Bracket Breakdown: East


The East regional kind of makes me shake my head. The #1 and #3 seeds are scuffling, while the #2 and #4 seeds are playing their best hockey of the season. Does that mean anything? We’ll find out.

1. Denver (27-9-4)

How Qualified: At Large

National Titles: 7 (last in 2005)

NCAA Appearances: 20 (last in 2009)

The Pioneers are, in my opinion, still the best team in the country. However, there is no doubt they are scuffling as of now. They just lost back to back games to North Dakota and Wisconsin, and goaltender Marc Cheverie looked very human. The Hobey finalist gave up 4 goals to North Dakota and then got pulled in a 6-3 loss to Wisconsin. Still, his .932 save percentage is 2nd nationally and his 2.08 GAA is 7th.

And to even get to Cheverie, you have to get past a great defensive corps that includes Patrick Wiercioch, who was a 1st team all-WCHA performer, and, if possible for a WCHA 1st teamer, a little over-looked this year I think. Freshman Matt Donovan is already one of the best defensemen in the conference, and the rest of the blueline corps is packed with great depth guys such as John Lee.

The Pioneers’ top line of Rhett Rakhshani, Tyler Ruegsegger and Joe Colborne is one of the best in the country, but it is also a bit of an eggs in one basket approach. They have scored almost one half of the Pioneers goals this year. Hobey finalist Rhett Rakhshani paces the crew, as he leads the team in both goals (21) and points (50).

The fact that they’ve played poorly lately may be a concern, but I’m glad I’m not in RIT, Cornell and New Hampshire’s shoes. Honestly I have no idea how to beat this team. There’s a reason they were preseason #1.

4. RIT (26-11-1)

How Qualified: Atlantic Hockey Champions

National Titles: 0

NCAA Appearances: 1 (2010)

Trivia question: who has the nation’s longest winning streak? It’s these Tigers, with a 10 gamer. And it’s not as if they’ve beaten slouches: Three of their last 4 opponents (Canisius, Air Force and Sacred Heart) can really fill up the back of the nets. And RIT has made it seem like there was only one team on the ice. They’re led by Sophomore Cam Burt, who led the team with 15 goals and 45 points. However, RIT gets it done with balance. 9 Tigers have at least 20 points. Defenseman Dan Ringwald is 4th on the team with 11 goals, and another defenseman, Freshman Chris Tenev, has 9. They have perhaps the best offensive D corps in the country.

In net, they have the best thing you can have: a good Senior goalie. Jared DeMichiel led Atlantic Hockey with a 2.00 GAA and a .922 save percentage.

Even though RIT hasn’t won a non-conference game all year, they’re a deep, experienced team who will try to push Atlantic Hockey’s tournament winning streak to 2. And they have a leader who has been there. Head coach Wayne Wilson captained Bowling Green’s 1984 national championship team.

2. Cornell (21-8-4)

How Qualified: ECAC Hockey Champions

National Titles: 2 (last, 1970)

NCAA Appearances: 18 (last, 2009)

The Big Red, like RIT, are on a hot streak right now. In their last 3 games they’ve outscored their opponents 9-0. Hobey finalist Ben Scrivens has established himself as perhaps the best goalie in the country, and in the process played his way into probably a nice free agent contract with an NHL team. His .937 save percentage is tops in the country, as his 1.78 GAA. He also leads the nation in shutouts. And this is not the ECAC Hockey of old: at one point three teams from the conference were 1-2-3 nationally in scoring. Yale ended up leading the country in goals per game, and Union was 9th. And Scrivens just shutout that Union team in the ECAC Championship game. In short, the kid can play.

Offensively, Cornell is a very good puck possession team and, while they are 19th in goal scoring nationally, they have a very good power play (20.9%, 10th nationally). Although, since New Hampshire is the least penalized team in the country, there won’t be many chances for the Big Red to get it going. Even on even strength, Cornell features a deep, experienced lineup. Senior forward Blake Gallagher leads the team both in goals (18) and points (37). Right behind him is fellow Senior Colin Greening (15-20–35) and Junior and former first round pick Riley Nash (12-22–34). Of the top 11 scorers on the team, only 1 is not a Junior or Senior.

3. New Hampshire (17-13-7)

How Qualified: At Large

National Titles: 0

NCAA Appearances: 20 (last 2009)

New Hampshire’s lack of a national title is famous in college hockey circles, and especially amongst Maine fans. UNH definitely has the talent to win a national title, but do they have the depth? The Hockey East regular season champions are led by Hockey East player of the year Bobby Butler, who tied for the national lead with 27 goals, and was the nation’s leader in goals per game. Fellow Hockey East first teamer Blake Kessel was 2nd in the country for points per game by a defenseman, and was 3rd on the team with 35 points. However, New Hampshire only has four players in double digits in goals: Butler, Paul Thompson (17), Peter LeBlanc (14), and Mike Sislo (12).

New Hampshire, as I said in Cornell’s preview, goes to the box less than any team in the country, averaging under 10 PIMs a game, which is good because only 3 teams in the tournament have a worse penalty kill than UNH’s 82.2% mark. Their power play is even worse, converting at just 16.9%, 40th in the country, which is weird for a team with as much talent as UNH does with Butler and Kessel manning the point.

UNH has a bunch of front line talent, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll have the depth to win a title.

Regional prediction: Denver over Cornell