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2017.03.18 BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP. PSU vs WISC. JOE LOUIS ARENA, DETROIT MI. (Tim Brule)
Penn State captured the Big Ten championship, but can the Nittany Lions add to the haul with a regional title? (photo: Michael Dubicki)

With the NCAA regionals kicking off Friday and continuing Saturday and Sunday, we asked our conference columnists to make their choices as to the four teams that will come out of this weekend and play for a national championship at the Frozen Four next month at the United Center in Chicago.

 

East Regional: Possibly the hardest regional to pick. A month ago, I’d have leaned toward Western Michigan. Providence is at home, and won the NCAA title two years ago as a four seed starting at home, but I think Harvard will scrape through.

Northeast Regional: The only regional with no NCHC teams. I don’t know too much about any of these teams. Minnesota has looked good, but I’ll pick UMass Lowell to make it through.

Midwest Regional: A possible trap regional for a Denver team that had been rolling until last weekend, filled with teams that match up well with the Pioneers. Nevertheless, I like Denver to make it through in two tough games.

West Regional: Will hockey fans get the war rematch of last weekend’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff? I think so, and being at home will be a huge boost for North Dakota. Can Minnesota Duluth beat North Dakota six times in a row? It probably depends if NoDak has Tucker Poolman. I’ll go with Minnesota Duluth to squeak through, but North Dakota is just as likely.

— Candace Horgan

 

East Regional: Providence will be the upset team out of the East. It happened two years ago and it can happen again. A fourth-seeded Friars team can use the energy of home ice to beat Harvard and either Western Michigan or Air Force. They will need good goaltending, though, from Hayden Hawkey to succeed.

Northeast Regional: UMass Lowell is playing its best hockey down the stretch. If that continues in the regional, look for the River Hawks, paced by balanced scoring, to emerge. Teams will have to play disciplined against the River Hawks if they want to win. Lowell boasts the third-best power play in the nation.

West Regional: Minnesota Duluth is, simply put, a powerhouse. And whether the Bulldogs need to beat North Dakota or Boston University in the regional final, they have the depth, defense and goaltending to advance. The one stumbling block could be North Dakota in front of a very pro-Hawks crowd in Fargo.

Midwest Regional: Denver simply seems like an unstoppable force. The Pioneers will want to avenge their semifinal loss in the NCHC tournament with a regional title and, simply put, on paper they just seem too strong of a favorite against the likes of Penn State, Union and Michigan Tech.

— Jim Connelly

 

East Regional: Harvard — One of the hottest teams in the country and the Crimson should get through the weekend with their depth at forward, defense and strong goaltending. They will have a tough test in the first round facing Providence in Providence. The championship experience gained during the season winning the Beanpot, the ECAC regular season and postseason tournaments will help them in their tough opening-round game.

Northeast Regional: UMass Lowell — All Norm Bazin knows how to do is win as the River Hawks have made the NCAA tournament five of the past six years. They have the right mix of offense and defense. Being 40 minutes from campus, they could make Manchester a second home for the weekend.

West Regional: North Dakota — Fargo will be packed with North Dakota fans and I think that will help the Fighting Hawks get to Chicago. Winners of five of their past six games, North Dakota is getting hot at the right time. It’s a deep region, but I believe last year’s championship experience will be key for them.

Midwest Regional: Denver — Like Harvard, the Pioneers are one of the hottest teams in the nation. As the No. 1 overall seed, they were rewarded by going to Cincinnati where they wouldn’t see North Dakota. They have three scoring lines with Henrik Borgström and Troy Terry stepping up their games since returing from the World Junior Championship in January.

— Nathan Fournier

 

Midwest Regional: Denver over Michigan Tech. Denver is not just the top overall seed in the field of 16; the Pioneers are arguably the best team in the nation, with an enviable consistency that will take them past the Huskies.

