Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will be the center of the American hockey world this Thursday and Saturday as all eyes will be on the CONSOL Energy Center, not because the Pittsburgh Penguins will be taking to the ice, because of the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four.
One of the more intriguing collections of participants, not one of St. Cloud State, Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell, or Yale has ever won this tournament. The only one of these four programs to have ever previously advanced to the Frozen Four was Yale, who hasn’t appeared in the national semifinals since 1952.
Midwest Regional Champion St. Cloud State shared the WCHA regular season crown with a 25-15-1 record. Head Coach Bob Motzko’s Huskies struggled down the stretch, and were eliminated early in their conference tournament by Wisconsin. The drop-off was no doubt in part to St. Cloud State’s talented, yet inexperienced underclassmen. However, the talented freshmen trio of Jonny Brodzinski, Kalle Kossila, and Joey Benik have been revived by postseason play. Goaltender Ryan Faragher boasts a 2.22 GAA and .916 SV%, with 3 shutouts to boot. Senior Ben Hanowski, recently acquired by the Calgary Flames in the Jarome Iginla deal, has been on fire as of late. However, it’s up to leading scorer and Hobey Baker Award finalist Drew LeBlanc (13-37—50) to navigate the nation’s second-best offense through the Frozen Four.
St. Cloud’s opponent, Quinnipiac, finished atop the ECAC this season with a 29-7-5 record. With perhaps the nation’s best goaltender in Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell (1.55 GAA, .933 SV%, 5 SO), the Bobcats held the distinctions of the lowest goals against average and best penalty kill in Division I this season. As the overall #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, 19th-year Head Coach Rand Pecknold’s squad cruised into the Frozen Four. Quinnipiac features a lineup of eleven seniors and a talented group of forwards that include leading scorer and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Matthew Peca (15-15—30), Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Jeremy Langlois, and twins Connor and Kellen Jones.
UMass-Lowell advanced out of the Northeast Region on a tear, having already taken home the Hockey East regular season and conference championship crowns. Though Hartzell may widely be considered the nation’s best goaltender, UML freshman Connor Hellebuyck put up an even better stat line this season with a 1.31 GAA, .953 SV%, and 6 shutouts. Head Coach Norm Bazin, who dispatched legendary coach Jack Parker in the Hockey East finals and was named the 2013 Spencer Penrose Award Winner as Division I Coach of the Year on Wednesday, has implemented a strong defensive system in his second year behind the bench. Behind his team’s motto, “big and boring,” the Riverhawks look to prove the old adage that “defense wins championships.”
Yale advanced to the Frozen Four out of the West Region, dispatching perennial powerhouses Minnesota and North Dakota along the way. The Bulldogs skated to a 20-12-3 record this season, good for just third place in the ECAC. In their two ECAC playoff games, they were unable to put a single puck in the net. For this reason, it’s a bit surprising to see the lowest team in the NCAA tournament field having made it this far. Against Minnesota, seventh-year Head Coach Keith Allain’s squad survived their own blown lead before Jesse Root netted the winner just nine seconds into overtime. Senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm (2.35 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO) will need to be at his best if Yale hopes to sniff a National Championship. The Bulldogs will look to leading scorer Kenny Agostino (17-23—40), also acquired by Calgary (NHL) in the Iginla deal, along with linemates Andrew Miller and Antoine Laganiere to continue to build on their Cinderella story.