If your feeling a bit lost without the NCAA basketball tournaments, you’re in luck. A form of March Madness is still out there. Catch it now! The 2013 Frozen Four is here, from the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The national semifinals will take place on Thursday, April 11. The championship game will be Saturday, April 13. All these games will be televised on ESPN 2. To learn who is playing, and who will take home the NCAA hockey title, continue after the jump.
This NCAA hockey postseason has been unexpected. In the last year of the current conference alignments, chaos has reigned. Starting with the conference tournaments, only one conference champion managed to win their league, much less a game. The tournament Regionals saw more unexpected results, as only one team to make the Frozen Four has ever even been there in tournament history, and even that appearance was more than 50 years ago (Yale, 1952). This tournament represents a change in the college hockey landscape, with more schools developing programs that can compete at a national level. Anyone seems to have a shot to win it all this year, but before we get into who will win, let’s take a look at all four teams involved in the Frozen Four.
NORTHEAST REGIONAL CHAMPIONS
Season Record: 28-10-2
Hockey East Regular Season Champions
Hockey East Tournament Champions
Coach: Norm Bazin (2nd season)
Leading Scorer: Scott Wilson (16-21-37)
Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck (1.308 GAA, .953 SV%, 6 SO)
The UMass-Lowell Riverhawks have been one of the pleasant surprises in college hockey the last couple years. This is a team that has gone from nothing to a potential perennial powerhouse in a very short time. UMass-Lowell will be making their first Frozen Four appearance, and seem to abide to the model of defense wins championships. They were the only team seeded #1 in a conference tournament that actually won their tournament. The team is led by the best goalie in the nation, Connor Hellebuyck, a freshman who led the NCAA in goals against, save percentage, and shutouts. If the Riverhawks continue to score goals in front of Hellebuyck, they will be a difficult team to beat.
WEST REGIONAL CHAMPIONS
Yale University Bulldogs
Season Record: 20-12-3
ECAC Regular Season, 3rd Place
Coach: Keith Allain (7th season)
Leading Scorer: Kenny Agostino (17-23-40)
Goalie: Jeff Malcom (2.348 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO)
The Yale Bulldogs are the most surprising of the four teams to make it to the Frozen Four. After not being able to score a goal in their two ECAC tournament games, Yale jumped out to a two goal lead against Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After blowing the two goal lead, it look liked the Gophers would pull out a win. But just 9 seconds into overtime, Jesse Root buried a puck to vanquish Minnesota, then the Bulldogs dominated another WCHA team, North Dakota, and punched their ticket to Pittsburgh. Yale was essentially the last team into the NCAA field, but they’ve used their opportunity, and given themselves a shot at winning it all.
MIDWEST REGIONAL CHAMPIONS
Saint Cloud State University Huskies
Season Record: 25-15-1
WCHA Regular Season C0-Champions
Coach: Bob Motzko (8th season)
Leading Scorer: Drew LeBlanc (13-37-50)
Goalie: Ryan Faragher (2.224 GAA, .916 SV%, 3 SO)
Despite being co-WCHA champions, the Huskies were another team who had to sweat out Selection Sunday before knowing that they were in the NCAA tournament. After struggling a little down the stretch, St. Cloud was bounced early in the WCHA tournament by Wisconsin, and had to hope that a couple bad losses during the season (namely a sweep by Northern Michigan) didn’t haunt their tournament hopes. The Huskies boast the nation’s second best offense, and used their goal scoring prowess to breeze through the Midwest Regional, and make it to Pittsburgh for their first ever Frozen Four. Many are putting St. Cloud as the preemptive favorite to win it all now, but they must maintain their focus, and scoring, to make that happen.
EAST REGIONAL CHAMPIONS
Quinnipiac University Bobcats
Season Record: 29-7-5
ECAC Regular Season Champions
Coach: Rand Pecknold (19th season)
Leading Scorer: Matthew Peca (15-15-30)
Goalie: Eric Hartzell (1.548 GAA, .933 SV%, 5 SO)
The Bobcats are another team who has depended on defense to make it this far, and with good reason. Quinnipiac leads the nation in goals against, as well as penalty kill. They are led by a Hobey Baker finalist, goalie Eric Hartzell, and have spent much of the season ranked #1 by pundits. The overall one seed in the tournament had the easiest path to the Frozen Four, their first ever, and also had the best record against teams who were in consideration for the NCAA tournament. While few people have ever heard of the team, this weekend gives Quinnipiac an opportunity to showcase itself on a national level, which could help create another new college hockey power.
Now that you feel a bit more comfortable with the teams playing, it’s time to take a look at the actual games. Here’s how I foresee the National Semifinal games playing out at the Frozen Four:
Yale Bulldogs vs. UMass-Lowell Riverhawks
While the Yale Bulldogs are the underdog that can, UMass-Lowell seems to be the only team this season that consistently played to its ability. If Yale wants to win this game, they need to keep the game close, and maybe even go into overtime. The Bulldogs have gone to an extra session eight times this year, and haven’t lost (5-0-3). UMass-Lowell is a team who gets ahead early and doesn’t allow teams to comeback. Having dispatched much more talented teams already, the Riverhawks’ dominant goaltending will be too much for a Yale team that has struggled to score goals at times against talented teams.
Prediction: UMass-Lowell 4-1
St. Cloud State Huskies vs. Quinnipiac Bobcats
While Quinnipiac may be the top team in the country, St. Cloud State is a team who comes from a much stronger hockey conference, and has more experience in big games. It’s a classic offense versus defense scenario. Can the high octane Huskies get goals past the stingiest back end in the NCAA? After backing into the NCAA tournament, St. Cloud State seems to have found its groove again. It’s been awhile since the Bobcats have face such strong competition, and they could be in trouble against a very skilled team from the State of Hockey.
Prediction: St. Cloud State 3-2
Check back after these Frozen Four games are completed to find the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four Preview: Championship Edition.
Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms. He is skating extra shifts for The Sports Bank, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long. Look for new articles throughout the week. He can be followed on Twitter at @bryanvickroy. If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at email@example.com.