The men's NCAA hockey tournament begins this weekend. Here are 50 thoughts to get you ready.
1. There are 59 Division I hockey teams. Arizona State will make 60 in the fall. Sixteen of the 59 teams qualify for a chance to win the National Championship, the Natty, the 'Ship. ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPNU and ESPN3 have complete, exclusive coverage in the United States. TSN is showing all of the games in Canada for the first time.
2. The four regional sites are Manchester, Providence, South Bend and Fargo. By Sunday night, we will have our Frozen Four. That round will be played April 9 (doubleheader semifinal games on ESPN2) and the championship game will be April 11 in Boston, broadcast on ESPN. This is the seventh time Boston has hosted the title match. Next year the Frozen Four is in Tampa; in 2017 it will be in Chicago, and in 2018, St. Paul, Minnesota.
3. College hockey has lots of parity. The United States and Canada are developing more high-end talent, while the number of college teams stays relatively the same. The past two National Champions have come from the ECAC (Yale and Union).
4. I don't think all 16 schools in the NCAA tournament have a realistic chance to win the 'Ship, but I think 10 do.
5. Freshman Jack Eichel, 18, of Boston University is currently the star of college hockey. Connor McDavid of the Ontario Hockey League will be the first pick in the 2015 NHL draft, but Eichel is right on McDavid's heels in terms of being an impact player. He doesn't wow like the McDavid highlights, but he likely will be durable and dependable. Eichel will develop into a strong, smart, competitive, powerful NHL center -- like Jason Spezza with wheels. He passes like Adam Oates and shoots like Ryan Getzlaf. Eichel should win the Hobey Baker award as college hockey's most outstanding player.
6. Eichel's first career NCAA tournament game is the first game of the tournament, Friday at 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU against No. 4 Yale. No. 1 BU is the highest scoring team in the NCAA, while Yale allowed the fewest goals per game, led by its outstanding goalie, Alex Lyon. Terriers vs. Bulldogs. Manchester Dog Show.
7. You want parity proof? Being a No. 1 seed used to be a tap-in birdie. From 2003-2006, No. 1 seeds went 15-1 in their opening games. Since 2007, No. 1 seeds are just 19-13 against No. 4 seeds.
8. Eichel gets lots of attention, as he should, but Boston College's Noah Hanifin is a joy to watch. I'm pumped I will get to call his game Saturday against No. 2 Denver on ESPN2 (3 p.m.) with Barry Melrose. Hanifin should be the third pick of the NHL draft. The defenseman just turned 18 in January, but he is already assured, strong and a beautiful skater. I hope Hanifin comes back for another year at BC next season, although I have no doubt he could play in the NHL.
9. Melrose and I will also call No. 4 Providence vs. No. 1 Miami in Providence, Rhode Island, on Saturday. That game is on ESPNU at 6:30 p.m. The past four times Providence and Miami have played, the game went to overtime.
10. Yes, we will play #bucciovertimechallenge on Twitter during the NCAA tournament. Not sure what the #bucciovertimechallenge is? For a list of rules and the charities we have given money to, go to www.bucciovertimechallenge.com.
11. If there is a favorite to win the tournament, it is No. 1 North Dakota. North Dakota's defensemen are in the rush almost every time and are part of the offensive cycle. They are big and they can skate. North Dakota's forwards, all of them, finish every hit.
12. North Dakota goalie Zane McIntyre is also a the favorite to take home the Mike Richter award as the nation's top Division I goalie. I had a vote for the Richter award this season and my vote came down to McIntyre or Providence tender Jon Gillies. Gillies didn't even make the final five, which surprised me.
13. Minnesota State is the No. 1 overall seed. Head coach Mike Hastings has always been a winner. He won three championships with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. He was hired by Minnesota State two years ago, kept both assistant coaches, didn't cut players and turned them into the No. 1 team in the country.
14. There has never been a Frozen Four featuring all No. 1 seeds. But three No. 1's made it last season.
15. There is a chance to have three teams from Minnesota at the Frozen Four. In 1992, there were three teams from Michigan: Michigan, Michigan State and Lake Superior State -- the only time one state had three teams.
16. There is also a chance to have a mini-Beanpot Frozen Four. Boston University, Harvard and Boston College are all in different regions.
17. We also could have a Harvard-Yale final if things fall right.
18. No. 3 Harvard was picked 10th out of 12 teams in the ECAC preseason poll. They just won the ECAC tournament to make the field of 16. They open up against No. 2 Nebraska-Omaha Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3.
19. A big reason for the success of Harvard this season was head coach Ted Donato hiring Paul Pearl as an assistant. Pearl was a head coach at Holy Cross for 19 years with a lot of success. He came to Harvard this season and the Crimson showed immediate results. That's not a coincidence.
20. Harvard's best player, Jimmy Vesey, was the best player in the ECAC this season. Vesey, a Nashville Predators draft pick, leads the nation with 31 goals.
21. Donato will be coaching against Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais in the opening round game. Donato played for Blais on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team.
22. College hockey is in a position to continue to grow. As we stated above, Arizona State will become the 60th Division I NCAA hockey team as it phases in to full conference play. College Hockey Inc. recently spoke with the owners of the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings about college hockey expansion in the state. There is a ton of interest in California to get more schools to make the jump like Arizona State did.
23. The Pac 12 television network could be a factor in the eventual creation of a Pac 12 hockey conference. Why not a hockey conference of Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon and Washington?
24. College hockey, when done right, can be revenue neutral or a revenue producer, and its players are legitimate student athletes.
