While the NCAA men's hockey tournament isn't as large as its basketball comparison, the 16 teams that are in the tournament are looking to work their way to Saint Paul, MN for the Frozen Four. That action begins with the first four games on Friday night, two in the East Regional and two in the West Regional.
No. 2 Union vs. No. 3 Minnesota Duluth (3 p.m. ET, ESPN U)
The first game of the tournament features two teams with at-large bids looking to make an impact in the tournament. The Union Dutchmen are appearing for the first time in the tournament after going 26-9-4 in the regular season and finished one point ahead of overall number one seed Yale in the ECAC regular season. They boast a 16-1-1 record to finish the regular season but they lost to Cornell 3-0 in the ECAC tournament.
The Dutchman will have to go up against Hobey Baker finalist Jack Connolly. Connolly finished the season with 16 goals and 55 points to finish second in overall points in the WCHA. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the regular season in the WCHA and flamed out in the WCHA Final Five early to Bemidji State. Another player to watch for is Minnesota Duluth goaltender Kenny Reiter. Reiter has played well this season, boasting a .911 save percentage, but has struggled down the stretch winning three of his last ten games.
No. 1 Yale vs. No. 4 Air Force (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN U)
The Yale Bulldogs are the favorite at the moment to win the NCAA Championship this season as they are the number one overall seed in the tournament. They made it to the tournament by winning the ECAC tournament over Cornell. Yale has the best defense in the NCAA's this season, allowing only 68 goals this season in 34 games, and they are currently on a three game shutout streak in wins against St. Lawrence, Colgate, and Cornell.
Air Force comes into the tournament as the Atlantic Hockey champions, defeating RIT in the finals. Air Force has already faced Yale once this season, beating them 4-3 on November 14th. That came on their home ice and they won't be as fortunate to have that as the East Regional is being played in Bridgeport, CN, in Yale's backyard.
No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 4 Colorado College (9 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
The Boston College Eagles start their title defense with a showdown against Colorado College. Boston College got into their 30th tournament through winning the Hockey East tournament and finishing the season with an 30-7-1 record, the second best winning percentage in the NCAA. They are led by Hobey Baker finalist Cam Atkinson who had 30 goals and 51 points this season for BC. Goaltender John Muse is also lights out in the NCAA Tournament, with a record of 8-0 when the postseason rolls around.
Colorado College finished sixth in the WCHA with a 22-18-3 overall record and found their way into the tournament with a semifinal appearance in the WCHA tournament. They are led by Jaden Schwartz, whose story was made famous with his sister Mandi Schwartz battling with leukemia. Schwartz has 42 points in 28 games played for Colorado College this season.
For more on the Eagles, check out our Boston College site, BC Interruption.
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Nebraska-Omaha (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com)
The Michigan Wolverines finished first in the CCHA regular season and ended up third in the CCHA tournament to make their way into the tournament this season. The Wolverines have played well this season including winning nine of their last ten games of the regular season. They looked good through the CCHA tournament before losing to Western Michigan in the semifinals. Coach Red Berenson has experience in the tournament as well as the Wolverines have made 21 straight tournament appearances.
The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks don't have the tournament pedigree that Michigan does, but they do have an experienced coach in Dean Blais. Blais won two championships and made seven tournament appearances with North Dakota. Nebraska made their way into the tournament with a third place finish in the WCHA regular season but never made it to the WCHA Final Five, losing to Bemijdi State in the first round.
For more on Michigan, check out Maize n Brew.