West Regional Preview | Colorado Springs, Colo.
EST: No. 1 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Holy Cross
11 p.m. EST:
No. 2 Denver vs. No. 3 Miami
9 p.m. EST:
The West Regional is generally regarded as the weakest
of the four in this year’s tournament, and conventional
wisdom suggests this two-day affair serves as nothing more than
a coronation ceremony for top-seeded North Dakota. The only thing
worse than the West getting a bad rap is that the assessment may
be right on target.
it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Fighting
Sioux fail to advance to the Frozen Four in Boston in two weeks.
Coach Dean Blais has at his disposal the nation’s two best
players in Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski, the country’s
best freshman in Brady Murray, a half-dozen other guys who’ve
scored 10 or more goals this season and a vastly underrated defensive
the goaltending. Before the members of Sioux Nation lob a volley
of hate mail this way, let me preface this discussion by saying
Jake Brandt and Jordan Parise are certainly capable in net, because
a team doesn’t win 29 games if they’re not. And goalies
most people serious doubted – stand and wave, Adam Hauser
– have won national championships in the past.
Of all the
teams in this year’s tournament, North Dakota is the one
best suited to overcome problems that arise if Brandt or Jordan
Parise are off. But if a game against, say, Adam Berkhoel and
Denver turns into a goaltender’s duel, it’s a battle
for which the Sioux are most vulnerable.
Dakota freshman Brady Murray.
With so many terrific players assigned to this region,
it’s interesting to note that the coaches may provide the
best stories in Colorado Springs.
there’s the George Gwozdecky vs. Enrico Blasi angle Friday
as Denver faces Miami in a game that features more connections
than one of Clark Griswold’s outdoor power outlets at Christmas.
Gwozdecky coached Blasi for four seasons at Miami, and current
Pioneer assistant Steve Miller was there, too, in a similar capacity.
Later, Blasi joined Gwozdecky and Miller on the staff at Denver,
and the trio was joined by graduate assistant Seth Appert.
named Miami’s head coach in the summer of 1999, so Gwozdecky
filled the vacancy by hiring Appert, who had taken a similar post
at Mercyhurst a few weeks earlier. And prior to this season, Blasi
hired Jeff Blashill, who roomed with Appert when the two played
together at Ferris State in the mid-90s.
Holy Cross’ Paul Pearl. Pearl announced in June he was stepping
down as the Crusaders’ coach to serve as assistant athletic
director, hockey coach and admissions officer at Milton (Mass.)
Academy. He had second thoughts about the move, however, and five
days later spurned the prep school to return to his old job.
got a very talented group,” Pearl told INCH after deciding
to stay. “We play in a tough league and you never know what
The guy standing
behind the home bench during the Holy Cross-North Dakota game
– Fighting Sioux coach Dean Blais – has made news
himself recently. Last week, USA Hockey (they're housed in the
big building right behind the World Arena) tabbed him to coach
the American entry at next year’s IIHF World Junior Championships.
The U.S. team will play all of its WJC games at Ralph Engelstad
Arena in Grand Forks.
For a guy who’s scored 114 points in 74 career games, North
Dakota’s Zach Parise has been especially torrid as of late.
In four WCHA playoff games, the Faribault, Minn., native has four
goals and eight assists and had a hand in each of his team’s
goals in the Fighting Sioux’s 5-4 loss to Minnesota in the
WCHA Final Five championship game in St. Paul last weekend. And
it’s not like he was getting phantom assists against the
Gophers – he had the first assist on goals by Drew Stafford
and Brandon Bochenski in addition to scoring one of his own. His
experience with the gold medal-winning U.S. team on the grand
stage of the 2004 World Junior Championship will benefit the team
as it marches deeper in the tournament.
As an aside,
the Hobey Baker Memorial Award committee casts its final ballots
next week and, while it’s obviously not a primary concern,
a terrific showing this weekend could make him the clear-cut favorite
in what has heretofore been a wide open race.
After drawing the tournament’s top overall seed in the first
round, the odds against Holy Cross beating North Dakota are stacked
against them like red, white and blue chips in front of Amarillo
Slim at the World Series of Poker. And while no one gives the
Crusaders much of a chance Friday, a good goalie can always make
the proceedings interesting – just ask Red Berenson about
the play of Mercyhurst’s Pete Aubry in a West Regional first-round
game in Grand Rapids three years ago.
is a good goaltender. With a 17-5-2 record, a 2.19 goals against
average and a .926 save percentage, the sophomore from South Freeport,
Maine, led Atlantic Hockey in wins and GAA and was second in save
percentage. He’s also used to seeing a lot of rubber –
Holy Cross allows a shade more than 30 shots on goal per game
– and he gives the Crusaders a chance to win just about
every night, allowing two or fewer goals in 18 of his 24 starts.
With senior forward Connor James done after breaking his leg in
Denver’s final regular season game earlier this month, the
onus for sparking the Pioneers’ offensively falls on the
shoulders of sophomore Gabe Gauthier. He’s the team’s
leading scorer with 17-24—41 and has scored big goals for
DU throughout the season with seven power play goals and five
game-winners. Denver needs someone to make up for more than just
James’s point production, though, in order to advance. They
need Gauthier to become the guy who stirs the Pioneers’
Miami’s Mike Kompon has had a very good year. In
fact, he’s the team’s second-leading scorer with 45
points. But when people talk about the RedHawks, they focus on
Hobey Baker Award candidate Derek Edwardson, discuss the play
of freshmen forwards Matt Christie and Marty Guerin or bring up
two-way defenseman Andy Greene. Kompon, it seems, gets lost in
too bad because, for our money, Kompon is Miami’s most dynamic
player. In addition to being a skilled scorer and passer, he’s
a solid face-off man and a special teams ace (five power play
goals and two shorthanded goals). Perhaps most importantly, he’s
a high-energy guy who regularly provides the RedHawks with their
Looks like we’ve come full circle, because the
question that looms is, Can anyone beat North Dakota? In theory,
it’s certainly possible. In reality, however, it’s
and Miami have the talent to give the Fighting Sioux a run for
their money, especially the Pioneers with Adam Berkhoel in goal.
Friday’s semifinal has all the trappings of a knock-down,
drag-out affair between two evenly matched teams. Meanwhile, North
Dakota will cruise to a win against Holy Cross and get Denver
or Miami the following day. Will the winner have enough gas to
take out North Dakota? Doubtful.