The West regional in Fargo, North Dakota looks on paper to be one of the toughest regionals in this year’s NCAA Tournament, featuring #2-ranked Minnesota Duluth, an ultra-talented Boston University team, North Dakota playing essentially at home, and an Ohio State team capable of putting up big offense.
The road to Chicago might be a little bit tougher for each of the four teams involved, because each team might be missing a key defenseman this weekend.
Starting with the top seed Minnesota Duluth, the Bulldogs have been without senior defenseman Carson Soucy since he suffered a lower body injury March 3rd against Western Michigan.
Soucy has a 3-12-15 scoring line in 33 games and is a stalwart defensively. We ranked him as the 65th-best NHL prospect in the NCAA this season.
With Soucy being a senior, it’s likely he’ll do whatever he can to be on the ice weekend, but it seems unlikely he’ll be at, or even close to 100%.
The good news is that Minnesota Duluth’s first round opponent, Ohio State, will be without one of their top defensemen. Ohio State senior defenseman Josh Healey is likely facing at least a single-game suspension for this hit, delivered in Ohio State’s Big Ten semifinal loss against Wisconsin:
OSU's Healey ejected for elbow to the head pic.twitter.com/n33pHWLC9q— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 17, 2017
The hit is bad, and certainly deserving of an ejection, but not necessarily supplemental discipline, save for the fact that Healey is a repeat(repeat, repeat) offender.
The game misconduct he received was his third of the season, which triggers an automatic one-game suspension, and with this being Healey’s fifth suspension for contact-to-the-head in two years, there’s certainly a possibility he could be forced to sit two games.
Healey as drawn attention as a NHL free agent target that is almost certain to be offered an NHL contract when his college career ends. With 25 points on the year, the Buckeyes will miss his offense from the blue line, and the physical presence he can bring when he stays within the rules.
On the other half of the bracket, there is cause for concern, though the picture looks a little rosier.
North Dakota suffered a major scare on Saturday night when top defenseman Tucker Poolman left the NCHC championship game in the first period with an upper body injury and did not return as a result of this hit:
The hit that knocked Tucker Poolman out for the game pic.twitter.com/HebqKu4D93— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 19, 2017
Poolman is one of the best defenseman in college hockey and plays big minutes on North Dakota’s blue line. He was recently honored as the NCHC’s best defensive defenseman, and we have him ranked as the 25th-best NHL prospect in the NCAA this season.
The good news is that hopefully Poolman won’t be out long-term. After Saturday’s game, North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said, ““One of the toughest guys in the NCHC. He’ll be back next weekend.”
Having Poolman back and close to healthy will be a big key for a North Dakota team that lacks a bit in depth.
Their first round opponent, Boston University, could also be without a top defenseman. Junior defenseman Brandon Hickey was involved in a fracas in the closing seconds of Boston University’s semifinal loss to Boston College at the Hockey East tournament.
Here’s video of the incident(Hickey wears #4 and starts the sequence at the right point):
A lot to unpack here: BC center falls on puck, actively covers it w/ hands, game over, Greenway fight, Hickey fight + 3rd man in for BC pic.twitter.com/aXXgW5FqqF— Max Wolpoff (@Max_Wolpoff) March 18, 2017
Hickey received a five-minute major for hitting after the whistle and a game misconduct on the play.
Given the fact that Hickey appears to throw a punch at around the :23 second mark of that video, and that the whole incident was entirely unnecessary, Hickey would likely be looking a game suspension if this were the regular season. Is it worthy of suspending him for an NCAA tournament game? That’s maybe questionable.
Hickey is a terrific two-way defenseman and a leader for a young, talented BU team. We have him ranked as the 24th-best NHL prospect in the NCAA this season.