Joe the Lawyer (Joe Van Thomme in real life) and I take a look at the 12 NCAA tournament games this weekend. Got your brackets filled out, you gotta check them against ours. We've studied stats, watched game films, read other predictions and then, in my case, flipped a coin sometimes.

But here is how we see this crazy weekend of college hockey:

#1 Quinnipiac vs. #16 Canisius

Joe says: Everyone's been wondering all year if Quinnipiac is for real. Statistically, they've earned the #1 seed, and with the tournament starting now, the only question that matters is: how beatable are they? In QU's six losses, they've gone 1-for-25 on the power play, and while they are terrible in that department anyway (48th in the nation), it might be a cause for concern in a tight NCAA game. No one's played more time in goal than Canisius' Tony Capobianco, and the Griffins' power play is decent enough that if oft-penalized Quinnipiac (2nd most penalty minutes/game in D-I) heads to the box early, QU could be in trouble. Will Canisius be Quinnipiac's "Holy Cross"?

The PICK: Canisius wins

Roman says: Nice way to start your picks, with the No. 1 seed going down. C'mon. The Bobcats have Eric Hartzell, a White Bear Lake kid in the nets. He has had an unbelievable season. Sure, the Golden Griffins are hot, winners of eight in a row, but Quinnipiac has to win at least one game.

The PICK: Q wins


#12 Union vs. #6 Boston College

Joe says: Sure BC can score a lot - Johnny "Rotten" Gaudreau (that's the nickname, right?), Steve Whitney and Pat Mullane have combined for 138 points on the year - but the Eagles also give up a lot. Parker Milner has 22 wins on the season, but when he loses, he loses badly (four losses of five or more goals), including a five-goal loss to Boston U on 3/22. Union, on the other hand, plays solid defense, and has the third best power play in the nation, but they haven't played anyone (31st in strength of schedule) and BC might be too stiff a test.

The PICK: Boston College wins

Roman says: BC is the defending national champion and has won three titles in past five years. Coach Jerry York had eye surgery recently but is back with the team. And he and I see this matchup clearly. These were two Frozen Four teams a year ago, but one will be gone early this year. Bad draw for the Dutchmen.

The PICK: Boston College



#16 Canisius vs. #6 Boston College

Joe says: From here in Minnesota, it looked like an "off" year for BC, but once again, the Eagles are right where we expect them. Canisius will struggle to keep pace with BC, and I think they get back to the Frozen Four for - ugh - the sixth time in eight years.

The PICK: Boston College wins

#1 Quinnipiac vs. #6 Boston College

Roman says: Eagles expect to play in the Frozen Four every year. And Johnny Gaudreau, the player of the year in Hockey East, will lead them back.



#11 Minnesota State vs. #5 Miami

Joe says: Minnesota State fell apart on the big stage in the WCHA Final Five, and their confidence has to be shaken just a little bit. Stephon Williams left the game early after an "upper-body injury" and this will be MSU's first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2003. Mankato's power play is fifth in the country, but Miami's penalty kill is sixth, and the RedHawks' lead the nation in shorthanded goals (8). Uh oh. The Mavs gave up two shorthanded goals in their Final Five game vs. Wisconsin (I refuse to call them "shorties," thank you. While we're on the subject, assists aren't "helpers" either, Mr. Melrose). Miami is a regular in the NCAA tournament (7-10 all-time record), but in recent years, has seen their stout regular season defense become porous in the tournament (3.5 goals/game in last six NCAA tournament games). It might be an unexpected shootout, but I think Miami pulls it out.

The PICK: Miami wins

Roman says: Enrico Blasi and Miami are still shooting for that elusive first NCAA title. The RedHawks will be in the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season, what a way to publicize the new league than by winning the NCAAs? But first Miami has to get past coach Mike Hastings' surprising Mavericks. Hastings was the coach of the year in the WCHA and he better put together a good game plane against Miami and get a good game from Stephon Williams in the nets for any chance to advance.

