|Denver F Jason Zucker (photo from wcha.com)|
More on the NCAA Hockey Tournament after the jump...
For those who don't know, I cover college hockey (mostly the Gophers) for SB Nation Minnesota and will be at the West Regional. I also previewed the entire tourney (all 16 teams) over at the main SB Nation site so if you want to read information on the teams and players, go over there.
Because of that, I don't really want to go too far in-depth about the tournament and rehash things. A lot has already been written on here about Zucker and Haula as well so instead, I'm taking a look at 16 reasons - one for each team - why the road to the Frozen Four is worth checking out.
1. There's Hockey On ESPN
The NCAA Hockey Tournament is the one time of year ESPN actually shows hockey and lets guys like John Buccigross and Barry Melrose do what they know best. Adding in NHL announcers like Joe Beninati and the best college guys like Dave Starman mean every regional is given the respect that they deserve.
Of course, it's still hockey on ESPN so half the first-round games are only available online, the semis are on ESPNU and the final is on ESPN2 (a year after signing a new deal). It's disappointing, especially after how much the sport has grown on TV with new deals on NBC Sports Network, BTN and CBS Sports Network.
And of course hockey on ESPN means...
2. ...The one chance to hear Gary Thorne!
For anyone who loves the NHL series or are nostalgic for the days of NHL 2Night, the great Gary Thorne will be back to announce his 3 hockey games of the year in Tampa.
3. Return of Traditional Powers
This year's tournament features 3 teams that have 10 titles between them in Minnesota, Michigan State and Maine with zero players who have any experience.
4. Conference tournament rematches
Two regions feature potential second-round rematches from the conference tournament in Boston College-Maine and North Dakota-Minnesota. Those games were hard-fought and entertaining (UND came from down 3-0 to beat the Gophers 6-3) and it's hard to believe the Black Bears wouldn't want a chance to get revenge on BC.
5. Similarly named teams
In a small tournament of 16 teams, it's amazing how there are two teams (Ferris State and Minnesota Duluth) who both are nicknamed the Bulldogs along with two teams named the RedHawks and River Hawks playing each other in Bridgeport.
Somewhere the CFL would be proud.
6. Oddly named teams
At the same there are teams named the Dutchmen (Union), the Big Red (Cornell) and the Fighting Sioux...in theory. North Dakota has postseason sanctions due to keeping the nickname and aren't allowed to use it in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead they'll be wearing these jerseys.
7. A chance to see tomorrow’s NHL stars today
103 draft picks from all 30 teams are represented in this year's tournament and the West region has 44 alone. First and second round picks like Nick Bjugstad, Chris Kreider, Brock Nelson, Drew Shore and Tyler Biggs could all see themselves playing in the pros sooner rather than later.
8. Seeing smaller schools compete with big names
Last year's championship game saw Minnesota Duluth (a DII school in everything else) take down the Michigan Wolverines. One of the great things about college hockey is just that - the Michigans and Boston Colleges of the world compete with teams like Minnesota Duluth and Union.
9. Renewing the Minnesota-BU historical rivalry
If you've seen the movie "Miracle," you'll know how much the Gophers and Terriers hated each other after how the 1976 national championship ended.
Although it's not the case anymore and the two teams haven't played since 2004 for the opening of Agganis Arena, there's a lot of history between Minnesota and Boston University which be settled on the ice.
10. Battle for conference supremacy
Every conference likes to think it's the best and the NCAA Tournament lets the fans settle that argument once and for all. Whether it's 5 CCHA teams (more than anyone), BC being the #1 overall seed for Hockey East, UMD being defending champ and UND coming in winning last 3 Broadmoor Trophies for the WCHA or ECAC looking for win since 1989
11. Continuation of long streaks
Michigan continues to be a consistent force under coach Red Berenson, making their 22nd consecutive tournament. At the same time, Air Force has won 6 of their 7 conference tournaments. It's not as big of a feat as the Wolverines but in a single-elimination tournament it's impressive nonetheless.
12. Seeing something new
The first game of the tournament features two teams in Michigan State and Union that have never played each other.
13. Puck Luck
One of the biggest factors in the road to the Frozen Four is hot well a team's goalie plays. Getting those lucky bounces or having a goalie like Shawn Hunwick last season stand on his head to take down an insanely hot North Dakota team happens every year and it's interesting to see who will be the one to step up in 2012.
14. Hybrid Icing and other different rules
The NHL is looking to go to hybrid icing after this season but it's already the norm in college hockey. Get a preview of that and other great rules like a team getting the two minute power play even if they score on the delayed call (unofficially known as the "and 1 rule") or not having a penalty for putting the puck out of play in the defensive zone.
Don't like staged fighting? No problem. And of course, college hockey does a better job than the NHL when dealing with head hits.
15. Nothing Better Than Playoff Hockey
Lets face it, the only thing better than playoff hockey is single-elimination playoff hockey. When teams have their entire seasons on the line in one game, the sixty minutes on the ice are fast-paced and physical.
The only thing better than single-elimination playoff hockey? Overtime single-elimination playoff hockey.
16. Cinderella Is Real: Massive upsets in a single-elimination tourney
While 1/16 games have never seen a 16 seed win in 25-plus years of the basketball tournament, upsets of that magnitude are not out of the norm on the hockey side. Whether it's Holy Cross upsetting Minnesota in 2006, RIT and Bemidji State advancing to the Frozen Four as #4 seeds, Air Force upsetting Michigan or even UMD winning as a #3 seed last year, the NCAA Hockey Tournament has a way of busting brackets early.
Can Air Force do the same thing to BC this year? Time will tell. Regardless, it's a great weekend of hockey.