The Hockey Bracket

Submitted by Brian on March 25th, 2009 at 12:55 PM

BRACKET2009

via reader Will; click for big

The committee decided to avoid the first round intraconference matchups like prescribed and skipped the obvious switch of 12 and 13 in PWR and gave Michigan that sweet, sweet bracket projected last weekend:

1. Michigan
4. Air Force

2. Yale
3. Vermont

BU, the overall #1 seed, got hosed and has to face Ohio State in the first round. Michigan is on ESPNU at 3PM Friday.

Some details on the opposition in Bridgeport:

Air Force

air-force-rotc-pic-top america! yeah!

The Falcons are only the second* non-power conference team to rank high enough in the pairwise to warrant an at-large bid, though they don't need it after winning the Atlantic Hockey autobid.

Air Force finished #14 in the final pairwise, was 27-10-5, and ranks #29 in KRACH. That's the fifth best record in the country but it came against the #51 schedule. (D1 hockey has but 58 teams.) Teams of interest near them in KRACH include #27 UNO, #31 Western Michigan, and #32 Michigan State: if Air Force plays at all like any of those teams Michigan should outshoot them at least 2-1.

However, the Air Force nonconference schedule is actually pretty respectable:

  • Wins: Bemidji State (2), Colorado College
  • Losses: Denver, Quinnipiac, Yale

Both the Quinnipiac and Yale games were competitive, with Yale getting a GWG at 13:22 of the third and Quinnipiac tacking on an ENG in a one-goal game in which Air Force outshot them nearly 2-1. Though I'm happier Michigan faces them than Miami or Ohio State, this is not a pushover.

If there's one guy you want to know at the academy it's Jacques Lamoureux, the nation's leading scorer with a 32-20-52 line. Should it bother you that the best player on a military academy's hockey team is so obviously French Canadian? Yes, except he's from North Dakota so no.

*(A nascent Niagara program snagged an at-large in 2000. Though they won the CHA, the conference hadn't been granted autobid status yet. Even more impressive: the tourney was only twelve teams then. More impressive yet: the Purple Eagles downed New Hampshire in the first round.)

More on Air Force can be found at the Hoover Street Rag.

Yale

Yale won the ECAC this year with a 15-5-2 conference record and then won the conference tourney to boot. This constitutes possibly the best season in Yale hockey history. They, too, have a swanky overall record (24-7-2) run up against questionable opposition (SOS #43), but their record is swanky enough and their opposition robust enough to see them slot in at #10 in KRACH.

This would be an excellent draw as Michigan's two-seed except that Vermont, the three-seed in the regional, is #6 in KRACH so it's a wash. Also, KRACH doesn't take scoring Margin into account, and even if Yale played a weak schedule they crushed it: they're #5 in scoring margin. Vermont is #19.

I have this image in my head of successful ECAC teams that will never leave: they have a huge French Canadian guy, a goalie with a save percentage above .920, a thudding, defensive style of hockey, and very little offensive pop except for one leetle guy that's like a version of TJ Hensick interested in going to an Ivy League school.

Yale comes up empty on the huge French Canadian but goalie Alec Richards is at a .926 save percentage and the Bulldogs strike it big with the little guys: four of Yale's top five scorers are listed at 5'9" or less, which means they probably average about 5'7". Don't let the low counting numbers deceive you: though Yale's leading scorers only have 35 points, Yale is an Ivy and plays fewer games than the rest of the country. They currently stand at 33; Michigan's up to 40.

As for the offensive pop: Yale's actually got a decent bit. They're eighth nationally in scoring offense, with six players above 0.8 PPG. One is junior defenseman Thomas Dignard, undoubtedly the PP quarterback, and the rest are young forwards. Yale has no seniors until you get to Patrick Brosnihan's eight points.

Okay, this is not a Cornell or Colgate or whoever, this is a small team with some talent in their sticks.

BONUS: HSR on Yale.

Vermont

As noted above, math thinks Vermont is the favorite in the 2-3 matchup. The Catamounts were 20-11-5 against the #11 schedule, but instead of flailing about with numbers and goal differential and the like, how about a scouting report from a close observer?

