturday’s storyline), Tigers fans
will be quite upset if they’re upset this weekend.
OK? The Badgers haven’t seemed themselves since early February,
when they beat Minnesota in the first game of the month before
going on a 1-5-3 skid. Much of the swoon can be attributed to
their vicious schedule (series vs. Minnesota, at Denver, vs. Colorado
College, at North Dakota and at Minnesota Duluth), but a team
that was playing as well as Wisconsin up to the Super Bowl should
have been able to inflict some damage, too, as opposed to just
being a whipping post.
At this late
stage of the season, youth might be hamstringing the club. Offensive
production is down, with the Badgers only topping three goals
twice since mid-January. Perhaps that’s because there’s
just one senior skater in the lineup? Tough to say. Even steady
senior goalie Bernd Brückler had a late-season breakdown,
getting pulled from one playoff game against Alaska Anchorage
and not even starting the next.
All that said,
Wisconsin looked like a No. 1 seed two months ago and beat Michigan
in the teams’ only meeting this year. If Mike Eaves can
somehow rescue that UW team from the mothballs and put it on the
ice this weekend, we’ll have an interesting hockey game.
Otherwise, Blue fans will have changed certain fight song words
to “Gone Wisconsin” by about 11 p.m. Friday.
for fans who aren’t (or won’t be) very mobile
in Grand Rapids, two of the city’s best hangouts are
within a 3-iron of Van Andel Arena. The infamous B.O.B. –
which stands for Big Old Building – is a 70,000 square-foot,
four-story structure that houses a cigar lounge,
microbrewery, comedy club, dance club, billiards hall, several
restaurants and other establishments. All will be crawling
with people wearing college hockey sweaters this weekend.
If the B.O.B. is a bit overwhelming, another option is Tiki
Bob’s on the other side of the arena. Though this bar/restaurant
also will be swarming with fans this weekend, you might have
slightly more luck finding a table here. Both the B.O.B. and
Tiki Bob’s are within easy walking (or crawling) distance
of Van Andel and both had TVs showing the out-of-town games
team in the nation is hotter than Michigan, which rides a 10-game
winning streak and 13-game unbeaten streak to the western part
of its state this weekend. The Wolverines are cruising offensively,
averaging 5.2 goals per game during their winning streak. And
lest you dismiss that stat by noting four of those games (and
26 of the goals) came against floundering Notre Dame, the Wolverines
hung nine in a series against Hobey Baker finalist Jordan Sigalet
of Bowling Green earlier this month and have 10 in their last
two games against CCHA runner-up Ohio State. Few would dispute
that U-M is as talented as any team in the nation. Goalie Al Montoya
hasn’t played all that well this season, but he’s
still a first-round NHL draft pick and on the short list of the
nation’s best “big-game” netminders.
lone saving grace when playing the Wolverines had been an apparent
chemistry problem on the Maize and Blue side. It wasn’t
that there was rampant in-fighting or locker-room brawls in Ann
Arbor, but, for some reason, Michigan didn’t seem to jell
and play a complete, focused, up-to-their-potential game until
its recent roll. Now that Red Berenson seems to have everybody
on the same page, the Wolverines could be considered the co-favorite
of this regional.
teetering on the tournament bubble, senior defenseman Joey Mormina
might have turned in the finest performance of his career last
weekend in Albany. He scored three times in two games –
including the game winner in the ECACHL consolation victory over
Vermont that was, more or less, an NCAA play-in game. Mormina
is exceptionally mobile for a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder, and he’s
excellent at using his length to keep onrushing forwards at bay.
will be imperative against the high-octane Tigers on Friday. Expect
Mormina and senior partner Justin Spencer to log a lot of ice
time against CC’s uber-line of Sertich, Sterling and Polaski.
Come to think of it, with Mormina on the top PP and PK units,
too, expect the Quebecois to log a lot of ice time, period.
coach Mike Eaves has successfully rescued the Badgers from the
relative depths of the WCHA in just three seasons, but the next
step is earning his stripes as a playoff coach. After last weekend’s
Final Five flameout, Eaves is just 4-7 in the postseason and hasn’t
won a Final Five game.
On the ice,
the player with the most to prove will be facing Eaves’
squad Friday. Montoya has been criticized all season for his largely
pedestrian play (.895 save percentage), especially after his woeful
performance at the World Juniors. He looked much better during
the CCHA tournament, especially during the title game against
Ohio State, but if he wobbles this weekend, plenty more fuel will
be added to his critics’ fire.
For the second
year in a row, fans in Grand Rapids might see the eventual Hobey
Baker Award winner lead his team to the Frozen Four. Last year,
Minnesota Duluth’s Junior Lessard scored twice in G. Rap.
to make sure he had a pair of items on his “To Do”
list in Boston – the Hobey cermony and a semifinal date
with Denver. Only one of those appointments wound up working out
for Lessard, but at least he didn’t go 0-fer, eh? This year,
Colorado College linemates Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling are
the two main Hobey front-runners with a chance to double their
pleasure in Columbus. They are tied for the national lead with
61 points apiece (Sertich with 25 g, 36a; Sterling with 32, 29)
– seven more than third-place Sean Collins of New Hampshire.
be the best finisher in the country, and the same could be said
about Sertich and playmaking. It’s too tough to pick one
as more important than the other (good luck, Hobey voters), so
let’s join together and rename this segment “One line
to watch” for this regional.
If the seeds
hold, the Tigers will have a chance for big-time revenge against
Michigan in this weekend’s regional final. It was 2003,
you’ll remember, when CC was the consensus top team in the
country heading into the national tournament, but the Tigers were
assigned to the Ann Arbor regional and, sure enough, had to play
the Wolverines for the right to go to the Frozen Four. Perhaps
buoyed by the home crowd, Michigan skated stride for stride with
CC, took the lead on Jason Ryznar’s goal early in the third
period and added an empty-netter to seal a 5-3 win. Payback would
be sweet for CC.