After a fine weekend of hockey, only four teams remain that will compete for the national championship at the XCel Center in a little under two weeks. This year, it will be an all-western Frozen Four with two teams from the WCHA and two teams from the CCHA. Here's a quick look at how each team got here, and some of the story lines to watch coming into the tournament.
The Sioux were the most impressive team in the tournament last weekend, with a dominating 6-0 win over RPI and then another dominating 6-1 win over Denver. The Pioneers were able to hold the game close for a period, but it seemed like the draining game the day before caught up to them, and they looked a step behind the Sioux the rest of the night.
There's a lot of to follow with North Dakota heading into the tournament. The big story for me is whether or not this is the year they finally break through and win the NCAA tournament after numerous close calls with teams probably talented enough to win. There had to be a little sigh of relief when nemesis Boston College dropped out of the tournament in the first round. They'll also have the benefit of a pretty sizable home crowd advantage by playing at the X.
Secondary to the tournament, North Dakota's Matt Frattin is one of the favorites to take home this year's Hobey Baker Award. I think Frattin has pretty clearly separated himself as college hockey's best player this season. It's a matter of what type of window the voters choose look at when assessing Frattin's character off the ice. Personally, it's a one-year award rather than a career achievement thing, and if we're just judging Frattin on this year, you'd have to say he's kept his nose pretty clean.
I wasn't expecting much Michigan in the tournament this year, especially when they went down 2-0 in the first period on Friday afternoon against Nebraska-Omaha. But the Wolverines clawed their way back into the game, and ended up winning on a controversial, but ultimately good goal. They caught a bit of a break in their bracket when Colorado College's schizophrenic offense brought the A game against Boston College, and then didn't have the same firepower the next evening. Both games were pretty low-scoring, which is the type of game Michigan has to play to win. This year's team, which won the CCHA championship, barely outscored last year's Michigan team which finished in the bottom half of the CCHA. But they've done a good job of playing tight defense, and getting enough shots through from the point to win hockey games.
This is Michigan's 21st consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, but after being a mainstay in the Frozen Four for much of the 90's, this is only their second trip to the Frozen Four since 2003.
Minnesota-Duluth shut out Union on Friday in a penalty-filled game. On Saturday against Yale, they received a pretty questionable five-minute power play that helped them build an insurmountable 5-1 lead, before hanging on 5-3. By this point, it's no surprise to see UMD get a questionable 5-minute power play since they led the WCHA in that by a pretty big margin, but a little surprising to see it wasn't WCHA officials giving them that call for once. In any case, it shows what a lethal power play the Bulldogs have with snipers like the Connollys, Justin Fontaine, and Justin Faulk.
This is Minnesota-Duluth's first Frozen Four since their complete collapse in 2004 when the Bulldogs let a two goal lead slip away in the third period against Denver. It's been a long, tough road back from that for Duluth. Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly, and Justin Fontaine were really the catalysts that helped rebuild the program after some awful years following that loss, and a trip to the Frozen Four is fitting in one of their final acts.
The Irish had a very gritty comeback win against Merrimack on Saturday. After trailing 3-1, they fought back to send the game to overtime, before Anders Lee advanced Notre Dame to the second round. On Sunday, they were able to hold off New Hampshire in New Hampshire and are back in the Frozen Four for the second time in four years.
The story this year for Notre Dame is all about their huge turnaround from last season's disaster. The Irish were a dreadful 13-17-8 last year, and ended their season in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. This year, it's been a change in chemistry, and two freshmen leading the team in scoring in T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee that have brought the Irish back to being a national power once again.