A long, exciting season is approaching its conclusion. It’s going to be a fun one. I’ve spent the past couple days trying to come up with a name for the NCAA tournament. Playing off off “Frozen Four,” I came up with the Frozen Frenzy. I think it fits.
The field is set and just like its basketball equivalent, the Frenzy is prime for upsets. Who will pull them off might surprise you. Let’s get started.
WEST REGIONAL – St. Paul, Minn.
#1 Minnesota vs. #16 Robert Morris
#8 Notre Dame vs. #9 St. Cloud State
In the first matchup, we see the Minnesota Golden Gophers, owners of five national titles, taking on the Robert Morris Colonials, who are making their first tournament appearance. It looks like a mismatch on paper and it is. Minnesota has Hobey Baker candidate Adam Wilcox in net and a powerful offense led by 30-point scorers Kyle Rau and Sam Warning. Robert Morris is a good team (they have three 30-point scorers, led by Cody Wydo’s 44) and Minnesota is notorious for getting upset in the first round (2006 Holy Cross; 2013 Yale). However, the CoIonials are shaky in net and against a team like the Gophers, they aren’t going to last long. Also, I think Coach Don Lucia will still have the loss to Yale in the back of his head and will make sure that his squad moves on. Gophers win 4-2.
The other game has the Fighting Irish taking on the NCHC regular season champ and 2013 Frozen Four representative Huskies. Did I just oversell St. Cloud State? The Huskies may be very talented with Hobey candidate Nic Dowd, 20-goal scorer Jonny Brodzinski and assist machine Kalle Kossila, but they stumbled in the first round against a Miami squad that was having a horrendous season. Notre Dame, on the other hand, upset Boston College on its own rink and has a balanced attack that can keep up with the high-powered Huskies. It’ll be close, but the Irish prevail 4-3.
In the Regional Final, the Irish keep up with the Gophers for the first two periods as both Bryan Rust and Mario Lucia (Don’s son, by the way) notch goals, but Wilcox stymies Notre Dame in the third period and Minnesota moves on with a 3-2 victory.
NORTHEAST REGIONAL – Worcester, Mass.
#2 Boston College vs. #15 Denver
#7 UMass Lowell vs. #10 Minnesota State
The first game out in Massachusetts involves national powerhouse Boston College going up against NCHC tournament winner Denver. The Pioneers are coming in hot after beating Nebraska-Omaha on the road and then outlasting both Western Michigan and Miami in Minneapolis. The Eagles are coming in reeling after falling to Notre Dame in the Hockey East playoffs. Some analysts think BC is shaky right now and prime for an upset, but I don’t see it. The Eagles have the best coach in the business in Jerry York and the best all-around player in eventual Hobey winner and 69-point scorer Johnny Gaudreau (if Gaudreau doesn’t win it, I will have lost whatever respect I have left for the award). Denver’s sharp goaltender Sam Brittain will keep Denver in it, but BC wins 3-1.
The second contest has the RiverHawks taking on the Mavericks. UMass Lowell has one of the best goalies around in Connor Hellebuyck and the RiverHawks can score effectively. Minnesota State has two 40-point scorers in Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul Lafontaine, and a talented freshman netminder in Cole Huggins. This one’s a toss-up. However, I think the Mavericks have a little more talent and will notch the program’s first tourney win. My prediction: Minnesota State 3-2.
The Mavericks and their fans will be on an emotional high after notching their first win, but it won’t last long. BC jumps out to an early lead with goals from Gaudreau and Hobey candidate Kevin Hayes and never looks back. The Eagles have made the Frozen Four in every even-numbered year since 2006 and they do it again with a 5-2 win.
EAST REGIONAL –Bridgeport, Conn.
#3 Union vs. #13 Vermont
#6 Quinnipiac vs. #11 Providence
Moving one state over to Connecticut, the newly named #1 team in the nation, Union, battles Hockey East member Vermont. Union has been an impressive team for several years. They have 45-point man Daniel Carr and four 30-point shooters, while goalie Colin Stevens boasts a 1.95 GAA. The Catamounts have some scorers of their own (Chris McCarthy has 40 points and Mario Puskarich has 35), but they don’t have a goalie that can keep pace with Stevens. Union wins 4-1.
In the nightcap, last year’s NCAA runner-up Quinnipiac takes on the Friars, who are making their first tournament appearance since 2001. The Bobcats are still strong with Sam Anas (43 points), Kellen Jones (42), Connor Jones (38) and Michael Peca (38). They also have a good goaltender In Michael Garteig. Providence may not have the firepower that Quinnipiac does, but they do have some skill (Ross Mauermann piled up 34 points) and Jon Gillies is solid in net. The odds are with the Bobcats, but I see an upset. Providence wins 3-2 in overtime.
In the Regional Final, Providence scores two goals in the first to rattle Stevens, and Gillies does just enough to give the Friars their first Frozen Four bid in almost 30 years with a 3-1 win.
MIDWEST REGIONAL – Cincinnati
#4 Wisconsin vs. #14 North Dakota
#5 Ferris State vs. #12 Colgate
The last Regional takes place in the hockey mecca of southern Ohio (Cincy actually hosted a Frozen Four back in 1996 and thankfully, will never again). In the first matchup, former WCHA rivals Wisconsin and North Dakota go at it. The two teams were spirited rivals and this game should be no different. The Badgers are led by 22-goal scorer Michael Mersch and 43-point man Mark Zengerle. Tyler Barnes (27 points) is also a scoring threat. Wisconsin also has a Hobey candidate in goalie Joel Rumpel. North Dakota is also stacked with talent. The Fighting Sioux (as I said in an earlier column, until the school comes up with an actual nickname, I will refer to them as the Sioux) have many players capable of putting the puck in the net. NCHC goaltending champ Zane Gothberg is also the type of netminder that can keep up with Rumpel. It’ll go down to the wire, but I think UND wins 4-3.
In the other game, 2012 runner-up Ferris State goes up against ECAC representative Colgate. The Bulldogs have three 30-point scorers and a Hobey candidate in goal with C.J. Motte. The Raiders are led by the Spinks (Tyson and Tylor), who both have more than 30 points; although goalie Charlie Finn is good, he’s not as good as Motte. Ferris State uses that to its advantage and takes Colgate out with a 4-2 win.
The final will be a battle of the goaltenders. Motte and Gothberg keep pace with each other for almost the entire game. Motte falters late, and UND scores on the power play then withstands a furious effort in the closing minute to get a 2-1 win.
So there are my predictions. Hopefully, I can pull a Boston College and have a stellar performance in every even numbered year.
Enjoy the Frozen Frenzy!