Here’s a quick look at the teams competing in the Frozen Four in Tampa April 7 to April 9, 2016:
BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES
Record: 28-7-5 (Tied for 1st in Hockey East)
Record vs Final 16: 10-4-3
Last 10 games: 7-3
PP: 21.5% PK: 87.9% GPG: 3.85 GAPG: 1.98
Final Pairwise: #5 | Final Krach: #6 | SOS: #16
Upperclassmen: 4 seniors | 10 juniors
Ryan Fitzgerald (F/JR) – 23-23-46 | +25
Colin White (F/FR) – 19-23-42 | +25
Zach Sanford (F/SO) – 13-26-39 | 27
Austin Cangelosi (F/JR) – 20-17-37 | +17
Alex Tuch (F/SO) – 17-16-33 | +27
Casey Fitzgerald (D/FR) – 4-22-26 | +27
Teddy Doherty (D/F/SR) – 13-12-25 | +17
Thatcher Demko (G/JR) – 27-7-4 | 1.85 GAA | .936 SV%
What got the Eagles to the Frozen Four: 4-1 Win over Harvard; 3-2 Win over Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional
The youngest team in the Frozen Four, they bring with them a potent offense rivaling #1 seed Quinnipiac at 3.85 GPG. Ryan Fitzgerald, Colin White, Alex Tuch and diminutive Austin Cangelosi can all bury the puck combining for 79 goals this season. And, to protect their backside, they have the security of one of the top goaltenders in college hockey in junior, Thatcher Demko. The Eagles rank in the top 10 in nearly every statistical category and have excelled on the power play and penalty kill this season. But, if there is an area that could haunt them it’s playing disciplined hockey averaging over 14 minutes of penalties per game (5th in the country). As far as momentum, they’ve lost three of their last 10 games, and sport the worst neutral site record (4-3-0) and strength of schedule of the four teams. A departure from teams of the past, the Eagles are one of the more physically imposing teams in this years Frozen Four and showed their strength by grinding it out with Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional. They can score and play solid defense and have a coach that will have them ready to play. This will be the first ever matchup between Quinnipiac and Boston College. Experience tilts in the direction of QU but a tradition of Frozen Four appearances favors Boston College. With six players in double-digit goal scoring, there’s no denying the quick strike capabilities of the Eagles. And, they rely less on their top three scorers than any of the other four squads. This is a well-rounded team with good depth and should match up well with Quinnipiac.
QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY BOBCATS
Record: 31-3-7 (1st in ECAC)
Record vs Final 16: 9-1-1
Last 10 games: 8-1-1
PP: 27.4% PK: 89.3% GPG: 3.88 GAPG: 1.90
Final Pairwise: #1 | Krach: #1 | SOS: #13
Upperclassmen: 7 seniors | 10 juniors
Sam Anas (F/JR) – 24-26-50 +17
Travis St. Denis (F/SR) – 22-24-46 +15
Tim Clifton (F/JR) – 18-23-41 +28
Landon Smith (F/SO) – 11-25-36 +14
Connor Clifton (D/JR) – 7-20-27
Devon Toews (D/JR) – 7-23-30 + 31
Michael Gartieg (G/SR) – 31-3-7 | 1.83 GAA | .926 SV%
What got the Bobcats to the Frozen Four: 4-0 Win over RIT; 4-1 Win over UMASS-Lowell in the East Regional
Perhaps the most seasoned and experienced squad in the tournament, they also may have the most depth of the four teams. Consisting of 17 upperclassmen, this team will enter the Frozen Four with outstanding leadership and previous experience in the Frozen Four championship game in 2012-13. They’ve had a target on their back the entire season being at or near the top of the Pairwise rankings and rarely faltered with only three losses the entire season. Like Boston College, they have both an outstanding offense at 3.85 GPG and a shutdown defense in allowing only 1.90 GPG. They’ve lost one road game all season and have a perfect record of 5-0-0 on neutral ice. If that isn’t enough, they’ll punish you with a power play converting slightly over 27% of its opportunities. This team has great depth and spreads it out throughout the lineup making it difficult to key on one line. They are a skilled team but if necessary can offer a physical response if they need to resort to it. Travis St. Denis is a feisty forward who is dangerous on the power play and when healthy, Sam Anas is one of the top forwards in the country. Much like last year, he’s been plagued by injury but still helped lead his team to wins in the East Regional. Defenseman, Devon Toews at +31 and ECAC Tournament MVP Connor Clifton at +28 give the Bobcats two of the best in the tourney. Goaltender Michael Gartieg has a career record of 77-23-16 and has posted a 1.83 GAA and .926 SV% this season. When he’s on his game combined with a solid DE corps in front of him, the Bobcats are tough to beat. With 7 ties on their record, the Bobcats have had some close calls this season. However, with a senior laden team and explosive offense they seem to find a way to recover from adversity. They finished the season #1 in the Pairwise and it’s well-deserved. You will have to bring your A game to beat this squad.
