The Frozen Four – A View From Center Ice

Tanner Jaillet and Hunter Miska Face off in the Frozen Four Championship (Photos Prout)

2017 Frozen Four – April 6-8, 2017 | United Center, Chicago, IL

Thursday, April 6 – 5:00 PM CT:  University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs vs  Harvard University

Thursday, April 6 – 8:30 PM CT:  Denver University Pioneers vs  University of Notre Dame

Saturday, April 8 –  7:00 PM CT (National Championship)

TV: Frozen Four Semi-Final games are on ESPN 2 and Championship on ESPN

How They Got Here:

  • #1 Denver University defeated Michigan Tech 5-2 and Penn State 6-2
  • #2 Minnesota-Duluth defeated Ohio State 3-2 (ot) and Boston University 3-2 (ot)
  • #3 Harvard defeated Providence 3-0 and Air Force 3-2
  • #4 Notre Dame defeated Minnesota 3-2 and UMass-Lowell 3-2 (ot)

Team Profiles

Denver University Pioneers (31-7-4 | 18-3-3 NCHC – 1st) Pairwise: #1

Record vs Pairwise Top 16 : 10-6-2

Last 15 Games: 14-1-0

Perhaps the most balanced team in college hockey, the Pioneers enter the tournament with a 16-1-0 record in their last 17 games. They are the lone returning team from the 2015-16 Frozen Four and are looking to capture their eighth national championship.This team can beat you with their offense and they can shut you down with their defense.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #1 – 1.83 GPGA
  • Offense #8 – 3.40 GPG
  • Power Play #8 – 21.74%
  • Penalty Kill #13 – 84.6%

The Pioneers present several of the most explosive forwards in the NCHC in Florida Panther’s 1st round draft choice Henrik Borgstrom (21-21-42), 2nd round San Jose Sharks draftee Dylan Gambrell (11-28-39) and 5th round Anaheim Ducks draft choice Troy Terry (22-19-41). As if that wasn’t enough, the Pioneers then throw a second wave of productive offensive players in Jarid Lukosevicius (13-16-29), Matt Marcinew (10-12-22) and Liam Finlay (8-10-18). 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 28 and is +21. Troy Terry has 4 game-winning goals and is +27.

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 26-5-4 and has not been beaten in back to back games all season. His goals against is currently a stingy 1.86 ranking him 4th in college hockey and his save percentage is .928 good for 9th. Hobey Baker finalist, Will Butcher (7-29-36 +25), Adam Plant (3-10-13 +13) and NCHC All-Rookie team selection Michael Davies (3-11-14 +26) lead a defense that is tops in the conference.

Individual Honors  

  • Will Butcher – Hobey Baker Final Three, 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 Finalist, NCHC Goaltender of the Year
  • Michael Davies – NCHC All-Rookie Team
  • Troy Terry – NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference

 

University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (27-6-7 | 15-5-4 NCHC – 2nd) Pairwise #2

Record vs Pairwise Top 16: 13-4-2

Last 15 Games: 11-1-3

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. The Bulldogs won the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff championship and have only lost one game in the last nineteen since January 14. They are looking to capture their second national title in the last six years.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #9 – 2.27 GPGA
  • Offense #8 – 3.40 GPG
  • Power Play #20 – 20%
  • Penalty Kill #40 – 81%

At forward, the senior leadership is very apparent with Alex Iafallo (19-30-49 +20) and Dominic Toninato (16-12-28) 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 (11-23-34) and Adam Johnson (18-19-37) 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. Add to the mix, upperclassmen Kyle Osterberg (12-11-23) and Karson Kuhlman (6-16-23) and you have two reliable forwards that can score in the clutch. Finally, first-year forward and NHL first round draft pick Riley Tufte is starting to show his potential. After a tough first half of the season he has 15 points since January 6th.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have one of the most experienced units in college hockey with five seniors on the blue line. Senior defensemen, Carson Soucy (+7), Willie Raskob (+10), Dan Molenaar (+14) and Brendan Kotyk (+19) 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 (7-26-33) 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 26-4-5 record one of the top winning percentages in college hockey. His .919 SV% ranks him 17th and goals against of 2.21 17th nationally.

Individual Honors     

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

 

 Harvard University  (28-5-2 | 16-4-2 ECAC – tied 1st) Pairwise #3

The top-ranked offense in the Frozen Four and nationally, the Crimson can hurt you 5×5 and on the power play but also adhere to strong defensive play with the country’s 4th ranked defense. With a goal differential of +2 goals per game, they are a team that is though to rally against once they get a lead.  They are the only squad in the Frozen Four that scores over four goals per game and they feature 5 of the top 32 scorers in the country. Possibly more important than that is their senior leadership which has produced over half of its goals this season. Harvard enters the Frozen Four on an 18 game unbeaten streak going back to January 17. This team is used to success with a Beanpot title, share of the ECAC conference title and ECAC tournament championship.

