Wednesday, February 29, 2012

End of the Road (Part II)

Part 2 of a three-part series previewing the ACHA Division 1 national championship tournament (Part 1).

In yesterday's post addressing Friday's first round, I predicted that Oakland, Davenport, West Virginia and Central Oklahoma will advance. How will they fare against the top twelve seeds in a sixteen-team second round? Let's find out.

5. Liberty (23-8-4) vs. 12. Adrian (25-13-1)

Saturday, 10:00 a.m.
East Rink

National Championships: Liberty: none, Adrian: none
Last Tournament Appearance: Liberty: 2010 (10th), Adrian: 2011 (5th)
Liberty: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
Adrian: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

The first second-round matchup to be played might be the most intriguing, because it involves two teams that are capable of beating just about any team in the country. Penn State saw that characteristic in Liberty firsthand back in December, while Adrian has a win over No. 4 Arizona State and a one-goal loss to second-seeded Lindenwood on their resume. Of course, both teams have had a look at the reverse scenario as well - AC has lost to Eastern Michigan (in a shootout), while the Flames lost to Stony Brook.

Adrian, the GLCHL tournament champs, scores a ton of goals - nearly five per game - and a lot of them have something to do with Ryan Bachman, a sophomore from the Chicago area who is the fourth-leading scorer in the entire ACHA and tops among those at the tournament.

Ryan Bachman probably doesn't support Michelle Bachman as much as Liberty.

Liberty scores quite a few goals themselves, many coming off of a physical forecheck, and can answer the Bulldogs' star power with Brent Boschman, who sits just behind Bachman on the points leaderboard. Those players were prominent when Bulldogs and Flames met for two in Lynchburg back in October, with Boschman's three points fueling a 6-2 LU win before Bachman's side got revenge to the tune of 4-3 the next day.

For this one I'm expecting scoring, and I'm expecting a late Adrian power play goal to advance to the quarterfinals. I feel like the Bulldogs are a little underseeded, they're coming in on a roll, and they'll certainly be motivated after how their season ended last year in Delaware.

Pick: Adrian, 6-5.

4. Arizona State (28-5-1) vs. 13. Oakland (21-15-2)

Saturday, 11:00 a.m.
West Rink

National Championships: Arizona State: none, Oakland: 2007
Last Tournament Appearance: Arizona State: 2011 (10th), Oakland: 2011 (8th)
Arizona State: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
Oakland: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

Because of their geographic isolation, many of you might not be aware of this, but Arizona State is good. Very good. National championship good. Consider their record against the top six seeds this season: 5-1-0, a mark that includes wins over each except themselves (naturally) and Penn State (PSU, incidentally, is a similarly good 6-2-0 against Ohio, Liberty and Delaware). Largely because of that, they cruise into Strongsville with the highest seed in program history.

Senior Mark Schacker, an ACHA all-star last season, gives ASU a solid foundation in net. Here's video of some of his teammates from a 7-3 win against Central Oklahoma this year.

I think the thing that strikes me there is that the guys stepping in that game weren't top scorers Dan Styrna or Kale Dolinski, but secondary guys Dave Jantzie and Patrick Rogan. Another mark of a great team. And lest you think that the Sun Devils are feasting on a parade of opponents on long road trips to Tempe, they're 9-2-1 outside of their home state, including wins over tournament teams Adrian, Liberty, Delaware, Davenport, Kent State (yeah, I know) and UCO.

In the end, too much talent for Oakland to handle, and I don't believe the Grizzlies' goalie rotation of Matt Toter and Corey Hrischuk is good enough to steal one.

Pick: Arizona State, 5-1.

6. Ohio (26-13-1) vs. 11. Illinois (16-16-1)

Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
East Rink

National Championships: Ohio: 1995-1997, 2004, Illinois: 2005, 2008
Last Tournament Appearance: Ohio: 2011 (3rd), Illinois: 2010 (6th)
Ohio: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
Illinois: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

If you're a fan of the "classic" ACHA, then this is the game for you. Two tradition-laden programs that are both on the exclusive list of those with multiple national championships (Penn State, North Dakota State and Lindenwood are the only others). Ohio has four, which is a big part of why they're generally regarded as the second most successful program ever. Illinois has only half that many to its credit, but they do have one thing OU doesn't: that 38-0-0 2008 team is the only one in ACHA history with a perfect record.

There's more that makes this game appealing, of course. The two teams are bitter CSCHL rivals. Furthermore, Illini coach Chad Cassel, who has built one of the ACHA's great programs since taking over in Champaign, is retiring after the season.
"I been doing this for 16 years,” Cassel said. "It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s time. I feel like I got one more good run in me here in the national tournament."
I'm not so sure that he does. I shouldn't need to explain Ohio to any Icers fan, but just in case: Michael Schultz, Tyler Pilmore, Brett Agnew, Nick Rostek. Expect to see those guys on the scoresheet a lot, and expect to be impressed by the team's defensive forwards as well. I mentioned that the Bobcats and Illini share a conference, so I'm sure you're wondering how their games went this year.

