Hockey bracketology: First look at the Frozen Four

The Frozen Four field for Tampa is set with three of the winningest programs in college hockey history and one of best newcomers over the past four years.

North Dakota, Denver and Boston College, which have combined for 19 national titles and 62 Frozen Four appearances, join No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac, which is making its second appearance and seeking its first national title.

In the end, it will be East vs. West.

Hockey East co-champion Boston College and ECAC champion Quinnipiac square off in the first national semifinal on April 7. It will be their first meeting, but the Bobcats are 5-1-2 against Hockey East this season while BC is 2-1 against the ECAC.

The second semifinal pits longtime rivals Denver against North Dakota, which have met 275 times, including five times this season. They’ve battled to a 2-2-1 record.

Both UND and Denver are members of the NCHC, which guarantees the league a Frozen Four finalist in its third year of existence.

It is the second consecutive year the NCHC has put two teams in the Frozen Four, with North Dakota making its third appearance in a row and eighth in 12 seasons.

However, UND hasn’t won at the tournament in its past six appearances. Teams from the East have won seven of the past eight national titles with Hockey East winning five of the past eight and ECAC teams winning two of the past three.

Hockey East put six teams and the NCHC four in the 16-team NCAA Tournament this season to lead all conferences.

Quinnipiac’s three losses are the fewest of all four teams and their 4-1 victory against UMass Lowell in Sunday’s East Region title game was the 17th time the Bobcats have won after trailing this season. Quinnipiac is 26-0-2 when leading after two periods and 6-0-3 when trailing after the first period.

A closer look at the Frozen Four semifinals:
BOSTON COLLEGE (28-7-5) vs. QUINNIPIAC (31-3-7)
The Eagles will have their hands full with a Bobcats team that has been the country’s most consistent this season.

Quinnipiac was on top of the PairWise rankings for 19 weeks in a row before UND briefly edged them for a week prior to the conference tournaments.

The Bobcats blanked Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), 4-0, in Saturday’s East Region opener and scored the final four goals in dominating UMass Lowell in the region title game.

Boston College didn’t have it quite so easy.

After dismantling Harvard, 4-1, on Friday night, the Eagles needed a little extra defensive help in the waning seconds of the Northeast Region title game. Forward Austin Cangelosi sprawled across the mouth of the goal behind goalie Thatcher Demko to swat away Minnesota Duluth’s potential game-tying goal and preserve a 3-2 win.

This matchup will pit two of the game’s best goalies — Mike Richter Award finalists Demko and Quinnipiac senior Michael Garteig. Demko has 10 shutouts this season and is one of two goalies among the Hobey Baker Award candidates. Garteig leads the nation in minutes played and has eight shutouts. Demko has a .936 save percentage, Garteig .926 and both have 1.84 goals-against averages.

Both teams have the skill to win high- or low-scoring games.

Bill it as Old Money vs. New Money.

BC is makings its 25th Frozen Four appearance and gunning for its sixth national title. Four titles (2001, 2008, 2010, 2012) have come with Jerry York behind the bench. York is the only college coach with 1,000 wins in his career, a benchmark he reached earlier this season.

The last time the Frozen Four was held in Tampa in 2012, Boston College defeated Ferris State in the title game.

Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold has 423 victories and was voted the ECAC Coach of the Year. The Bobcats are making the second Frozen Four appearance in school history, having lost 4-0 to Yale in the 2013 title game.

In the past four years, the six Quinnipiac seniors have amassed a 108-33-23 record.

BC has 13 NHL draft choices currently on their roster. Qunnipiac has two.
NORTH DAKOTA (32-6-4) vs. DENVER (25-9-6)
Both teams put on their most dominating performances  in winning the Midwest and West region titles.

Their sixth meeting this season should be a doozy after each swept each other during the regular season and they battled to a 1-1 tie in the third-place game of the NCHC Tournament.

UND reached its eighth Frozen Four in the past 12 seasons by dominating two of the hottest teams in the country.

On Friday, six UND players each tallied goals in a 6-3 win over Northeastern, a team that had won 13 in a row, hadn’t lost since Feb. 1 and was coming off its first Hockey East Tournament title.  After giving up the game’s first goal 3:07 into the game, UND responded with goals from Johnny Simonson, Tucker Poolman and Luke Johnson for a 3-1 lead after one period and never looked back.

In Saturday’s Midwest title game UND played the same suffocating defense and put a season-high 49 shots on goal. Led by its “Heavy” line of Johnson, Rhett Gardner and Austin Poganski — aptly named for their size and how they lean on opposing teams’ top lines — UND dominated Big Ten tournament champion Michigan in a 5-2 victory.

The Heavy Line got goals from Johnson and Gardner and had a plus-five rating while UND held Michigan’s CCM Line — Hobey Baker finalists Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte who rank first, second and fourth in the nation in scoring — to a minus-seven rating.

UND will need another defensive effort to get past Denver.

The Pioneers breezed past Boston University, last year’s Frozen Four runner-up, 7-2 in their West Region opener. They scored three goals in the final five minutes of Sunday’s region title game to dispose of upset-minded Ferris State from the WCHA, 6-3.

Danton Heinen had six points in the two games while Pacific Rim linemates Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore had four and two points, respectively.

The Pacific Rim has been the second-hottest line in the country behind Michigan’s CCM Line. UND’s CBS Line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz is healthy again after battling injuries in the second half of the season.

Both teams are anchored by strong blue-line corps and excellent sophomore goaltenders in Denver’s Tanner Jaillet and UND’s Cam Johnson, the Midwest Region MVP after turning away 24 and 25 shots in the two games.

UND took away the the ice from Northeastern and Michigan skaters over the weekend and had limited defensive breakdowns. It will need an equally strong defensive performance to get past the Pioneers.

Both schools are vying for their eighth Frozen Four title, which would be second only to Michigan’s nine.

This is Denver’s first Frozen Four appearance since it repeated as national champions in 2004-05 seasons. The Pioneers defeated North Dakota, 4-1, in the 2005 title game.

It was the last title game appearance for either team. UND has dropped its last six Frozen Four semifinal games.
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