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It could be a fantastic Friday 

End Zone

Quick question: What city in the United States has two teams in the NCAA hockey tournament — which also happens to be one more than the entire state of Minnesota?

Yes, that would be Colorado Springs, with Air Force and Colorado College.

Of course, detractors around the country would downplay that fact, pointing out that the Falcons and Tigers are two of the bottom three seeds in the 16-team field. They'll say that Air Force only won its way into the NCAA by capturing the tournament for the Atlantic Hockey Association, generally regarded as the nation's weakest conference.

They'll also suggest that CC and Air Force will be gone Friday night, after providing the first-round fodder for defending national champion Boston College and No. 1 overall seed Yale. And who knows, they may be right on that one. Certainly, the Tigers could give BC a great game and still come up short, just as the Falcons might against Yale.

But something tells me that one of them — either one, actually — might pull a little surprise. Something else tells me that their two first-round games, to be televised back-to-back nationally by ESPNU (cable channel 175, with AFA-Yale at 4:30 p.m. our time followed by CC-BC), have the potential to turn into one of the Springs' finest college hockey showcases ever.

Just imagine if the Falcons could stun Yale. OK, don't even imagine, because it actually happened just four months ago, on Nov. 14 at Cadet Ice Arena, when Air Force handed Yale its first loss of the season, 4-3. Sure, the Bulldogs were tired from playing and beating CC the night before, but so what? Air Force won, which means the Falcons won't be intimidated, even facing an all-Yale crowd at Bridgeport, Conn., just 20 miles from the Yale campus.

Another reason is that just two years ago this week, in that same Bridgeport arena, Air Force pulled off a comparable shocker, 2-0 against mighty Michigan.

Yet another reason: Jacques Lamoureux, the Falcons' remarkable senior, is wrapping up his college career with one last great run, having carried his team past Sacred Heart (with two third-period goals) and Rochester Institute of Technology (with the game's only goal) last weekend for the AHA title. Lamoureux has plenty of helpers, including freshman goalie Jason Torf, and with the Falcons now riding an eight-game win streak, he could be the difference one more time.

OK, now just imagine if the Tigers could chop down Boston College. To most East Coast observers, this dream isn't even worth discussion. They've already anointed BC as clearly the best in the West Regional, and Colorado College has been labeled as just another nice team that should be happy to have this chance.

Except that the Tigers have seven victories, and a 7-7-2 record, against other teams in the NCAA bracket. They have beaten North Dakota once and the University of Denver twice. They also have star freshman Jaden Schwartz back at full speed now, recovered from his December broken ankle. Obviously, CC has plenty of goal-scorers, including Jaden's older brother Rylan Schwartz (who had two last week against North Dakota), as well as late-improving goaltender Joe Howe. With all that and Jaden Schwartz due for a breakout game, who knows?

Bottom line, Air Force (20-11-6) and Colorado College (22-18-3) already have made this a successful hockey season. But if either can make it past Friday, the odds increase of perhaps reaching the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn. The other East semifinal opposite AFA-Yale is Minnesota-Duluth vs. Union, while the West's other semifinal matches Nebraska-Omaha against Michigan.

One last factor to consider: The selection committee may have given the Tigers a huge favor by moving Boston College out of the East and all the way to St. Louis. There, the crowd will be far more neutral, which normally means pulling for an underdog like the regional's bottom seed, in this case CC. Also, since UNO-Michigan is the early game, the winner's fans should cheer for the Tigers (preferring to play them over BC).

So, will the Springs teams exit quietly? Will one of them topple a No. 1 seed? Or will both make it an unforgettable Friday?

It'll be worth watching to see.

routon@csindy.com

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