West Regional Preview
All four teams bring some sort of history to St. Louis this weekend
Scott Owens is in his 12th season as the head coach at Colorado College. In that time, he’s won 280 games and guided the Tigers to three McNaughton Cups as regular-season champions of the WCHA, no small feat in one of the most competitive conferences in the country. Friday will mark his seventh coaching appearance in the NCAA tournament, including a trip to the 2005 Frozen Four. It’s a nice résumé, but when it comes to his fellow coaches at the 2011 NCAA West Regional, the Tigers’ bench boss has some catching up to do.
When Owens takes his team out onto the ice in St. Louis, at the Scottrade Center, it will be to face Boston College, the defending NCAA Champions, coached by Jerry York, winner of 880 games, ten regular-season championships, nine league playoff titles, and four NCAA Championships in nine Frozen Four appearances.
The other game, between Nebraska-Omaha and CCHA regular-season champion Michigan, features a coaching matchup between UNO’s Dean Blais, winner of 303 games, five McNaughton Cups, two Broadmoor Trophies and a pair of NCAA championships during his 10 years at North Dakota, and Michigan’s Red Berenson, who’s won 725 games and two NCAA Championships, taking his alma mater to 10 Frozen Fours and 21 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the longest active streak in the nation.
That's some pretty elite company.
“It’s not very usual that we go to a regional and I’m the youngest coach,” Owens said, “and I have the fewest games coached and so on, but it’s pretty good ‘Who’s Who,’ with Dean Blais, Jerry York and Red Berenson, no doubt about it.”
All told, that’s some rarified air, but for BC head coach Jerry York, the meeting with Owens and his Tigers is a perfect fit, not to mention the answer to a problem he encountered over the summer.
“This summer, we were in Switzerland, scouting a U.S. team, under-17s,” York said. “The only other college coach there was Scotty Owens. We get together in a corner and say, ‘Gee, it’s been a long time since the Tigers and Eagles have played. Let’s see if we can look at schedules.’ With hockey, it’s not quite like football, but you’re two or three years ahead in scheduling, and we just can’t fit it in. We said, ‘Geez, we’ve got to get this thing done,’ and all of a sudden, we’re matched up in the first round.”
It’s a matchup that favors the Eagles on paper. BC is third in the nation in scoring offense at nearly four goals per game, and high-scoring forwards like Brian Gibbons (18g, 32a) and Hobey Baker finalist Cam Atkinson (39g, 21a) will be matched up against a Tigers squad that’s in the middle of the pack nationally in scoring defense. Meanwhile, BC goaltender John Muse, the Walter Brown Award winner as the best American-born college hockey player in New England, has never lost an NCAA tournament game, and is the defensive anchor of a BC team that’s sixth in the nation in scoring defense. Still, York isn’t taking anything for granted against a CC team that features one of the nation’s best freshmen in Jaden Schwartz (15g, 27a in 28 games) and averages three goals a game in its own right.
“I’m very impressed with the speed and creativity that the Tigers play with,” York said. “I enjoyed watching how the Tigers play. I think they’re very quick, very unselfish, and very creative, and those are adjectives we like use to describe how we play.”
For Berenson, the trip to St. Louis comes with its share of memories, as the Wolverines bench boss spent the better part of eight seasons playing to the St. Louis Blues in the NHL, and four more as a coach, winning the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach in 1981. However, Berenson is insistent that when he goes to work on Friday, it’ll be all about the Wolverines.
“I have some history there as a player,” Berenson said, “but I don’t think that comes into play when you’re talking about college hockey.”
Berenson will have little time to focus on the past when the Wolverines face the Mavericks for the third time this season. Michigan hosted its former CCHA rival (now a member the WCHA) in October, and it was the Mavericks who handed Michigan its first loss of the season, scoring a 4-2 victory at Yost Ice Arena before Michigan bounced back for a 6-1 win the next night.
“There’s not much to choose between the teams,” Berenson said. “I think they’ve got a little more offensive power, even though we score more goals. We’ve got more goals from our defensemen than they did, but their forwards have outscored our forwards. The power plays and penalty killing are pretty comparable. We might have a little edge, over the course of the season, in goals against, but they finished third in their conference in a tough WCHA. Both teams are playoff ready. Dean Blais is a great college coach and a great playoff coach, so I think their team is going to be as good as anybody.”
Both teams have balanced scoring – Michigan features eight players with 20 or more points, led by senior forward Carl Hagelin (18g, 30a) while senior forward Matt Ambroz (17g, 17a) leads nine Mavericks with 20 or more – and either would be a threat to knock off the defending national champion.
That is, of course, if the Tigers don’t do it first.