Record vs Top 16 Pairwise: 8-2-0

Last 15 Games: 15-0-0

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #4 – 2.14 GPGA
  • Offense #1 – 4.14 GPG
  • Power Play #4 – 25.93%
  • Penalty Kill #31 – 82.6%

Harvard’s explosive offense has scored more goals in fewer games than any team in the Frozen Four. Even compared to the highly potent offense of the Pioneers, the Crimson have scored 145 goals in 35 games vs 143 for the Pioneers in 42 games. Much like the UMD Bulldogs, senior leadership has been instrumental in the success of the team this season. With four of the top five scorers being seniors, experience and skill has carried this team to the Frozen Four. The Crimson are led on offense by a trio of seniors – Tyler Moy (21-23-44 + 21), Alexander Kerfoot (16-28-44 +21) and Sean Malone (18-24-42 +25). Sophomore Ryan Donato, the coaches son has had a breakout year with 21-19-40 and +20. Senior Luke Esposito (16-20-36 +32) and Sophomore Lewis Zerter-Gossahe ( 11-14-25 +18) fill out a potent offense that can attack with two lines of scoring threats.

With the 4th ranked defense in college hockey, this is a difficult team to deal with once they have a lead. Allowing slightly over two goals per game, they’ve contained their opponents to 2 goals or less 13 times since January 20th. Defensively, they are led by first-year player, Adam Fox who made the ECAC All-Rookie team and the ECAC First Team on Defense. Fox has been an outstanding two-way defenseman compiling 6 goals, 33 assists for 39 points while putting up a +20 rating. The solid core of defenseman is further bolstered by senior Clay Anderson (3-12-15 +21), first-year John Marino (2-13-15 +21) and Wiley Sherman (0-13-13 +19). Underrated Merrick Madson was voted third team All-ECAC and has had an excellent season with a 2.11 GAA and .922 SV% Much like Denver, the Crimson can beat you with their offense but also shut you down with their defense.

Individual Honors   

  • Alexander Kerfoot – ECAC 1st Team Forward, Hobey Baker Top 10 Finalist
  • Adam Fox – ECAC 1st Team Defense, ECAC All-Rookie Team
  • Ryan Donato – ECAC 2nd Team Forward
  • Merrick Madson – ECAC 3rd Team Goaltender

University of Notre Dame (23-11-5 | 12-6-4 Hockey East – 4th) Pairwise #13

The host team and the underdog of the tournament, the Fighting Irish are playing perhaps their best hockey of the season as they make their third trip to the Frozen Four. With a reliance on solid defensive play and strong goaltending, they have the ability to put up some offense as well and have found an ability as of late to win the close game. Notre Dame will go as far as a handful of players will take them including forwards Anders Bjork and Andrew Oglevie, defenseman, Jordan Gross and goaltender Cal Peterson.

Record vs Top 16 Pairwise: 9-6-2

Last 15 Games: 10-3-2

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #8 – 2.23 GPGA
  • Offense #13 – 3.26 GPG
  • Power Play #34 -18.02%
  • Penalty Kill #12 – 85.4%

The Irish present one of the most difficult forwards in the Frozen Four to contain in Anders Bjork. Not imposing physically, Bjork plays much bigger than his 5’11” 183 frame and is the key to the Notre Dame offense. His 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points leads the team. As you dig into his statistics you realize his importance to the offense with his 6 game-winning goals, 5 power play goals and 2 short-handed goals. When Bjork is successful, the team is successful. Sophomore Andrew Oglevie (21-20-41) is another forward that is relied on heavily to produce some offense. His 3 game-winning goals, 5 power play goals, 1 short-handed goal and +20 are awfully impressive numbers. Other forwards that need to produce are Jake Evans ( 13-28-41 +13), Dylan Malmquist (10-14-24) and Cam Morrison (11-12-33).

The defense is led by an outstanding puck moving defenseman in Jordan Gross from Maple Grove, MN. He logs a lot of ice time and is the key to their offense from the blue line. The junior has outstanding offensive numbers with 10 goals, 21 assists and 31 points including 3 game-winning goals and 5 power play goals. Much like Bjork, Gross will have to be on the top of his game if the Irish are to have success in the Frozen Four. Hockey East third team all-star Dennis Gilbert is an imposing 6’2″ 200 pounds and is a draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks. His 22 assists leads the defensive corps as does his +29 ranking. A solid two-way player, Gilbert has tailed off offensively in the past seven games but most importantly will be relied upon to play strong defense in the Frozen Four. In goal, Cal Peterson is a Mike Richter finalist and one of the top goaltenders in all of college hockey. In his three years, Peterson has logged 109 games and his experience will be a key in the final four. Much like Denvers Tanner Jaillet, he has put up outstanding numbers including 2.13 GAA, .929 SV% and 6 shutouts. Peterson is another goaltender that can dictate the outcome of a game.

