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2016 Frozen Four: A Neutral Fan's Guide to the NCAA Hockey Championship

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Everything you need to know to cheer for the teams you may not.

North Dakota senior Drake Caggiula is one of the top college free agents.
North Dakota senior Drake Caggiula is one of the top college free agents.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

So Frozen Four week has arrived and you, Mr. or Ms. Neutral Fan, still need to find a team to cheer when the games begin Thursday at 5 pm ET on ESPN2.

Neutral fans come in all shapes and sizes. An NHL fan who has stumbled across our fine establishment after watching the regionals (thanks!) or checking on how one of their prospects are doing (thanks!).

Maybe you're a college fan ready to make the best out of a bad situation for your school. Only four make the trip to Tampa. Fifty-six are sitting at home. Sitting at home without one playing, ends up not being as fun as rooting for - or even against - one of the remaining teams.

Looking for the most Canadians? Minnesotans? New Englanders? Texans?

Do not worry. This article has everyone covered for that exact situation. So go ahead, pick a team and watch tonight.

Games:

Quinnipiac vs. Boston College - 5:00 p.m. ET

Denver vs. North Dakota - 8:30 p.m. ET

Both games are broadcast on ESPN2

Quinnipiac Bobcats (31-3-7)

Why you should: In its second Frozen Four appearance (2013 was the other), the Hamden, CT based Bobcats are both the top seed and, from a name perspective, an underdog.

Basically to tweak a phrase from Inside College Hockey's Mike Eidelbess, "....and then there's Quinnipiac."

Three other teams descending upon Tampa for the Frozen Four with a combined 19 national titles and 59 Frozen Four appearances. Quinnipiac would be continuing the tradition of first-time program winners (4 have won since 2011). Head coach Rand Pecknold's team has been the most consistent this season, losing just three times all year. Sam Anas led the ECAC with 50 points in 41 games on a team that finished in the top 5 both offensively and defensively.

Plus in a hypothetical "Hard Knocks" post that I wish was real, I had the Bobcats #2 because of the culture Pecknold has instilled with his program. This coming from a man who taught school and then held midnight practices in his first year coaching Quinnipiac.

Still #wouldwatch.

Why you shouldn't: Quinnipiac would be the third ECAC champion since 2013. As strange as it is to write about a league so long known as "EZAC" for struggling on a national stage, there's nothing fun about cheering for a conference to continue dominance unless there's a personal connection. Same thing with cheering for the top seed. From a neutral perspective it is bandwagoning.

High player quotients: British Columbia (6 players), Minnesota (5), New Jersey (2), Texas, Florida

Last national championship: Never

NHL Draft Picks: 2

Follow if you're a fan of: Arizona Coyotes, New York Islanders, ECAC schools besides Yale, eastern schools that hate BC, first time winners, being that person to cheer for a team your football and baseball friends may never have heard, Travis Hughes

Boston College (28-7-5)

Why you should: The Eagles are a deep, fun team to watch. Several players on the team's top-3 lines have the ability to score multiple goals. Three - Alex Tuch, Austin Cangelosi and Teddy Doherty - each had two during the Northeast regional. Three more - Ryan Fitzgerald, Colin White and Zach Sanford - have at least 39 points and freshman Miles Wood has been as good as advertised.

Boston College also has one of the most entertaining goalies in the country in junior Thatcher Demko, a Hobey Baker hat trick finalist. Highly regarded as one of the top goalies in his age group (he even accelerated), Demko led the nation with 10 shutouts. His .936 save percentage is tied for second in the nation.

Why you shouldn't: Dynasty talk. The last thing poor, title-drought driven Boston needs is another championship. Tom Brady is giving them away to the children of the city like he's a reclusive candy maker. The Eagles have held its own too.

BC has the only team to not be a first time winner since 2011 when Jerry York's 2012 squad utilized its top-9 to claim the championship at Tampa. A repeat performance at Amalie Arena would be Boston College's 4th since 2008 and 5th in the 21st century.

High player quotients: Massachusetts/New England, New Jersey, California (2), Florida

Last national championship: 2012

NHL Draft Picks: 12

Follow if you're a fan of: Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils (3 prospects), Minnesota Wild (2), Vancouver Canucks (Demko), Hockey East,  Yale, maroon and gold alliance members, over the top Boston accents, Jerry York's black book


Denver University:

Why you should: Let's start with the fact Denver has a line called the Pacific Rim line. Enough said.

Not enough? Okay, the line - made up of Trevor Moore, Dylan Gambrell and Danton Heinen - all scored in the Pioneers' 6-3 victory over Ferris State. All three lead the team in scoring with Gambrell, an undrafted freshman, being underrated for his role. There's a good chance a team takes one on him in June.

Head coach Jim Montgomery had his team in his first Frozen Four appearance as a coach. Denver is 13-1-1 in last 15 games.

Why you shouldn't: Unlike some of the other schools coming close, this is Denver's first Frozen Four since winning the second of 2005 (AKA the all-WCHA FF in Columbus). In the spirit of neutral fairness, the Pioneers defeated North Dakota in the championship of that one so hard to cheer for DU.

(This one should be a great game if it approaches the February 12th 6-4 game the two teams had.)

Denver also is a younger team, with 13 underclassmen, that could be back again. It could entirely not be the Pioneers' time in Tampa.

High player quotients: Colorado, California, Alberta, Austria

Last national championship: 2005

NHL Draft Picks: 5

Follow if you're a fan: Anaheim Ducks (2 picks), Colorado Avalanche (Will Butcher plus local ties), NCHC and western schools, maroon and gold alliance members, Gwoz, catchy nicknames, players who have their own talk shows.

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (32-6-4)

Why you should: North Dakota is a good story. First year head coach Brad Berry has steered the ship, leading a mixed group of upperclassmen and freshmen back to its third straight Frozen Four. That didn't come easy. Injuries have been a season-long issue throughout the lineup to the point where UND trotted out third string goalie Matt Hrynkiw for 12 straight games (and did quite well, going 9-2-1).

Taking on the "Pacific Rim" and Michigan's "CCM" lines for the title of best (seriously, it's been a good year for line names - SIDs are going to have to step up their game next season), the Fighting Hawks' CBS line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz has been the team's top three scorers. Boeser, a freshman and 2015 first round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, leads UND with 54 points (26G-28A); good for second in the nation among first-year players.

At the same time, Caggiula is one of the top NHL free agents.

Why you shouldn't: Did you already start writing a letter to tell me off for writing the new nickname of the school? Did you start writing a letter to tell me hell would freeze over before you cheer for North Dakota?

If either is the case, you don't need me to tell why not. In the land of college hockey where North Dakota, whose name in the sport , there is nothing neutral. Odds are college fans already have an opinion about UND one way or the other. If there's NCHC pride, Denver takes away some of that cheer. NHL fans that don't have one can read up on the nickname issue.

Last national championship: 2000. Since then North Dakota has been in (#) Frozen Fours, including 4 of the previous 6, without taking home its 8th crown.

High player quotients: Minnesota/North Dakota (3), Saskatchewan (3), Finland, Slovakia, Arizona

NHL Draft picks: 12

Follow if you're a fan of: Chicago Blackhawks (2 picks) Vancouver Canucks (Boeser), Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Alabama football, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, Dave Hakstol's soul stealing stare

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --