Bracket Breakdown: West Regional


The West Regional features two Minnesota teams, a team from Michigan, and an at-large team who many people think didn’t deserve to get into the NCAA Tournament. The last time there was this much doubt about an at large team it was…..Wisconsin, Vermont’s first round opponent. In 2008 the Badgers got in despite being under .500, and then went out and won their first game. Now they hope a similar thing doesn’t happen to the Catamounts.

1. Wisconsin (25-10-4)

How Qualified: At large

National Titles: 6 (last in 2006)

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 23 (last in 2008)

Where do you start with Wisconsin? I suppose it has to be on the blueline, where it seems everyone is a future NHL star. Former 1st round pick Brendan Smith is a Hobey candidate, and was the only blueliner to average over a point per game this year. His 15 goals were third on the team. Smith has had some issues in his own zone in the past, but those have been largely absent this year. Smith is joined on the blueline by Ryan McDonagh, Cody Goloubef, Jake Gardiner and John Ramage. Gardiner and Ramage were both on the gold medal winning United States WJC team, and Goloubef was on Canada’s gold medal winning team last year. Simply,  you’re not going to out-talent the Badgers on the blueline.

Up front, Blake Geoffrion makes the Badgers tick. He leads the team with 25 goals, and was 5th in the country in goals per game. Geoffrion, however, contributes in ways that don’t jump out at you on the stat sheet. He is a very good two way forward, goes into the corners well, and is the Badgers emotional leader. He is joined up front by fellow Senior Michael Davies (18-32–50) and another Badger who was on the World Junior team, Derek Stepan (10-38–48). Really though, the Badgers are deep: They have the 2nd best scoring team in the country and they have 7 players in double digits in goals. The Badgers’ lone soft spot could be in goal, as Scott Gundmandson hasn’t been great, but hasn’t had to be. Still, Wisconsin is probably the deepest team in the tournament, and an overwhelming favorite to advance to Detroit.

4. Vermont(17-14-7)

How Qualified: At Large

National Titles: 0

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 5 (last 2009)

Where to start with Vermont. The Catamounts finished 8th in Hockey East but made the NCAA field due to winning PWR comparisons that resulted from some good non-conference results. They went to the Frozen Four last year, but their best two offensive players, Viktor Stalberg and Peter Lenes, are gone. As a result, the Catamounts have struggled on offense all year, and especially lately. They’ve scored 2 goals in their last 3 games, and were just 32nd nationally in scoring. They haven’t drawn many penalties (only 156 power plays), nor have they converted when they’ve had the chance (16%, 2nd worst in the tournament field).

So basically, it all comes down to goalie Rob Madore. Vermont has a big bruising defensive corps, and they’ll need them to have any chance at all of beating Wisconsin. Madore is a very talented goalie, but he has just a .907 save percentage. Vermont will need a herculean effort to beat the Badgers but hey, anything’s possible.

2. St. Cloud State (23-15-5)

How Qualified: At large

National Titles: 0

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 8 (last 2008)

Here we go again. This is the Huskies 8th appearance in the national tournament, and they have a grand total of….0 wins. It’s the elephant in the room whenever you talk about them. But as I always say those 7 teams have no bearing on how this Huskies team will play. The Huskies do have a mini goalie controversy however, as Dan Dunn was named 3rd team all WCHA, and then sat as Freshman Mike Lee shutout Denver in the WCHA semis. Lee was then pulled from the WCHA title game after giving up 4 early goals, and Dunn held the Sioux down for the most part.

The Huskies are led up front by Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe, who each are seemingly spending their 9th year at the school. And hey, it’s St. Cloud State so that might not be too far off. Unfortunately, Roe was taken out by a vicious Cody Goloubef hit in their semifinal win over Wisconsin, and his status for this weekend is unclear. Both he and Lasch have identical 19-27–46 lines, so you’re obviously taking a huge chunk out of the Huskies offense if Roe can’t go.

In the past, the Huskies were well-known for their great power play, but their special teams haven’t been special this year. Their power play was just 6th in the WCHA at 18.8% and at 80% their penalty kill is the worst in the tournament. Honestly the Huskies don’t stand out anywhere statistically, so it is surprising they have had this good of a season.

3. Northern Michigan

How Qualified: At Large

National Titles: 1 (1991)

NCAA Appearances: 8 (last, 1999)

Welcome back, old friend. It’s been 11 years since Northern Michigan has made a tournament, and 19 since they’ve won a national championship. This year’s team has the big mo on their side however, as the Wildcats are 14-4-4 in their last 22 games, and 10-2-2 in their last 14. The 4th best scoring team in the CCHA at just over 3 goals per is led by Hobey finalist Mark Olver, who led the CCHA in goals in conference games with 17. He also averaged 1.3 points in his 27 conference games.

Another ink getter for the Wildcats is defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who is the only defenseman in the top 12 CCHA assist men in conference games. Gustafsson was actually 2nd in that regard, with 21 assists in 28 conference games. His defensive partner TJ Miller is a great compliment to Gustafsson.

In net, goalie Brian Stewart has been one of the nation’s best. His .927 save percentage is 4th in the country, and he faces a lot of shots. Over 1,100 this season in fact, so he will be tested and ready for anything St. Cloud will throw at him.

Fun NMU fact: their combined special teams percentage is tops in the country. Both they and St. Cloud state stay out of the box fairly well, so there might not be many opportunities to show that off.

Regional Pick: Wisconsin advances over Northern Michigan