Penn State over Union. One of two things will happen: Penn State’s momentum — and its newfound smothering defense — will continue through the first game of this regional or the Nittany Lions will run out of steam. I think they get past the Dutchmen in spite of Union’s high-flying offense.

Denver over Penn State. Here is where Denver’s depth and experience prevail against Penn State’s passion and youth.

Northeast Regional: Minnesota over Notre Dame. The Golden Gophers have a deep, consistent, experienced team. The Fighting Irish have a deep, slightly less-consistent, experienced team. Notre Dame’s defense may be the factor, but I see Minnesota advancing.

UMass Lowell over Cornell. Lowell is arguably the best team in this bracket, in spite of its second seed. The River Hawks have the third-best scoring margin in D-I and they’ve dropped just one game in their last 12.

UMass Lowell over Minnesota. I’m just not picking against the River Hawks.

West Regional: Minnesota Duluth over Ohio State. While I like the Buckeyes’ offense, inconsistency has been their issue all season. They played well, but not well enough in the Big Ten tournament. And the Bulldogs are very, very good.

North Dakota over Boston University. I can’t imagine North Dakota bowing out on home ice in the first round of this regional.

North Dakota over Minnesota Duluth. If this were played at a neutral site, I’d pick the Bulldogs. The only reason I see North Dakota emerging from this regional is because the Fighting Hawks are playing at home.

East Regional: Harvard over Providence. The Crimson ride a 14-game win streak into this regional. Providence has struggled in its last eight games. Harvard wins.

Western Michigan over Air Force. Neither of these teams should be underestimated. The Broncos have a good offense. The Falcons have a great defense and come into the tournament hotter. I’m still picking Western. Call me a throwback CCHA homer.

Western Michigan over Harvard. I admit this pick makes little sense. On paper, Harvard is the better team. I think it’s easy for teams to look past the Broncos, though. Plus, CCHA homer.

— Paula C. Weston

 

Northeast Regional: UMass Lowell — It seems a little cliche to pick the River Hawks, but I’m okay with it. They looked the part of a national champion in winning Hockey East, and they’ll have the benefit of playing closer to home than everyone. Cornell is a sneaky sleeper pick for me here.

East Regional: Harvard — I really wanted to pick Western Michigan, but the Broncos’ NCHC tournament run ended the polar opposite of Harvard’s second half. The Crimson haven’t even tied since Jan. 21 as part of a string of 15 straight games without a loss. Over their 14-game winning streak, they’ve scored 66 goals.

Midwest Regional: Penn State — Denver is the No. 1 overall seed, but Penn State won their way into the tournament and has gotten hot. Remember that the Nittany Lions were No. 1 in the USCHO poll earlier this year. That still has to count for something for a team that proved it could win with the pressure on during the Big Ten tournament.

West Regional: Minnesota Duluth — This will all hinge on the BU-North Dakota game. If the Fighting Hawks win, the regional final becomes less certain. But I think BU wins that game. Unfortunately, it’ll be such a fight that they’ll have to come back and take on a team that should use their first game as a tuneup for the rest of their run.

— Dan Rubin

 

Midwest Regional:

Denver over Michigan Tech
Penn State over Union

Denver or Penn State

Denver vs. Penn State could be one of the more exciting regional championship games. The Pioneers have tournament experience and a chip on their shoulder after losing in the NCHC title, while Penn State is making its first trip to the dance.

Northeast Regional:

Minnesota over Notre Dame
Cornell over Umass Lowell

Minnesota over Cornell

The Gophers feel like a heavy favorite to me in this region. I don’t see them falling short of Frozen Four.

West Regional:

Minnesota Duluth over Ohio State
North Dakota over BU

Duluth over North Dakota

If this was soccer, we’d call this the group of death. Should be a tight weekend in Fargo.

East Regional:

Harvard over Providence
Western Michigan over Air Force

Western Michigan over Harvard

Just have a hunch the Broncos get it done out East. I’m also expecting overtime.

— Sean Shapiro