Manchester preview: Western Michigan's layoff the intangible, goalies the focus in Denver-Cornell matchup
The Broncos haven’t played since March 11 following a sweep by Colorado College in the NCHC quarterfinals. Head coach Pat Ferschweiler said it’s a toss-up on how fast his team starts on Thursday.
MANCHESTER, N.H. — A well-rested Western Michigan team, featuring the nation’s leading goal-scorer in Jason Polin, faces Boston University in the first game of the Manchester regional on Thursday. In the second matchup, top-seeded Denver faces Cornell.
While the No. 5 Terriers (27-10-0) enter the tournament following a 3-2 overtime win last Saturday in the Hockey East championship game, the Broncos received an at-large invitation and was one of the final mentions during Sunday’s selection show.
“Aside from reading our name on the screen, it was hard to know that we were in the tournament after watching that show,” said Western Michigan head coach Pat Ferschweiler.
The Broncos haven’t played since March 11 following a sweep by Colorado College in the NCHC quarterfinals. Ferschweiler said it’s a toss-up on how fast his team starts on Thursday.
“So usually how that works is we’ve got to make it through the first period and then we get up to battle-tested speed and then we're ready to go,” Ferschweiler said.
For Jay Pandolfo, in his first-year at Boston University, his team is coming off a grinding Hockey East tournament win. The good news is the Terriers are within an hour’s drive of the 10,000-seat SNHU Arena in Manchester.
“It’s a quick turnaround to Thursday afternoon 2 o’clock, but knowing this group, they’ll be ready for it,” Pandolfo said.
I feel like our game is in a good spot right now. We’re all clicking real well and we’re looking at continuing to build throughout the tournament.
There’s plenty of firepower on both sides. On paper, the teams both rank third in goals (3.9) and 17th in goals allowed (2.6).
“Honestly, they look a lot like us. They play a lot like us,” Ferschweiler said.
Besides Polin’s 29 goals, the Broncos have a talented freshman in forward Ryan McAllister, whose 47 points is seventh in the nation. Boston University freshman Lane Hutson, who scored the overtime game-winner against Merrimack on Saturday, had two goals in that contest.
Teammates have dubbed the Broncos top line of Polin, McAllister and Max Sasson as the “Assassin Line.”
“I think we gel really well together,” said Polin, who this week The Athletic reported is receiving a strong look by the Minnesota Wild. “We all bring different aspects of the game. And Ryan's a really skilled player. He can make plays and Sasson just works hard and he can also make plays, and then I'm just kind of there to kind of form that the trio and try and put pucks in the net.”
The Terriers should get back senior forward Wilmer Skoog after serving a one-game suspension after a boarding penalty against Providence in the Hockey East semifinals. But they’ll be without senior defenseman Case McCarthy, who was injured in that game after getting tripped and crashing into the boards.
“He’s a huge loss for us,” Pandolfo said. “He’s been a steady presence all year long.”
The Terriers, who missed out on the 2022 tournament, have won seven straight, dating back to a sweep over Vermont on Feb. 25.
“I feel like our game is in a good spot right now,” Hutson said. “We’re all clicking real well and we’re looking at continuing to build throughout the tournament.”
Western Michigan returns to the tournament after losing the Worcester regional final to Minnesota (3-0) last season. Ferschweiler stated it simply this week, you can’t win if you don’t enter.
“We believe in ourselves,” he said. “We're good. You know, we score four goals a game. We’re third or fourth in the country in scoring, so we know we can put the puck in the net. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves that way.”
- RECORDS, STREAK: WMich 23-14-1, L1; BU 27-10-10; W7
- OVERALL SERIES RECORD: BU 3-0-0 (since 86-87 season)
- GOALS PER GAME/ALLOWED: WMich 3.9/2.6, BU 3.9./2.6
- SHOTS PER GAME/ALLOWED: WMich 31.4/26.0, BU 34.8./28.2
- PP%: WMich 23.8%, BU 20.4%
- PK%: WMich 75.9%, BU 80.4%
- FO%: WMich 50.8%, 49.1%
No. 4 Denver vs. No. 12 Cornell
If there’s any question about the status of Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona heading into Thursday’s NCAA regional game against Cornell, head coach David Carle quickly put that to rest after last Friday’s 1-0 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal loss to Colorado College.
“Magnus is just fine,” Carle said after Friday’s game about his mainstay netminder. “It’s not an injury issue, that was falsely reported.”
Chrona, the NCHC’s Goaltender of the Year, came out of Friday’s game midway through the third period with Denver trailing 1-0, giving way to sophomore Matt Davis, who won three straight starts previous to that game.
The fourth-seeded Pioneers, who face No. 12 Cornell at 4:30 p.m. (CT) on Thursday, will try to put the puck behind Cornell sophomore Ian Shane, a Hobey Baker Award nominee who carries a 1.76 goals-against average, second in the nation.
Similar to last season, Denver suffered a shutout loss in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals then whipped together three one-goal wins in the national tournament and captured its ninth national title with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota State in Boston.
“Well, I think anytime you have a setback, this team has shown an ability to look in the mirror and evaluate itself honestly as to what didn’t go well,” Carle said. “And we did that a year ago. We’ve done that throughout this season in the moments of adversity we’ve had and we plan on doing the same thing again.”
Cornell is also coming into the ECAC semifinals after a 1-0 loss. The Big Red fell to Harvard in overtime last Friday, mustering only 15 shots.
Denver is paced by sophomore forward Massimo Rizzo and his team-leading 29 assists and 46 points. Sophomore Carter Mazur, and his team-leading 22 goals, is second in points with 36 and junior Mike Benning, the NCHC Defenseman of the Year, has 34.
Junior forward Gabriel Seger leads the Big Red with 29 points and a team-high 22 assists. Senior forward Ben Berard has a team-high 10 goals.
Both teams have very productive power-play units and shut-down defenses. Denver’s power play operates at a 27.2% clip, third in the nation, while Cornell is fourth at 26.4%. Defensively, Cornell gives up an NCAA-second 2.0 goals per game and Denver (fifth) allows 2.15.
Cornell has outscored its opponents nearly 2-to-1 in the opening two periods this season.
Denver and Cornell’s last meeting was in 2014 and it’s been 37 years since these two teams have met in the national tourney. Denver beat the Pioneers in a two-game, total-goal series in the first round of the 1986 tournament. Cornell returns to the tournament for the first time since 2019, and were national champions in 1967 and in an undefeated season of 1970.
- RECORDS, STREAK: Denver 30-9-0, L1; Cornell 20-10-0, L1
- OVERALL SERIES RECORD: Denver 7-5-0
- GOALS PER GAME/ALLOWED: Denver 3.8/2.2, Cornell 3.4/2.0
- SHOTS PER GAME/ALLOWED: Team 32.2/25.3, Cornell 29.1/20.4
- PP%: Denver 26.6%, Cornell 25.9%
- PK%: Denver 78.0%, Cornell 81.9%
- FO%: Denver 50.3%, Cornell 54.5%