Until Penn State has a direct reason (ie. participation) to care about the NCAA tournament, I'll defer to others for the hardcore stuff. Chris Peters, through his blog The United States of Hockey, is doing fantastic in-depth previews of each region (East, Northeast, Midwest - the West is coming tomorrow), and I encourage you to go over there for further reading.
Finally, before we get started, here are the tournament brackets (interactive and PDF) from NCAA.com.
East Region (Bridgeport, CT)
Union vs. Michigan State, Friday 3:00 p.m., ESPNU
Miami vs. UMass-Lowell, Friday 6:30 p.m., ESPNU
Regional Final, Saturday 6:30 p.m., ESPNU
1. Michigan State. I tend to be conflicted when it comes to the whole "root for your conference" thing. On one hand, it's nice to have a positive public perception of your team's league. On the other, you have to recruit against these guys. The good news is that we're not talking about college football. Part of the genius of the PairWise Rankings used in our sport of choice is the tangible benefit of your opponents' success, something that goes well beyond getting some nice words from a talking head on ESPN. It doesn't start benefiting Penn State now (it will as early as next season, when PSU plays the Spartans), but we might as well get in the habit now.
2. Union. Hey, speaking of teams (most likely) on our schedule! Sure, like I just said, there's no direct benefit of Union's success here to Penn State. Still, it would be pretty cool if the Dutchmen carried something like a Frozen Four appearance from this season into next season's games with the Nittany Lions. Even more cool, naturally, would be if PSU could beat a team like that.
3. UMass-Lowell. The River Hawks get the third-place nod based on their pair of Pennsylvania natives, backup goalie Brian Robbins (Scotrun) and freshman forward Terrence Wallin (Yardley), a solid contributor. UML is one of three tournament teams with multiple Keystone Staters on the roster, and each gets a boost since what's good for PA hockey will generally be good for PSU. Also, Lowell went from 5-25-4 last season to the NCAA tournament this season, so not enjoying their success makes you un-American. Or something like that.
4. Miami. It was a tough decision to stick the RedHawks on the bottom, but since the Pegula Ice Arena is now under construction, those rink visits taken by PSU administration over a year ago seem a little less important. Besides, from what we know (or have inferred, anyway), Steve Cady wasn't as influential on Joe Battista and crew as, say, Notre Dame's new barn.
Northeast Region (Worcester, MA)
Boston College vs. Air Force, Saturday 4:00 p.m., ESPNU
MN-Duluth vs. Maine, Saturday 7:30 p.m., FSN North+
Regional Final, Sunday 8:00 p.m., ESPNU
1. Air Force. There are numerous reasons to go with the Falcons. For starters, they join Union and Michigan State as the only teams in the tournament known to be on PSU's schedule next year. Once upon a time, former Icers Bobby Pate and Mike Carrano transferred from Air Force. And, of course, who doesn't love an underdog? From a practical standpoint, it seems like rattling the existing college hockey power structure would be beneficial to a new program in some way that I can't articulate.
2. Maine. The Black Bears are not an obvious choice on the surface, but they might be worth Penn State's support for the simple reason that they, too, were once new in town. Maine hockey began in 1977 (extremely recent by some programs' standards), and in their 16th season they were 42-1-2 and national champions. Consider, too, that the 1992-1993 season came in their ninth season of Hockey East play after starting out with a stretch of independent seasons - in other words, PSU's timeline might be a little accelerated compared to theirs. Maine is also one of the three teams with two Pennsylvanians - York's Dan Sullivan, their starting goalie, and sophomore forward Jon Swavely from Reading. If nothing else, hope they do it for Joe Wunderler, who has had a rough go of things since running into Chris Hansen.
I hate that I can't reference To Catch A Predator without it being a little awkward now. Damn you, Jerry Sandusky.
3. Minnesota-Duluth. As mentioned, I've devalued the fabled arena visits - which were highly influential last year, look how far we've come! - somewhat, but in a tight race for the third spot, things like that prove important, as does the fact that senior goalie Kenny Reiter, a Pittsburgh native, could be the single most important Pennsylvanian in the tournament. Finally, of course, UMD gets a little bump as a thank you to Scott Sandelin for staying put (I've made no secret of the fact that I would have been extremely disappointed with his hiring at Penn State).
