This isn’t your typical NCAA Frozen Four. These aren’t your household college hockey names you’re used to seeing. For the second time in the history of the NCAA Division I hockey tournament there will be four teams that have not previously won a championship. The last occurrence was when Denver, Clarkson, North Dakota and Harvard took part in the four-team tournament in Minneapolis in 1958, with the Pioneers coming out on top. Say hello to the four teams that are 120 minutes away from their first national championship.
Semifinal No. 1: Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2
How they got here: Beat Minnesota 3-2 and North Dakota 4-1
Overall Record: 20-12-3
The Scoop: If you want to count having played in the national semifinals 61 years ago as having Frozen Four experience, it’s something Yale has over the other three teams. As the last team in the field, they should thank Michigan for snapping their 22-year NCAA tournament appearance streak for Yale earning an at-large bid. The Bulldogs have played true to their name at the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich. as they were able to withstand a Minnesota charge in the third period to upset the No. 2 overall seed nine seconds into overtime. The dynamic duo of Kewnny Agostino and Andrew Miller account for the bulk of the scoring offense. Agostino is the team leader in the major offensive categories with 17 goals, 23 assists and 40 points. Miller does lead the team in power play goals with seven.
UMass-Lowell River Hawks
How they got here: Beat Wisconsin 6-1 and New Hampshire 2-0
Overall Record: 18-10-2
The Scoop: If there’s one word that describes the River Hawks this season, it’s defense. They possess one of the stiffest defenses in the country as they have allowed five goals in their six postseason games. Standing in net is freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck , who has been on fire when he earned more playing time later in the season. He has won 20 of 22 starts and carries a nation’s-best 1.31 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage, also tops in the country. They also possess a lot of depth on the offensive end, as 20 different players have scored goals and five are in double-digits. Look for Scott Wilson and Joseph Pendenza to generate offense for the River Hawks. Both players have 37 points each while playing 40 games and Wilson’s 16 goals and six power-play goals are both team highs.
Prediction: This game is honestly a toss-up. Yale has the better offense and UMass-Lowell has the better defense. Yale has the better power play while UMass-Lowell has the better penalty kill. When in doubt, defense wins championships. UMass-Lowell 3-2.
Semifinal No. 2: Thursday at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN2
How they got here: Beat Canisius 4-3 and Union (N.Y) 5-1
Overall Record: 29-7-5
The Scoop: As the overall No. 1 seed, the Bobcats did what they were supposed to do and reached the Frozen Four. One of their leaders is Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Hartzell. He’s been the best goalie in the nation while playing on the best team. He ranks second in the nation in winning percentage (.788, 29-6-5), third in goals against average (1.55) and eighth in save percentage (.933). One thing that has made them difficult to scout during the course of the season was coach Rand Pecknold changing up the forward combinations. This is one of the reasons why there wasn’t many points scored among the top line of Matthew Peca, Connor Jones and Kellen Jones. But it was Pecknold who put them back together during the East Regional in Providence, R.I. that led to the trio factoring in six of the nine goals scored.
St. Cloud State Huskies
How they got here: Beat Notre Dame 5-1 and Miami (Ohio) 4-1
Overall Record: 25-15-1
The Scoop: The Huskies may have been a four-seed in the Midwest Regional in Toledo, but this isn’t a cupcake team. Any team that wins the WCHA regular season title is a team to be taken seriously. They could have deserved a higher seeding had they beat Wisconsin in the conference tournament. But playing in the toughest conference in the country is what prepared them to slay two CCHA teams in the NCAA tournament. They are led by another Hobey Baker Award finalist in Drew LeBlanc, who leads the nation in assists (37). After suffering a fractured leg last season, he was granted a medical redshirt to return this season. If there’s anything to be concerned about, it could be their history of starting out slow in recent games. And if you aren’t firing on all cylinders with the pressure and atmosphere around, you could find yourself down multiple goals early.
Prediction: Something has to give. The Bobcats have the best penalty kill in the nation and the Huskies have the second-best offense in the country in terms of goals-per-game. For as good as the Bobcats are on the penalty kill, they are bad on the power play, ranking 42nd. If you can’t score on the man-advantage, it could be costly. St. Cloud State 4-2.
Catch the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four Championship Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.