2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview

(Photos Prout)

2017 Frozen Faceoff – March 17-18, 2017 | Target Center, Mpls, MN

Friday, March 17 – 4:07 PM CT: #2 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs vs #3 Western Michigan Broncos

Friday, March 17 – 7:37 PM CT: #1 Denver University Pioneers vs #4 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Saturday, March 18 – 3:07 PM CT (Third Place) | 7:37 PM CT (Championship)

TV: All games are on CBS Sports Network with the exception of the third place game which will be streamed on NCHC.tv

How They Got Here:

  • #1 Denver University swept Colorado College ( 4-1/4-0)
  • #2 UMD swept Miami (5-4 OT / 5-3)
  • #3 Western Michigan defeated Omaha (1-2 OT/5-2/2-1 OT)
  • #4 North Dakota swept SCSU (5-2/6-5 OT)

Team Profiles

Denver University Pioneers (28-6-4 | 18-3-3 NCHC) Pairwise: #1

Perhaps the most balanced team in college hockey, the Pioneers enter the tournament with a 13 game winning streak. They are making their 4th consecutive appearance in the Frozen Faceoff. This team can beat you with their offense and they can shut you down with their defense.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #1 – 1.84 GPGA
  • Offense #10 – 3.39 GPG
  • Power Play #10 – 21.3%
  • Penalty Kill #20 – 83.9%

The Pioneers present several of the most explosive forwards in the NCHC in Florida Panther’s 1st round draft choice Henrik Borgstrom (21-17-38), 2nd round San Jose Sharks draftee Dylan Gambrell (11-21-37) and 5th round Anaheim Ducks draft choice Troy Terry (19-17-36). As if that wasn’t enough, the Pioneers then throw a second wave of productive offensive players in Jarid Lukosevicius (11-15-26), Matt Marcinew (10-12-22) and Liam Finlay (7-8-15). First-year player, Borgstrom simply makes defenders look silly at times and is deadly on the power play with eight power play goals. Gambrell leads the team in assists with 26 and is +19. Troy Terry has 4 game-winning goals and is +24.

Defensively, the Pioneers are college hockey’s top ranked defensive team accomplished with one of college hockey’s top goaltenders in Tanner Jaillet and a dedication to strong team defensive play. Jaillet has an outstanding record of 24-4-1 and has not been beaten in back to back games all season. His goals against is currently a stingy 1.84 ranking him 4th in college hockey and his save percentage is .929 good for 8th. Hobey Baker finalist, Will Butcher (6-29-35 +23), Adam Plant (2-8-10 +13) and NCHC All-Rookie team selection Michael Davies (3-8-11 +25) lead a defense that is tops in the conference.

Individual Honors  

  • Will Butcher – Hobey Baker Top 10 Finalist, NCHC All-Conference 1st Team, NCHC Player of the Year, NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year
  • Henrik Borgstrom – NCHC All-Rookie Team, NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team, NCHC Rookie of the Year
  • Dylan Gambrell – NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team
  • Tanner Jaillet – NCHC All-Conference 1st Team, Mike Richter Award Semi Finalist, NCHC Goaltender of the Year
  • Michael Davies – NCHC All-Rookie Team
  • Troy Terry – NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference

Coach | Player Quotes

Jim Montgomery – “Were excited to be back at Target Center and hopefully we’ll have a little more success than the past two years. We think its an incredible event and this tournament will help us prepare for the NCAA tournament. As soon as I said we’re playing North Dakota the adrenaline on our entire roster gets amped up. The intensity of the game will be great from the start. We’re expecting it to be a barn-burner.”

Tanner Jaillet –  “Defensively, it’s a team game and when all five guys are working as a unit it keeps the goals against down. Even though I may not see a lot of shots, I need to stay focused and make sure I do the little things to help the team win”

University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (23-6-7 | 15-5-4 NCHC) Pairwise #2

A veteran team, the Bulldogs roster includes 13 upperclassmen that bring depth and experience and it’s paid off in an outstanding season. Similar to the Denver Pioneers, the Bulldogs rely on a good mix of veteran players and youngsters at offense and a senior laden team on defense. This is the Bulldogs second straight Frozen Faceoff appearance and they are looking to avenge last years loss in the title game to the SCSU Huskies. The Bulldogs have lost once in the last 15 games.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #10 – 2.28 GPGA
  • Offense #11 – 3.36 GPG
  • Power Play #23 – 19.5%
  • Penalty Kill #41 – 80.4%

