2018 Frozen Four….A View From Center Ice

The youthful Bulldogs look to make a run at the National Championship (Photo Prout)

2018 Frozen Four – April 5-7, 2018 

Xcel Energy Center – St. Paul, MN

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

Thursday, April 5 – 8:30 PM CT:  University of Michigan Wolverines  vs  University of Notre Dame

Saturday, April 7 –  6:30 PM CT (National Championship)

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

How They Got Here:

  • #1 Notre Dame defeated Michigan Tech University 4-3 (ot) and Providence 2-1
  • #2 Ohio State defeated Princeton 4-2 and Denver 5-1
  • #3 Michigan defeated Northeastern 3-2 and Boston University 6-3
  • #4 University of Minnesota-Duluth defeated Minnesota State University Mankato 3-2 (ot) and Air Force 2-1

Team Profiles

University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (23-16-3 | 13-11-0 NCHC – 3rd) Pairwise #12

Record vs Pairwise Top 16: 6-9-1

Last 15 Games: 9-6-0

This team is the polar opposite of last years squad that won the Frozen Faceoff and advanced to the finals of the
Frozen Four. Last years roster included 13 upperclassmen that brought depth and experience and it paid off in an outstanding season.This season the team is relying on ten first-year players and 18 underclassmen to lead their charge. With an outstanding group of youngsters including five that were on the World Junior team, they’ve gotten stronger as the season has progressed. Since January 1st the team is 14-7-0. The Bulldogs have made 12 appearances in the NCAA tournament having won the NCAA championship in 2011 and reaching the Frozen Four last season. This is the Bulldogs fourth straight NCAA  appearance.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #8 – 2.14 GPGA
  • Offense #19– 3.05 GPG
  • Power Play #6 – 23.9%
  • Penalty Kill #13 – 82.58%
  • Penalties #33 – 11.24 APG

The Bulldogs rely on a balanced scoring attack with 12 players scoring 5 or more goals. Additionally, six of the
top ten scorers on the team are underclassmen. Leading the pack is first-year defenseman, Scott Perunovich,
having an outstanding year. He leads the team in points with 11-25-36. Alaska transfer Peter Krieger improved
from 4-16-20 in his last year with the Nanooks to 11-19-30 thus far this season and is second in points on the
squad. Sophomore and first-round draft choice Riley Tufte leads the Bulldogs in goal scoring with 16 and has
added 13 assists. Joey Anderson and Karson Kuhlman are both in double digits in goals with 12 and 11 respectively.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have gone from one of the most experienced units in college hockey in 2016-17 with five
seniors on the blue line to one of the youngest in the NCHC with 5 first-year players and 3 sophomores. However,
they’ve hardly taken a step backwards with the 8th ranked defense in college hockey allowing only
2.14 goals per game.Again, first-year defenseman, Scott Perunovich not only leads the units in points but
also leads the team in plus/minus with a +20. Joining him on this quality defensive unit are fellow World
Junior team members Dylan Samberg (1-12-13 +4)and Mikey Anderson (5-18-23 +10). Sophomore Nick Wolff brings
both toughness and offense at the blue line and is 7-6-13 and +6.

In what appeared to be a huge question mark at the start of the season in goal has resolved itself quite nicely for the Bulldogs. Sophomore netminder Hunter Shepard went from playing in two games last season to 35 games this season and he has emerged as one of the top goaltenders in the country making the NCHC All-Conference second team. His 1.95 GAA and .924 SV% rank him 8th and 10th in the country in both categories.

Individual Honors     

  • Scott Perunovich – NCHC All-Conference 1st Team, NCHC Rookie of the Year Finalist, NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist, NCHC All-Rookie Team
  • Hunter Shepard – NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team, Mike Richter Award Semi-Finalist
  • Scott Sandelin – NCHC Coach of the Year Finalist
  • Nick Wolff – NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist
  • Karson Kuhlman – NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year Finalist, NCHC Sportsmanship Finalist

 

Ohio State University Buckeyes (26-9-5 | 13-11-0 BIG 10 – 2nd) Pairwise #4

Record vs Pairwise Top 16: 10-7-2

Last 15 Games: 10-4-1

The Buckeyes are competing in their second straight NCAA tournament but just the first Frozen Four appearance in 20 years. Obviously, a long stretch but with a well-rounded, disciplined team with a dedication to team defense, they may be the team to be most fearful of in this tournament. In the off season, they hired veteran college coach Steve Miller who has been a part of three national championships. He’s instilled a defense-first philosophy adhered to by the Buckeyes resulting in the #3 defense in college hockey. However, don’t think the Buckeyes yield strength in offense as their 10th ranked offense is scoring 3.25 goals per game – a stat that can’t help but give you “W’s”. Disciplined? Yes. OSU is ranked third best in the country in average penalty minutes per game. And, on special teams they are #1 on the penalty kill and #7 on the power play.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #3 – 2.08 GAPG
  • Offense #10– 3.25 GPG
  • Power Play #7 – 23.9%
  • Penalty Kill #1 – 89.29%
  • Penalties #57 – 8.70 APG

