Northeast Regional Champs
UMASS-LOWELL (28-10-2 Overall, 16-9-2 Hockey East)
Head Coach: Norm Bazin (UML '94)
Location: Lowell, MA
Frozen Four appearances: None
NHL Draft Picks: 3
West Regional Champs
YALE UNIVERSITY (20-12-3 Overall, 12-9-1 ECAC)
Head Coach: Keith Allain (Yale '80)
Location: New Haven, CT
Frozen Four appearances: 1952
NHL Draft Picks: 4
NATIONAL SEMIFINAL #1: 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
UMass-Lowell has the edge in offense because of their overall team speed and ability to transition up ice well. Scott Wilson, Joseph Pendenza and Derek Arnold have come up with clutch goals the past few months. Senior Riley Wetmore is a valuable asset on the power play and is a terrific leader.
Yale will counter with an offense that has some proven playmakers. Kenny Agostino, originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but traded to Calgary in the Jarome Iginla deal, is the top threat offensively. His teammates rave about his hockey savvy and love of the game. Pittsburgh native Jesse Root had both game-winning goals in the regionals. Keep an eye out for undrafted free agent Antoine Laganiere who many think will be a coveted player by NHL teams this offseason.
Yale might have the edge in pure talent on the blue line, but the ability to execute the game plan and the whole team buying in to playing defense gives the River Hawks a slight edge. Junior Chad Ruhwedel leads the River Hawks defense, but bigger bodies among the newcomers has made a significant difference according to Coach Bazin.
Outside of Tommy Fallon, the Yale defense is very big and physical. Fallon, from Plymouth, Minn. has a great ability to bring the puck up ice and quarterback the power play from the point. Gus Young, Rob O'Gara and Colin Dueck all bring a very intimidating presence to the defense.
How could freshman sensation Connor Hellebuyck not have the edge? The Winnipeg Jets draft pick from Commerce, Mich. has been nearly unbeatable the second half of the season. His teammates and coaches call him a rock back in net and say he gives the whole team confidence. Hellebuyck has been involved in a lot of tight games in the post-season such as Hockey East tournament victories over Maine, Providence and Boston University and then UNH in the regional finals.
Yale senior Jeff Malcolm has come a long way since his freshman campaign and has certainly given his Bulldogs a chance to compete for the national title this weekend in Pittsburgh. That being said it is tough to outduel Hellebuyck with his track record this season.
Keys to the game:
Yale needs to stay out of the box and not let UML capitalize on the man-advantage. The Bulldogs have scored 34 power play goals of their own and have the skill on the top unit to make Lowell pay on special teams.
UMass-Lowell needs to focus on their game plan like they have done so well since December. If the River Hawks play their game, transition quickly and not allow Yale to set up in their zone, it will spell problems for Yale.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation for continuing coverage of the Frozen Four live from the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh