Saturday, March 27, 2010

BCHL Grads Look To Make An Impact In 2010 NCAA Tournament:

BCHL grads look to make an impact in 2010 NCAA Tournament

Friday, March 26, 2010 - Submitted by Chad Klassen

March Madness is usually reserved for upsets and buzzer-beaters on the basketball court, but the frenzy of NCAA tournament action is set to hit the ice on Friday night. Sixty-three British Columbia Hockey League graduates face off for a coveted berth in the Frozen Four, which unfolds April 8-10 in Detroit to crown a new college hockey champion.

Two regional games will be the focus of two opening-round match-ups that feature 11 former BCHL stars in each contest. In Albany, New York, Cornell University, boasting the most grads of all the competing schools with 10, will meet the University of New Hampshire. Meanwhile, in Worcester, Massachusetts, the University of North Dakota tussle with the Bulldogs of Yale, who sport seven strong.

Missing from the field is 2009 winner Boston University, but 16 other teams will compete for the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship and many of the BCHL grads are likely to impact how the tournament plays out over the next two weeks.

University of Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie headlines the tournament as one of the best in college hockey. The Nanaimo Clippers grad is a finalist for the 2010 Hobey Baker Award and is bidding to become the first goaltender to earn the honour as the nation’s best player. Cheverie posted six shutouts and helped the Pioneers to a 24-4-3 record in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in 2009/2010. The Pioneers open their Frozen Four bid on Friday night against Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

In the other East meeting, ex-Salmon Arm SilverBack Riley Nash will bring his 12 goals and 34 points to the ice when Cornell University battles New Hampshire for the right to advance. The Edmonton Oilers’ 2007 first-round pick finished his most proficient season with the Big Red, averaging 1.17 points per game while missing seven contests. Riley and brother Brendon, both former SilverBacks, will team up with eight other BCHL grads.

For the No. 1-ranked University of Miami-Ohio, former Penticton Vees forward Curtis McKenzie is a player to watch. The Dallas Stars’ sixth-round selection in 2009 was sixth on the RedHawks in scoring with five goals and 23 points in 38 games as a freshman. McKenzie was an honourable mention for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s All-Rookie Team for his outstanding year.

Meanwhile, University of North Dakota captain Chay Genoway and his herd of BCHL grads lead the Fighting Sioux into battle with Yale University on Saturday. The one-time Vernon Vipers defenseman has 10 points in nine games in 2009/2010 after an injury forced him to sit out most of the season.

But arguably the biggest story is a pair of schools making their inaugural visits to the tournament. The University of Alaska-Fairbanks and RIT make their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearances, with 13 former BCHL players contributing to the historic moments in NCAA hockey. The No. 18 Nanooks open against the nation’s third-best team in Boston College, while RIT faces Denver.

Northeast: #1 – Boston College vs. #4 – Alaska-Fairbanks

Boston College Eagles
Season Record: 25-10-3 (2nd in Hockey East)
Postseason Finish: Hockey East Champions
Appearance: 29th (Last Appearance: 2008)

Boston College, the 2008 National Champions, did not earn the right to repeat at the 2009 NCAA Tournament but one of the top college hockey powers makes its triumphant return this season. The Eagles roll in as a tournament favourite fresh off the program’s ninth Hockey East conference title and fourth in the last six seasons. After finishing second during the regular season, they knocked off the University of Maine in a thrilling 7-6 overtime victory in Saturday’s championship game. Boston College will use offense to key another NCAA championship run after four six-goal games in their last nine outings. They are the only team in the tournament not sporting a BCHL grad.

Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks
Season Record: 18-11-9 (5th in CCHA)
Postseason Finish: Lost in CCHA Semi-finals
Appearance: 1st

The University of Alaska-Fairbanks represents one of two hockey programs that will play in their inaugural NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship. Eight former BCHL players contributed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks team that made NCAA hockey history by securing their first tournament berth. The opening-round game against Boston College will hit another historical mark as the first-ever meeting between the two hockey schools. A challenge for the Nanooks -- beyond playing the nation’s third-ranked team -- is the week off they’ve endure after being swept by Northern Michigan two weekends ago. But the underdog squad put together a six-game winning streak prior to the series loss and have confidence facing the Eagles.

Cody Rymut, Senior (Chilliwack Chiefs)
Bryant Molle, Junior (Penticton Vees)
Kevin Petovello, Junior (Victoria Grizzlies)
Carlo Finucci, Sophomore (Burnaby Express)
Ron Meyers, Sophomore (Victoria Grizzlies)
Chad Gehon, Freshman (Westside Warriors)
Kaare Odegard, Freshman (Penticton Vees)
Colin Rundell, Freshman (Alberni Valley Bulldogs)

Northeast: #2 – North Dakota vs. #3 – Yale

North Dakota Fighting Sioux
Season Record: 25-12-5 (4th in WCHA)
Postseason Finish: WCHA Champions
Appearance: 25th (2009)

North Dakota was ousted in the opening round in 2009, but the program has aspirations to relive its tournament magic from 2005-2008, when the Fighting Sioux earned four straight Frozen Four berths. They come in with tons of momentum as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association champions after capturing the Final Five last weekend, winning 5-3 over St. Cloud State in the championship final. If the recent Frozen Four run is any indication, North Dakota will be a tough team to face in the Northeast Regional as the second seed. Two years ago, they were the first seed in the Midwest but lost to Boston College for the second consecutive season. Seniors Darcy Zajac (Salmon Arm SilverBacks) and Chay Genoway (Vernon Vipers) among others will take the Fighting Sioux into battle.

Darcy Zajac (A), Senior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Chay Genoway (C), Senior (Vernon Vipers)
Evan Trupp, Junior (Penticton Vees)
Brett Hextall, Sophomore (Penticton Vees)

Yale Bulldogs
Conference Record: 20-9-3 (1st in ECAC)
Postseason Finish: Lost in ECAC Quarter-finals
Appearance: 4th (2009)

The Bulldogs are hoping to take a bite out of the competition and avenge last year’s first-round disappointment when Yale was taken down by Vermont. They entered last season as Eastern College Athletic Conference champs and return in 2010 on less of a high following a surprising quarter-final loss to Brown University. But a 20-win regular season was good enough to earn an at-large berth. Watch out for the Bulldogs’ underrated offensive attack that can hurt any team. Yale finished first in the NCAA in goals per game (4.08), power play goals (48) and power-play percentage (23.9).

Billy Blase, Senior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Jeff Anderson, Junior (Cowichan Valley Capitals)
Brendan Mason, Junior (Nanaimo Clippers)
Kevin Limbert, Sophomore (Trail Smoke Eaters)
Chad Ziegler, Sophomore (Nanaimo Clippers)
Colin Dueck, Freshman (Nanaimo Clippers)
Jeff Malcolm, Freshman (Quesnel Millionaires)

East: #1 – Denver vs. #4 – RIT

Denver Pioneers
Season Record: 27-9-4 (1st in WCHA)
Postseason Finish: 4th in WCHA Final Five
Appearance: 21st (2009)

Denver seeks the program’s eighth NCAA National Championship as the No. 2 overall seed. Despite a disappointing result at last weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Final Five, the Pioneers were the best team most of the season with 27 wins to finish atop one of the nation’s best conferences. But Denver skates into Albany following a pair of tough losses to North Dakota and Wisconsin to finish fourth in the WCHA championship tournament. Hobey Baker finalist Cheverie allowed 10 goals in the two games, but has the potential to steal games given his goals-against average during the regular season. Fellow Nanaimo Clippers grad Kyle Ostrow and one-time Williams Lake Timberwolves defenseman Cody Brookwell will also play a part in the Pioneers’ Frozen Four ambitions.

Cody Brookwell, Senior (Williams Lake Timberwolves)
Marc Cheverie, Junior (Nanaimo Clippers)
Kyle Ostrow, Junior (Nanaimo Clippers)
Patrick Wiercioch, Sophomore (Burnaby Express)

RIT Tigers
Season Record: 26-11-1 (1st in Atlantic Hockey)
Postseason Finish: Atlantic Hockey Champions
Appearance: 1st

RIT joins the Nanooks as a NCAA tournament rookie, taking five seasons to make it since moving to Division I in 2005. The Atlantic Hockey champions took care of Sacred Heart 6-1 to capture their first conference title and earn the automatic berth. While they are underdogs facing top-ranked Denver, the Tigers enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams. They are 17-3 since January 8th and ride an impressive 10-game winning streak -- currently the longest in Division I hockey. During that stretch, the team has scored a whopping 45 goals and allowed only 13. They have also proven to be dynamic with the man advantage with a power-play goal in 14 consecutive games.

Stevan Matic, Junior (Langley Chiefs)
Al Mazur, Junior (Merritt Centennials)
Tyler Mazzei, Sophomore (Nanaimo Clippers)
Scott Knowles, Freshman (Surrey Eagles)
Adam Hartley, Freshman (Surrey Eagles)

East: #2 – Cornell vs. #3 – New Hampshire

Cornell Big Red
Season Record: 21-8-4 (2nd in ECAC)
Postseason Finish: ECAC Champions
Appearance: 18th (2009)

Cornell University will return to the Times Union Centre in Albany, the site of their 2010 Eastern College Athletic Conference championship win. The Big Red have won four in a row and been stingy in their own zone, not allowing a goal in three games during the ECAC playoffs, including a 3-0 blanking over Union in the conference title game. Cornell earned a 5-2 road win in New Hampshire on January 3rd, only adding to the confidence level. Last year, the school won their opening-round meeting against Northeastern but was eliminated from the Midwest by Bemidji State. Cornell’s four seniors -- Colin Greening (Nanaimo Clippers), Justin Kreuger (Penticton Vees), Brendon Nash (Salmon Arm SilverBacks) and Joe Scali (Alberni Valley Bulldogs) -- are expected to contribute to the Big Red’s tournament success.

Colin Greening, Senior (Nanaimo Clippers)
Justin Kreuger, Senior (Penticton Vees)
Brendon Nash, Senior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Joe Scali, Senior (Alberni Valley Bulldogs)
Joe Devin, Junior (Nanaimo Clippers)
Mike Devin, Junior (Nanaimo Clippers)
Riley Nash, Junior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Michael Garman, Sophomore (Nanaimo Clippers)
Chris Moulson, Freshman (Alberni Valley Bulldogs)
Vince Mihalek, Freshman (Westside)

New Hampshire Wildcats
Season Record: 17-13-7 (1st in Hockey East)
Postseason Finish: Lost in Quarter-finals
Appearance: 20th (2009)

Hockey East’s top team after the regular season failed to make strides in the playoffs, as the Wildcats lost their quarter-final series 2-1 to Vermont and failed to score a goal in their last two contests. Coupled with postseason struggles in 2010, New Hampshire couldn’t beat the top teams on a consistent basis during the regular season. The Wildcats finished 3-7-4 in games against other tournament qualifiers. But if there is a positive to take into Albany on Friday night, they are only a year removed from a second-round appearance. New Hampshire opened with a 6-5 overtime win over the University of North Dakota before losing to the eventual champion Boston University Terriers in the Northeast bracket.

