College Hockey, Inc., the marketing arm of NCAA hockey, has come up with 13 storylines for the men's hockey national tournament, which starts Friday. Have you filled out your brackets? I. A NEW CHAMP? Ten of the 16 teams in the field have never won a national championship, and at least one of them is assured of a spot in the title game. II. ODD STAT The East and Northeast Regionals – which meet in the semifinals April 7 – feature eight teams with no national titles. The other half of the bracket, on the other hand, accounts for 30 titles (Michigan-9, Denver-7, North Dakota-7, Boston College-4, Colorado College and Rensselaer-2 each). III. ALL ROADS THROUGH BOSTON The city of Boston has had a death grip on the NCAA hockey championship the past three seasons, with Boston College winning twice (2008, 2010) and Boston University once (2009). The BC Eagles are the third overall seed this year and are among the favorites as they look to repeat. Merrimack, the other Massachusetts school in the field, is located 29 miles north of the city in North Andover. IV. SENIOR CITIZENS Despite an increase in the number of players who have left school early for the NHL in recent years, college hockey remains very much a game requiring experience. A quick look at the scoring leaders of the 16 teams in the field shows the importance of senior leadership – on the top four seeds, for example:
- Yale's goaltender and three of its top five scorers are seniors
- North Dakota's leading scorer and three of its top five are seniors
- Boston College's goaltender and second-leading scorer are seniors
- Miami's top two scorers and three of its top four are seniors V. TOURNEY BY TWITTER This year, for the first time, twitter has truly overtaken the NCAA Tournament field. Dozens of participating players tweet . Miami, Western Michigan and Boston College's rosters are particularly prolific tweeters, perhaps led by the leading scorer in the nation: @Andy_Miele (As far as I know, none of the Gophers hockey players tweeted this past season.) VI. VIEW THE FUTURE Nintey-two NHL draft picks dot the rosters of the 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament, led by North Dakota (16), Michigan (13) and Boston College (11). NHL fans in Florida (eight draftees) and Chicago (seven) should be particularly interested in the action this weekend. While most players are selected prior to arriving at college some – like Denver's Nick Shore – are eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. (The Gophers had 19 NHL draftees on their roster; two of them, goalie Alex Kangas and forward Zach Budish, either missed about half or almost the entire season, respectively. The Gophers' 19 draft picks is the most of any Division I team.) VII. FINAL SHOWCASE Several talented undrafted players have a chance to showcase their skills in the NCAA Tournament before signing on with an NHL team of their choice (many others have already been drafted). Stephane Da Costa (Merrimack) and Andy Miele (Miami) are two of the top free agents and they could meet in the second round. Seniors seeking to secure an NHL contract include Chase Polacek (Rensselaer), Brian Gibbons (Boston College), Paul Thompson (New Hampshire), Carter Camper (Miami), Broc Little (Yale), Stephen Schultz (Colorado College) and Matt Ambroz (Nebraska-Omaha), among others. VIII. AN UNDRAFTED REGION The four teams in the East Region have a total of nine NHL draft picks – and seven of those are on Minnesota-Duluth. Air Force and Union, both in the East, are the only two teams in the field without an NHL draft pick. IX. LIKE FATHER College hockey has become a popular route for the sons of former NHLers, and familiar names dot the rosters in the NCAA Tournament. Among those looking to make dad proud are a pair of players on top seeds North Dakota (Brett Hextall, son of Ron, and Dillon Simpson, son of Craig), Miami (Justin Vaive, son of Rick, and Devin Mantha, son of Moe) and Boston College (Philip Samuelsson, son of Ulf, and Patrick Brown, son of Doug). (UMD freshman J.T. Brown also had a dad who played a pro sport. His father, Ted, was a running back for the Vikings.) X. WHO WILL SURPRISE? The last two Frozen Fours have featured two of the longest of long shots – 16th-seeded Bemidji State in 2009 and 15th-seeded RIT last season. The equivalent this season would likely be Air Force, the 16th seed, which won the Atlantic Hockey tournament to earn an automatic bid and has experience with an NCAA upset of its own, toppling Michigan in the first round in 2009. Whether it's Air Force or another unlikely entrant, Bemidji State and RIT have shown that this tournament embraces the underdog. XI. DO IT AGAIN Six coaches in the field have led teams to the national championship before, but two are trying to do it with a new team. Notre Dame's Jeff Jackson won two titles at Lake Superior State (1992, '94), while Nebraska-Omaha's Dean Blais won twice at North Dakota (1997, 2000). They would join Jerry York (in this year's field with BC), Rick Comley and Ned Harkness as the only coaches to lead two schools to titles. XII. FIRST TIME Union is the only team making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. XIII. LONG TIME Three other teams return after long absences. Merrimack is back for the first time since 1988 (23 years). Rensselaer returns for the first time since 1995 (16 years). Western Michigan made the field for the first time since 1996 (15 years). XIV. TOURNAMENT TESTED Five teams took home conference championships the night before the NCAA bracket was announced: Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Boston College (Hockey East), Miami (CCHA), North Dakota (WCHA) and Yale (ECAC Hockey). Tournament titles have been a positive sign entering the NCAAs in the recent past, as the last three NCAA champions and seven of the last 11 have won their conference championships in the same year. Seems like there should be 16 story lines, so I added two more: XV. SEVEN HOBEYS IN FIELD Seven of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award are playing in the NCAA tournament. They are: * Carter Camper and Andy Miele, Miami *Jack Connolly, UMD * Matt Frattin, North Dakota * Chase Polacek, RPI * Cam Atkinson, Boston College * Paul Thompson, New Hampshire XVI. WILL WCHA REIGN AT X? The WCHA has five teams in the NCAA field, the most of any conference, and they are spread over three regionals. North Dakota is the No. 1 seed and Denver the No. 2 at the Midwest Regional, UMD is the third seed in the East Regional, and UNO is the third seed and Colorado College the fourth seed in the West Regional. Looking into my crystal ball, see North Dakota and UMD advancing to Frozen Four.