The Frozen Four…A View From Center Ice

Frozen_Four_Philly

Here’s a quick look at the teams competing in  the Frozen Four in Philadelphia April 10 – April 12, 2014. Having personally seen all four teams in action was of benefit in putting together this capsule. Teams are arranged in alphabetical order.

BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES

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Record: 28-7-4 (1st in Hockey East)

Record vs Final 16: 10-4-2

PP: 24.1% PK: 90.4% GPG: 4.10 GAPG: 2.28

Final Pairwise: 2

Top Players:

Johnny Gaudreau ( F, Jr) – 39-35-42-77 +41

Kevin Hayes (F, Sr) – 39-27-36-63 +33

Bill Arnold (F, Sr) – 39-14-38-52 +41

Michael Matheson (D, So) – 37-3-17-20 +17

Thatcher Demko – 23-16-4-3 GAA: 2.16  SV% .920

Statistically, a favorite from the start of the playoffs  to reach the Frozen Four, the Eagles have been one of college hockey’s top teams all season. They had a 19 game undefeated streak for the months of December through February. However, they have a 3-3 record in their last 6. A prolific scorer, Johnny Gaudreau has compiled some obnoxious offensive statistics and  is the odds on favorite to win the Hobey Baker as a result. He’s an explosive scorer with 77 points and is averaging 1.97 points per game. Overshadowed by the offensive exploits of Gaudreau is another offensive dynamo, Kevin Hayes with 63 points on the season. At the point, sophomore Michael Matheson is a physical defender not afraid to rush the puck.  With a few exceptions, Thatcher Demko has been superb in goal and a reliable defender game in and game out. However, in the back of my mind is the Eagles underwhelming effort in an early season loss (6-1) and tie (3-3) to Minnesota and the 5-1 loss to Union a year ago in the NCAA playoffs. Gaudreau was limited to a single goal on the power play and was -4 in the Minnesota series and limited to a late third period goal vs Union. Also, three late season losses to Notre Dame proved the Eagles can be susceptible to a structured defense that keeps them outside the dots. These games are all about matchups and Boston College will have its hands full vs Union and Minnesota– should that matchup occur. Both are capable of shutting down Gaudreau and if they do that it could be lights out for the Eagles. I guess what I’m saying is should the Eagles prevail versus a very strong Union squad, they’ll need a matchup with North Dakota for their best chance at the hardware.

What got the Eagles to the Frozen Four: 6-2 W vs Denver; 4-3 W vs UMass-Lowell

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS    

Record:  27-6-6 (1st B1G 10)

Record vs Final 16: 9-3-2

PP: 20.2%  PK: 82.9%  GPG: 3.51  GAPG: 2.00

Final Pairwise: 1

Top Players:

Adam Wilcox (G, So) – 36-25-5-6  GAA: 1.89  SV%: .934

Kyle Rau (F, Jr)  – 39-14-23-37 +17

Sam Warning (F, Jr) –  37-12-20-32 +27

Mike Reilly (D, So) – 39-9-23-32 +22

Justin Kloos (F, Fr) -39-15-15-30 +12

Hudson Fasching (F, Fr) – 38-13-16 -29 +18

Minnesota was clearly the top team in the B1G 10 all season. Although not quite as clear-cut, they were also consistently one of the top teams in the country all season. In addition to performing well in conference play, they also got the job done vs top competition going 9-3-2 vs teams in the final 16. Obviously, the key to the Gophers success is Sophomore, Adam Wilcox, a big time goaltender who already will enter the record books as one of the best all-time at Minnesota. Wilcox has the ability to consistently make the big save and  put the Gophers in the position to win close games. Great goaltending wins the Frozen Four and if the Gophers happen to make it that far they will have that advantage in goal. Goal scoring is balanced and the team is led in goal scoring by first-year player Justin Kloos with 15 goals. Sam Warning has been streaky but when he plays with confidence can be a dominant player. Feisty Kyle Rau has a tendency to score key goals and chipped in 14 this season. On defense, Mike Reilly has had an outstanding season with 32 points and a +22 rating. Special teams are solid, not spectacular but have been outstanding in the playoffs (30% PP; 87.5% PK). Although a healthy scratch for three games prior to the playoffs, don’t underestimate defenseman, Michael Brodzinski in power play situations. He handles the puck well and has a cannon of a shot. In the West region final, the Gophers were disciplined defensively and shut down a St. Cloud State team that is very similar in style to Boston College. It’ll be an emotional battle versus long-time rival North Dakota in the semi-finals. If the Gophers can keep their emotions in check and play a disciplined game they will be favored to move on to the national championship game. It doesn’t hurt that the Gophers have 12 upperclassmen to provide leadership.

