Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frozen Four: Motor City Madness

I ended up running out of time for writing up the previews for the Northeast and Midwest regionals thanks to my travels at the West Regional in St. Paul. Big fail on my part. We'll both be at the Frozen Four (which starts today) this weekend, but fortunately, I wrote this a few days ago. Sweet.

#15 RIT vs. #3 Wisconsin
5pm, Ford Field, Detroit

Needless to say, only one of these teams was ever "supposed" to be in Detroit. RIT (28-11-1) has surpassed any and all expectations by becoming the first Atlantic Hockey team to reach the Frozen Four and they are certainly the buzz of the tournament. Given no chance against Denver or New Hampshire, the Tigers won a pair of matchups that they'd probably lose 7 or 8 times in 10 tries for an improbable trip to Detroit. They squeezed out a trap-filled victory over the Pioneers for the first upset, but then showed their versatility by stomping New Hampshire the next night. We'd thought RIT might have been ill-prepared for top competition, but we were obviously mistaken. They're not pushovers.

But this is a bigger stage - and Wisconsin (27-10-4) isn't a pushover either. The Badgers rebounded from their disappointing 3rd place showing at the WCHA Final Five with a pair of solid wins to claim the West Regional title two weekends ago, winning a tight back-and-forth war with Vermont before outlasting St. Cloud State. While the Tigers just being in Detroit is a major victory, anything less than the national championship is a failure for the Badgers.

The Tigers ended the seasons of three Hobey Baker finalists in Albany (Rhett Rakhshani, Marc Cheverie, and Bobby Butler). Can they make it five (and two of the three Hobey Hat Trick)? It's doubtful. This is another game where if these teams played 10 times, RIT would be on the losing end 7 or 8 times at least. They'll be the fan favorites, and even though it was also true in their last two games, they're a sucker's bet.

Prediction: Wisconsin 5, RIT 3

#4 Boston College vs. #1 Miami
8:30pm, Ford Field, Detroit

This game, meanwhile, was practically expected from the moment the brackets came out. The Redhawks (29-9-7) have been the prohibitive favorites for the national championship since the beginning of the season, even after their 3rd place finish in the CCHA Tournament (which, like Wisconsin, they avenged in the NCAA regionals two weekends ago). They're still the favorites now, even after a relatively weak showing in the regional round, where they outlasted a feisty Alabama-Huntsville team in a one goal game, then needed 2 overtimes to take out a white-hot Michigan team. As dominating as Miami can be, they haven't had it on display since the conclusion of the CCHA regular season.

The Eagles (27-10-3) are on an 11-game unbeaten streak (second only to RIT's 12-game winning streak) after running roughshod over the Northeast regional, turning in a solid 3-1 win over a game Alaska squad before outscoring Yale in an absolute barnburner, 9-7 in a game the Eagles led 9-4 at one point. Boston College will be seeking their third national championship in ten years after going 52 years between their first and second NCAA titles.

In terms of today's games, this one is easily the closer matchup and, minus the Cinderella factor, the more compelling one. Each of these teams will be facing a huge challenge on the other side of the ice. This one, honestly, could go either way. Miami, one would think, would be powered by coming so close to winning it all last season, but that hasn't shown in recent games. They do have the skill and firepower to run with Boston College. Maybe now, in front of thousands upon thousands of fans at Ford Field, that urgency will be on display.

Prediction: Miami 4, Boston College 3

The national championship game should produce a compelling game either way. Miami/Wisconsin, our prediction, would be a fantastic matchup of two top teams who hit road bumps in the conference tournaments and came back strong. A third RIT win would produce an inconceivable matchup with the potential to humble the mighty conferences of the nation. RIT/BC especially would be fire against fire.

It'll be hard to match the overall insanity of last year's Frozen Four, but with an intriguing field at a unique venue, the ingredients are there for a compelling final weekend.

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