Thursday, March 28, 2019

NCAA Hockey Midwest Regional Preview

The PPL Center in Allentown, PA is the site of the NCAA Midwest Regional

The NCAA begins this weekend starting Friday but Quinnipiac will not kick off until Saturday in the Midwest Regional in Allentown, Pennsylvania where they will take on upstart Arizona State in the first round in the second game of the day following the Minnesota Duluth and Bowling Green game. While Quinnipiac did not play Arizona State this season, they have the past three years so they are familiar with the system and style of play the Sun Devils will throw at them. To me this is an ideal opening round match up for Quinnipiac against a team lacking tournament experience that has not played in almost a month coming east. Here is the preview of the Midwest Regional.

#2 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

2018-2019 Record: 25-11-2 (14-9-1 NCHC)
How they got here: NCHC Tournament Champions
NCAA Tournament Appearances: (13) 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2004, 1993, 1985, 1984, 1983
NCAA Frozen Four Appearances: (6) 2018, 2017, 2011, 2004, 1985, 1984
NCAA National Championships: (2) 2018, 2011

3.18 Goals scored per game (11th nationally)
2.00 Goals allowed per game (Tied 6th nationally)
23% Power Play (10th nationally)
86% Penalty Kill (12th nationally)

Key Players:

Scott Perunovich, D (28 points), Justin Richards, F (28 points), Parker MacKay, F (27 points), Nick Swaney, F (24 points), Mikey Anderson, D (24 points), Peter Krieger, F (23 points), Noah Cates, F (22 points), Riley Tufte, F (18 points, 7 PPG), Dylan Samberg, D (17 points), Cole Koepke, F (17 points), Hunter Shepard, G (25-11-2, 1.87 GAA, .918 save percentage)

The defending NCAA National Champions come into Midwest Regional as the champions of the NCHC tournament beating regular season champion St. Cloud State 3-2 in double overtime. Head coach Scott Sandelin has built a powerhouse program at Duluth reaching four Frozen Fours including the past two and winning National Championships in 2018 and 2011. Over the past four seasons Duluth has a total of 97 wins which includes another 25 win season this year with 18 underclassmen on the 27 man roster. Sandelin is a coach that gets a ton out of his players despite only having seven draft picks on the roster. This is one of the most experienced tournament teams and they will be a tough out against anyone. They are considered the favorite to win this region.

Duluth doesn't have that one or two huge point getter on the roster as they possess more of a balanced attack from all parts of the roster. Riley Tufte is the lone first round pick on the roster and while the big forward had a bit of a down season with only 18 points compared to 29 a year ago, he still had seven power play goals and remains a big threat to score. Talented young players such as Justin Richards, Nick Swaney, Noah Cates and Cole Koepke have been big contributors to the success of the Bulldogs and will be in the future as well. Richards and Swaney who are both sophomores combined for 25 goals while senior Peter Mackay is the only lone other forward with double figures in goals (12). Duluth's power play is a very solid 23% and they can make you pay especially if teams get into penalty situations during the game.

Defensively this is one of the best teams in the nation giving up just two goals per game. Star defensemen Scott Perunovich had a solid second season despite his goal total dropping off from 11 to 3. He still put up 28 points and was a plus 8 on the season. He's joined by fellow talented sophomores Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anderson. Both of them are a plus 16 each and each can put up points as well with Samberg having 17 and Anderson 24. Both of them along with Perunovich are NHL draft picks. They are also very strong on the penalty kill at 86% for the season as Duluth takes pride in playing strong defense to win games.

On the back end they are led by Hunter Shepard who has won 50 games the past two seasons and is the current NCHC goaltender of the year and most outstanding player of the 2019 NCHC Frozen Faceoff. He's a good size goaltender who elevates his game in the big moments such as the National Title game a year ago and the NCHC Championship game against St. Cloud State. He has 14 shutouts in the past two years alone. His roughest stretch came in early March when he gave up five, four and four goals over three game stretch. Since then he has allowed only four goals in his last four games including a shutout against Denver in the NCHC semifinals.

#7 Quinnipiac Bobcats

2018-2019 Record: 25-9-2 (14-6-2 ECAC)
How they got here: At-Large
NCAA Tournament Appearances: (6) 2019, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2002
NCAA Frozen Four Appearances: (2) 2016, 2013

3.61 Goals scored per game (4th nationally)
1.92 Goals allowed per game (3rd nationally)
25.9% Power Play (4th nationally)
87.5% Penalty Kill (3rd nationally)

Key Players:
Odeen Tufto, F (42 points), Chase Priskie, D (39 points, 10 PPG), Craig Martin F (28 points), Ethan de Jong (25 points), Wyatt Bongiovanni (23 points), Brogan Rafferty, D (23 points), Alex Whelan, F (24 points), William Fallstrom, F (20 points), Karlis Cukste, D (20 points), Peter Diliberatore, D (19 points), Andrew Shortridge, G (17-6-2, 1.51 GAA & .941 save percentage)

Quinnipiac surprised a lot of people this season in winning a share of the ECAC regular season championship despite being picked 8th in the media poll and 7th in the coaches all while playing 9-10 freshman a night. It was a masterful coaching job Rand Pecknold who in my opinion should have been the ECAC coach of the year over Casey Jones. A year after the program suffered its first losing season since 1995-1996, Quinnipiac won 25 games to earn a berth into the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in program history. Outside of Chase Priskie, Craig Martin, Scott Davidson and Luke Shiplo who all have experienced the NCAA tournament, the majority of the roster are NCAA newbies. Coming off a disappointing sweep at home by the Brown Bears opened some eyes but with two weeks off you hope with the return of Chase Priskie to the lineup that things will be corrected.