25. Penn State hockey, while not making the NCAA tournament, continues to be a major success story and is certainly helping other schools at least think about bringing hockey to their campuses. In 2013-14, Penn State said it lost about $6 million on athletics and only three of the university's 31 sports made money: football ($37 million), basketball ($5 million) and hockey ($1 million). Penn State sold out 29 of its 31 home hockey games. Sabres owner Terry Pegula financed the arena and the scholarships, and that's what other schools want when hatching a program.
26. Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth (2011 NCAA champion) will be meeting for the fifth time in the fifth different rink this season. The two schools have met 227 times but just once in the NCAA tournament. They play Friday in Manchester, New Hampshire, on ESPNU at 5:30 p.m.
27. Minnesota lost in the championship game last season to Union and many thought it would steamroll through this season after returning so many players. It hasn't happened. Mike Reilly is a dynamic player to watch.
28. Minnesota has the most all-time NCAA tournament appearances and the most tournament wins.
29. More than 30 percent of NHL players played college hockey. I don't know why any young player vacillating between college and junior hockey wouldn't at least start in college. They can always leave and play junior, but once a player plays junior, they are ineligible for NCAA hockey. The culture, the ability to train, the chance to meet interesting non-hockey people and the chance to make oneself more interesting via college makes the difference a stark one for me.
30. North Dakota is the favorite for many, but it just lost two in a row for the first time this season.
31. BU gets a lot of attention for its turnaround season, aided heavily by coach David Quinn's excellent coaching and successful recruiting of Eichel, but Miami has had an equally impressive turnaround season. The Redhawks have constructed their reversal of fortune with almost the same roster as last season. No. 2 Michigan Tech is making its first tournament appearance in 34 years.
32. The most intense coaching matchup might be the Miami-Providence matchup between Miami's Blasi and Providence's Nate Leaman.
33. You won't hear me say "Miami of Ohio" during the Providence-Miami matchup. Ohio's Miami University was established 36 years before Florida became a state.
34. I don't think Miami playing Providence in Providence is a big deal. Hockey is an emotional, instinctual game. Crowds and noise don't matter much. We see in the Stanley Cup playoffs that it's not a huge advantage to play at home. Providence doesn't play its games in the Dunkin Donuts Center (mmmmm, doughnuts) in downtown Providence. It hasn't played a game there since 2004. Yes, Providence will bring a few thousand fans into the arena, but if I'm a Miami Redhawk, I want that. I LOVED contentious road games in my high school sports career. Those were my favorite games. People calling me vile names and making lots of noise. It relaxed me and gave me a heightened focus.
35. Miami is just 1-4 in its past five NCAA tournament games.
36. Rochester Institute of Technology is making its second NCAA tournament appearance. In its first trip in 2010, RIT went to the Frozen Four.
37. The ECAC continues to be overlooked. One reason is the lack of television coverage. Again, the last two NCAA champions have been from the ECAC. Two seasons ago in Pittsburgh, Quinnipiac and Yale played in the title game. Only three schools have won more games than Quinnipiac the past four seasons: Minnesota, Boston College and North Dakota.
38. Since 2008, 4-seeds have reached the Frozen Four as often as 2- and 3-seeds combined.
39. A couple of rule differences between NHL and NCAA hockey: No hand passes are allowed anywhere in college. If a player shoots the puck over the glass in college, it's not an automatic penalty. If a team scores a goal on a delayed penalty, the penalty still stands.
40. The active career points leader among tournament players is Miami's Austin Czarnik, a terrific, gritty player for the Redhawks. Miami has plenty experience. They have 19 juniors and seniors. Providence and St. Cloud have 16 juniors and seniors. Experience is very important.
41. Boston College coach Jerry York, who turns 70 in July, is making his 22nd NCAA tournament appearance. He's won five NCAA titles and early in 2017, he will win his 1,000th career game. He belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
42. Three head coaches in the tournament won National Championships as players: Harvard's Donato (at Harvard), Denver's Jim Montgomery (at Maine playing with Paul Kariya), and RIT's Wayne Wilson (at Bowling Green).
43. Eight of the 16 head coaches in the NCAA tournament are coaching their alma mater.
44. Top five states represented in the NCAA tournament: Minnesota with 96 players, Massachusetts with 38, Michigan and New York with 23 each and California with 17.
45. By Country: 74 percent from USA, 23 percent from Canada, 6 percent born in Finland, 2 percent from Sweden, and 1 percent from Austria, Denmark, Latvia, and Switzerland.
46. Melrose and I will be in Providence calling the East Regional and then will be in Boston calling the Frozen Four. Providence has an excellent cigar bar, so Barry is glad for the return to Little Rhody. #SmokeShow
47. The other announcing teams are: Dan Parkhurst and Billy Jaffe (Northeast Regional), Clay Matvick and Sean Ritchlin (West Regional) and Ben Holden and Blake Geoffrion (Midwest Regional).
49. Torey Krug was undrafted. He'll make about $30 million in the NHL.
50. Although about 30 percent of NHL players played college hockey, 70 percent did not. And getting a degree, meeting driven, smart, thoughtful people, and educating yourself can be a fruitful bridge from teenager to non-NHL playing adult.
I've always been anti-fraternity. I was when I attended college. It all seemed contrived. I prefer fraternities, like college hockey, that are organic. Pledging the college hockey world requires that you are selfless, thoughtful and intense: My kind of people. And those kinds of people are also usually the most fun.
This is the most fun time of the year, and the party will be televised.