On offense they feature one of the top power forwards in college hockey in Tanner Laczynski. The Philadelphia Flyers draft choice leads the squad in points with 16-30-46 and 78 points in just two seasons of college hockey. The 6′ 1″ 193 pound sophomore is a skilled, puck control forward who is very hard to contain. He has 4 GWG and 5 power play goals this season. In contrast, if you spend too much time trying to contain Laczynski,  junior forward Mason Jobst will burn you with his speed and skill. The teams leading scorer, he has 21 goals and 22 assists for 43 points and 9 power play goals. He makes noise in big games and it’ll be no different this weekend. With a late season injury to one of the team’s top scorers, Matthew Weis, Juniors Dakota Joshua and Freddy Gerard have stepped up to fill that offensive void. Joshua, a towering 6’3″ 200 pound draftee of the Maple Leafs and Gerard have combined for nearly 50 points this season. Joshua is a nearly immoveable object in front of the opponent’s goal.

Defense, defense, defense. Steve Miller’s revamped OSU unit has them playing structured, disciplined defense and it’s paid off with college hockey’s #3 ranked defense and #1 ranked penalty kill. Throw in the fact that they have one of the least penalized teams in hockey makes it a serious task to get an offensive advantage on this team. Just ask Denver whose high-flying forwards of Borgstrom,Terry and Gambrell were contained to just one goal in the Midwest Regional final. With leadership by senior Matt Joyaux and a solid core of sophomores including Matt Miller, Wyatt Ege and Gordi Myer, the unit has a combined plus/minus of +53. This is led by Junior Sasha  Larocques +19. They are simply tough to beat.

In goal, Sean Romeo has been the work-horse appearing in 36 of 42 games this season. He has an impressive 2.06 GAA and .927 SV%.

Individual Honors 

  • Steve Rohlik – Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • Tanner Laczynski – All Big Ten First team
  • Mason Jobst – All Big Ten 2nd Team
  • Sean Romeo – All Big Ten 2nd Team
  • Matthew Weiss – All Big Ten Honorable Mention
  • Tommy Nappier – Big Ten All-Freshman Team

University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-9-2 | 17-6-1 BIG 10 – 1st) Pairwise #2

Moving over from Hockey East, few expected the Irish to be in this position in 2017-18 but here they are, the overall #2 seed in this years tournament. With a reliance on solid defensive play and strong goaltending, they’ve also found an ability to win the close game to leverage their late season success. In their last 15 games, they’ve been involved in eight one-goal games winning five of them. This includes one-goal wins over Michigan Tech and Providence in the East Regional. Notre Dame will go as far as a handful of players will take them including forwards Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie, defensemen, Jordan Gross and Bobby Nardella and goaltender Cale Morris. No question the Irish have been successful in getting the NCAA tournament with nine appearances since 2005. It’s also their second consecutive season in the Frozen Four semi-finals. But, can a predominantly defensive team like the Irish win it all? We’ll see.

Record vs Top 16 Pairwise: 14-5-2

Last 15 Games: 9-6-1

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #9 – 2.16 GPGA
  • Offense #25 – 2.95 GPG
  • Power Play #10 -22.8%
  • Penalty Kill #2 – 88.9%
  • Penalties #56 – 9.00 APG

Offense is where it gets a little sticky with the Irish. Ranked #25 in the country, they are not an offensive powerhouse relying on their strong defense and special teams to squeeze out victories. With only three forwards in double digits in goal scoring they are the lowest scoring team on average in the Frozen Four. The loss of last years super forward Anders Bjork has forced Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie to pick up the load but it’s been a task with Oglevie’s goal production falling from 23 to 13 this season and after a decent start, Evans has only produced 11 goals. Sophomore Cal Burke has matched Oglevie for the team lead in goal scoring at 13.

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 senior has outstanding offensive numbers with 10 goals, 18 assists and 28 points including 3 game-winning goals and 7 power play goals. For a defenseman, he has outstanding career numbers with 119 points.  Much like goaltender Cale Morris, Gross will have to be on the top of his game if the Irish are to have success in the Frozen Four. Junior Bobby Nardella also provides some spark on offense and the power play with 5 goals and 19 assists for 24 points. Sophomore Andrew Peeke leads the squad with his +19.  Dennis Gilbert is an imposing 6’2″ 200 pounds and is a draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks. A solid two-way player, Gilbert has tailed off offensively from last season but most importantly will be relied upon to play strong defense in the Frozen Four.

In goal, Cale Morris is a close call for team MVP with Jordan Gross and  is a Mike Richter finalist and one of the top goaltenders in all of college hockey. It’s been an amazing year for Morris who sat and watched Cal Peterson last season. Morris’s 16 game winning streak this season is the prominent reason that Notre Dame is where they are currently at. He’s the national leader in SV% at .995.

