Quinnipiac and Yale will play a hockey game Saturday night at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Penn. That hockey game will decide the winner of the 2013 NCAA Championship. No one saw that coming back in October, or ever.
Yale is an Ivy League school that has been around for over three centuries, but no one ever thought it was a hockey power. The school's only previous appearance in the Frozen Four was in 1952 when Harry Truman was in office.
Quinnipiac is an up-and-coming school that was playing Division I hockey in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at the turn of the century. Athletic Director Jack McDonald had a vision - that might or might not have included someday playing for the national championship in men's ice hockey.
Quinnipiac was the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bobcats had a 21 game unbeaten streak at one point this season. Rand Pecknold's team won the ECAC Regular Season Championship and will be the only team in college hockey to win 30 games this season. However, the pundits doubted the quality of the opposition in the ECAC. Quinnipiac was less than a period away from elimination, down 3-1 to Canisius in the opening round of the national tournament. The comeback came next, and easy victories over Union and St. Cloud have the little school from Hamden, Conn. one win away from a national title.
Yale defeated WCHA powers Denver and Colorado College during the regular season and tied Boston College, the premier program in Hockey East. A lost weekend in the ECAC Tournament at Atlantic City left Yale on the brink of elimination needing a Notre Dame win over Michigan in the CCHA Finals to even make the tournament. The Irish prevailed over the Wolverines and the rest is history. Yale upset two of the behemoths of the game in the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich. Keith Allain's squad defeated Minnesota in overtime before dispatching North Dakota to reach the Frozen Four. That's a total of 29 draft picks on two teams that Yale defeated on the way to Pittsburgh. Yale outplayed UMass-Lowell, the top team in Hockey East all season, in the Frozen Four semifinal. It took an Andrew Miller goal in overtime to send the Bulldogs to the national championship game.
Now that the college hockey world knows a team from Connecticut and the ECAC will win the NCAA Championship, the only question remains, which one?
Yale and Quinnipiac both have skilled forwards in their top two lines. Matthew Peca, Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Jeremy Langlois lead the way up front for the Bobcats. Connor and Kellen Jones are two talented forwards that play on the top line with Peca.
Yale has Andrew Miller, their well-spoken senior captain, to go along with stud sophomore Kenny Agostino. Pittsburgh native Jesse Root is another player to watch. The Taft School product had the game-winning goal in each game of the regional.
Yale has the edge in NHL draft picks on the blue line, but Quinnipiac has more experience with four seniors. One of those seniors, Zach Davies, had two points in the win over St. Cloud on Thursday.
Junior Gus Young (Colorado) and freshman Rob O'Gara (Boston) are NHL draft picks that patrol the blue line for the Bulldogs. Senior Colin Dueck brings leadership, and sophomore Tommy Fallon quarterbacks the power play and chips in offensively.
Quinnipiac has the edge in goaltending with senior Eric Hartzell who was a Hobey Hat Trick finalist. The White Bear Lake, Minn. native was edged out by St. Cloud forward Drew LeBlanc for college hockey's top individual honor. Hartzell has put up stellar numbers. Rightfully so, his coach emphasizes the importance of Hartzell to the team.
Yale senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm has come a long way. He struggled in his first few seasons in New Haven, but has developed into a strong netminder. His teammates have confidence in him and say he has been solid. It's tough to argue against Hartzell, the kid who was looked over multiple times out of Minnesota.
Malcolm didn't play in the first two Quinnipiac victories over Yale this season. Both of those came in the regular season. That brings up another irony of this NCAA Tournament. There was a preview of the national championship game in Atlantic City when the ECAC Consolation game took place. That was Malcolm's only start against Quinnipiac this year.
The Bobcats are 3-0 against Yale this season. That begs the question, does Quinnipiac have the Bulldogs number or is it impossible to beat a team four consecutive times?
We'll find out Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow Jeff on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation for continuing coverage of the Frozen Four from the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Penn.