It’s Frozen Four time. My personal favorite NCAA spring championship tournament, hailing from Minnesota where it’s often referred to as Canada’s Mexico and hockey is the passion, I am thrilled to be back in college hockey postseason action. The Gophers – who have been “Minnesota’s Pride on Ice” for decades - push to Tampa this year makes the big dance on ice that much sweeter for me, but ultimately all of this year’s match-ups, complete with parity (four teams from four different college hockey conferences) is a treat for any college hockey fan.
An exciting match-up for both these schools, this year marks the first time either program has reached the Frozen Four.
Plagued by doubters all season long, both teams have certainly earned the right to be in Tampa, with the Union College Dutchman taking down Michigan State and UMass-Lowell to be crowned East Regional champs and Ferris State Bulldogs, the Central College Hockey Association (CCHA) regular-season champs, topping Denver and Cornell in shocking fashion to take the Midwest Regional.
From what I can tell, goaltending is going to be the key to this afternoon appetizer (played at 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPNU). Union looked like it would struggle for repeat success – having won the ECAC regular-season title last season – with the early departure of sophomore goaltender Keith Kincaid who opted for the pros after last year’s All-American campaign. But a newfound gem was discovered in sophomore Troy Grosenik, who posted numbers even better (1.64 Goals Against Average, .936 save percentage and 5 shutouts on the season) than Kincaid’s last season.
A more seasoned netminder is seen in the Bulldog’s Taylor Nelson whose outstanding senior season has helped push Ferris State in to the position they are today. Nelson allowed just two goals in regional play and made a stunning 53 stops in the process.
Head-to-head goaltending will be a real test for both teams, and I see Union holding the edge on the Bulldogs with their scoring prowess. Either way it’s going to be a battle to the finish.
Two of the most storied franchises in college hockey history finally meet again. Opposite Ferris State and Union College who are appearing in the Frozen Four for the first time in school history, the Boston College Eagles and Minnsota Gophers have graced the national tournament with a combined 39 Frozen Four appearances (20 and 19, Minnesota and Boston College respectively) and five (Minnesota) and four (Boston College) national titles to their names. There really is little that needs to be said to get fans pumped up for this game.
The Eagles come in as the tournament’s overall No.1 seed, riding an impressive 17-game win streak and holding both the Hockey East regular-season and play-off championship crowns. But the Gophers are boasting big titles of their own, clinching the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s regular-season trophy, the McNaughton Cup, and defeating famed rival North Dakota in high-scoring fashion, 7-3, to be named the West Regional champions. This definitely will be a must-see match-up Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The Eagles are not only coming in hot but have recent memories of what a national championship feels like, winning the title in 2008 and 2010. The Gophers on the other hand are making their first Frozen Four appearance since 2005 with something to prove and with an explosive offensive output – Minnesota leads the nation with 154 goals and a 3.7 goals per game average, and outscored regional opponents Boston University and North Dakota by a combined score of 12-5 – are ready to do so.
Ultimately looking at these two teams, it’s anyone’s game. Minnesota has a slew of offensive threats especially in Erik Haula, Kye Rau and Nick Bjugstad and one of the top goaltenders in the game with Kent Patterson but all those can be countered by BC’s squad which boasts six players with 34 or more points on the season.
Tune in to tonight’s game and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.