The Bobcats have one of the best offenses in the country led by star sophomore center Odeen Tufto. He plays on a line with freshman Wyatt Bongiovanni and Ethan de Jong and that trio has combined for 90 points this season which is 25% of the teams entire offense. Upperclassmen Craig Martin and Alex Whelan have turned in very solid seasons with 28 and 24 points respectively while another freshman in second line center William Fallstrom has 20 points. The Bobcats generate a lot of offense from their defensive transition game but that has struggled a bit since the loss of top senior blue liner Brandon Fortunato due to a season ending injury. Chase Priskie has 39 points including 17 goals from the back end and does a ton of damage on the power play with ten power play goals. The current top four defensemen have 101 points combined so for Quinnipiac to be successful on offense its start with the defense pushing the puck up the ice quickly to generate scoring chances. Quinnipiac has a top five power play and that will get a boost with the return of Priskie. Playing one of the most penalized teams in Arizona State could bring out the best of one of the best units in the country.

Quinnipiac finished with the third best goals allowed total in the country at 1.92 and the defense has been a staple of some really good Quinnipiac teams in the past half decade. With captain Chase Priskie leading the way, the Bobcats have the ability to smother opponents into submission. The loss of Fortunato has not gone unnoticed as they were one of if not the top defensive pairing in the country. But the Bobcats have depth with upperclassmen like Brogan Rafferty, Karlis Cutske and Luke Shiplo to pick up the slack for Fortunato's loss. Throw in one of the top freshman defensemen in the country in Peter Diliberatore and the Bobcats should be fine on the back end.

Rounding out the balance of the Quinnipiac roster is stud goaltender Andrew Shortridge. Despite not getting the bulk of the starts early in the season, he seized the job from sophomore Keith Petruzzelli when the second year goaltender started to struggle. Shortridge didn't look back posting outstanding numbers for the Bobcats with a 1.51 goals against and a .941 save percentage to win ECAC goaltender of the year. He has come up with numerous highlight reel saves and his play could carry Quinnipiac to the Frozen Four in Buffalo.

#10 Arizona State Sun Devils

2018-2019 Record: 21-12-1 (Independent)
How they got here: At-Large
NCAA Tournament Appearances: (1) 2019

3.18 Goals scored per game (11th nationally)
2.47 Goals allowed per game (19th nationally)
15.2% Power Play (Tied 47th nationally)
86.4% Penalty Kill (7th nationally)

Key Players:

Johnny Walker, F (34 points), Brinson Pasichnuk, D (29 points), Anthony Croston, F (23 points), Tyler Busch, F (21 points), Brett Gruber, F (21 points), Demetrios Koumontzis, F (20 points), Dylan Hollman, F (19 points), Joshua Maniscalco, D (19 points), Jordan Sandhu, F (14 points), PJ Marrocco, F (14 points), Joey Daccord, G (21-12-1, 2.36 GAA, .926 save percentage)

Arizona State became the first team since Alaska-Anchorage in 1992 to reach the NCAA tournament as an independent. What the Sun Devils have done in a short time span cannot go unnoticed. To make the NCAA tournament in their 4th season is absolutely astonishing. This is a team with no conference, no real home rink to play in that has to travel around the country to play opponents mostly every weekend. To go from 8 wins a season ago and 21 and an NCAA tournament berth is one of the most surprising things you will ever see in college hockey especially given the limitations Arizona State has at this moment. Head coach Greg Powers deserves a ton of credit for elevating this program from club status to a tournament team in a short time frame. He was a risky hire to begin with as he never coached above the club level but so far it has paid off for the Sun Devils as they will head east for their first ever tournament appearance when they face Quinnipiac.

The Sun Devils are led on offense by Johnny Walker who had 23 goals and 34 points as a sophomore. He is one of three Arizona born players on the roster. However he missed the Minnesota series in early March with an injury but will play in the tournament. How effective he is will be anyone's guess but he accounts for 21% of the Sun Devils goals scored so he is that important to their offense including their power play in which he has 9 goals. Senior Dylan Hollman is tied for second on the team with 12 goals with defensemen Brinson Pasichnuk who is also the Sun Devils second leading scorer with 29 points. The offense is balanced with six other players scoring between 19-23 points respectively. The Sun Devils offense has struggled against some of the higher end tournament teams this season including Clarkson, Cornell, Harvard and Ohio State.