DENVER UNIVERSITY PIONEERS
Record: 25-9-6 (Tied for 2nd NCHC)
Record vs Final 16: 7-7-4
Last 10 games: 8-1-1
PP: 19% PK: 82% GPG: 3.30 GAPG: 2.30
Final Pairwise: #6 | Krach: #5 | SOS: #3
Upperclassmen: 4 seniors | 9 juniors
Danton Heinen ( F/SO) – 20-28-48 | +21
Dylan Gambrell ( F/FR) – 17-30-47 | +15
Trevor Moore (F/JR) – 11-33-44 | +18
Quentin Shore (F/SR) – 13-15-28 | +11
Will Butcher (D/JR) – 8-23-31 +22 | +22
Nolan Zajac (D/SR) – 3-17-20 | +15
Tanner Jaillet (G/SO) – 17-4-5 | 2.25 GAA | .923 SV%
What got the Pioneers to the Frozen Four: 7-2 Win over Boston University; 6-3 Win over Ferris State in the West Regional
Don’t underestimate the Pioneers in this years Frozen Four. They return for the first time since winning back to back national titles in 2004 and 2005. This is a team that’s earned everything they’ve attained with an outstanding second half of the season. With a record of 7-7-4 through January 2nd, things were looking bleak for the Pioneers. However, in an amazing turnaround, they finished the regular season with a 14-1-1 record and then lost only once more to SCSU in the Frozen Faceoff before defeating Boston University and Ferris State in the NCAA West Regional. They enter the Frozen Four with the most difficult 2015-16 strength of schedule of the group and a 16-2-3 record in their last 21 games. Statistically, they are overshadowed by the rest of the field in every category and only compiled a 7-7-4 record vs teams in the final 16 of the NCAA. This team took off once their top line of Heinen (NCHC Forward of the Year), Gambrell and Moore began to put the puck in the net. With 48 goals and 139 points they are as potent a line as you’ll see in the Frozen Four. But, that could be an issue as well as they’ve relied on these three for 37.9% of their teams total points – more than any other squad in the Frozen Four. Defensively, they are sound with senior, Nolan Zajac, Will Butcher and Blake Hillman who came alive with two goals and two assists in the West Regional. Of importance will be for the line of Quentin Shore, Evan Janssen and Troy Terry to take some pressure off the #1 line this weekend. In goal, Tanner Jaillet has been solid, not spectacular and they’ll need a big tourney performance from him against some very good offenses. The Pioneers were impressive in the West Regional and look to carry that momentum into the Frozen Four. They are 2-0-1 in their last three games vs North Dakota.
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS
Record: 32-6-4 (1st in NCHC)
Record vs Final 16: 9-4-1
Last 10 games: 8-1-1
PP: 19.5% PK: 86.4% GPG: 3.64 GAPG: 1.86
Final Pairwise: #3
Upperclassmen: 4 seniors | 6 juniors
Brock Boeser (F/FR) – 26-28-54 | +38
Drake Caggiula (F/SR) – 21-25-46 | +41
Nick Schmalz (F/SO) – 10-34-44 | +39
Austin Poganski (F/SO) – 9-15-24 | +9
Troy Stetcher (D/JR) – 8-20-28 | +20
Tucker Poolman (DE/SO) – 5-19-24 | +18
Paul LaDue (D/JR) – 5-13-18 | +27
Cam Johnson (G/SO) – 22-4-2 | 1.67 GAA | .934 SV%
What got North Dakota to the Frozen Four: 6-2 Win over Northeastern; 5-2 Win over Michigan in the Midwest Regional
North Dakota is making their 22nd appearance in the Frozen Four since 1958. As such, I doubt there will be much in the way of jitters for a team that has such a long tradition of play in the NCAA tournament. They ate up the competition in the Midwest Regional despite another sub-par performance in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff losing to UMD and tying Denver in a rather meaningless third-place game. The Fighting Hawks enter the Frozen Four with more wins than any other team in the field with 32, 9-4-1 record vs teams in the NCAA final 16, 3-1-2 record on neutral ice and a 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games. Much like Denver, they rely heavily on their top line of Caggiula, Schmaltz and Boesser to carry the load offensively producing 35.5% of the teams points this season. With a potent offense and solid special teams play, this is not a team you can afford to make mistakes against. Defensively, they are very strong only allowing 1.86 goals per game with sophomore Cam Johnson a big factor with his outstanding 1.67 GAA and .923 SV%. A strong group of defensemen led by Troy Stetcher not only play stout defensively but can bury the puck in the net as well. Stetcher is joined by Tucker Poolman and Paul LaDue in perhaps the top defensive corps of the field. Between the three they’ve scored 18 goals this season. If there’s one knock on this team it may be the reliance on their top line to do most of their scoring. As such, they need a strong weekend out of Rhett Gardner, Luke Johnson and Austin Poganski, all productive players in their own right if UND is to have success. The Fighting Hawks should have legions of fans in attendance and that is an intangible advantage. Coach Brad Berry has done an excellent job with this squad in his first year at the helm and will have his team more than ready to go on Thursday evening vs Denver.
