Basketball isn’t the only college sport that hosts a tournament starting in March and ending in April. The NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament kicks off on Friday with the national championship on April 12 in Philadelphia.
Now why would a guy that normally spends his time talking about pro hockey talk about college hockey? It’s simple. You might see a good number of these players take their skills to the NHL. The main reasons people go to college is because they want to work out things after their eligibility in various junior leagues runs out. (Some of these guys do actually go to school and try for an education.)
There’s a good number of these guys already drafted by NHL clubs, and will get a chance to show off their skills to a national audience.
I’ll go region-by-region (there’s four of them) and give you some information and a player to watch.
Top Seed: Boston College
Record: 26-7-4 (At-large; Hockey East regular season champion)
Who to watch: F Johnny Gaudreau, (32 goals, 37 assists). 2011 draft pick of the Calgary Flames.
Synopsis: Gaudreau leads a potent group of scorers and Thatcher Demko is a solid goalie. However, the Eagles lost three times to Notre Dame towards the end of the season. They are experienced, but could be rusty only playing three games in the last three weeks.
Second seed: UMass-Lowell
Record: 25-10-4 (Won Hockey East tournament)
Who to watch: G Connor Hellebuyck (17-8-2, 1.73 goals against average) 2012 draft pick of Winnipeg Jets
Synopsis: One of the more complete teams in the field. They got to the Frozen (play on the word Final) Four last season, and want to get back. It is a tough region with the regular season champion BC and three conference tournament winners. The RiverHawks did tie and beat the Eagles this season.
Third seed: Minnesota St. –Mankato
Record: 26-13-1 (Won WCHA tournament)
Who to watch: F Jean-Paul Lafontaine (20 goals-20 assists) Nephew of Pat Lafontaine
Synopsis: The Mavericks are unbeaten and want that first tourney win. Freshman Cole Higgins has shored up the defense and the Mavs could give the RiverHawks fits.
Fourth seed: Denver
Record: 20-15-6 (Won NCHC tournament)
Who to watch: G Sam Brittain (19-13-6, 2.10 GAA); 2010 draft pick of Florida Panthers
Synopsis: The Pioneers are streaking and Brittain has helped them get into the tournament. Denver has to score against a tough Boston College team.
Top seed: Union College
Record: 28-6-4 (Won ECAC regular and postseason titles)
Who to watch: D Shayne Gostisbehere (8 goals, 21 assists) 2012 draft pick for the Philadelphia Flyers
Synopsis: The Dutchmen have been flying and won their fourth straight Whitelaw Cup, the ECAC’s regular season title. Union has one of the most complete teams in the country and can play some stellar defense.
Second seed: Quinnipiac
Record: 24-9-6 (At-large, 2nd in ECAC)
Who to watch: F Matthew Peca (12 goals, 26 assists) 2011 draft pick for Tampa Bay Lightning
Synopsis: The Bobcats finished runner-up to Yale last season, and will have pretty much the home crowd as the regional site in Bridgeport in 30 minutes away from the campus in Hamden, Conn. Could be tricky for Union in round two.
Third seed: Providence
Record: 21-10-6 (At-large, 3rd in Hockey East)
Who to watch: G Jon Gillies (18-8-5, 2.20 GAA) 2012 draft pick for the Calgary Flames
Synopsis: Gillies is one of the best college hockey goalies and can steal a game, but the team got outskated by New Hampshire in the Hockey East semifinals. The Friars could be a tough out if Gillies gets some offensive backing.
Fourth seed: Vermont
Record: 20-14-3 (At-large, 7th in Hockey East)
Who to watch: D Michael Paliotta ( 5 goals, 22 assists) 2011 draft pick for the Chicago Blackhawks
Synopsis: The Catamounts played a tough schedule to supplement their tough conference. The defense can stifle teams, which can keep them in games.
Top seed: Wisconsin
Record: 24-10-2 (Big Ten tournament champions)
Who to watch: F Michael Mersch (22 goals, 13 assists) 2011 draft pick for the Los Angeles Kings
Synopsis: The Badgers have experience and a solid goalie in Joel Rumpel, but recent history has not been kind to them. The nine seniors know this is their last chance to win the title.
Second seed: Ferris State (Michigan)
Record: 28-10-3 (At-large, won WCHA regular season title)
Who to watch: G CJ Motte (27-8-3, 2.25 GAA) Hobey Baker (college hockey’s version of the Heisman) finalist.
Synopsis: Twelve players from the runners-up of 2011-12 are still on the team. However, they have a bad matchup against Colgate, who beat them twice in three games this season.
Third seed: Colgate
Record: 20-13-5 (At-large, 2nd in ECAC)
Who to watch: Twin brother Fs Tyson (10 goals, 23 assists) and Tylor Spink (14 goals, 16 assists)
Synopsis: The Raiders have played well in the second half thanks to a great team strategy and Charlie Finn emerging as the team’s number one goalie.
Fourth seed: North Dakota
Record: 23-13-3 (At-large, 2nd in NCHC)
Who to watch: F Rocco Grimaldi (14 goals, 22 assists) 2011 draft pick for the Florida Panthers
Synopsis: The Fighting Whoiux (not allowed to use the Sioux nickname) were probably the last at-large after a loss to a bad Miami of Ohio team. It’ll be tough to beat Wisconsin. They do have 15 NHL drafted players on the team.
Top seed: Minnesota
Record: 25-6-6 (At-large, won Big Ten regular season; number one overall seed)
Who to watch: G Adam Wilcox (23-5-6, 1.90 GAA) 2011 draft pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning; Hobey Baker finalist
Synopsis: The Golden Gophers have 10 players drafted by NHL teams, and were the number one team most of the season. They have consistency issues, but are the favorites to win.
Second seed: Notre Dame
Record: 23-14-2 (At-large, 8th in Hockey East)
Who to watch: F Mario Lucia (16 goals, 14 assists) 2011 draft pick for the Minnesota Wild
Synopsis: The Irish have all the tools to make a deep run with offensive depth, excellent goaltending and are battle-tested. However, they face St. Cloud State who beat them 5-1 last year.
Third seed: St. Cloud State
Record: 21-10-5 (At-large, won NCHC regular season)
Who to watch: C Nic Dowd (21 goals, 18 assists); 2009 draft pick for the Los Angeles Kings; Hobey Baker finalist
Synopsis: The Huskies have a favorable matchup against the Irish, but the St. Cloud defense can disappear at times. Dowd and Jonny Brodzinski lead the balanced attack.
Fourth seed: Robert Morris
Record: 19-17-5 (Won Atlantic Hockey tournament title)
Who to watch: F Cody Wydo (30 goals, 22 assists) Second in nation in scoring.
Synopsis: The Colonials may be in over their head playing the top-seeded Gophers in their backyard. However, Atlantic Hockey teams can spring upsets.
It may not be the headline-grabbing tournament like March Madness, but there are upsets and some great hockey. Who knows? You may see some future NHL all-stars in this tournament. Sit back and enjoy if your brackets have been destroyed in the hoops tournament.
That’s it for this week. Take care and I’ll see you later.
Dan Mount is an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, N.Y. He can be found on Twitter @DanMountSports.