What got the Gophers to the Frozen Four: 7-3 W vs Robert Morris; 4-0 W vs St. Cloud State University

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA

UND_2013

Record: 25-13-3 (2nd in NCHC)

Record vs Final 16: 5-4-1

PP: 17.4% PK: 83.3% GPG: 3.07 GAPG: 2.44

Final Pairwise: 14

Top Players:

Rocco Grimaldi (F,So) – 41-17-22-39 +13

Michael Parks (F, Jr) – 41-12-18-20 +11

Mark MacMillan (F,Jr) – 37-10-16-26  -3

Paul LaDue (D, Fr) – 40-6-15-21 +16

Nick Mattson (D, Jr) – 39-4-19-23 +9

Zane Gothberg (G, So) – 32-20-9-3 GAA: 1.99 SV%: .926

To say North Dakota does not deserve to be in the tournament is of course arguable. Yes, they needed a Wisconsin win in the B1G tourney after failing in the NCHC tournament to get their pass to the NCAA tournament. And yes, their record during the month of March was an unimpressive 6-4. Yet, they found a way to defeat Western Michigan in a key consolation game in the NCHC tourney, a big 5-2 win over Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA’s and a 2-1 two overtime nail biter vs Ferris in the Midwest Regional final. And so here they are in the Frozen Four facing long-term rival Minnesota in a much-anticipated battle to reach the Frozen Four Championship game. This is not the offensive juggernaut that we’ve seen out of North Dakota in years past. But, with players like Rocco Grimaldi, Zane Gothberg and Ladue, Mattson, Schmaltz and Simpson on defense they can be sneaky good. From an offensive standpoint, this defensive foursome is formidable racking up 23 goals and 89 points. However, it is concerning that #3 and #4 scorers MacMillan and Caggiula with a combined 21 goals and 50 points are a combined -2 in plus/minus. The Gophers will limit their scoring opportunities making it imperative that Gothberg have the “A’ game he is capable of. UND will have to play physical vs the Gophers but  disciplined play will be a must for North Dakota or they will be facing a resurgent Minnesota power play that could make them pay. As always, the intangibles  for North Dakota include their legions of fans that will be populating Philly and have a way of willing their squad to victory in tight games and particularly in tournament play. And, of course, this is North Dakota’s 20th Frozen Four appearance since 1958 and their 6th appearance this past decade under Coach Hakstol. Expect an entertaining battle in this one.

What got North Dakota to the Frozen Four: 5-2 W vs Wisconsin; 2-1 (2 OT) W vs Ferris State

UNION COLLEGE DUTCHMAN

Union

Record: 30-6-4 (First in ECAC)

Record vs Final 16: 5-2-2

PP: 21.6% PK: 83% GPG: 3.70 GAPG: 2.05

Final Pairwise: 3

Mat Bodie (D, Sr) – 38-6-29-35 +26

Shane Gostisbehere (D, Jr) – 40-8-21-29 +28

Daniel Carr (F, Sr) – 37-22-26-48 +26

Daniel Ciampini (F, Jr) – 39-19-17-36 +22

Colin Stevens (G, Jr) – 34-26-4-2 GAA: 1.93  SV%: .932

Probably the most balanced team in the Frozen Four, Union brings an experienced, battle tested squad to the tournament. The only team to carry a 30 win season to the tourney, they are loaded with high performing upperclassmen at both the forward and defense positions. Although they push  their offense via their defensemen, Shayne Gostibehere and Mat Bodie, with a combined 64 points, don’t underestimate potent forwards Daniel Carr with 22 goals and Daniel Ciampini with 19. It’s really difficult to find a weakness in Rick Bennett’s squad who dispatched Boston College 5-1 in last years NCAA tourney. This team has not lost a game since January 31 and has defeated their last four opponents – Cornell, Colgate, Vermont and Providence by a combined 18-7 score. Stingy on defense, they’ve allowed more than 3 goals only once since January 1. If that’s not enough, Junior goaltender Colin Stevens has been rock solid  with numbers rivaled only by the Gopher’s Adam Wilcox.  In another highly anticipated battle, it’s difficult to bet against the Dutchman in this one vs Boston College. If Gaudreau and his first line are unable to get untracked the depth of this Union squad will take over leading the Dutchmen to their first ever shot at a national title. Union seems to be the team of destiny this season and it’s backed up by their dominating results over the entire season.

What got  the Dutchman to the Frozen Four:  5-2 W vs Vermont; 3-1 W vs Providence

My Predictions:

Game 1: Union College vs Boston College 

In an entertaining game, I give the edge to Union College. If anyone has the horses to slow down the Gaudreau line (other than Notre Dame) I feel it’s Union. The battle-tested Dutchman have tremendous depth, strong offense and two high-end defenseman in Gostisbehere and Bodie. Having Bodie and/or Gostisbehere on the ice throughout the entire game is a security blanket for Union. Next, throw in one of the top goaltenders in college hockey in Stevens and  balanced scoring and it’s a formula for a Dutchman win.

Game 2: North Dakota vs University of Minnesota 

I an emotional battle, I expect the Gophers to be disciplined enough to prevail in this one. The Gophers seem to be focused and clicking on all cylinders heading into this game. That includes their special teams play.Their goaltender, Wilcox is reliable and on top of his game  and I doubt North Dakota will be able to generate the offense needed to win this one. North Dakota needs to be physical and slow down a more skilled Minnesota squad but can’t spend their time in the penalty box. Minnesota will eat them up if they do.  I expect the Gophers to shut down the Grimaldi line and once that’s done the balanced scoring for the Gophers should propel them with the margin needed to move into the championship game. This could be a two or  three-goal win for Minnesota.

Game 3: Minnesota vs Union College 

Should this game take place, it will be a dandy. The experience and depth of Union will be a great matchup with the speed and goaltending of Minnesota. Both squads have great leadership, clutch players and outstanding  goaltending. It’s hard to imagine anything more than a one-goal game and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an overtime game between these two. Minnesota can be inconsistent at times and the Dutchman will be a test like no other this season for the Gophers. On the other hand, the Gophers Wilcox can outright win games and it could come down to a Wilcox vs Stevens battle.  In the end however, the result favors Union, a team that has the experience and in my opinion is destined for the hardware this year.

We’ll see what happens…

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