Pittsburgh hockey fans will welcome the Frozen Four to the Steel City next week. The pinnacle event of the college hockey season will be held in the Keystone State for the first time in history. For some players, including UML's Scott Wilson and Yale's Jesse Root, the chance to showcase their talents in Pittsburgh will have extra meaning.
Yale junior and Pittsburgh native Jesse Root was the hero of the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich. Root scored the game-winning goal in each game, including the overtime tally nine seconds into the extra session against Minnesota. The next night he notched another goal in the Bulldogs win over North Dakota. Slaying two WCHA behemoths in one weekend to advance to the program's first Frozen Four since 1952 was a huge accomplishment for Root and his Yale teammates.
Root, a former Taft School star, has been overshadowed for much of his time in a Yale uniform. He might not have put up the huge numbers that some of Yale's truly gifted offensive players have, but he has been a major contributor to the team's success.
"Jesse's been a terrific player for us since he came to Yale. He's a key cog on our top line. I think of him as the conscience of that line. He's as good defensively as he is offensively. He plays on our power play, he plays on our penalty kill. He's a key component to our team's success", said Yale coach Keith Allain.
Root centers Yale's top line with stud sophomore Kenny Agostino on the left and senior Andrew Miller on the right side. The little things Root does are not lost on his linemates. "He's been a good player for us for the last three years. And he competes and he wins faceoffs. He's also a really good shooter. Not many people know that he's one of the best shots on our team and worked on it the past three years and can put the puck away when he gets the opportunity," said Miller.
Root will have a chance to continue his heroics in the first semifinal against UMass-Lowell who has another connection to Pittsburgh.
The River Hawks' leading scorer is Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Scott Wilson. The sophomore from Oakville, Ont. was the Hockey East Rookie of the Year last season. This season he got off to a slow start, but has come up big in clutch situations the past month.
UMass-Lowell bench boss Norm Bazin described Wilson's season as similar to the team's as a whole. "Scott had a good year. Started off slow. It's as much a microcosm of our team, started off slow and since gained some momentum in the second half. But he's someone that can make a play at a crucial time, and I think when you look at the Frozen Four and at a regional, it takes someone to make a play at a crucial time."
When Wilson steps on the ice, he's a threat to score every time. "Scott's had a good year. I think he's a special player. He's one of those guys that makes the other guys around him better. He's carried himself well [on and off the ice]. He's just a good guy to have on the team," said junior Josh Holmstrom.
Wilson also blocks shots and has taken to the team concept. Following the Hockey East semifinal win over Providence, Bazin reflected on a key play by Wilson late in the third period. "Scott has bought into playing defense like the whole team has. When the other guys see a high end player like Scott getting down on the ice, they all want to block shots."
In addition to the Pennsylvania connections of Root and Wilson, UMass-Lowell has three Pennsylvania natives on the team. Sophomore forward Terrence Wallin, junior defenseman Joe Houk, and sophomore third string goaltender Brian Robbins.
Also playing in the Frozen Four will be Yale left wing Kenny Agostino and St. Cloud left wing Ben Hanowski. Both were drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but recently their rights were traded to Calgary in the deal that brought Jarome Iginla to the Penguins.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation for continuing coverage of the Frozen Four and all things college hockey.