Individual Honors

  • Anders Bjork – Hockey East 1st Team Forward, Hobey Baker Top 10 Finalist
  • Dennis Gilbert – Hockey East 3rd Team Defense
  • Cal Peterson – Hockey East 1st Team Goaltender, Mike Richter Award Finalist

The Games

Semi-Finals

Harvard University vs University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 

This should be a very interesting contest. These are two experienced teams with few weaknesses. Both have strong senior leadership, good depth down the forward lines and  experience and depth on defense. Both goaltenders are solid and have put up consistent results the second half of the season. If there is one concern with the Bulldogs it’s their lack of focus when it comes to discipline at times. Although both squads generally do not take a lot of penalties the Bulldogs have gotten themselves into situations (e.g Frozen Four vs North Dakota) where they’ve had their back to the wall because of penalty trouble. They can ill afford to give one of college hockey’s top power plays many chances on the man-advantage as it could be a game-changer. There are a lot of high-end players on each squad and they’ll all be counted on to bring their “A” game. With two teams closely matched like these it may come down to less obvious factors such as faceoffs, line matching and whose third and fourth line competes better. Both of these teams have lengthy unbeaten streaks on the line and have experienced much success in big games this season. And, although the Bulldogs have not lost an overtime game this season it is somewhat concerning the number of close games they’ve encountered. Since December, they’ve been in ten overtime games including four ties and thirteen one-goal games. Harvard, on the other hand, has been involved in two overtime games all season and since December have only been in four one-goal games. If it’s a close contest or goes to overtime does UMD have the upper hand?

This is a very tough one to call. I can see an overtime game looming in this one. If that’s the case, I give the edge to the Bulldogs and their ability to survive overtime games this season. If it does go to overtime, it’s an ideal scenario for a player like Kyle Osterberg,Joey Anderson or Adam Johnson  who have an uncanny ability to step forward when a crucial goal is needed. In any case, this should be a very entertaining game. Prediction: UMD wins in a one-goal game most likely in overtime.

University of Notre Dame  vs University of Denver Pioneers

It’s not that the Irish can’t win this contest but they are certainly the underdogs. As mentioned, Notre Dame will go as far as Bjork, Gross, Oglevie and Peterson take them. Denver simply outnumbers the Irish in depth at forward and at defense. Both goaltenders are capable of an outstanding game and it should be a fun goaltenders duel to watch. Jackson can coach a good defensive game and they’ll need it against Denver. I suspect Notre Dame will do their best to counter-attack the Pioneer offense and see if they can spring Bjork and Oglevie loose if given the opportunity. However, Denver has very few weaknesses, and is making a return trip to the Frozen Four for the second consecutive year. The balanced attack of the Pioneers in combination with the goaltending of Jaillet is probably too much for Notre Dame to overcome. Borgstrom, Terry and Bjork will show off their skill in this game. Prediction: Denver wins by two goals.  

Predicted Championship Game

University of Minnesota-Duluth vs University of Denver

In a feather in the hat for the NCHC I’m predicting the Bulldogs and Pioneers in the Frozen Four championship game. These two teams spent the majority of the season ranked in the #1 and #2 position in the polls and finished the season as the top two Pairwise teams providing further legitimacy to the process used in college hockey to seed teams for the NCAA tourney. There are no secrets between these two NCHC conference members and it’s going to be an intense contest.The squads faced each other in a single conference series this season in Denver with the Pioneers earning a 4-3 win in game one and the Bulldogs rebounding for a 3-1 win in the rematch. Expect nothing other than another close game between these teams blessed with experience and depth. By contrast, the Pioneers will rely on experienced goaltender Tanner Jaillet to backstop their chances for a national title while the Bulldogs put their confidence in first-year goaltender Hunter Miska. Both can get the job done and both will make the big save when needed.

Both teams have numerous game breakers at forward and a high level of talent at the blue line. Obviously, Borgstrom, Terry and Gambrell will lead Denvers offensive charge as will Iafallo, Anderson and Toninato for Duluth. However, the game may be decided by a second tier of players that includes Staub, Janssen. Lukosevicius and Finlay for the Pioneers and Osterberg, Johnson, Kuhlman and Tufte for the Bulldogs. Finally, on the blue line, Will Butcher for DU and Neal Pionk for UMD are two of the best and can dictate the results of a game.

In the previous series between these two not a single power play goal was scored in 10 attempts. Attempted shots favored UMD 120 to 109 and the Bulldogs were manhandled quite well in face-offs 68-47 by the Pioneers. The Bulldogs need to be much better in that department. I’m not predicting an overtime game in this one but nevertheless it will be close. Flip a coin in this one. But, if forced to make a choice and if it’s a close game I tip my hand to the Bulldogs. Their seniors came back with one mission in mind this season and that was to bring another national championship to Duluth. Prediction: UMD in a one-goal win over Denver.     

Enjoy the games!

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