In between the 1991 and 2011 NCAA Champions, there were no first time winners of college hockey's ultimate prize. That has changed over the last five years. Of the past five winners, four of those schools were crowned national champion of college hockey for the first time.
Two of those programs, Minnesota Duluth and Providence, square off in Friday's first semifinal at the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass. The Friars, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, take on the Bulldogs, winner of the 2011 NCAA title.
It's the second consecutive season Scott Sandelin's Bulldogs have been sent to the Northeast Regional. Last year UMD defeated rival Minnesota in the first round before falling to eventual national runner-up BU in the regional final in Manchester, NH.
Providence, a team that squeaked into the national tournament a season ago before going on the remarkable run that concluded with the school's first national championship, will be the hunted this season. The Friars are the overall national fourth seed and won't sneak up on anyone.
Scouting the Friars
A lot of people misinterpret grinding it out and playing a defensive style with big, hulking players who can't move as well. Providence is very sound defensively and doesn't allow for some of the creativity that other teams do, but the Friars can skate.
Senior Brandon Tanev is a perfect example of this. He plays a complete, 200-foot game. He brings it each and every shift. The free agent prospect is going to make a living by being a bottom six forward who can occasionally chip in offensively.
When Providence is playing its best, it will set the pace and tone early and keep the pedal to the metal. The Friars are great at getting the puck in deep, using their speed to win races to the puck and then cycle it down low. They are strong on pucks and typically do a good job of controlling the play from the dots down.
Players like Erik Foley, Nick Saracino and Brian Pinho exemplify these traits. Seniors Trevor Mingoia and Mark Jankowski are probably given a little more leeway to generate offense with creativity, but even the first line will generate much of its offense from behind the goal lines or in transition. There won't be the flashy skill, toe-dragging, dangling coming off the half wall that you might see on other teams.
The Friars will be without star sophomore defenseman Jake Walman who is lost for the season with an injury, but there's plenty left on the blue line. One thing Nate Leaman always preaches is his defensemen have to be mobile, push the pace in transition, execute breakouts and zone entries and contribute offensively. Walman was obviously a huge part of that when he was in the lineup, but Tom Parisi and John Gilmour lead the way in his absence.
The biggest question mark surrounding PC entering the season was how would the loss of 2015 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player Jon Gillies impact the prospect of success in 2016? Junior Nick Ellis answered the bell early. The Millersville, Md. native has a .935 save percentage and is as big a reason as any that the Friars are No. 1 seed.
It's tough to argue against the coaching ability of Leaman. He built Union into a power in the ECAC and has brought Providence to unprecedented success in Hockey East.
Scouting the Bulldogs
A lot of fans heading to the DCU Center Friday afternoon might expect an easy go of it for the Friars, but that would be foolish. Despite UMD being just three games over .500, Scott Sandelin's team is for real. The Bulldogs have the second best Corsi at even-strength in the entire country.
"Part of what makes Minnesota Duluth such a difficult team to play -- don't be fooled by their record, the Bulldogs outshot opponents by an average of nine shots per game, third-best in the country, despite an extremely difficult schedule--is that they are such a well-rounded team," said SBN College Hockey Managing Editor Chris Dilks, who has seen a lot of the NCHC this season.
Like the Friars, UMD's forwards can skate and control possession, which is what makes this such an intriguing match-up.
The 'KFC' line of Austin Farley-Tony Cameranesi-Karson Kuhlman is one of the fastest lines in college hockey. Their speed presents a match-up problem for every team they face," Dilks said.
"The other scoring line features Dominic Toninato, Adam Johnson, and Alex Iafallo, who bring a combination of size and toughness that makes them difficult to defend. The bottom two lines aren't big scoring threats, but are good enough to control possession and not be a liability. Even though they play some smaller guys, they're the type of small guys that are tough and strong on the puck," added Dilks.
Anaheim draft pick Andy Welinski could very well be UMD's best pro prospect. The big shutdown defender will win a lot of battles and try to keep pucks away from Providence forwards looking to cycle below the dots.
"The top 'D' pair that the Bulldogs will rely on is captain Andy Welinski and freshman Neal Pionk, who are both tremendous defensive defenseman that can occasionally join the rush and chip in offensively. The pairing of Carson Soucy and Willie Raskob is more of an offensive threat. All six defenders are good and reliable in their own zone. Again, there's a strong mix of size, skating, and toughness that makes Minnesota Duluth very tough to score on when they are playing well," said Dilks.
Sophomore goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo is big and takes up a lot of the net. When the Finnish native is on his game, he's a a game changer. In a one-and-done scenario, it's always nice to have a goaltender that can steal a game.
Providence vs. Minnesota Duluth -- By the Numbers
4:30 p.m. ET
|Seed||No. 1||No. 4|
|Last 10 Games||9-1-0||7-3-0|
|Head Coach||Nate Leaman (SUNY-Cortland '93)
||Scott Sandelin (North Dakota '86)
|Record at School||106-64-23 (5th)||284-276-75 (16th)|
||Tom Parisi, Kevin Rooney
|Goals Per Game||3.32 (T-10th)||2.71 (26th)
|Goals Against||1.86 (4th)||2.05 (8th)|
|Power Play Pct.||20.5 (16th)||15.0 (44th)|
|Penalty Kill Pct.||84.5 (16th)||86.7 (5th)
|Penalty Minutes||11.70 (18th)||10.66 (29th)|
|Leading Scorer (Pts.)||Mark Jankowski (40)||Tony Cameranesi (36)|
|Goals Leader||Jankowski/Brandon Tanev (15)||Dominic Toninato (15)|
|Assists Leader||Mark Jankowski (25)||Tony Cameranesi (26)|
|+/- Leader||Mark Jankowski (+25)
||Austin Farley (+23)|
||Brandon Tanev (5)
||Austin Farley (5)|
||Jake Walman (8)
||Austin Farley (8)|
||Trevor Mingoia (2)
||3 tied (1)
|Starting Goaltender||Nick Ellis (.935)
||Kasimir Kaskisuo (.922)|
|NHL Draft Picks