Specifically, 4-1 and 5-1 wins for OU at Bird Arena in early January. While Illinois will certainly play hard for their coach, that and neutral ice aren't worth a four-goal swing.

Pick: Ohio, 4-2.

3. Delaware (30-3-1) vs. 14. Davenport (21-19-0)

Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
West Rink

National Championships: Delaware: none, Davenport: 2011
Last Tournament Appearance: Delaware: 2011 (4th), Davenport: 2011 (1st)
Delaware: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
Davenport: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

I'm concerned about Delaware, for a few reasons.

For starters, they got a raw deal from a certain segment of poll voters and the ACHA rulebook. After finishing second in the final regular season rankings, they were bumped down to the third seed by a ridiculous ACHA rule that counts the votes of every coach for purposes of deciding who makes the tournament but only those of qualifying coaches to determine seeding. So the Blue Hens have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, and rightfully so, since the coaches in Strongsville don't regard them as highly as the larger Division 1 group.

What sounds like a technicality becomes much more significant when you consider that while second-seeded Lindenwood draws UCO or Kent State in the second round, UD might get the defending champs. Sure Davenport's not quite the same Davenport, but they do need to be considered capable of taking down the Hens - or just about anyone.

Delaware's also coming into this thing a little bit wobbly. After winning the ESCHL regular season championship, they were dispatched 7-2 by Rhode Island in the league playoffs. Backup goalie Nick Casella played in that game, and rumors that starter S.J. Broadt (one of the ACHA's best) has a broken foot are out there. All of it points to UD being extremely ripe for an upset. And really, you shouldn't be surprised if it happens. In fact, my first instinct was to call for it here, but after further contemplation, I think the Hens have talent and depth up front (Ryan McDonald, Christian Tasker, Kevin Miller, Andre Menard, and on and on...) to carry the day here regardless of the goaltender.

Pick: Delaware, 5-4.

8. Iowa State (28-9-5) vs. 9. Oklahoma (25-12-2)

Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
East Rink

National Championships: Iowa State: 1992, 1999, Oklahoma: none
Last Tournament Appearance: Iowa State: 2010 (2nd), Oklahoma: 2011 (7th)
Iowa State: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
Oklahoma: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

After missing this tournament for the first time in program history, Al Murdoch's team had a nice bounceback year. Long-time ACHA followers know what that means:

Yep, the Cyclone Hockey Cheer Squad will be back at nationals. I'll let each of you form your own opinions as to whether that's a good thing or not. Whatever your take on hockey cheerleaders generally or these hockey cheerleaders specifically, I've always found it a little awkward when they're up in front of a sparse and non-responsive crowd, as happens when two light-traveling teams play each other.

More to the point of the on-ice product, ISU has spurned the tradition of Glenn Detulleo (he's still playing pro hockey, by the way) and are decidedly a defense-first team, just as they were when they made their surprise run to the 2010 national championship game. Back then, it was goalie Erik Hudson leading the way. This year's team 2.50 goals against average is largely due to Paul Karus, Hudson's understudy in 2010, but now the starter. Don't be fooled into thinking it's strictly a goaltending effort though - ISU has eight defensemen who played in either the NAHL or a Canadian Jr. A league. Among the highlights of this group's efforts: a 1-0 shutout of the Sooners on September 30th and a 2-1 win at Arizona State on November 5th. Jon Feavel scored the only goal of that Oklahoma game, and he's one to watch up front, as is J.P. Kascsak.

Regular TYT readers know that I consider Oklahoma one of the most talented teams in the ACHA, as they boast several former NAHLers of their own. Goalie Nick Holmes, a UCO transfer, is a stud, and Blake Martin, formerly of NCAA Division I Nebraska-Omaha, carries the mail up front. Shane Vorndran, who played a season and a half at ACHA Mercyhurst, is another of OU's top scorers. Yeah, they attract a lot of transfers too. Generally, the one-line assessment on the Sooners is that they're a team with a high ceiling, but one that can't stay out of the box. Martin was the poster child for that statement last year with a team-leading 143 penalty minutes in 38 games, but he's cut 70 percent from that number this year and the rest of the team is much improved as well.

While this will be one of the better games of the day, one that could go either way, I think Oklahoma's balance and a good game from Holmes get it done.

Pick: Oklahoma, 3-2.

1. Penn State (27-3-1) vs. 17. West Virginia (23-14-0)

Saturday, 5:00 p.m.
West Rink

National Championships: Penn State: 1998, 2000-2003, West Virginia: none
Last Tournament Appearance: Penn State: 2011 (11th), West Virginia: 2008 (14th)
Penn State: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
West Virginia: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

(Sorry, I'll save the serious analysis for the teams the Icers haven't beaten 8-0 and 6-1 this year. Or 13-2 and 9-0 if it's Rutgers in this game.)

Pick: Penn State, 8-2.

