Warning, Northeast Region: Beware of Bulldogs

Trivia time: Name the only region in the NCAA Tournament without a conference tournament champion competing in it.

If you answered the Northeast Region, give yourself a get-of-the-penalty-box-free card.

You know your college hockey.

Bonus question: Which region features three of the past five Frozen Four champions, including the defending champion?

Yep. It’s all about the mighty Northeast Region, where 2015 champion Providence earned its first-ever No. 1 regional seed and will take on 2011 champion Minnesota Duluth in Friday’s first semifinal contest and 2012 champion Boston College will take on Harvard in the second semifinal.

Duluth senior forward Austin Farley can’t wait.

“It’s going to be nice to see some new faces to play,” Farley said. “I think the NCHC has been the best league in the country since it was formed three years ago and it’s tough week in and week out. Now we get to see some teams we’re not familiar with. It doesn’t matter who they are. At this point you’ve got to beat everybody.”

[caption id="attachment_9025" align="alignright" width="300"] NORTHEAST REGION AT A GLANCE: The four teams have a combined 33 NHL draft picks on their roster. BC has the most in the tournament with 13, including first-round picks Colin White (Ottawa Senators, 2015, 21st overall) and Alex Tuch (Minnesota Wild, 2014, 18th overall). Providence has eight NHL draft picks, including Mark Jankowski, the Calgary’s 2012 first-round pick (21st overall), while Harvard has eight and Duluth has four. … Providence’s 2-1 triple OT loss in the Hockey East Tournament semifinals was the ninth longest game in NCAA history. Freshman defenseman Vincent Desharnais scored his first goal of the season in the loss. … Harvard is making its 23 NCAA Tournament appearance. … Since the 1997-98 season, Boston College has advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Frozen Four 11 times and has captured four national titles most recently in 2012. … BC’s 35 NCAA Tournament appearances and second only to Michigan and Minnesota with 36 each. … Thatcher Demko’s 10 shutouts is the second most in college hockey history for a season, tying David McKee (Cornell, 2005) and Ryan Miller (Michigan State, 2001). The San Diego native is two shutouts away from matching Greg Gardner (Niagara, 12 in 2000).[/caption]

Duluth is the great unknown in Northeast Regional. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the NCHC during the regular season and needed a seven-game win streak to get back into tournament consideration. The Bulldogs haven’t faced any of the other teams in the region.

The other three know each other well.

Providence and Boston College were 1-1-1 against each other and finished as co-champions of the Hockey East regular season. The Eagles also beat Harvard, 3-2, in the Beanpot.

Harvard and BC have met 123 times since 1919, but the game on Friday marks their first meeting in the NCAA Tournament.

Which team is the favorite is anyone’s guess.

Providence saw its 10-game winning streak snapped in the conference tournament semifinals, a grueling 3-2 triple-overtime loss to Mass Lowell last Friday night.

The Friars held tight despite being without the services of sophomore defenseman Jake Walman, who sufffered a season-ending injury at the end of the regular season.

Losing Walman changes the complexion of the regional.

The four teams have a combined 33 draft picks on their roster, led by Boston College’s 13. Duluth had to win seven in a row and beat North Dakota, ranked No. 1 at the time, in the NCHC semifinals by a 4-2 score to secure an at-large bid and it swept second-ranked St. Cloud State late in the regular season to vault up the PairWise rankings.

UND had beaten UMD four times during the regular season when Duluth could muster just two goals on a combined 139 shots in four games against UND goalie Cam Johnson.

The Bulldogs fell behind 1-0 49 seconds into the conference semifinal before rallying for the win.

That it wasn’t easy typifies UMD’s season.

The NCHC preseason favorite, the Bulldogs struggled to get about .500 until their late-season surge. Now led in scoring by Farley and linemate Tony Cameranesi (10 goals, 26 assists) pucks are starting to roll Duluth’s way and goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo has emerged as one of the best in the game. Cameranisi’s sister Dani is a star forward for the Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team that won its third Frozen Four title last weekend.

Farley said the only thing he really knows about the Friars is that they are big, strong defensive team with plenty of playoff experience.

Providence has one of the strongest blue line corps in the nation and goalie Nick Ellis is 9-1-0 since the beginning of February with a 1.06 goals-against average and .957 save percentage, tops in the country. The Friars have been lethal when leading after two periods, too.

Providence is 22-0-4 with two-period leads and is an NCAA best plus-33 in outscoring opponents 47-14 in the first period.

Boston College is also nearly unbeatable when leading after two periods, owning a 20-0-2 record when leading heading into the third. The Eagles are led by Ryan Fitzgerald, who has 22 goals on the season and is two points shy of reaching the century mark for career points. He has 52 goals and 46 assists heading into Friday’s game.

The Eagles are loaded with talent. Freshman Colin White, the 2015 first round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, has 12 multi-point games and averages 1.21 points per game. He is second in team scoring with 19 goals and 21 assists, the most since Johnny Gaudier tallied 40 points in his 2011-2012 rookie campaign.

And then there is goalie Thatcher Demko, one of two net minders among the Hobey Baker Award finalists and a finalist for the Mike Richter Award for the top college goalie. Demko ranks fifth in the nation in save percentage (.935), seventh in goals-against (1.87) and easily leads the country in shutouts with 10.

He’ll face one of his stiffest tests Friday against Harvard, where fellow Hobey finalist Jimmy Vesey (24 goals, 22 assists) captains four very strong lines up front and sophomore goalie Merrick Madsen, 18-6-4, anchors the defense with a 1.96 goals-against average.

The Crimson ranks ninth in the nation in team offense, averaging 3.48 goals per game, and fourth in power play percentage (27.9%).

• East
• Midwest
• West

Above from left: Tony Cameranesi, Kasimir Kaskisuo and Austin Farley lead Minnesota Duluth into an NCAA Tournament opener against defending national champion Providence.  (Courtesy UMD Athletics/Matt Christians/Northern Michigan Athletics)

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