This is from reader Corey Griffiths and far outstrips any knowledge I've got about Vermont:

Brian,
My alma mater causes me to bleed Maize and Blue, but I have also been going to UVM hockey games since I was half a year old, so I am very much looking forward to the possibility of the two teams playing (for the first time ever?).  I figured it might be nice to actually provide some sort of useful scouting report for you, or at least get you on the right track in the event that U-M has to play them Saturday night.  Here's what I've got on my perspective:

Vermont has a couple guys you need to watch out for:

  • Victor Stahlberg is arguably the best player on the team.  He's solid mentally and appears to provide great leadership for the team.  His puck skills and playing ability will likely translate well to the NHL, and he reminds me a little bit of a not as good version of Kevin Porter.  He's not one of those players that you notice all that much necessarily, but you know something is going to happen when he's out there.  I think he plays bigger than the 6-3, 210 he's listed at too.  I expect M would probably be pretty good at defending him since I think he actually plays the most like the kind of player Red Berenson goes for.
  • I played both with and against Peter Lenes all the way through high school, and his playing style has changed very little.  At a generous 5-6 160, students will be tempted to go with the "dirty hobbit" chant, but I would advise against it given his ability to make you eat words.  I've never seen a player with a quicker or more lightning-fast reaction time, and you can expect one or more moments where a Michigan player winds up losing the puck for reasons he doesn't quite comprehend.  He also has a way of taking shots that aren't unexpected;  his favorite move is skating away from the net along one of the sides and taking a sharp turn with a wrist shot right on goal.  His accuracy can be deadly both on the forehand and the back hand are deadly, too.  The positives for Michigan are that his size makes him easy to lock up if you're able to get a body on him.  The last few games of Vermont's season have seen opponents somewhat effectively reduce him to a fixture along the boards. 
  • Dean Strong is one more player I would watch out for.  He's clearly a leader on the team, and though I would only say he's a little above average in the skills department, he plays hard enough to make things happen.  You might say he fits the definition of a blue-collar hockey player.  M shouldn't have a problem defending him, but if they try to sit back and play dainty hockey as they have done in the past, they'll get burned by him.  I feel like he's gone and gotten his helmet knocked off enough times this season that I could even recognize him on the street if I ran into him.
  • Vermont has a strange way of acquiring very very good goalies, and Freshman Rob Madore isn't an exception.  I would say his 0.911 save percentage and 2.36 GAA are slightly worse than how he is capable of playing. I'm no goalie expert so I'm not going to comment much on his ability, but he just has the feel of a goalie that you can trust to keep the puck out of the net.  Usually when he gets scored on it's because one of the blue-liners in front of him got burned.

Vermont Offense

They forecheck physically (often unnecessarily so) and always scrap for the puck in the corners.  They cycle the puck well, and are very good at getting the puck to the net to try and cause something.  The goals generally aren't anywhere near as pretty as what you might see at Yost, but that's because a lot of the goals they get are a result of putting a bunch of traffic in front of the net and firing a shot off just to see what happens.  Again, beware the Peter Lenes sneak attack and what I might call above average strength in breakaway situations.

Vermont Defense 

Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to get excited over here.  If UVM's forwards aren't having a good day they'll probably be counting on Madore to keep them in the game.  Their strength I think comes on the power play, where they seem above average at being able to get the puck around to the right guys.  Recently much has been made of the lack of defensive effort on the part of the entire team, and you can expect Kevin Sneddon will have spent the last two weeks trying to get them to improve significantly.  Exploits:  Brayden Irwin, a very large but pretty immobile player who inexplicably scores or makes a brilliant move every few games.

Special Teams

On the power play the Cats have a17.7% success rate, good for 4th in the conference.  Vermont has a pretty crappy penalty kill rate (only 80%, 9th conf), but that's partially because they only have about 480 penalty minutes (compare that to Boston University's 767), so you could make a case for sample size.  Either way, their penalty kill isn't so good.

Intangibles

don't know if they do it on purpose, but you can bet that this team will go into a hole if they have a lead with 5-7 minutes remaining in the game.  They very obviously play a 1-4 forecheck, and the defensive zone coverage starts resembling a penalty kill.  Their tendency towards this is not so good for them when combined with the fact that their defensive coverage isn't all that great to begin with.  This has killed them in games against UNH and UMass Lowell recently.