7. Minot State (25-6-2) vs. 10. Robert Morris (IL) (26-6-2)

Saturday, 7:00 p.m.
East Rink

National Championships: Minot State: none, Robert Morris: none
Last Tournament Appearance: Minot State: 2011 (9th), Robert Morris: 2011 (12th)
Minot State: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
Robert Morris: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

Back when Minot wore a giant M on the front of their home sweaters, there was a very obvious comparison.

Of course, there's one glaring difference between the Beavers and Russell Crowe's band of misfits: when the New York Rangers come calling, Minot doesn't always show up to play. I've always thought this was a product of the Beavers' schedule, which tends to be a little sparse by necessity of geography. This year, they only played 19 games against other ACHA D1 teams, filling out most of the rest of their dates with nearby junior colleges. Often at the ACHA tournament, MSU would come out on fire, then drastically fade out within a couple of games. Last year that fade happened over the course of a single game, as Oakland appeared to strengthen late before upsetting the Beavers in overtime in the first round.

Before you assume that I'm going to go against Minot on that theory though, consider that outstanding goalie Wyatt Waselenchuk, leading scorer Josh Rutherford and their teammates may have already proven capable of the task in front of them. From January 26th through 29th, the Beavers played four games at Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma, and won all of them by a combined 15-2 score. I don't care who or what you are, or where you play, that's impressive.

Robert Morris has a pretty nice resume themselves (as tends to be the case with good teams coming from the always-tough CSCHL), and part of it includes going up to Minot in October and earning a split via a 4-3 shootout win. Goaltender Andy DiCristofaro sports a 1.83 goals against average, and he and his defense have proven they can shut down the best when on their game - see single goals allowed in games against Ohio and Adrian and two against in a game with Oklahoma for reference. Much like the Iowa State-Oklahoma game, I see a low-scoring affair that can go either way, but I'm giving this one to coach Wade Regier's side.

Pick: Minot State, 2-1.

2. Lindenwood (30-5-0) vs. 15. Central Oklahoma (15-22-1)

Saturday, 8:00 p.m.
West Rink

National Championships: Lindenwood: 2009, 2010, Central Oklahoma: none
Last Tournament Appearance: Lindenwood: 2011 (2nd), Central Oklahoma: 2010 (4th)
Lindenwood: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics
Central Oklahoma: Roster // Schedule/Results // Statistics

The Lions, as usual, come into the tournament as definite championship contenders - though probably not as the prohibitive favorites of the last several years. That's not to say that they're not extremely formidable with only four losses this season (three of which were to Oklahoma). All of those defeats have one thing in common: they happened a while ago. Rick Zombo's gang has reeled off 18 consecutive wins, including, most recently, a 6-4 win over Ohio at Bird Arena in the CSCHL championship game.
It was everything you would want a conference championship to be as both the Lions and Bobcats battled back and forth for most of the game. Lindenwood jumped out to an early lead as Steve Brancheau lit the lamp off a feed from Nick Carey just over two minutes into the first, but Ohio tied it with a power play goal midway through the period and then took a 2-1 lead to the first intermission with another goal with 8:17 left.

The Lions wasted no time in the second as Grant Gorczyca tied the game just 27 seconds into the period. Colin Long and Peppi Sipila assisted on the play. With 9:11 left, Lindenwood edged in front with a goal from Neeco Belanger assisted by Tobias Dahlstrom and Barclay Berner, but the Bobcats battled back to tie the game at 3-3 as they scored with only eight seconds remaining.

Defense prevailed through the first seven minutes of the third as neither team was able to find the back of the net, but Lindenwood capitalized with the man advantage when Brancheau scored on the power play from Tyler Bowman and Joe Bostic at the 12:45 left in the period. The key play of the game came two minutes later when Ohio was looking to tie the game on its own power play, but the Lions turned the tables when Niklas Bunnstedt broke free on a pass from Bostic and scored a short-handed goal with 10:36 left to give Lindenwood a 5-3 lead. The Lions extended that lead to three on the second goal from Gorczyca, assisted by Sipila and Bowman with 9:07 remaining. The Bobcats did get their fourth goal late in the third, but it wasn't enough as the Lions prevailed with the 6-4 win.
The Lions weren't a one-trick pony either, as they also plowed through the CSCHL (which includes OU, Iowa State, Robert Morris (IL), Illinois, Kent State and Indiana) unbeaten. Incidentally, in the out-of-conference portion of the schedule, LU's record includes 4-0-0 against UCO, and only one of those games was closer than a three-goal margin. So yeah, I'm advancing Lindenwood. There's just too much there for a largely one-trick Bronchos squad.

Pick: Lindenwood, 5-1.

In tomorrow's finale, we'll go all the way from the quarterfinals through to the Murdoch Cup with the eight remaining teams: Adrian, Arizona State, Ohio, Delaware, Oklahoma, Penn State, Minot State and Lindenwood.

No comments:

Post a Comment