2010 NCAA Frozen Four Predictions and Contest

via cache.boston.com BU and Matt Gilroy won the 2009 NCAA Division 1 Ice Hockey Championship with a 4-3 OT win over Miami (OH).

            This Friday, March 26th, marks the start of the real March Madness as the 2010 NCAA Division 1 Hockey Championships gets underway. Below is the bracket, and join me after the jump for some analysis, predictions, and your chance to win a T-shirt courtesy of Jim if you can manage to win the 2010 Blueshirt Banter NCAA Hockey Pool.

Bbncaabracket2010_medium

Note: Not sure why this isn't full size. To see the bracket in full size, click here.

The following are my predictions for the tournament along with a small preview on the teams. For much more in-depth analysis of the teams and coverage of the tournament itself, visit Inside College Hockey and U.S. College Hockey Online.

Midwest Region

No. 1 Miami (27-7-7) vs. No. 4 Alabama-Huntsville (12-17-3)

            Miami won the CCHA regular season title but faltered in the tournament and has not played their best (4-3-1 in their last 8) as of late. Alabama-Hunstville, as you can see, didn't have the best season but won the CHA tournament (NCAA Hockey's weakest conference). An Alabama win would be the equivalent to a 16 seed beating a 1 seed. Winner: Miami

No. 2 Bemidji State (23-9-4) vs. No. 3 Michigan (25-17-1)

            Bemidji State won the CHA regular-season title and is a very offensively-minded team averaging 3.53 goals per game (6th in the nation). Michigan, meanwhile, had an up and down season but won the CCHA tournament with some solid defense and unexpected scoring. This should shape up to be a great game, and it's tough for me to pick against a hot hockey club. Winner: Michigan

Northeast Region

No. 1 Boston College (25-10-3) vs. No. 4 Alaska (18-11-9)

            BC is a fast and young team that finished second in Hockey East during the season while edging Maine 7-6 in OT to win the HE tournament last Sunday. Alaska finished fifth in the CCHA and is very good (per usual) in the defensive zone along with between the pipes. This should be a game dominated by BC, but if they can't cash in on offense don't be surprised to see Alaska edge them out in special teams. Winner: BC

No. 2 North Dakota (25-12-5) vs. No. 3 Yale (20-9-3)

            North Dakota comes into the tourney on fire, winning 12 of their last 13 along with the WCHA tournament. Throw in season wins over Denver and St. Cloud State and you have a serious contender here. I saw Yale play and one thing I can tell you is that they are very, very quick. They will have to play smart, efficient hockey to stifle North Dakota. I could see this being an OT game if the offense's fail to produce. Winner: North Dakota

East Region

No. 1 Denver (27-9-4) vs. No. 4 RIT (26-11-1)

            Denver has arguably been the best team out West all season on their way to the WCHA season title and are led by big D-man Patrick Wiercioch (OTT '08 - 2nd round). RIT, meanwhile, is an experienced team that is riding a 10 game winning streak into the tourney. The biggest problem I have with the Tigers is that they have not beaten a team outside of their conference all season. Winner: Denver

No. 2 Cornell (21-8-4) vs. No. 3 New Hampshire (17-13-7)

            I saw Cornell play this season as well and the thing that stuck out was that they are very offensively gifted. Riley Nash (no relation to Rick - EDM '07 1st round) is slick with the puck and can shoot from anywhere. They have already beaten New Hampshire this season at UNH and won the ECAC tournament. Bobby Butler will be the player to watch for UNH, who won the Hockey East regular season title but struggled against this NCAA field. This should be a good game to watch as Hockey East is a bit stronger than the ECAC, but Cornell will have a bit of an advantage in a smaller and familiar rink in Albany. Winner: Cornell

West Region

No. 1 Wisconsin (25-10-4) vs. No. 4 Vermont (17-14-7)

