With the NCAA Basketball tournament coming to the TD Garden this weekend, it's easy to overlook the NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament, which is also going on locally this weekend. Unlike the hoops tourney, there are several local teams vying for a championship in the hockey version of March Madness.
Of the 16 teams still alive, four of them hail from New England, and three from Massachusetts, specifically. In New England this weekend, games are being played in Worcester, MA at the DCU center, and Bridgeport CT in Webster Bank Arena.
All games can be seen on the ESPN family of networks - ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3.com. The network has a long association with the tournament, having aired games since the second year of the network in 1980, and recently extending their rights agreement with the NCAA to continue broadcasting the entire tournament through 2024.
The locals get started this evening at 6:30 when UMass-Lowell takes on Miami of Ohio at 6:30 in Bridgeport. That game which will be seen on ESPNU and ESPN3 will be called by John Buccigross and Barry Melrose.
On Saturday, Boston College takes on Air Force at 4:00pm in Worcester. This game will be seen on ESPNU/ESPN3 and will have Joe Beninati and Billy Jaffe (from NESN, among other stations) on the call. At 5:00pm, Boston University takes on Minnesota out in St Paul - nice home ice advantage for the Golden Gophers at the Xcel Energy Center. This game will be called by Clay Matvick and Dave Starman. This game was originally only to be aired on ESPN3.com, but was picked up for simulcast by NESN. Finally, at 7:30pm, Maine takes on Minnesota Duluth out in Worcester, with Beninati and Jaffe again on the call on ESPN3.
The winner of BC/Air Force will take on the winner of Maine/Minnesota Duluth on Sunday in the Northeast Regional Final at the DCU center at 8:00 on ESPNU/ESPN3. Should UMass-Lowell advance, they will play the winner of Union and Michigan St. Saturday night at 6:30 in the East Regional Final in Bridgeport, with Buccigross and Melrose getting the call on ESPNU/ESPN3. If Boston University is able to win on Saturday, they play the winner of Western Michigan and North Dakota at 5:30 on Sunday on ESPNU/ESPN3 in the West Regional Final.
For this year's tournament, ESPN is hyping the debut its Advanced Replay Tool (ART) which allows graphics to be used in a replay, a first in the network’s coverage of NCAA hockey. The ART, developed by ESPN Emerging Technology, allows graphics to be instantaneously embedded within a replay, providing commentators greater visual resources to communicate analysis to viewers. It has seen previous success in ESPN’s coverage of basketball, football and golf telecasts.
The 2012 NCAA Frozen Four will be held in Tampa, Florida this year, with games scheduled on Thursday April, 5th and the championship game on Saturday, April 7th. The trio of Gary Thorne, Clay Matvick and Barry Melrose will call the three games.
ESPN.com’s Senior Director of College Sports David Albright is a huge fan of the tournament, having attended his first Frozen Four 20 years ago in Albany, NY. He notes that he was hooked immediately and that, "like many NCAA sports, there’s a passion associated with college hockey and its fan base that needs to be experienced in order to be truly appreciated – and that makes for an environment that’s hard to replicate."
For his own department - ESPN.com, Albright says that "There will be a live scoreboard once the games begin on March 23. The site will also provide previews of the entire tournament and on-site coverage from the regional round and the Frozen Four in Tampa." He added that he hopes for an OT championship game, noting that "There’s nothing like extra hockey with a trophy on the line. To me it’s the ultimate sports definition of the joy of victory and the agony of defeat."
There should be plenty of that on display this weekend.