PS. I won't hold it against you if you drop UMD below Boston College, in light of this.
4. Boston College. The Eagles are the final team with two Pennsylvanians, one of which is starting goalie Parker Milner - like Reiter, a Pittsburgh native. PA, especially the western part, certainly puts out a ton of goalies, doesn't it? However, they don't really have anything on either side of the ledger beyond that. Plus, it's Boston College. Gross. I'm glad they got stuck in a stacked region for PSU interests.
Midwest Region (Green Bay, WI)
Ferris State vs. Denver, Friday 5:30 p.m., Altitude
Michigan vs. Cornell, Friday 9:00 p.m., ESPNU
Regional Final, Saturday 9:00 p.m., ESPNU
1. Michigan. After the not-yet-existing Big Ten took shots from all corners last year for only getting Michigan into the show, the Wolverines represented their future conference quite well by advancing all the way to overtime of the national championship game. On the way, they beat current WCHAers/future NCHCers Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College and North Dakota before falling to another, Minnesota-Duluth, in that final. Another run like that would be just dandy from a Penn State perspective. And who knows, maybe it will lead to more hilariousness like this:
2. Cornell. Trivia time: Name the only three still-active, still-varsity programs the 1939-1947 Penn State varsity played. Answer: Army, Colgate and Cornell. An 8-1 loss at Ithaca on February 5, 1944 was the result against the Big Red back in those days. In the present day, PSU and CU have at least held discussions aimed at giving the Nittany Lions a shot at correcting that losing series history. Those two things are good enough for the second slot in a region significantly thinner than the Northeast.
3. Ferris State. FSU is more or less the story of the tournament, and a likely favorite team for anyone who doesn't have other allegiances. Mired in mediocrity seemingly since forever (except 2002-2003), relegated to a new-and-diminished WCHA and with zero NHL draft picks on the team, the Bulldogs have emerged with a vengeance this season, to the tune of 23-11-5 and even topping the polls for a couple weeks in February. Still, this is a post purely about Penn State interests, so that's only good for a tiebreaker over...
4. Denver. Last year, I placed the Pioneers at the bottom of their region because I didn't want George Gwozdecky to drive his asking price up. Seriously. This year, I'm just doing it because there's no good reason not to. Once upon a time, when the Icers still ruled the ACHA, DU tried to schedule them (the plan was eventually blown up over the fact that PSU would have counted against their game limit). While I do give them credit for attempting to give out the opportunity, that and 50 cents will get you...I don't know, a newspaper? Who reads newspapers anymore?
West Region (St. Paul, MN)
North Dakota vs. W. Michigan, Saturday 1:30 p.m., FSN North
Minn. vs. Boston U., Saturday 5:05 p.m., FSN North+, NESN
Regional Final, Sunday 5:30 p.m., ESPNU
1. Minnesota. The last of three future Big Ten schools in the tournament already has a direct connection with Penn State through Max Gardiner, the former Gopher who returned to the USHL this season and will join the Nittany Lions next year.
2. Boston University. Battista was on a visit here (receiving a tour of Agganis Arena from none other than Mike Eruzione) on the day he received his text message confirmation of Terry Pegula's donation. The place must be good luck. Or something.
3. Western Michigan. Last year, here's what I wrote about the Broncos:
Don't we kind of owe it to society to wish the best for one of those weaker CCHA schools we're supposedly killing off with the whole Big Ten thing? Plus, like Union and Merrimack, they're a nice story - they haven't been to this show since 1996 and came oh so close to their first conference title of any kind before falling to Miami in the CCHA title game.This year? Not so much. Since that post, they found a conference home in the Big Ten's archnemesis, the NCHC. After losing coach Jeff Blashill to the Detroit Red Wings, they hired failed NHL coach Andy Murray. And they kept winning. It's a short road from scrappy and beloved underdog to kind of annoying, isn't it? Of course, none of this really has anything to do with Penn State, so they join Ferris State as maybe the only completely neutral teams in the tournament.
4. North Dakota. The Flickertails (one of them anyway) hate Penn State. Fine by me, I hate them too. And just because it annoys someone who supports them, here's the legendary "We Are - Penn State Hockey!" video.