            Wisconsin finished second in the WCHA and have 11 NHL draft picks on their roster including Rangers prospects Derek Stepan (#21 - Center - 3rd line recently) and Ryan McDonagh (#17 - Defense - 1st pairing recently). Vermont managed a Frozen Four appearance last season behind veteran goalkeeper Rob Madore, but the Catamounts have been struggling to score all season. Winner: Wisconsin

No. 2 St. Cloud State (23-13-5) vs. No. 3 Northern Michigan (20-12-8)

            St. Cloud State finished third in the CCHA and has some experienced players. Mike Lee is their goaltender, who played for the USA in the World Junior Championships just this year. Northern Michigan doesn't have any big names, but they play very well as a team together and are 10-2-2 since late January. Winner: Northern Michigan

Midwest Regional Final

No. 1 Miami v. No. 3 Michigan

            Michigan may be hot, but the Redhawks of Miami went all the way last year only for a tough lost against a stacked BU team. Winner: Miami

Northeast Regional Final

No. 1 Boston College v. No. 2 North Dakota

            If North Dakota can get past a solid Yale team I don't think BC can compete. Winner: North Dakota

East Regional Final

No. 1 Denver v. No. 2 Cornell

            This would be one hell of a game. Denver hasn't traveled east all season though, and with Cornell goaltender Ben Scrivens playing very well right now, it's tough to pick against a more local team. Winner: Cornell

West Regional Final

No. 1 Wisconsin v. No. 3 Northern Michigan

            The easy pick is Wisconsin here, as they should walk over Northern Michigan to the Frozen Four. But with such a small field there will be a good upset somewhere, and this is where I think it will happen. Winner: Northern Michigan

Semifinal #1 (Midwest v. Northeast)

No. 1 Miami v. No. 2 North Dakota

            Another potential great viewing matchup. If the Sioux get this far they will be hard to beat, and seeing that Miami lost some key guys from last year's team I think their run ends here. Winner: North Dakota

Semifinal #2 (East v. West)

No. 2 Cornell v. No. 3 Northern Michigan

            As much as Northern Michigan just pulled off a great upset, the Big Red will ride Ben Scrivens to the Championship. Winner: Cornell

Championship

No. 2 North Dakota v. No. 2 Cornell

            This finale matchup would feature two offensively gifted teams on great streaks, but I think the strengths of the conferences (WCHA over ECAC) would come into play here. Winner: North Dakota

Copy/paste my picks below for an easier way to enter the pool in the comments thread:

First Round

Miami v. Alabama - Miami

Bemidji v. Michigan - Michigan

BC v. Alaska - BC

North Dakota v. Yale - North Dakota

Denver v. RIT - Denver

Cornell v. New Hampshire - Cornell

Wisconsin v. Vermont - Wisconsin

St. Cloud State v. Northern Michigan - Northern Michigan

Regional Finals

Miami v. Michigan - Miami

BC v. North Dakota - North Dakota

Denver v. Cornell - Cornell

Wisconsin v. Northern Michigan - Northern Michigan

Frozen Four

Miami v. North Dakota - North Dakota

Cornell v. Northern Michigan - Cornell

Championship

North Dakota v. Cornell - North Dakota

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So there we have it. I think all of the first round games will be available live on ESPN360.com and ESPN U while the Frozen Four will be broadcasted on ESPN2 and the final is on ESPN I believe (if not then ESPN2 for sure). Also, Northland Films (which produced the movie Forgotten Miracle - the story of the 1960 USA Gold Medal Hockey team) has set up a college hockey pick ‘em for the tournament just like this one. Top 3 get prizes. You can also try to pick the winner on the NCAA site as well.

            Picking this bracket is really a crapshoot because any of the number 4 teams (except Alabama, trust me) can beat the number 1 teams. That's what is great about this tournament though; and just like its basketball counterpart the games are full of passion; a perfect tune-up for NHL (sans-Rangers) playoff hockey. Good Luck and Enjoy!

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