NCAA Tournament: Northeast Regional Preview

Jake McCabe (Collegehockeyinc.com), Nick Shore, WCHA.com, Riley Wetmore (Gretchen Ertl-Boston Globe), Brett Pesce (Futureconsiderations.ca)

Jake McCabe (Collegehockeyinc.com), Nick Shore, WCHA.com, Riley Wetmore (Gretchen Ertl-Boston Globe), Brett Pesce (Futureconsiderations.ca)

By Andrew Weiss (@WeissFC)

Twenty-six weeks of college hockey games have come and gone and just two weekends of the season remain. This Friday kicks off the second to last weekend with four first round games taking place. Of those games are the Northeast Regional’s semifinals featuring UMass-Lowell playing Wisconsin and New Hampshire playing Denver.

The Northeast Regional is arguably the most intriguing of the four regionals with a case being made for all four of the teams to advance to the Frozen Four. All four teams are strong and feature high end skill forwards such as Los Angeles Kings draft picks Nick Shore for Denver and Michael Mersch of Wisconsin. There is no shortage of high end defensemen in the tournament with the likes of Wisconsin’s Jake McCabe and top NCAA draft eligible player Brett Pesce of New Hampshire also headed to Manchester, N.H.

Below is part one of four of The Hockey Guys’ preview to the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament highlighting the Northeast Regional. Each preview will feature the four team capsules, players to watch, and predictions of how the three games will play out.

#1 Massachusetts-Lowell
Record: 26-10-2
Pairwise Ranking: 3
Hockey East (Regular season champions, tournament champions)

UMass-Lowell has had as perfect of a season as any team in the nation in being the only team to claim their respective regular season and tournament titles. Senior captain Riley Wetmore caught a lot of hockey fans’ eyes at last year’s tournament after bouncing back from an injury. Wetmore enters this year’s tournament healthy and centering the Hawks’ first line. The River Hawks will need another strong showing from Wetmore at this year’s tournament.

Player to Watch: Connor Hellebuyck
Junior goaltender Doug Carr led the River Hawks to the East Regional final last year, but this year it’s Hellebuyck who will be in the net. The Hockey East All-Rookie team goaltender has been outstanding this year posting the nation’s best save percentage (.949) and the second best goals against average (1.37). Can the Winnipeg draft pick continue to be one of the nation’s premier freshman at the tournament?

#2 New Hampshire
Record: 19-11-7
Pairwise Ranking: 7
Hockey East (T-third in regular season, tournament quarterfinalists)

Despite mediocre expectations, New Hampshire quickly turned heads early this season and was playing better hockey than any other team in the early months of the season. The Wildcats have fallen back to earth and were bounced in the decisive third game against Providence in the Hockey East quarterfinals. If UNH can match their play at the beginning of this season the Northeast regional will likely be theirs. Finding that early season play is much easier said than done though.

Player to Watch: Trevor van Riemsdyk
Sophomore defenseman van Riemsdyk has had quite the season putting up 31 points in 37 games and is a major part of what has made New Hampshire go this season. In games that van Riemsdyk records a point, the Wildcats are a staggering 11-2-5 but are a mediocre 8-9-2 when he does not find the score sheet (College Hockey Inc.’s statistics). New Hampshire is the regional host and will make the short 35 mile trek to Verizon Wireless Arena for the tournament.

#3 Denver
Record: 20-13-5
Pairwise Ranking: 9
WCHA (T-fourth in regular season, eliminated in first round)

For nearly the entire season Denver has been ranked in the top ten and can play with any team in the nation when the Pioneers are on their game. Much of that success can be contributed to impressive depth—particularly on the back end. Led by All-WCHA Second team selection Joey LaLeggia, the Pioneers defense is one of the best in the tournament. Their forward depth is nothing to overlook either with junior Nick Shore leading the way with 33 points in 38 games.

Player to Watch: Juho Olkinuora
Much like regional foe UMass-Lowell, the goaltender who appeared in the tournament last year has returned but will likely not be in the net come Friday. Then sophomore-Sam Brittain was in net for last year’s 2-1 loss to Ferris State in the first round, but will likely be on the bench in favor of current sophomore Olkinuora. Olkinuora has had a good year going 13-5-5, having a 2.28 goals against average, and a .929 save percentage. Much of Denver’s success will depend on Olkinuora.

#4 Wisconsin
Record: 22-12-7
Pairwise Ranking: 14
WCHA (T-fourth in regular season, tournament champions)

Last week at this time the Badgers were on the cusp of not making the tournament. While they just slid in as the fourteenth overall seed, they are currently as hot as any team at the tournament. Wisconsin won the final WCHA tournament going through #9 St. Cloud State, #11 Minnesota State, and Colorado College to claim the title this past weekend.

Player to Watch: Nic Kerdiles
After having to sit out the first ten games of the season, the freshman forward has been outstanding for the Badgers. Kerdiles had three goals and three assists in the three WCHA tournament games this past weekend and currently has an 11 game point streak. Kerdiles has always come up big on in tournaments including leading the gold medal winning US team in points in the 2012 U18 World Championship last April.

Northeastern Regional Prediction

#1 UMass-Lowell v. #4 Wisconsin Friday 4:30pm EST, ESPN3
There’s very little doubt this is the premier matchup in the first round of the tournament with the two hottest teams in the tournament facing off. Wisconsin should win in a tight game, but if Hellebuyck stands on his head it is anyone’s guess. Wisconsin

#2 New Hampshire v. #3 Denver Friday 8pm EST, ESPNU
In contrast to the UMass-Lowell/Wisconsin game, this game features two teams who both had premature exits in their respective tournaments. Both teams will not have played a game for more than a week and a half once Friday afternoon rolls around. Despite New Hampshire playing just down the road in Manchester, the Wildcats have been extremely inconsistent the last month and a half and for that reason I like the Pioneers to advance. Denver

Regional Final: #3 Denver v. #4 Wisconsin Saturday 6:30pm EST, ESPNU
The November series saw the teams tie Friday and Wisconsin win 3-1 Saturday. The final battle between the two WCHA teams will see Wisconsin continue their hot play and be the first four seed since RIT in 2010 to move onto the Frozen Four. Wisconsin

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