Game 1: Quinnipiac University Bobcats vs Boston College Eagles
In contrast to the other semi-final, the Bobcats and Eagles will be facing each other for the first time in history. This should be an outstanding matchup between the two top scoring teams in the Frozen Four. The thing I like about Quinnipiac is their leadership and ability to fight back in close games. They have great depth throughout the lineup and can play both a skill game and a physical game if they are forced to do so. Defensively, they played a superb game vs UMASS-Lowell in the East Regional and if they duplicate that effort on Thursday, the Eagles could be in trouble. Boston College has the marquee forwards and given the opportunity, any of their top five forwards could break this game open. Expect Alex Tuch of Boston College to play a prominent role in this game due to his physical presence and skill. With Boston College’s tendency to take penalties, this could be a huge factor in this game with QU’s power play clicking at 27.4%. With Sam Anas a little banged up look to Travis St. Denis and Tim Clifton to have more prominent roles in this game. A solid effort by the Eagles Thatcher Demko is a no-brainer. If the Bobcats get the same out of Michael Gartieg they’ll be tough to beat.
Prediction: I expect this to be a close game with St. Denis playing a key role in a one-goal win (possibly an EN goal for another) for Quinnipiac. I haven’t bet against the Bobcats all season and don’t plan to start now. They seem to be the team of destiny in this years tourney.
Game 2: University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks vs Denver University Pioneers
These two teams have a reputation of not liking each other and know each other very well skating to a head to head record of 2-2-1 in 2015-16. Honestly, this game is a toss-up and will probably hinge on each teams ability to wrench some scoring out of their lower lines. I’m a little concerned about Tanner Jaillet’s ability to outplay UND’s Cam Johnson and if it comes down to a goaltender duel, I tip my hand towards North Dakota. With that said, Denver is 2-0-1 vs the Fighting Hawks in the last three and certainly have figured out a strategy to deal with their top line limiting them to two 5×5 goals in the three contests. It’ll be a monumental task keeping Cagguila, Bosser and Schmaltz off the board but likewise UND has to deal with Moore, Heinen and Gambrell. Keep an eye on Blake Hillman for Denver in this game. He was productive in the West Regional and could be a factor again on Thursday. These two squads are very similar in the elements they bring to the game. They both are strong on the blueline and have elite forwards.
Prediction: Toss a coin in this one. Both are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. My instincts tell me Denver will win this in another very close game. The game will hinge on how well Jaillet performs and I’m betting he steps forward in this one in combination with a productive game from forwards Gambrell and Heinen. Hillman gets his third goal in two games for the Pioneers and Boesser keeps it close for North Dakota. Denver wins in a one-goal game – possibly overtime..
Game 3: Quinnipiac University Bobcats vs Denver University Pioneers
In this one, Quinnipiac looks to redeem themselves after an appearance in the Frozen Four title game in 2012-13 and the Pioneers return to the championship game after an eleven year absence. The top-scoring line of Heinen, Moore and Gambrell gives the Pioneers the edge but overall team depth goes to the Bobcats. Quinnipiac can do so many things well that it’s going to be a real challenge for Denver to get untracked in this one. It’s essential Denver stay out of the penalty box even though the Bobcats will goad you into mistakes. If my prediction in the BC vs QU game is correct, the Bobcats will be carrying a 6-0-0 record on neutral ice into this game. With 17 upperclassmen and 7 players with experience in the 2012-13 title game the cards are stacked against the Pioneers.
Prediction: I feel Quinnipiac wins this one by two-goals with a strong effort by St. Denis, Toews, and Connor Clifton, all team leaders. Special teams will be a factor and an advantage for the Bobcats and Gartieg has a strong night in goal. The Bobcats are my team of destiny in this years Frozen Four.