At forward, the senior leadership is very apparent with Alex Iafallo (17-24-41 +17) and Dominic Toninato (13-12-25) the heart and soul of the offense. Both log a lot of ice time, play with passion and energy and are productive offensively and reliable defensively. They’ve set an example for youngsters Joey Anderson (9-19-28) and Adam Johnson (16-15-31) who are both top four scorers on the squad. Scoring close to three and a half goals per game, the Bulldogs leverage their strong offense with a stout defense as a formula for their success.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have one of the most experienced units in college hockey with five seniors on the blue line. Senior defensemen, Carson Soucy (+9), Willie Raskob (+7), Dan Molenaar (+17) and Brendan Kotyk (+16) provide the forwards with the comfort of knowing the back-side is covered opening up opportunities for the offense. Add to that the offensive skills of sophomore Neal Pionk (7-22-29) and you have a very well-rounded mix of defensemen. First-year goaltender, Hunter Miska has exceeded expectations and has single handily won a number of games for the Bulldogs. His five shutouts rank him 4th in the country and his 22-4-5 record one of the top winning percentages in college hockey. His .917 SV% ranks him 21st and goals against of 2.22 17th nationally.

Individual Honors     

  • Hunter Miska – NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team, Semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award
  • Joey Anderson – NCHC All-Rookie Team
  • Alex Iafallo – NCHC All-Conference 1st Team
  • Neal Pionk – NCHC All Conference 2nd Team
  • Dom Toninato – NCHC Defensive Forwad of the Year

Coach | Player Quotes

Scott Sandelin – “Our guys had this as one of their goals to get back to the Frozen Faceoff this year. Our goal is to win the first night and have a chance to play Saturday night. (Concerning Western Michigan) We match up well with Western Michigan and they play with a lot of pace. They will present challenges for us defensively”

Dominic Toninato – “We came up short last year and so we have some unfinished business. We want to play good hockey here and leave with some hardware.”

Western Michigan University Broncos (22-10-5 | 13-9-2 NCHC) Pairwise #4

An 8-25-3 team last year, the Broncos are possibly the surprise of college hockey this season. They’ve already exceeded last seasons number of wins by 14. They’ve done this with strong upper class leadership and improvements at nearly every team position. With thirteen upperclassmen, the Broncos are proof that experience is one of the key qualities necessary for a successful season and run into the playoffs. This is the Broncos second appearance in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #23 – 2.73 GPGA
  • Offense #9 – 3.41 GPG
  • Power Play #8 – 21.84%
  • Penalty Kill #38 – 81.5%

The leader at forward is senior and captain Sheldon Dries (15-14-29 | 5 PPG | +12). He’s suffered through some of the tough times the last few seasons and has logged 147 games thus far in his career. He’s been a great mentor to a strong sophomore class at forward including points leader Matheson Iacopelli (20-14-34), Griffen Molino (14-15-29) and Colt Conrad (12-16-28) who have combined for 7 game-winning goals, 12 power play goals and a +37 in plus/minus. Add to that, first-year power forward Wade Allison (12-17-29 +10) and you have a lethal set of forwards that gives the Broncos an offense that is ranked in the top ten nationally. And, if given a man-advantage, they’ll make you pay with the 8th ranked power play in the nation.

On defense, a good mix of experience and size supplements the strong goaltending they’ve received from first-year goaltender Ben Blacker. Senior Taylor Flemming (1-16-17 +7) and Junior Scott Moldenhauer (4-12-16 +1) lead a solid crew of defenseman that also includes sophomore Cory Schueneman (5-17-22 +4) and first-year defenseman Luke Bafia (1-6-7 +17). A more stay at home crew than the other squads in the tourney, they tend to take care of business defensively leaving the offense to the solid crew of Bronco forwards. First-year goaltender Ben Blacker missed 7 weeks due to illness after winning his first two starts and since returning has compiled a 17-5-2 record. His .922 SV% is 15th in college hockey and GAA of 2.36 25th. He’s earned three shutouts this season. An athletic and technically sound goaltender, Blacker is another player that can outright win games for the squad.

Individual Honors   

  • Sheldon Dries – NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team
  • Ben Blacker – NCHC All-Rookie Team, NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference Team
  • Andy Murray – NCHC Coach of the Year

Coach | Player Quote

Andy Murray – “We are excited as a program to be in the Frozen Faceoff. This is a special group of seniors. They are all quality people and great students and do things right. They were not happy with what happened last year and excited to be back. We haven’t accomplished anything yet and we’re looking forward to playing a really good Minnesota-Duluth team on Friday. I expect a tight checking game.”

