The field for 2014 Frozen Four in Philadelphia is set, so as we turn our attention from the regionals to the national semifinals, let's take a look at the four teams that made it to college hockey's final weekend of the season.
Three No. 1 seeds, Minnesota, Boston College and Union, all advanced as did North Dakota, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region. Only Union has yet to win a national championship, but unlike last year with three first time participants, every team this year has made it to the Frozen Four previously.
Northeast Regional Champion
Bid: At-Large (Hockey East Regular Season Champions)
Location: Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Record: 28-7-4 overall, 16-2-2 Hockey East
Past NCAA Championships: 1949, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2012
Head Coach: Jerry York (BC ‘67)
Captains: Patrick Brown
Leading Scorers: Johnny Gaudreau (35-42--77), Kevin Hayes (27-36--63), Bill Arnold (14-38--52), Patrick Brown (14-15--29)
Starting Goaltender: Thatcher Demko (16-4-3, 2.16/.920)
Here's what most people know about Boston College: its top line is the best trio of players in all of college hockey, and the best unit college hockey has seen in quite some time. Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold were grouped together in the midst of the Eagles longest losing streak of the season (a modest two games), and have combined for 53 goals, 73 assists, and 126 points in the 25 games since then.
But here's what many people may not realize about this Eagles team that just advance to its seventh Frozen Four in the last 11 years: Jerry York has assembled a pretty good team other than those three.
Boston College has some other pretty crucial pieces, like Thatcher Demko, a freshman goaltender who has posted a .920 save percentage, and is likely to be a first round pick in this June's NHL Draft. In front of him is a very young group of defensemen that blends size, speed, and skill. Panthers' prospect Michael Matheson may be the best of the bunch, but add in the likes of Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen, and the Eagles have a pretty formidable d-corps.
What Boston College has lacked all season is scoring depth. But lacked might not be the best term, as the Eagles were never short on scoring. (Boston College is the highest-scoring team in the country by a substantial margin.) Still, teams game plan to shutdown the Gaudreau line, which makes any other contributions BC can find critical.
And that's essentially the key to cracking Boston College: limiting (not shutting down) the top line. When Notre Dame beat the Eagles in a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series, the line was held to one five-on-five goal for the weekend.
East Regional Champion
Bid: Automatic (ECAC Hockey Regular Season and Tournament Champions)
Location: Schenectady, NY
Record: 30-6-4 overall, 18-3-1 ECAC
Past NCAA Championships: -
Head Coach: Rick Bennett (Providence ‘90)
Captains: Mat Bodie
Leading Scorers: Daniel Carr (22-26--48), Daniel Ciampini (19-17--36), Kevin Sullivan (8-27-35), Mat Bodie (6-29--35), Mike Vecchione (12-19--31)
Starting Goaltender: Colin Stevens (26-4-2, 1.93/.932)
Union might be the only Division III school in the Frozen Four, but the Dutchmen are the furthest thing from an underdog. Rick Bennett's team is fast, skilled and experienced, and if taken lightly, the opposition will most likely be going home on the losing end.
Union is in the Frozen Four for the second time in three years -- a fairly remarkable occurrence for a school that hadn't even made the NCAA Tournament until 2011. Three years later and the Dutchmen have made four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
The first thing that first time observers of Union will notice is the overall team speed. It was on full display in the East Regional -- starting off with Matt Hatch's burst up the right side for a shorthanded goal, but it didn't stop there.
The defense can really skate and perhaps better than any other team in the country, Union's blue line pushes the pace and starts the transition beautifully. Senior Mat Bodie and junior Shayne Gostisbehere are two of the best defensemen in the country in playing both ends.
The team speed is prevalent up front, but keep an eye on Daniel Carr's rocket of a shot. He is terrific on the half wall, ripping off one-timers on the power play as well as in open space in five-on-five play.
Outside the program, goaltending was a question mark heading into the season, but inside the locker room, the players knew what they were getting. The rest of the country does too now that Colin Stevens has proven to be a more than adequate replacement for Troy Grosenick who is now in the San Jose Sharks system.
Outside of Gostisbehere and Carr, Union doesn't have the high-end and well-known super stars that Boston College and Minnesota do, but it could be argued that from top-to-bottom, the Dutchmen are more talented than any other team in the field.
Bid: At-Large (Big Ten Regular Season Champions)
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Record: 27-6-6 overall, 14-3-3 Big Ten
Past NCAA Championships: 1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003
Head Coach: Don Lucia (Notre Dame '81)
Captains: Nate Condon, Kyle Rau
Leading Scorers: Kyle Rau (14-23--37), Sam Warning (12-20--32), Mike Reilly (9-23--31), Travis Boyd (9-22--31), Justin Kloos (15-15--30), Hudson Fasching (13-16-28)
Starting Goaltender: Adam Wilcox (25-5-6, 1.89/.934)
The Gophers turned around expectations last weekend with one of its best performances of the year. After the Big Ten regular season champions entered the tournament on just its second two-game losing streak of the season, and the memory of last year's upset loss, Minnesota handled both Robert Morris and St. Cloud State fairly easily. Head coach Don Lucia earned his 650th win in Sunday's 4-0 victory over SCSU. A day earlier the Gophers defeated the Colonials 7-3.
Throughout the year Minnesota has been dangerous on both ends of the ice thanks to several freshmen stepping in and playing key roles with the help of a solid leadership core. Freshman forward Justin Kloos scored three goals this weekend en route to being named the West Regional Most Outstanding Player. His linemate, senior co-captain Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche), added two goals Saturday, which included his 100th career point.
Defensively, the Gophers maintained one of the top three team defenses in the nation. Big Ten player of the year and Hobey Baker top ten finalist Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) earned his 4th shutout of the year Sunday. Since Thanksgiving he is second in the nation in GAA. He, along with the rest of the team, have gotten Minnesota this far.
Midwest Regional Champion
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Record: 25-13-3 overall, 15-9-0 NCHC
Past NCAA Championships: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (North Dakota '96)
Captains: Dillon Simpson
Leading Scorers: Rocco Grimaldi (17-22--39), Michael Parks (12-18--30), Mark MacMillan (10-16--26), Drake Caggiula (11-13--24), Jordan Schmaltz (6-17-23)
Starting Goaltender: Zane Gothberg (20-9-3, 1.99/.926)
After sneaking into the NCAA tournament on the last day of the regular season with some help from other results around the country,North Dakota is trying to pull off the same trick Yale did last season, by using their second lease on life to make a run through the NCAA tournament.
North Dakota survived a pair of close games in the Midwest regional, and advanced thanks to some late goal. Mark MacMillan broke a 2-2 tie against Wisconsin in the first round with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, and North Dakota added two empty net goals for a 5-2 win. In the regional final, goalie Zane Gothberg was outstanding, stopping 44 of 45 shots as North Dakota outlasted Ferris State for a 2-1 double-overtime victory.
For North Dakota to have a chance at beating Minnesota and winning the national title, they'll likely need the same type of game-stealing performance from Gothberg in net. North Dakota's speed and playmaking ability from the blue line are as good as any team in the country, but their offensive firepower is very limited when compared to the other three teams in the Frozen Four field.
Evan Sporer, Nathan Wells and Chris Dilks contributed to this report with the summaries of Boston College (ES), Minnesota (NW) and North Dakota (CD).
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