The PICK: Miami

#13 St. Cloud State vs. #4 Notre Dame

Joe says: How important is nonconference play? Both the Huskies and Fighting Irish took home conference hardware (SCSU was co-champ in the WCHA regular season; ND won the CCHA playoff tournament), but are seeded very differently in the tournament - the Huskies are 13th and the Irish are 4th. The difference? SCSU went 3-5 in nonconference play, while Notre Dame went 8-4. Numbers aside, although SCSU has exceeded expectations, they still haven't delivered at critical junctions throughout the season. They are my first WCHA team to fall.

The PICK: Notre Dame wins

Roman says: Wonder who Don Lucia is rooting for in this game? His son, Mario, plays for the Irish. His friend, Bob Motzko, coaches the Huskies. Seeding doesn't mean much in this season's tournament. All the teams have decent records and all the teams have lost games they shouldn't. That said, SCSU has had trouble winning  NCAA games. It finally broke through and won one in its last appearance.  It has some veteran leaders and some young guns like Jonny Brodzinski.




#5 Miami vs. #4 Notre Dame

Joe says: In an all CCHA regional final, one that snarky critics will undoubtedly point to as an example what will be lost in conference realignment, both teams are playing for a return trip to the Frozen Four. RedHawks goalie Ryan McKay may be the difference in this one.

The PICK: Miami wins

#5 Miami vs. #13 St. Cloud State

Roman says: This is a pick 'em game. If these teams played 10 times, it would be 5-5 or 6-4. But I'm going with the WCHA team in a mild upset.




#14 Wisconsin vs. #3 UMass-Lowell

Joe says: All of hockey is abuzz with how hot Wisconsin has been in the second half of the year. In their last 25 games, the Badgers are 18-5-2, riding a six-game win streak, and the only team hotter has been...UMass-Lowell. The River Hawks are 19-3-1 in their last 23 games. Both squads play good defense and neither team is very good on special teams. What decides this one is the fact that UW has been climbing out of it's hole all season long, and thus has learned to utilize that urgency, while UMass-Lowell has been strong throughout the year. In a weird way, the early hole might be the best thing to have happened to Wisconsin.

The PICK: Wisconsin wins

Roman says: The Badgers are coming off a season high, winning the Final Five to make the NCAAs. Now that they have climbed the mountain, can they keep going? Or will they relax just a bit? If they did, the River Hawks will pounce. They have won their first Hockey East regular-season title and their first Hockey East tournament. Are they a team of destiny?

The PICK: UMass-Lowell

#9 Denver vs. #7 New Hampshire

Joe says: The other leg of this bracket features two teams who have spent the latter half of the year treading water. Denver has underwhelmed all season, having gone just 10-7-2 in their last 19 games. UNH was even worse, going 7-8-5 in its last 20 games. Denver still scores a lot of goals, and Casey DeSmith (that translates to Casey "The" Smith) has been a weak link in goal for the Wildcats. This might end up being a tight one, but the WCHA gets a little redemption in the Northeast Region.

The PICK: Denver wins

Roman says: The Wildcats have the home-state advantage, but Denver has had a lot of rest after losing in the first round of the WCHA playoffs to archrival Colorado College. I did Juho Olkinuora will have a good game in the DU nets.



#14 Wisconsin vs. #9 Denver

Joe says: For all we've talked about how tough Wisconsin has been in the second half, playing desperate hockey to get themselves into the tournament, I'm still not convinced they won't come back to Earth. It's unusual for a team to be as bad as the Badgers were (1-7-2), only to find out that they really were a championship squad all along. Yes, Wisconsin's season really took off during that road weekend in Denver when they took 3 of 4 points from the Pioneers. But that was four months ago, and Denver's own ups and downs might have made them a different team from the one Wisconsin played back in December.

The PICK: Denver wins

#3 UMass-Lowell vs. #9 Denver

Roman says: George Gwozdecky's teams have won only one NCAA game since he took the Pioneers to back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. Is this the year for DU? Nah.

