Five Hockey East teams will represent the league when the NCAA Regionals begin this weekend. The 16-team field was announced Sunday, with Boston College named the No. 1 seed (No. 2 overall) in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, where the Eagles will face Denver Saturday.
UMass-Lowell, fresh from its second consecutive Hockey East championship, will take on Minnesota State-Mankato in the second game at the DCU Center. Vermont will play Union in the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn., and Quinnipiac will take on Providence there.
“Being in Worcester is really exciting,’’ said Lowell senior center Joe Pendenza. “We’re going to be able to have our fans there. It’s going to be a good atmosphere.’’
In the West Regional in St. Paul, second-seeded Notre Dame, which knocked out BC in the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinals, will face St. Cloud State.
It’s a testament to the league that five teams made it to the NCAA Tournament, the most of any league.
“I think it [shows] how deep the league is and how every night you have to come to work, but also it battle-tests us for the future and playing in the NCAA Tournament,’’ said Pendenza. “We’ve played in a lot of big games, not just this past weekend.’’
For BC, it’s been an unfamiliar set of circumstances. The team, which won the league’s regular-season title, is used to playing well into the latter stages of the season, so to have to sit out when the Hockey East tournament reached TD Garden was an uncomfortable feeling.
“I didn’t even watch the games this weekend,’’ said senior center Bill Arnold, who watched the selection show with his teammates in the players’ lounge at Conte Forum. “We’re definitely hungry and ready to get back on the ice. We can’t dwell on the past, we can only work on the things that didn’t go right for us and get ready for Denver now.’’
Arnold said the team has kept busy watching video and making improvements to the game plan.
“We’ve been practicing a lot,’’ said Arnold. “In the last week, we’ve really focused on the things that kind of went wrong for our game — the [defensive] zone and forechecking and getting that stuff squared away. We’ve had some high-intensity skates. So we’ve been staying busy, making the most of our time.’’
Eagles coach Jerry York, whose team will face Denver in the NCAAs for the first time since 1973, said as difficult as it was to sit out what will be almost two full weeks, he doesn’t believe his team performed poorly against Notre Dame.
“We were pretty disappointed because we thought we played well enough to win that Sunday afternoon game,’’ said York. “Our scoring chances were abundant and we didn’t give up much, but what we gave up were two or three golden opportunities. You look at the 60 minutes, and they didn’t really create an awful lot against us. We gave it to them on a golden platter, their scoring chances, and they capitalized on them. The bottom line is defense generally wins those type of games.’’
BC has lost three of its last four outings after a 19-game unbeaten streak (17-0-2), but York promises the Eagles will be ready for Denver.
“When the goal is the national championship, it’s a pretty big goal to have so that will keep us focused,’’ said York. “That’s the least of our problems, trying to get them motivated, because that’s what they all want.’’
York, whose team is 26-7-4 overall and 16-2-2 in Hockey East, said he has a great deal of confidence in freshman netminder Thatcher Demko.
“I think he’s going to be fine,’’ said York. “He’s a freshman goaltender who is earning his stripes. He’s playing in some big, big games for us and I feel very confident in Thatcher.’’
York said as disappointed as his team was to be shut out of the Garden, it couldn’t afford to dwell on it.
“It’s something we wanted and reached for, but when you sign up for this game, it’s never easy,’’ he said.
BC’s losses to Notre Dame illustrate the league’s toughness.
“I think our league has been strong the last number of years,’’ said York. “We’re very proud of the fact we’ve gone nine straight times. I don’t think the league is any different now than it was nine years ago. It’s been a hard, competitive league.’’
The biggest laugh of the day at BC came during the ESPNU selection show when Dave Starman singled out his favorites to win the Hobey Baker Award and left out Johnny Gaudreau.
“Obviously, all 10 finalists are great players,’’ said Arnold. “But just watching Johnny, I think he definitely deserves that award. He’s earned it. But if you’re asking me if he would trade the Hobey for a national championship, he’s taking the national championship all day long. That’s our focus.’’