Damon Kipp, Sophomore (Salmon Arm SilverBacks)

Midwest: #1 – Miami-Ohio vs. #4 – Alabama-Huntsville

Miami-Ohio RedHawks
Season Record: 27-7-7 (1st in CCHA)
Postseason Finish: 3rd in CCHA
Appearance: 8th (2009)

The No. 1-ranked RedHawks will make their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last seven years. Their last outing was a 2-1 victory in the CCHA third-place game, but the University of Miami-Ohio are not playing their best going into the first-round meeting with Alabama-Huntsville. The team lost 5-2 to the Michigan Wolverines in a shaky CCHA semi-final performance, and while the RedHawks will likely advance past the Chargers, they need to play better if they want to relive last year’s run to the final. As the fourth seed in the West in 2009, Miami-Ohio reached the Frozen Four championship game but fell a goal short of winning it all; Boston University took the epic game 4-3 in overtime.

Curtis McKenzie, Freshman (Penticton Vees)

Alabama-Huntsville Chargers
Season Record: 12-17-3 (3rd in CHA)
Postseason Finish: CHA Champions
Appearance: 2nd (2007)

The Chargers are the only team with a losing record in the tournament and are heavy underdogs following a less-than-stellar season in the nation’s weakest conference, College Hockey America. They earned the tournament berth by defeating Niagara University in a championship final that featured two teams under .500. It is Alabama-Huntsville’s second overall appearance in the championship tournament and their first since winning the CHA in 2006/2007. Senior defenseman Brennan Barker (Penticton Vees) will be utilized in key defensive situations against the top-ranked RedHawks.

Brennan Barker, Senior (Penticton Vees)
Andrew Coburn, Junior (Vernon Vipers)
Cody Campbell, Sophomore (Burnaby Express)
Keenan Desmet, Freshman (Salmon Arm SilverBacks)
Justin Cseter, Freshman (Salmon Arm SilverBacks)

Midwest: #2 – Bemidji State vs. #3 – Michigan

Bemidji State Beavers
Season Record: 23-9-4 (1st in CHA)
Postseason Finish: 3rd in CHA
Appearance: 4th (2009)

The Beavers will make their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2005, but it’s their first time as a wildcard. The first-place team in the College Hockey America conference -- Bemidji State’s fifth regular season title in seven years -- slipped in the postseason and finished third following a semi-final defeat against lower-ranked Niagara University. The Beavers were the Cinderella story of the 2009 Frozen Four, beating top-seeded Notre Dame 5-1 and Cornell 4-3 before running into a powerful Miami-Ohio squad. The two schools could meet again in the 2010 Midwest Regional Final if both win Saturday in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Brad Hunt, Sophomore (Burnaby Express)
Jake Areshenko, Freshman (Powell River Kings)

Michigan Wolverines
Season Record: 25-17-1 (7th in CCHA)
Postseason Finish: CCHA Champions
Appearance: 33rd (2009)

A seventh-place finish during the regular season wasn’t going to stop the Wolverines. Michigan has stepped up their game in the playoffs with eight wins in their last nine contests, culminating in a Central Collegiate Hockey Association title. The program beat the top-ranked University of Miami-Ohio by a 5-2 score before beating Northern Michigan in the CCHA Finals. In the process, Michigan became the lowest-seeded team to win the battle-tested conference, which sports four schools in 2010 edition of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan, furthering its reputation as a perennial college hockey contender, kept the impressive streak alive with their record 20th consecutive season battling for the Frozen Four. They are looking for a better showing than 2009 when fourth-ranked Michigan was shut out by Air Force in the first round.

Brian Lebler, Senior (Penticton Vees)
Ben Winnett, Junior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)

West: #1 – Wisconsin vs. #4 – Vermont

Wisconsin Badgers
Season Record: 25-10-4 (2nd in WCHA)
Postseason Finish: 3rd in WCHA Final Five
Appearance: 23rd (2008)

After a one-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers are back with a vengeance as the tournament favourite. They earned their spot with a third-place finish at the WCHA Final Five last weekend, beating the University of Denver 6-3 to roll in with momentum. But beyond that last win over the Pioneers, Wisconsin is a confident team that can score like few other schools. They are an offensively-talented group that finished as the second-best scoring team, racking up 155 goals during the 2009/2010 campaign.
Contributions come from former Salmon Arm SilverBacks forward Ben Street, who captained the team in his senior year with 15 goals and 29 points to finish sixth in Badgers scoring. The school also sports a third-ranked defensive core after limiting its opponents to 100 goals all season. The top six includes former Westside Warriors defenseman Justin Schultz, who will play in his first tournament. He plays alongside junior Brendan Smith, a Hobey Baker finalist who recorded 15 goals and 44 points to lead all NCAA defenseman.