The PICK: UMass-Lowell


#8 North Dakota vs. #10 Niagara

Joe says: At first glance, the question for this bracket is: can Niagara slow down a clearly dominant North Dakota team, on its way to another Frozen Four? The reality however, is that UND has not been a dominant squad itself, and the numbers between these teams aren't astoundingly different (both teams score more than 3 goals per game; both teams give up fewer than 3 per game). Of course, North Dakota has All-American scoring up front, and hasn't been shut out all year long. But Niagara has what UND has not had all year long: a legitimate #1 goaltender. Carson Chubak has been outstanding for the Purple Eagles (23 wins, .931 save percentage, 1.91 GAA), and as we've seen year-in, year-out, a strong back-end can make all the difference in the playoffs, something UND should be very familiar with (see: Joe Howe in the Final Five). Oh, by the way, Carson Chubak leads the nation in shutouts this year with six.

The PICK: Niagara wins

Roman says: Going against The Hack? Gutsy, Joe. Fans of the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux will not be happy with you. Niagara has not seen many teams with players like Danny Kristo and Corban Knight, two skilled, higly motivated seniors up front. Both will have big games.

The PICK: UND wins

#15 Yale vs. #2 Minnesota

Joe says: This matchup mirrors the Niagara-UND tilt, in that the question on everyone's mind is whether the Yaleys can slow down the mighty Gophers. In fact, for many fans, it's a foregone conclusion that Minnesota and North Dakota will walk through their first games and meet in an epic battle royale a la Wrestlemania III (as of this writing, I haven't decided who would be Andre the Giant. I'm leaning toward North Dakota. Have you seen Stephane Pattyn?). But Yale has lost 7 of their last 12, and has some goaltending issues (Jeff Malcolm's 2.41 GAA is 30th best in the nation). Kenny Agostino and Andrew Miller were both in the top five for ECAC scoring, but there's a sharp drop off beyond that. The Gophers meanwhile have all the numbers to prove their a legitimate #2 seed, and have gotten scoring from throughout it's lineup (six players have 30-plus points). Adam Wilcox, despite a tough game vs. Colorado College in the Final Five, might be the best freshman goaltender in the country. But as it has been all year, the question for Minnesota remains: which team will show up? The team that spanked Boston College over Christmas? Or the noodley team that was shut out on it's home ice by Denver? Fans may worry that the Gophers are looking beyond Yale to a potential matchup with North Dakota, but I'm certain that all week, Minnesota has only been looking in the mirror. The Gophers can play with anyone...if they want to.

The PICK: Minnesota wins

Roman says: If they want to? C'mon. Sure they want to. Everybody like winning. But it's paying the price. Things won't come easy in the NCAAs, not against anybody. That said, this still looks like a mismatch. If the Gophers can put in a few power-play goals -- Nate Schmidt, look for Nick Bjugstad in the left circle like you have so many times this season -- they will be OK.

The PICK: Gophers win


#10 Niagara vs. #2 Minnesota

Joe says: This is the game that Minnesota fans may fear the most: a matchup with a prototypical pre-NHL-poaching college hockey team (Niagara's biggest asset might be it's upperclassmen). Niagara's got a great goalie to match Wilcox, and the role of the underdog suits any Atlantic Hockey team well. This will be a tightly played game, but Minnesota is considerably bigger throughout it's roster, is a strong skating team, and at the end of the day, simply has too many weapons. Although it's been ugly and frustrating at times, I think Minnesota punches it's ticket to the Frozen Four once again.

The PICK: Minnesota wins

#8 North Dakota vs. #2 Minnesota

Roman says: This is the matchup most people wanted in the Final Five semifinals. It didn't happen. And, in a way, it's a good matchup for the Gophers because it gets their competitive juices flowing. Could be a great back and forth game. Both teams want to end their archrival's season.

The PICK: Gophers