Bracket Breakdown: Midwest Regional


The Midwest regional in Ft. Wayne is, at first glance, perhaps the most straightforward. CCHA champs Miami are the top overall seed, and matchup against Alabama-Huntsville, who is under .500. 2nd seeded Bemidji State has scuffled as of late, and 3rd seeded Michigan needed to win the CCHA tournament just to make the NCAA tournament.

But is it that straightforward? A rundown of each of the four teams:

1. Miami (27-7-7)

How qualified: At-large

National Titles: 0

Last NCAA Appearance: 2009 (8th overall)

The RedHawks enter the tournament with the nation’s best winning percentage and the nation’s best goal difference. They outscored their opponents by an average of 1.59 goals per game. The RedHawks’ rock has been Sophomore goalie Cody Reichard, who carries a .924 save percentage and a 1.79 GAA, the latter of which is 2nd best in the country. But after giving up 5 goals on 24 shots in Friday’s CCHA semifinal game, Reichard was pulled in favor of backup Connor Knapp. Knapp, however, is no slouch. The Sophomore has the third best GAA in the country, and his .921 save percentage is 10th in the country. Now, granted, Miami’s system gives goalies a lot of help, but Knapp is still a competent backup.

Offensively, Miami is led by Jarod Palmer, who leads the team both in goals (18) and points (45). Palmer was also tied for 3rd in the CCHA in points per game, with 1.1 per contest. Palmer also plays on the same line as Andy Miele, who also scored 1.10 points per game (15 goals), giving Miami one of the best lines in the entire country.

4. Alabama-Huntsville

How Qualified: CHA tournament champion

National Titles: 0

Last NCAA Appearance: 2007 (2nd overall)

Huntsville finished 3rd in the 4 team CHA, but beat Robert Morris and then Niagara to make it to the NCAA tournament. Before you dismiss the Chargers out of hand, remember they were the last seed in 2007, when they took #1 Notre Dame to double overtime. Speaking of good goalies, UAH’s Cam Talbot is 6th in the country in save percentage (.924) despite being under .500. And rare is the game where UAH outshot their opponent, so Talbot has already had to steal a ton of victories this year. Why not one more? While Huntsville has a pretty decent defense, they really struggle to score goals. At just 2.25 goals per game, the Chargers are 52nd nationally. They’ve scored either 0 or 1 goal in 11 of their games this year, and their high is 4, reached just four times.

The Chargers have no double digit goal scorers, but they do have a good mix of young and old, which perhaps can provide a combo of players who have been to the NCAA tournament before and can provide some leadership, and kids who are too young to realize they’re supposed to get blown out. UAH also has the 4th best penalty kill in the country, so it is possible that they could win a tight 1-0 or 2-1 game, but unlikely. One thing is certain though: after being rejected by the CCHA, almost everyone will be rooting for the Chargers to knock off the CCHA’s best team.

2. Bemidji State

How Qualified: At Large

National Titles: 0

Last NCAA Appearance: 2009 (4th overall)

After dominating the CHA regular season, Bemidji suffered a shocking loss in the CHA semifinals and then followed that up with a tie in the 3rd place game. In contention for a #1 seed for much of the year, the Beavers now have to buckle down and try to get back to the Frozen Four. Bemidji isn’t the deepest team, but they have a couple very talented forwards. CHA player of the year Matt Read had 40 points to lead the team (also led with 1.11 ppg), but he is actually second on the team in goals to Junior Ian Lowe, who led the conference with 20. Bemidji’s first line is a good line, but it’s actually their second line that has the most points for the Beavers. They have a nice mix of scorers like Read and Lowe, and guys like Shea Walters who is a good two way center.

In goal, Sophomore goalie Dan Bakala was 11th nationally in both save percentage and GAA, and anchored the nation’s 5th ranked scoring defense. Interestingly, Bemidji has lost a few low scoring games this year, so perhaps it is a matter of getting on top and continuing to press for the Beavers. In any event, they will likely be pushing the tempo against Michigan, who will be starting a walk-on goalie.

3. Michigan

How Qualified: CCHA Tournament Champs

National Titles: 9

Last NCAA Appearance: 2009 (33rd overall)

The Wolverines needed to win the CCHA tournament to advance to their 20th straight NCAA tournament. Lo and behold, behind a Freshman goalie, the Wolverines did just that, going through the top 2 teams in the CCHA and a hot Northern Michigan team to lift the Mason Cup. Junior Carl Hagelin was 2nd in the CCHA with 1.09 points per game (17-30–47) and Louie Caporusso was tied for 2nd in the conference with 20 goals. Michigan certainly has the talent to make a deep run, but something has been missing all year.

This year Michigan was 14th in scoring offense, which has to be bumped up a bit due to being in the CCHA, and 6th in defense, which should be taken with a grain of salt for the same reason. After struggling offensively late in the year, Michigan scored 26 goals in their 5 games before the CCHA title game. The Wolverines have been playing their best hockey at the right time.

However, the potential downfall could be goalie Shawn Hunwick. Although he has played well (.912 save%, 1.86 GAA), Hunwick’s first career start was February 27th against Notre Dame. A lack of experience could hurt the Wolverines, and some people have said his small stature (Hunwick stands just 5’7″) could work against him as well, but Hunwick also now has the experience of a CCHA playoff run, and only has to look to Jeff Lerg to see a small goalie make a tournament run.

Region Prediction: Miami over Michigan.