Compiled by D3hockey staff --
Utica looms as we're down to four on the left side of the bracket. As is the case on the opposite side, the East Region brings a blend of old and new, while the West Region features a pair of tournament staples who will write the next chapter in their budding rivalry.
In the East, No.1 ranked and seeded Norwich welcomes in Hamilton for what will be the 89th meeting between the two but first since 2010. Norwich is aiming for its 12th Frozen Four appearance while Hamilton is looking for its first in what is its first NCAA tournament appearances.
In the West, UW-Stevens Point and Adrian face off in what will be a re-match of a 2016 quarterfinal in Adrian that Stevens Point, 5-2. The two are 1-1 against each other this season though Adrian will be without head coach Adam Krug. The defending national champion Pointers are hunting their fourth straight Frozen Four appearance, while the Bulldogs are looking to advance to their third all-time.
No. 1 NORWICH CADETS (24-1-3)
No. 9 HAMILTON CONTINENTALS (19-4-4)
When: Saturday, March 18; 7 p.m. ET
Where: Krietzberg Arena; Northfield, Vt.
About Norwich: The top-ranked and top-seeded Cadets are in the midst of their 17th NCAA tournament appearance and seventh in the past eight years, and are riding a nation's-best 22-game unbeaten streak. Owner of the best record in the nation, Norwich earned its way into this year's tournament field with a 4-1 win over New England College in the NEHC championship game.
|Junior forward Kevin Salvucci's 18 goals lead Norwich this season.
Photo: Norwich Athletics
After missing the tournament a year ago, the 2000, 2003 and 2010 national champions are gunning for their fourth national title and took their first tournament step last week when they downed Salem State, 3-1, in the opening round.
Norwich has excelled at both ends of the ice this season as it boasts an offense and defense that are both ranked in the top ten nationally. On the offensive side, the Cadets have rolled up 4.30 goals per game this year which checks in as eighth-most in the country. Five of Norwich's top six scoring forwards are seniors and William Pelletier (16-25-41) is tops among the group. Fellow seniors Anthony Flaherty (10-19-29), Tyler Piancentini (15-13-28), Nick Pichette (11-9-20) and Paul Russell (7-8-15) round out the group, while junior Kevin Salvucci (18-16-34) leads the team in goals.
Defensively, blueliners senior Cody Smith (2-30-32) and junior Alec Brandup (5-15-20) have been key contributors on the offensive end as well but also help spearhead a stingy defense that has allowed a paltry 1.68 goals per game this season. Senior Ty Reichenbach (9-1-3, 1.65, .934) and junior Braeden Ostepchuk (15-0-0, 1.71, .927) have split time this season, including down the stretch, as it was Reichenbach who got the nod in the NEHC title game while Ostepchuk picked up the start in the first round win over Salem State.
With a power play that also ranks in the top ten nationally, the Cadets 2016-17 resume is as strong as anyone's in the nation, and they now stand just one win away from their 12th Frozen Four appearance.
About Hamilton: Hamilton has slowly and perhaps quietly built to this point under the direction of head coach Rob Haberbusch as the Continentals have amassed a roster that is likely underrated from a talent standpoint. But underrated or not, this has been the breakout year as Hamilton has suffered a mere four losses on the season and earned its first-ever NCAA tournament bid.
|Junior goaltender Evan Buitenhuis has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in Division III.
Photo: Hamilton Athletics
It has also now earned its first NCAA tournament win as the Continentals went into highly-touted Oswego State and executed a near perfect game en route to a 3-1 win over the favored Lakers.
Now just one win away from its first Frozen Four, Hamilton will again rely on its elite goaltending, stingy defense and opportunistic offense as it looks to unseat Norwich.
Junior goaltender Evan Buitenhuis (17-4-4) has established himself as one of the nation's top goaltenders as his 1.66 goals-against-average is tied for third-lowest in the country while his .945 save percentange checks in at No. 1. Buitenhuis, who has proven the ability to steal a game, showed up big in the Continentals' opening round win at Oswego as he stopped all but one of the 35 shots he faced.
Buitenhuis backstops a defense that has allowed 1.71 goals per game which is third-best nationally. Out in front of him on the blue line, senior Jon Carkeek (4-17-21) leads the way, freshman Bennett Morrison (7-11-18) has made an immediate impact, and seniors Conor Lamberti (3-13-16) and Brad Smeltsor (2-9-11) bring plenty of experience to the table.
Offensively, the Continentals boast a very balanced attack as after team leading scorer Neil Conway (8-20-28) they feature 11 players who have scored at least 11 points but none of whom have more than 21. Other leaders include sophomore Jason Brochu (12-8-20) and sophomore Rory Gagnon (6-12-18), though Hamilton will again be without second leading scorer Brandon Willett on Saturday.
Overall, the Continentals are one of the best surprise stories of the year and are now just a win away from advancing to the first Frozen Four in school history. They have the goaltending, defense and play a style that is built to win in the postseason, but can they again get it done on the road -- this time against the top-ranked team in the land?
About the series: Saturday's meeting between Norwich and Hamilton will be their 89th all-time, with Norwich holding a 56-29-3 lead in the series. The last meeting between the two came came on December 4, 2010 and was won by Norwich, 7-1. Hamilton's last win in the series came on December 5, 2008 when it scored a 4-1 home win.
