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NCAA Hockey Tournament 2011: Merrimack, New Hampshire Start Quest For Frozen Four Saturday

RPI vs. North Dakota

Green Bay, WI Regional

1:30 p.m.

North Dakota (30-8-3) is riding a 13 game unbeaten streak into the NCAA regionals. They are currently ranked tops in the nation, and won the WCHA title last week with a two overtime battle against Denver. Senior Matt Frattin scored the overtime winner, and has lit the lamp all year with 35 goals and 22 assists. Sophomore Aaron Dell has been stellar in goal. North Dakota seems like a shoo-in to the Frozen Four in St. Paul, but has in years previous where they've stalled in the regionals and prematurely ended their season.

RPI (20-12-5) squeaked into the NCAA Regionals, coming in as an at-large bid despite losing to their league's last place team, Colgate, in the ECAC Playoffs. They are 2-6-1 in their last 9 games. They are served well by senior Chase Polacek, who has led the Engineers all year with 21 goals and 27 assists. Will the three week break they've had from game play - including a period of time they weren't even practicing because they didn't expect to be in, according to USCHO's Brian Sullivan - help RPI refocus or set them up for a blowout at the hands of North Dakota?

Denver vs. Western Michigan

Green Bay, WI Regional

5 p.m.

Denver (24-11-5) played a wild game against North Dakota last weekend, forcing the nation's top team into two overtimes. Denver has made the NCAA Tournament several times in the past few years, but usually with much older teams than the one they have this year. With more experienced teams, they haven't fared well in the tournament, but youthful enthusiasm could push them through this year. This team is led by a talented freshmen and sophomore class that lacks experience, but has scoring power. Sophomore Drew Shore leads the team with 23 goals and 22 assists, and has received outstanding goaltending down the stretch by freshman Sam Brittain.

Western Michigan (19-12-10) is rebounding from a few seasons in the basement of the CCHA. New coach Jeff Blashill has turned around the program into one that finished fourth in the CCHA regular season and was able to skate evenly with eventual champion Miami in the CCHA Championship game. They have several seniors who are trying to redeem the past few years, including goaltender Jerry Kuhn, who has been strong in net since December.

New Hampshire vs. Miami (OH)

Manchester, NH Regional

4 p.m. ESPNU/

New Hampshire (21-10-6) faces a formidable foe in their host regional - Miami (23-9-6), which has made the Frozen Four the last two years. The two teams faced off in an early season weekend series, which the teams split. Miami took game one, 6-3, while UNH reversed the score the next night, winning, 6-3. Miami is led by two of the strongest Hobey Baker finalists - Andy Miele and Carter Camper - who seeimingly have scoring opportunities with every shift they play. Miele is the nation's most prolific scorer with 1.87 points per game and leads the nation with 47 assists, with Camper sitting third with 1.47 points per game. Reilly Smith, sophomore left wing on Miele's line, is sixth in the nation in scoring, giving Miami three scorers in the national top ten. The Redhawks haven't lost since January 21st against Michigan State. Miami has a well established goalie rotation, with both juniors Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard in the national top ten in goals allowed.

New Hampshire will need to continue the high production of Stevie Moses, who has goals in his last three games. Hockey East Player of the Year Paul Thompson and Mike Sislo were held off the scoresheet last week in the league semifinal against Merrimack, and the Wildcats will need to get their offensive power up and running if they want to advance past Miami.

Merrimack vs. Notre Dame

Manchester, NH Regional

7:30 p.m. SportsNet New England

Merrimack (25-9-4) faces a formidable test Saturday night against Notre Dame (23-13-5). This is Merrimack's second NCAA Regional appearance, the first coming in 1988. Merrimack has a dramatic goal-scorer in sophomore Stephane Da Costa, but have seven members of the roster with double-digit points - a sign that the Warriors offense distributes the puck around. In particular, junior Ryan Flanigan has been on fire as of late, with at least a point in the last six games, and at least a goal in the last four. He led Hockey East in playoff scoring with five goals and a +9 rating.

Notre Dame has a strong defense led by the CCHA's top defensive defenseman Sean Lorenz. Freshman center T.J. Tynan leads the team with 52 points, good for a tie for eighth in the nation. The Fighting Irish have lost their last two games, losing in the semifinal round of the CCHA Tournament to Miami and the consolation game to Michigan.