Ben Street (C), Senior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Scott Gudmanson, Junior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Derek Lee, Junior (Victoria Grizzlies)
Justin Schultz, Freshman (Westside Warriors)

Vermont Catamounts
Season Record: 17-14-7 (8th in Hockey East)
Postseason Finish: 3rd in Hockey East Championships
Appearance: 6th (2009)

The Frozen Four finalists from a year ago will try to pose as the Little Engine That Could for the second straight season. The Catamounts were the third seed in the East bracket in 2009 when they defeated Yale and Air Force to advance. Vermont has again defied all odds to even make the tournament this season. After finishing eighth in the Hockey East standings, the program beat New Hampshire in the quarter-finals to solidify its chances. The Catamounts became the lowest seed ever to earn an at-large berth and ride into the tournament on a high after shutting out the first-place Wildcats in consecutive games.

Anders Franzon, Freshman (Nanaimo Clippers)

West: #2 – St. Cloud State vs. #3 – Northern Michigan

St. Cloud State Huskies
Season Record: 23-13-5 (3rd in WCHA)
Postseason Finish: Lost in WCHA Finals
Appearance: 8th (2008)

The second-ranked team in the West enters with momentum after a good showing in the WCHA Final Five over the weekend. The Huskies shut down a top team in Wisconsin before narrowly losing to North Dakota in the championship game. Former Salmon Arm SilverBacks forward Tony Mosey headlines the Huskies’ offensive attack after a 12-goal, 38-point regular season. He was recognized for his stellar play in the WCHA Final Five with All-Tournament honours. Mosey picked up four assists in two games, including a pair of helpers in the championship final. St. Cloud State, who suffered a first-round exit in 2008, is eager to better its WCHA Finals performance Friday night when the Huskies face Northern Michigan.

Craig Gaudet, Senior (Nanaimo Clippers)
Brian Volpei, Junior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Tony Mosey, Junior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Jordy Christian, Sophomore (Prince George Spruce Kings)

Northern Michigan Wildcats
Season Record: 20-12-8 (4th in CCHA)
Postseason Finish: Lost in CCHA Finals
Appearance: 8th (1999)

This is the first time in 10 years that the NCAA Tournament will be calling Northern Michigan’s name. The third-seeded Wildcats will compete in the West and meet the Huskies on Friday night to begin their Frozen Four journey 19 years after last winning the National Championship in 1991. They have reason to be confident after playing in the CCHA Finals last weekend against the rival Wolverines, despite a 2-1 loss.
Former Alberni Valley goaltender Brian Stewart has the ability to steal games for the Wildcats. He was outstanding in the CCHA conference tournament, turning aside 33 shots in the championship loss to the University of Michigan to keep the Wildcats close. It was all made possible by his 35-save performance in the semi-finals, as Stewart’s key saves propelled Northern Michigan to a 5-4 overtime win over Ferris State. Offensively, former Chilliwack Chiefs forward Matt Butcher could make his mark after 12 points in 26 games in his senior season. The Canucks’ fifth-round selection won the BCHL’s Coastal Conference MVP award in 2005/2006 and has been a key contributor in the Wildcats’ success during his collegiate career.

Matt Butcher, Senior (Chilliwack Chiefs)
T.J. Miller, Senior (Penticton Vees)
Brian Stewart, Senior (Alberni Valley Bulldogs)
Erik Spady, Junior (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Andrew Cherniwchan, Sophomore (Nanaimo Clippers)

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