No. 2 UW-STEVENS POINT POINTERS (21-4-3)
No. 6 ADRIAN BULLDOGS (19-6-2)
When: Saturday, March 18; 7 p.m. CT
Where: K.B. Willett Ice Arena; Stevens Point, Wis.
About UW-Stevens Point: The defending national champions are making their fourth consecutive and 13th all-time NCAA tournament appearance. Winners of the WIAC regular and playoff championships, the Pointers are 26-14-3 all-time in the NCAAs and have made it to the past three Frozen Fours.
The Pointers enter this weekend's showdown with Adrian on an eight-game winning streak, which currently stands as the fourth longest in the country.
|Senior forward Lawrence Cornellier's 24 goals stand as second-most in the nation.
The success of this year's Stevens Point team has been largely driven by the same things that have led it to NCAA tournament success in each of the past three seasons. Namely, solid goaltending, a prolific and balanced offensive attack, and a defensively solid defensive corps that is not shy when it comes to getting involved on the offensive end.
Junior goaltender Max Milosek (18-3-3, 2.19, .907) backstopped the Pointers to last year's title and has again been the go-to-guy while posting very similar numbers to those he did a year ago. While not among the national leaders in a statistical sense, Milosek has proven he can be relied upon in big game situations.
Led by Milosek, the Pointers' have conceded 2.36 goals per game, which ranks 15th in the nation. On the blue line, sophomore captain Stephen Beauvais (5-12-17) and senior Trace Strahle (3-7-10) lead the way, while senior Mark Bittner (0-5-5) and sophomores Ryan Bittner (4-11-15) and Ethan Strong (4-5-9) have all logged regular minutes.
At forward, the Pointers haven't been quite as prolific as they were a year ago but nonetheless boast four lines that can score, and their 4.39 goals per game currently ranks sixth in the nation. Senior Lawrence Cornellier (24-18-42) is second in tha nation in goals and leads the team in scoring, while fellow seniors Jacob Barber (17-21-38) and Kyle Sharkey (8-23-31) also have contributed significantly. Sophomore Tanner Karty (9-17-26), junior Willem Nong-Lambert (9-13-22), and senior Jono Davis (9-15-24) all have also broken the 20-point barrier.
Overall, Stevens Point has all the tools to make a run at a fourth consecutive Frozen Four and second straight national championship, but they face a tough draw in an extremely talented Adrian team. Last season the Pointers went into Adrian and scored a quarterfinal win, but can they turn in a repeat performance at home?
About Adrian: Unable to clear the St. Norbert hurdle in either the NCHA regular or postseason, the talented Bulldogs nonetheless turned in a 19-win season to secure their fifth straight and seventh all-time NCAA tournament appearance.
The Bulldogs are 3-6-0 all-time in the NCAA tournament and reached the Frozen Four in 2011 where they defeated Oswego State in the semifinals before narrowly falling to St. Norbert in the national championship game. Adrian's last NCAA tournament win came in the 2015 quarterfinals when it topped Oswego State, 5-4.
|Sophomore defenseman Corey Dunn not only leads the defense but also leads the Bulldogs in scoring.
Adrian's reputation is largely built on having an explosive offense and this year has proved no exception as its 4.44 goals per game are fifth-highest in the nation and have been produced by a fairly young group of forwards. Junior Kyle Brothers (8-25-33), sophomore Trevor Boyd (16-16-32), and freshman Vincent Paquette (14-15-29) have paced the attack, while sophomore Bryan Yim (13-15-27) and junior Taylor McCloy (10-13-23) have also figured prominently.
Sophomore defenseman Cory Dunn (8-26-34) actually leads the team in scoring and also heads up a defensive group that has helped Adrian concede just 2.19 goals per night, which is good enough for 11th in the country. Other regulars on the Bulldogs' blue line include freshman Joey Colatarci (2-11-13), senior Michael Hoy (1-8-9) and junior Blake Butzow (1-8-9).
In goal it's been the Kevin Entmaa show as the sophomore has appeared in 22 games and posted a 14-6-2 record with a 2.14 goals-against-average and .914 save percentage.
The elephant in the room as the Bulldogs head into the weekend remains the suspensions of head coach Adam Krug and sophomore forward Chase Matson for actions during and after last season's quarterfinal game against Stevens Point. While Matson has only played in 11 contests this year, the loss of Krug is bound to have an effect. In fact, the Bulldogs were without Krug already once this season and in that game they suffered a 2-1 loss to Trinity.
The question that prompts is whether Krug's absence will have a big enough effect to matter this weekend. For the Bulldogs, they surely hope not as they are one of the most talented teams in the nation, are looking to avenge last season's NCAA loss to the Pointers, and hoping to take another step toward their first national championship.
About the series: The all-time series between Stevens Point and Adrian has been a tight one as through 12 previous meetings the Pointers hold a slim 6-5-1 edge. The two have already met three times this season and the series stands at 1-1-1 with Adrian winning at home early in late November, while two weeks later a series in Stevens Point resulted in a tie and Pointers' win.