Hello from Manchester, N.H. From what I've seen, this is pretty cool city and should be a good host for some good hockey this weekend. Thanks for joining me and let's chat about some hockey.
Sorry about that, internet issues. Zane McIntyre is a special goalie and should be good enough for at least one tournament victory. UND needs to fill the void left from injured Mark MacMillan, though, to make a deep run. McIntyre is a Minnesota product, so I'm sure there will be some local support for the goaltender. He's one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award.
Boston University wins it all beating Minnesota State in the championship game.
Big Ten hockey is here to stay and if you want to watch Gophers hockey games, you need to have the Big Ten Network. Most of the Gophers games were on TV this year on BTN or FSN/FSN Plus. The only odd game was the GetTV spot, which I get is still fresh in the fans' memories. But if you have cable or dish packages, usually they'll include BTN and FSN. All the NCAA tournament games are on the ESPN networks and the WatchESPN app.
St. Cloud State is much better than its record shows. They handed the Gophers their first loss of the season way back in October and spent a lot of the season in the USCHO top 20. The Huskies were beat up a little bit in NCHC conference play, but made a run late in the season that included a berth in the conference tournament championship game to secure an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Because many of their losses were to NCHC opponents, it didn't hurt their RPI too much and all they had to do was finish with an above .500 record to get in.
Based on their performance throughout the whole season, here’s how I’d rank them:
Zane McIntyre, North Dakota
Stephon Williams, Minnesota State
Adam Wilcox, Minnesota
Kasimir Kaskisuo, Minnesota Duluth
Charlie Lindgren, St. Cloud State
However, each of these goalies can be special any given night and shut down high-end opponents. Right now, I'd argue Wilcox is as good as anyone.
The Gophers looked good early, were really bad in the middle, and peaked at the right time in the final third of the season. I think the mid-season funk was good for them. It forced the players to re-evaluate their roles and build up new trust for one another on the ice. They're playing as good as I've seen them at any point of the season, but the real test now is how will they play against non-conference opponents.
College hockey is happy that it's adding more teams and growing in popularity, but don't expect the NCAA tournament to include more teams anytime soon. One can argue that the top 32 teams could beat one another on any given night, so that could make for some fun upsets like in the men's basketball tournament, but 16 is the number for now and the foreseeable future.
I'm sure a lot of fans would have liked to see a new opponent for the first round of the NCAA tournament, but the selection committee puts a lot of value on avoiding first-round matchups of teams from the same conference. So with the way the West and Midwest regions shook out, that left the Gophers and Bulldogs to fill a slot in the Northeast. Both teams enjoy playing one another, though.
The Big Ten hockey tournament shifts back to Xcel Energy Center next year and is scheduled to go back to Joe Louis Arena in 2017. There have been discussions about team's hosting first-round games, but I'm sure the conference will endure the growing pains before making an drastic changes.
I'd argue that most of the tournament field wouldn't want to play the Gophers. They have experience and plenty of high-end skill to beat anybody in the NCAA tournament. They are also hungry from losing last year's national championship game.
OK, the last question and biggest of all...
I gotta go with the Gophers. They want redemption for their three straight losses to the rival this season. And it's difficult for one team to beat another four times in one season. If none of that matters, the Gophers have momentum right now and the Bulldogs don't.
Thanks for spending your afternoon with me. Don't forget the Gophers-Bulldogs first-round game starts at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU and can be watched online on ESPN3/WatchESPN app. Listen on 1500-AM.