ASNetminding: Frozen Four elites warm to Quinnipiac

When the four head coaches of the Frozen Four hockey teams spoke on a media conference call Tuesday morning, none talked about the pedigrees of three of the winningest programs in college hockey: Boston College, North Dakota and Denver.

Instead, they talked about Quinnipiac.

While the powerhouse trio have come combined to win 19 national titles — seven each by Denver and North Dakota, five by BC — relative newcomer Quinnipiac’s rise to No. 1 for the second time in four years had all the coaches singing the praise of ECAC and College Hockey News Coach of the Year Rand Pecknold.

The Bobcats are making their second Frozen Four appearance in school history. They have only been competing in Division I since 1998, but in 2013 they advanced to the title game before falling, 4-0, to ECAC rival Yale. They enter next week’s Frozen Final semifinal matchup against BC as the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed with just three losses (31-3-7).

“There are four quality teams here that have had very successful seasons. It makes for a great Frozen Four,” North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. “At this time of year, I wouldn't call it three teams that are used to the Frozen Four, but Quinnipiac has been playing very good hockey in the last few years. All four teams can win. The slate is clean. It's what you do in the next two weeks that will determine who wins the championship.”

Denver coach Jim Montgomery echoed his statements.

“This Frozen Four — to me there were six elite teams in college hockey this year, and four of the six made it to Tampa, which I think is going to lead to great hockey all weekend,” he said.

“I think Quinnipiac, what they've done in the last five years is above what Denver has done. They're an elite program right now that everyone in the last 10 years is aware about. Maybe they don't have the tradition, but their program didn't really start until about 15 years ago. They've done a great job under Rand. I think what's going to make this Frozen Four so exciting is that each team plays a different style.”

There’s no doubt this Frozen Four is stacked with talent and teams with experience at winning.

Denver leads the country with most consecutive 20-win seasons with a streak of 15. UND is next with 14, BC is third with 7 and Quinnipiac has 5.

The four teams are a combined 95-0-9 when leading after two periods, and Quinnipiac and North Dakota (108 wins each) are the two winningest programs in college hockey in the past four years.

Getting to the Frozen Four may have been a novelty for the Bobcats in 2013, but expectations have been raised.

“I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s a sense of relief that we made the Frozen Four,” Pecknold said. “It's a sense of accomplishment for our program and/or players. We're not going down there just to play in the Frozen Four. We're going there to win it. We certainly respect BC, North Dakota and Denver, and we know we're going to have to play our best hockey and maybe get a bounce or two.”

Arizona State bound for Big Ten?
In early January ASN reported on the courtship of Arizona State and in it Sun Devils coach Greg Powers said a decision on which conference they would join would probably be made in early spring for recruiting reasons.

It’s spring, and the first domino fell last week when the Big Ten announced that Notre Dame was joining the conference for hockey starting in 2017-18.

Could ASU be far behind?

The addition of the Fighting Irish brings Big Ten hockey membership to seven teams: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Penn State and Notre Dame.

For scheduling purposes eight would work better, and while ASU will play the upcoming season in the Phoenix Coyotes’ arena, a new state-of-the-art facility is planned for the near future.

Powers said in January that the Big Ten teams are “very likeminded, big-brand universities. They’re more likeminded for how ASU does things because we’re all big schools.”

He did so while evaluating the benefits of joining either the WCHA, NCHC or Big Ten.

No official announcements have been made, but the fit appears to be there.

And look for Hockey East also to make a move to get back to an even 12 teams, possibly taking an ECAC team which could then woo a team from Atlantic Conference.

Nothing is set in stone, but it all makes sense.

ASU played nearly all road games last season, logging more than 26,000 miles. They also went 5-22-2 with three wins against division foes: A sweep of Lake Superior State and a win over Alaska Fairbanks.
This week in college hockey

  • The Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes opened up for NHL teams on Monday night. That’s when the news broke that representatives for the highly-regarded Harvard senior informed the Nashville Predators their client will exercise his right to become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15. Vesey can pick the club he wants to join by waiting until then. A possible destination is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who hired Vesey’s dad Jimmy Sr. as a scout and drafted his brother Nolan (Maine) in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. Vesey, who will be 23 on May 26, was the 66th overall selection in the 2012 draft and is two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist with 80 goals and 60 assists in 128 games.

  • The Wisconsin Badgers turned to one of their own to replace Mike Eaves as their new head coach. Wisconsin hired Tony Granato, who played for the Badgers from 1983-87 and 13 seasons in the NHL. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Hall of Fame in 2000. UMass announced the signing of St. Lawrence' Greg Carval to a five-year contract to fill its vacancy. Carval, who attended grad school at UMass, will be the 13th head coach in program history.

  • Funeral services for longtime college hockey official Oliver “Butch” Mousseau, the first Native American to referee in an NHL game, have been set for Friday in Boulder, Colo. Mousseau died last week from head injuries after falling during warmups prior to the second semifinal game of the WCHA Frozen Five tournament. He was 48. “Butch was one of the all-time greats who left an indelibly positive impact upon everyone whom he came in contact with,” said WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson. “The WCHA is, and always will be, a better league because of Butch’s involvement.” Donations can be made to Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation.

Above: No. 1-ranked Quinnipiac players celebrate their East Region championship. (Courtesy QuinnipiacBobcats.com)

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