Defensively the Sun Devils are solid but out of the four teams in this bracket, I would take their defense last out of any of them. Brinson Pasichnuk has been a force on the back end with a plus 25 while providing a ton of offense while Joshua Maniscalco has 19 points and is a plus 12. However, the Sun Devils will be down a defensemen due to the suspension of Jacob Wilson who laid a vicious hit in the Minnesota series earning him a two game ban. That should hurt as he is one their more reliable defensive players. While they have a solid penalty kill at 86.4%, the Sun Devils are one of the most penalized teams in the country which could be a very bad thing against one of the top power play units in Quinnipiac.

Joey Daccord has been a rock for the Sun Devils in goal this season starting every game for them. He shaved off more than a goal per game from a season ago along with putting up an impressive .926 save percentage along with seven shutouts. However he was shaky in his last three games against AIC and Minnesota when he gave up four, five, and five goals respectively. With almost a month off, will Daccord have his timing down in live game situations? Daccord has played three games against Quinnipiac in his career including a 53 save performance in a victory two seasons ago in Hamden. A  year ago, Daccord was pulled after giving five goals in a loss to Quinnipiac. Daccord is going to need to have a huge game if the Sun Devils want to pull an upset and advance.

#15 Bowling Green Falcons

2018-2019 Record: 25-10-5 (16-8-4 WCHA)
How they got here: At-Large
NCAA Tournament Appearances: (10) 2019, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1984, 1982, 1979, 1978, 1977
NCAA Frozen Four Appearances: (2) 1984, 1978
NCAA National Championships: (1) 1984

3.30 Goals scored per game (8th nationally)
1.82 Goals allowed per game (2nd nationally)
20% Power Play (Tied 22nd nationally)
88.2% Penalty Kill (2nd nationally)

Key Players:

Max Johnson, F (43 points), Brandon Kruse, F (40 points), Connor Ford, F (33 points), Alec Rauhauser, D (26 points), Lukas Craggs, F (24 points), Stephen Baylis, F (22 points), Cameron Wright, F (20 points), John Schilling, F (18 points), Sam Craggs, F (15 points), Will Cullen, D (14 points), Tim Theorcharidis, D (11 points), Ryan Bednard, G (20-7-4, 1.78 GAA, .926 save percentage)

Bowling Green returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 29 years since the days of when Jerry York was behind the bench for the Falcons. In that time frame there were many lean years but 9th year head coach Chris Bergeron has changed the fortunes for this fan base with six consecutive winning seasons including five straight of 20 or more wins. He has taken the Falcons to two WCHA championship games but each time they fell in overtime. The 25 wins this season are the most since the 1995-1996 season which was the peak of the Buddy Powers era. Expect Chris Bergeron's name to be floated with the opening at Miami once the Bowling Green season comes to a close.

Bowling Green is a led by a trio of talented sophomores who have combined for 116 points this season. Max Johnson, Brandon Kruse and Connor Ford lead a dangerous attack for the Falcons. John and Ford are the goal scorers with 19 and 17 goals respectively while Kruse's 31 assists lead the team. This is a team that has good team speed and is aggressive with the puck. Junior Lukas Craggs has 13 goals as the only other player in double figures in goals. But this is a balanced attack with five more players that have between eight and nine goals on the season so they are getting contributions from all areas of the roster. While the power play is solid at 20% on the season, Johnson and Ford have scored ten power play goals each proving they can put the puck in the net at any chance on the man advantage. The Falcons have the offensive fire power to give a Minnesota Duluth a challenge in this game.

Defensively this is one of the best teams in the country. At 1.82 goals per game they are second in the country in defense. I know they play in the WCHA a league in which the bottom four teams aren't very good. But the Falcons defense showed up in non-conference games as well when they smothered both Ohio State and Western Michigan over four games. They also held Minnesota State to two goals in two regular season games this year. They are team that plays with in its system and does a good job in their own end. Alec Rauhauser is the Falcons best defenseman at a plus 20 and he also scored 26 points from the blue line this season. He's the only higher end point getter for the Falcons but Will Cullen, Tim Theorcharidis, Chris Pohlkamp and Connor McDonald are a combined plus 47 on the back end. Bowling Green's penalty kill is one of the top units in the country at 88.2% which is second nationally. However they are a team that takes a lot of penalty minutes just like Arizona State so they will need to be on their game against a very good Minnesota Duluth power play.

The Falcons are strong in goal with Ryan Bednard who had 20 wins this season to go with a 1.78 goals against and a .926 save percentage including three shutouts. A 2015 7th round pick by the Florida Panthers, Bednard brings excellent size in goal with his 6 foot 5 inch frame and each season has gotten better for Bowling Green. He was a rock down the stretch with five straight wins including four straight in the WCHA tournament prior to the overtime loss to Minnesota State. He could be a difference maker should Bowling Green pull an upset in this game.

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