Individual Honors

  • Cale Morris – Big Ten Goaltender and Player of the Year, Mike Richter Finalist
  • Jake Evans – All Big Ten First Team
  • Jordan Gross _ All Big Ten First Team

University of Michigan Wolverines (27-9-2 | 17-6-1 BIG 10 – 1st) Pairwise #8

The third member of the Big Ten to advance to the Frozen Four, they are the hottest team entering the semi-finals winning nine of their last ten games including a sweep of Frozen Four participant Notre Dame and an overtime win over Ohio State University. With a new coach and a goal to improve their offense, they’ve done just that entering the semi-finals with the top-ranked offense of the four teams. It’s been a year-long learning experience for the young Wolverines but they survived the first half of the season with a 8-7-2 record and then took off with a 15-7-1 record after January 1. The team still suffers with some defensive and special teams issues but is getting good goaltending from Hayden Lavigne and is getting the offense needed to push them along.

Record vs Top 16 Pairwise: 10-9-1

Last 15 Games: 10-4-1

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #36 – 3.00 GPGA
  • Offense #6 – 3.41 GPG
  • Power Play #33rd – 18.37%
  • Penalty Kill #57th – 75.33%
  • Penalties #37th – 11.15 APG

With good leadership by the upperclass in scoring, Junior Cooper Marody leads the crew with 16 goals and 34 assists for 50 points. Senior Tony Calderone leads the squad in goal scoring with 24 and has 4 game-winning goals and 7 power play goals. Sophomore Jake Slaker has upped his game from his freshman year doubling his output from 7 to 15 goals. Finally, another senior showing good leadership on offense is Dexter Dancs with 11-15-26. Thus, from an offensive standpoint no problem. This team can score and if the goaltending and defense can supply support they could have some success in this years Frozen Four.

On Defense, the marquee player is Freshman, Quinn Hughes, a superbly talented 18 year-old who has not been intimidated at all despite being one of the youngest players in college hockey. With a slight 5’10” 175 pound frame he’s withstood the rigors of his first season with 5 goals and 24 assists for 29 points good for third in team points. The balance of the defense is anchored by Luke Martin +17 and Nicholas Boka +16. However, defense is still a concern, ranked 36th in the country allowing three goals per game. There’s been improvement since February 1 allowing 2.70 goals per game. Even with that improvement they still enter the Frozen Four with the lowest ranked defense.

In goal, Hayden Lavigne has taken over the starting duties logging 32 games and compiling adequate but not spectacular statistics of 2.77 GAA and .909 SV%. But, in his defense, he has been the winning goaltender in 9 of the last 10 games and the team has confidence in him.

Individual Honors 

  • Cooper Marody – All-Big Ten First Team
  • Tony Calderone – All-Big Ten Second Team
  • Quinn Hughes – All-Big Ten Second Team, All-Big Ten Freshman Team
  • Hayden Lavigne – All-Big Ten Honorable Mention

The Games

Semi-Finals:

Ohio State University vs University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 

Here we have a rematch of the first-round of the West Regional from 2017. The similarities pretty much end there. UMD had a strong season led by a large and experienced  senior class and was destined for the tourney. Ohio State on the other hand barely made the dance and limped in fighting some injuries and relying on youngsters on the blue line. But despite all the odds, the Buckeyes who fell behind 2-0 rallied in the third period, carried the momentum and pushed the game to overtime eventually losing to the much more experienced Bulldogs 3-2.

UMD’s game hero and goaltender Hunter Miska has since departed as has 13 Bulldog upperclassmen making the Bulldogs the underdogs in this contest. On this go-around, the Bulldogs will  be facing a team consisting of 15 upperclassmen with something to prove after last years West Region game. The Buckeye’s are simply strong in nearly every category of their game and are going to be a very tough out for the Bulldogs. UMD has certainly improved as the year has gone on and no doubt will make a game of it. However, I see too much firepower and a stifling defense that should be too much for the Bulldogs to overcome. The Bulldogs can’t count on specials teams luck as the Buckeyes are one of the lowest penalized teams in college hockey.

Prediction:  This game should go the Buckeyes way 4-1 (EN Goal).  

University of Notre Dame  vs University of Michigan

There will be no surprises in this contest. This will be an interesting battle of a fairly potent offense vs a strong defensive team in Notre Dame. It’ll come down to goaltending for both teams. Lavigne needs to support Michigan’s offense with a solid game and Morris needs to put the clamps on the Michigan offense. Jordan Gross will also be a factor for Notre Dame if they get into battle of special teams. On the other hand, Cooper Marody is a big time player as is Quinn Hughes for the Wolverines and I expect them to step up big in this game.  .

The two teams split their season series with Michigan sweeping the last series. MIchigan is the hottest team entering the tourney and Notre Dame is eking out one-goals wins.

Prediction:  The luck of the Irish runs out as Michigan wins by two goals. 

Predicted Championship Game

University of Michigan vs Ohio State University

The Frozen Four championship will pit two teams very familiar with each other. The Buckeyes hold a 4-1 advantage over Michigan in this seasons games although Michigan did defeat OSU in overtime in the last meeting in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals.Tanner Laczynski and company just appear to be too strong defensively with the added bonus that they can put the puck in the net. Ohio State had the Wolverine’s number this season and it’ll continue in this championship game. Ohio State is the team of destiny this season. An extremely strong team with experience will prevail in this one.

Prediction: Ohio State wins their first NCAA Championship with a 4-2 win over Michigan. 

Enjoy the games!

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