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March 22. 2013 1:08AM

Allen Lessels' College Hockey: Wildcats are counting on NCAA tourney bid

DURHAM - They're in.

The honest-to-goodness, true-blue, bet-the-farm-on-it official word won't come from on high and the NCAA until agonizingly late on Sunday night - the Selection Show is on ESPNU at 9 p.m. - but coach Dick Umile and the University of New Hampshire hockey team are counting on it.

They will be one of the 16 teams invited to the 2013 NCAA Division I hockey tournament and, as the host team of the Northeast Regional, they will be playing a first-round game next Friday at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're in the NCAAs," Umile said. "We're preparing to play in the NCAA tournament."

Five league champions will nail down automatic bids to the NCAA playoffs in their league tournaments this weekend and 11 at-large teams will be selected to join them.

The selection process has become more and more refined and objective through the years and it's a numbers game now.

The numbers, thanks to a strong first half of the season and their results against top tier teams, look good for the Wildcats.

The PairWise rankings mimic the system used by the NCAA to select tournament teams. This morning, UNH is at No. 8 in the PairWise. The folks who play with the numbers and calculate possibilities based on various results that could come in this weekend appear to agree that there is nothing that could knock UNH out of the process.

All that remains to be seen then, is what three teams will be joining the Wildcats in Manchester.

"We'll be ready," Umile said. "There will probably be one of the top teams in our league with us. That's how it's gone in the past."

A "Bracketology" feature at United States College Hockey Online (uscho.com) this week predicted the pairings for Manchester to be Union against Boston College and Minnesota State against New Hampshire. Last week, it also had Minnesota State playing New Hampshire, but had Rensselaer playing UMass Lowell.

The bottom line is the same no matter the opponent, no matter whether you're the No. 1, 2, 3 4 seed in the region.

"Anything can happen once you're there," said UNH senior forward John Henrion. "You win two and you're on to the Frozen Four and then it's another two. It seems really simple, but it's extremely difficult. Everything is at stake."

Umile and the Wildcats were happy with how they played at Providence in the Hockey East quarterfinals last weekend. They lost the opener of the best-of-three series, 3-2 on Friday night, and then went a long way toward securing an NCAA bid with a 4-1 win on Saturday. They lost 3-2 again on Sunday and were eliminated from the league tournament.

Now they look forward to one more chance to play.




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PROVIDENCE senior center Tim Schaller of Merrimack has been named Hockey East's Defensive Forward of the Year.

"Tim's had a very good year," said coach Nate Leaman. "He's a very good faceoff guy and very good defensively. He logs the most minutes of any of our forwards and plays in all situations. He does everything and he usually matches up against the opponent's top line. He's pretty darned good."

Schaller contributes on the offensive end, too, and has eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points this year.

He scored the first of two power-play goals in a span of 44 seconds late in the second period that turned a 2-1 deficit against UNH on Sunday into a 3-2 Providence win.

UNH senior forward Henrion and Maine junior goalie Martin Ouellette shared the Army ROTC Three Stars Award. Each was named one of the three stars of the game 11 times during the season.

The Wildcats received the Charles Holt Sportsmanship Award, named after the legendary UNH coach, for the fourth year in a row. They were the league's least penalized team at 9.5 minutes per game.




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DARTMOUTH COLLEGE senior defenseman Mike Keenan signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League this week.

Keenan, who had five goals and 11 assists for 16 points this season, was the Dartmouth captain as a junior and senior and led the team to a 15-14-5 record. The Big Green were eliminated from the ECAC quarterfinals last weekend at Union with 4-1 and 5-2 losses.




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TONIGHT'S matchups in the Hockey East semifinals feature teams with contrasting histories in the league tournament.

No. 1 seed UMass Lowell, which won its first regular-season championship this year, and No. 4 Providence College meet in the first game at 5. No. 2 Boston College and No. 3 Boston University play after that.

Lowell has never won a Hockey East tournament title. Providence is looking for its third championship, but first since 1996.

Boston College, the defending national champion, has won six of the last eight Hockey East tournament titles, including the last three. BU won the championship in 2009 and 2006, the two years BC did not.

The pressure is on BU and Providence in particular this weekend. They need to at least win their semifinal games, and perhaps need to win the tournament, to get a bid to the NCAAs.



alessels@unionleader.com

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