March 24, 2005
NCAA Tournament

Midwest Regional Preview | Grand Rapids, Mich.

 NCAA
MIDWEST REGIONAL PREVIEW


Marty Sertich leads CC into the Midwest Regional.
(Photo by Casey Gibson)

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NCAA MIDWEST REGIONAL
Van Andel Arena
Friday, March 25

5 p.m. ET: No. 1 Colorado College vs. No. 4 Colgate

8:30 p.m. ET: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Wisconsin

Saturday, March 26

5 p.m. ET: Regional Final

By James Jahnke

HOT TOPIC

Did Colorado 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 first round.

CC slipped 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.

BACK STORY

Is Wisconsin 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.

While You're There
Fortunately 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 last year.

ON A ROLL

Perhaps no 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.

Opponents’ 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.

MR. CLUTCH

With Colgate 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.

Such skill 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.

SOMETHING TO PROVE

Wisconsin 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.

ONE TO WATCH

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.

Sterling might 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.

SATURDAY STORYLINE?

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.

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