With the Frozen Four set to drop the puck on Thursday, all eyes will be on Matt Frattin, Jack Connolly, Anders Lee and Carl Hagelin (among others of course), this year’s Frozen Four will not be solely decided by those players’ play on the ice. But there are several less heralded players who all have the ability to impact a game. Here are my top four, one from each team.
Riley Sheahan, Notre Dame
Sheahan was a first round pick this summer, but he is still not widely known outside of the CCHA. Part of that has to do with the fact that he only had 5 goals for the Irish this year. But what he does is play a tremendous defensive forward (not a big surprise that the Red Wings were the team that drafted him then). Minnesota-Duluth’s top line of Jack and Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine will see a lot of Sheahan on Thursday. Stephane Da Costa had only one assist vs. Notre Dame in their first round game, and Paul Thompson was held scoreless in the regional final. Obviously this top line is a different challenge – three great players rather than one – but Sheahan has the ability to disrupt their play and if the Irish keep Duluth’s top line down we will see them in the national championship game.
Mike Montgomery, Minnesota-Duluth
Montgomery’s stats are relatively unimpressive: 0 goals and 10 assists. He plays on a defensive pair with the much more heralded Justin Faulk, who is known as one of the best pro prospects in the Frozen Four. But while Faulk is great and talented, he gets to do a lot of things offensively and defensively because Montgomery is such a rock back there for the Bulldogs, plays solid stay at home hockey, and is the leader of the team. Montgomery has gone from walk on at Duluth to captain of the team. One might remember a similar story from two years ago, when Matt Gilroy went from walking on at Boston U to captaining the Terriers to a national title. I am sure Montgomery would enjoy the same ending.
Chris Brown, Michigan
Brown probably isn’t much of a darkhorse, as he played on the US team at the World Junior Championships this year, but he sometimes gets lost in the hype surrounding Carl Hagelin and Louie Caporusso. Brown is probably the most physical Wolverine forward, and he will need to be at his defensive best against the Sioux. Brown led Michigan in PIM this year with 53, but he also had 5 game winning goals, second on the team. Those 5 goals represented over 50% of his goal total (he had 9 on the year). Timely goals from somewhat unexpected sources are huge in a Frozen Four, and Brown is as good a bet as anyone to provide one this weekend.
Jake Marto, North Dakota
It’s tough to find a darkhorse candidate on a team as deep as North Dakota, and one with as big of a fanbase. Every player seems familiar. Even so, Marto has flown under the radar a bit. The former North Dakota Mr. Hockey from Grand Forks has played defense for all of his college career, up until midway through his Senior season when he had to fill in at forward (and on the second line, no less) when Jason Gregoire, Danny Kristo and Brett Hextall were all out with injuries. Marto has 8 goals and 19 points for the Sioux, and only has taken 3 minor penalties in 43 games. But while he doesn’t have an impressive amount of points, he has played in every situation, both on forward and defense, and is an assistant captain for the team. There’s no doubt he is one of the team’s leaders, and will play big minutes this weekend for the Sioux.