Sheldon Dries –  “It means a lot to be here. There was a mentality coming into this season with a new attitude to prove something to ourselves and the community of Kalamazoo. For the seniors having a second chance (at the Frozen Four) to finish the job is an opportunity we don’t want to pass up.”


After sustaining major losses in personnel from last years national championship squad, the Fighting Hawks still found a way to win key games down the stretch and earn a spot in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and possibly the NCAA tournament. Although very young, the Fighting Hawks have relied on some elite forwards and a defensive unit that has had to perform well quickly in order to find success in the 2016-17 season. They enter the Frozen Faceoff with four consecutive wins in the NCHC playoffs. This is the Fighting Hawks fourth consecutive appearance in the Frozen Faceoff.

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #20 – 2.59 GPGA
  • Offense #14 – 3.24 GPG
  • Power Play #25 -18.95%
  • Penalty Kill #18 – 84%

After losing over 200 points of offense from last years squad, the Fighting Hawks have had to rely on a trio of youngsters to keep the offense on track in 2016-17. They’ve done it with three of the most skilled offensive players in college hockey in the NCHC’s goal scoring leader and sophomore,Shane Gersich (21-16-37), sophomore, Brock Boesser (15-16-31) and first-year forward, Tyson Jost (15-16-31). These future NHLers have combined for seven game-winning goals and twelve power play goals and are the top three team point producers. Supplementing this scoring are junior Austin Poganski (11-13-24) and Rhett Garner (7-13-20). The scoring certainly tails off after that and it’s safe to say the team’s success relies a great deal on the production of the aforementioned players. But, when these players are healthy and all in the lineup UND is an explosive and dangerous offensive team that can score in bunches.

Defensively, the team took a major hit with early departures and they’ve had to throw a number of youngsters into action this season. Senior and captain Gage Ausmus has been a steady influence back on the blue line and junior Tucker Poolman (7-23-30 +17) has had an outstanding season both from an offensive and defensive standpoint. Youngsters Colton Poolman (2-9-11 +7) and Christian Wolanin (5-14-19 +7) have both shown great progress and have become key components of an improving defensive unit.  Junior netminder Cam  Johnson’s statistics have taken a step back from last season but it’s no surprise considering the loss of experienced depth at the blue line. Regardless, he still has compiled a 19-11-3 record including three shutouts this season. His 2.39 GAA ranks 24th in the country and .904 SV% certainly takes a back seat to last years numbers.

Individual Honors

  • Tucker Poolman – NCHC All-Conference 1st Team
  • Shane Gersich – NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference

Coach | Player Quotes

Brad Berry – “Compared to last year it’s been a little bit different of a year and we’re very excited about getting down to Minneapolis. We talked to our group about narrowing our focus and limiting distractions(while in Minneapolis). We’re there for business and there to win two games. There are four quality teams that can win the tournament”.

Gage Ausmus – “Our league is so close. Whoever comes in with the bigger will to win and come in with the mental mindset that we want it more than the other team (will have success). We are going to bring everything we’ve got and obviously we’re coming down there to have success.”

The Games

Western Michigan University Broncos vs University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 

The two squads split their season series with Western Michigan winning on Friday 4-3 in Duluth and losing the rematch 2-0 in November. Two weeks ago, the teams split their series in Kalamazoo with the Broncos prevailing 7-4 on Friday and the Bulldogs 6-3 on Saturday. This is an interesting matchup and may be a coin-flip. This game will feature the top two first-year goaltenders in the NCHC and both are capable of shutting down the other teams offense. Both teams have a productive offense and unless there is adherence to solid defensive play we could see a goal fest much like the last series in Kalamazoo. The two teams are very familiar with each other having played four games this season and this game could come down to special teams and mistakes. This will be an entertaining contest between two teams already qualified for the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs will be missing Carson Soucey due to injury but Western Michigan plans to have Wade Allison back in the lineup after being injured in last Saturday’s game with Omaha.

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks  vs University of Denver Pioneers

Due to the unbalanced  NCHC schedule these teams only faced each other in a single series this season. The games were in Grand Forks and Denver secured a 1-1 tie and a 3-2 win. This is a good rivalry matchup and should also be a very entertaining game with some explosive and exciting forwards. The Pioneers will be the favorite in this contest but if the Fighting Hawks can beat Jaillet early and get a solid effort out of Cam Johnson they could have a chance to move on to the championship game. On the other hand, the Fighting Hawks are facing college hockey’s top defensive team and if they fall behind early it’ll be a very difficult task to play catch-up against one of college hockey’s top goaltenders. The edge goes to Denver in this game but with forwards like Gersich, Boesser and Jost don’t count UND out.

Enjoy the games!

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