Saturday, April 01, 2006

Frozen Four Ramblings

The WCHA is well represented in the Frozen Four this year, with Wisconsin and North Dakota set to take on Maine and Boston College. Not unexpectedly, CCHA teams fared quite poorly in the tournament, with just one team making it beyond the first round. I wouldn't normally wouldn't root against any particular conference, but it was nice to see some of these teams and their fans put in their places after a season of hearing about how the CCHA was the best conference in the country. Newsflash for those who insisted throughout the season that the CCHA was better than the WCHA: Beating up on Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage (1-7-0 against CCHA teams) does not make your conference better. There's a reason that Wisconsin, CC, Denver, North Dakota, and Minnesota went 12-4-2 against CCHA teams this year (with an awful lot of those games against top CCHA teams like Miami, Michigan, and Michigan State). How does the Pairwise ranking system get fooled by stuff like this? Was there a CCHA scheduling conspiracy where they planned out how they would schedule games against WCHA bottom feeders to trick the computers into thinking they have the best conference? Anyway, the CCHA team that came the closest to the Frozen Four was Michigan State, who beat New Hampshire 1-0 in their first game but couldn't get by Maine in game two.

It's nice to see some Hockey East teams in the Frozen Four - brings me back to the 1990's when the balance of power throughout the country was a lot different. Boston College making it was the big surprise for me - at the end of the season it looked like they were ready to pack it in, and then they beat Miami and Boston University with ease? What's going on here? Did they sneak Brian Gionta back onto their team for the playoffs? While it was also surprising to see Maine make it as a three seed, the Black Bears were a very hot team in the second half of the season, and they've also got tournament experience. The older players on the team were there for the championship against Denver two years ago, and coach Tim Whitehead has done well in the playoffs. Maine is looking really good if you ask me: they have a balanced attack, they hit hard, they play tight defense, and they have a good goalie. Don't be surprised if they upset Wisconsin. If Brian Elliott can keep up his stellar play, however, Wisconsin will be very tough to beat.

While I think that Maine is looking good going into the FF weekend, the hottest team in the country has to be North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux walked through the WCHA tournament, manhandled Michigan, and then beat Holy Cross (that sounds funny) to advance to their second straight Frozen Four. Their star freshmen are looking spectacular, and the experience of last year's tournament has to help. I would have expected the Sioux to beat Boston College easily, but with BC's impressive run through their regional, it's tough to call. I'd still pick North Dakota, but I'm sure BC will make it interesting.


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