Michigan plays a much more organized style of hockey, which should be interesting against Vermont because their 5-on-5 style is a bit more "dump it, get it and see what happens" (Expect a much cleaner game on their power play though). Michigan could get flustered by the Vermont's in-your-face style, or Vermont could find themselves getting picked apart by precision offensive plays.

Fans

Vermont fans are generally very good-natured and supportive of their team.  The students have recently developed a taste for crappy cheers like the usually badly-timed and over-used—e.g., the "Hey, you suck!" chant during Rock and Roll Part II.  As much as I love UVM,  their band is almost comically awful at times, though they have a selection of music that can be fun.  So yeah.. students are kind of lamely rude as far as fans go, but the general population should be kind. 

----

Corey's done. Hi. I'm done, too, but here's the HSR post on the Catamounts.

Comments

Ziff72

March 25th, 2009 at 1:09 PM ^

Having a single elimination tournament to determine your hockey champion may be worse than the BCS, which I fucking hate. Hockey has such low scoring that luck is much more of a factor. I know they don't have time for 7 game series, but 3 game pods or at the least a double elimination would work much better. I guess at the least it is good drama.

Boston Nick

March 25th, 2009 at 1:24 PM ^

When I saw him early in the year, I was thoroughly unimpressed, but he improved a lot over the course of the season, at least according to the eye test. Much more poised, sounder positionally. He looks to be another excellent find, much like Fallon was.

Corey

March 25th, 2009 at 1:46 PM ^

Yeah, he's been a lot more solid the second half of the season. I think this is partially because he's gotten a stronger hold on the top spot as the season has progressed, and Spillane hasn't seen as much ice time.

He's a freshman in the team's first NCAA appearance since 1997 though, so I expect nerves and unpredictability. He's been pretty good in important games thus far, though.

a2bluefan

March 25th, 2009 at 2:05 PM ^

Or is that bracket aligned such that we could end up playing OSU in the title game??? BRING IT ON! Here's hoping ND stubs their toe along the way.

GO BLUE!

a2bluefan

March 26th, 2009 at 12:16 AM ^

But no matter anyway. I read the bracket wrong, as others have clarified.

Although now that I see it correctly, we could meet OSU in the semis and ND in the final. Tough task, but to pull it off.... could anything be sweeter?

GCS

March 25th, 2009 at 2:27 PM ^

That bracket implies incorrect match ups in the national semifinals. The East champion will play the Northeast champion in the semis (since BU is #1 overall and UM is #4 overall). Michigan cannot play the Buckeyes in the title game.

EDIT: Or we could all just look at the subtitles of the bracket where it says east meets northeast.

Jota09

March 25th, 2009 at 2:14 PM ^

I went to the frozen four that was held in Cincinnati. I think it was 1996, the year Morrison and company upset BU to win the championship. Vermont was also there and they had these two fantastic little guys who were their stars. You might have heard of one; Martin St. Louis. The other was Eric Perrin, don't think he did much in hockey after college but I could be wrong. Being a hockey player of small stature myself, it wasn't hard to root for those guys. The Vermont fan base was fantastic as well, made them very easy to like.

Md23Rewls

March 25th, 2009 at 4:13 PM ^

Eric Perrin has been a journeyman, both in the NHL and Europe. When St. Louis exploded, he convinced the Lightning to sign him, (they were good friends before Vermont, IIRC) and he was on the Cup winning team, but didn't contribute much.
That Vermont team had Tim Thomas in net too. I think St. Louis and Perrin had more goals that year than their opponents.
Anyway, I have never been more excited/nervous for anything in sports more than this year's tournament. A National Title is completely plausible, but last year's soul crushing is so fresh that I am panicked about the possibility of it happening again.

Michigan Arrogance

March 25th, 2009 at 2:57 PM ^

traitors to the ECAC!

look, any band and fans from the ECAC are crappy and generally pleasant, respectively. the schools are smaller and the sports are D1 for hockey and maybe basketball.