NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Tournament Preview - Frozen Four


(NCAA Ice Hockey)

By: Nathan Shield



After a shocking first two rounds of play in the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament, the schedule is set for the Frozen Four. For only the second time in the 16-team NCAA tournament era, the Men’s Frozen Four won’t include a No. 1 regional seed, making it one of the most exciting Frozen Fours in recent memory. With that being, said let's examine the teams that make up this year's Frozen Four.



Semifinals

St. Cloud State vs. MSU-Mankato, 5 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2

Minnesota-Duluth vs. UMass, 9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2



No. 1 Minnesota State University

Season Record: 22-4-1 (13-1-0 1st in WCHA)


Top Players: junior forward Julian Napravnik (10-17-27), sophomore forward Cade Borchardt (9-15-24), sophomore forward Nathan Smith (7-16-23), and senior forward Reggie Lutz (10-11-21)

Top Goaltender: junior Dryden McKay (21-3-0, 1.39 GAA, .931 SV%, 9 Shutouts)


Why they will win the Frozen Four: Minnesota State has the most high-powered offense left in the tournament with an average goals-per-game of 3.52. On top of this, MSU is allowing the least amount of goals-against per game in the country and it isn’t particularly close at an impressive 1.52.


Their offense looked especially good against the University of Minnesota, scoring four goals against Minnesota goaltender, Jack Lafontaine in route to a 4-0 victory.


WCHA player and goaltender of the year, Dryden McKay in net has been a big part of MSU’s success this year. If the Mike Richter Award finalist can keep up his stellar play, Minnesota State has a real chance at winning it all.


Why they will not win the Frozen Four: There have been several times this season where MSU has came out flat and struggled early in games.


In their first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament against Quinnipiac University, the Mavericks were down 2-0 going in the second period and down 3-1 going into the third. It took a late push for MSU to tie the game before their eventual victory in OT.


This slow start also occurred in their WCHA Playoff matchup against Northern Michigan where MSU allowed a goal in the first two minutes of play. This took the momentum out of MSU and they couldn’t recover, losing 5-1 and being eliminated from the WCHA playoffs.


If Minnesota State has another slow start in the Frozen Four, it could cost them their hopes of being crowned National Champions.



No. 3 Saint Cloud State University

Season Record: 19-10-0 (15-9-0 2nd in NCHC)


Top Players: Freshman forward Veeti Miettinen (11-13-24), sophomore forward Jami Krannila (11-12-23), junior defenseman Nick Perbix (7-16-23), and junior forward Nolan Walker (9-13-22)


Top Goaltender: senior Dávid Hrenák (16-9, 2.51 GAA, .910 SV%, 2 Shutouts)


Why they will win the Frozen Four: St. Cloud State has a dynamic, yet very balanced, offense.

They get scoring from all four lines and have shown that they can compete with some of the best teams in the country.


SCSU went 5-2 against fellow Frozen Four team, No. 5 UMD and 1-1-1 against No. 4 UND. They also impressed in the Albany Regional beating Boston University and Boston College in impressive fashion, outscoring their opponents a combined 10-3.


Goaltender Dávid Hrenák, while not bad in the regular season, has really turned it on in the tournament. In his two games against BU and BC, Hrenák has stood tall with an impressive .951 SV% and a 1.5 GAA.


Why they will not win the Frozen Four: Simply put, this St. Cloud State Team will go as far as

Dávid Hrenák can take them.


While the SCSU offense will provide the goals, scoring an average of 3.31 goals-per-game, their defensive zone has been the main concern for St. Cloud in recent years. Of St. Cloud’s ten losses this season, six of those losses came after allowing 4 or more goals against.


If St. Cloud can’t secure the defensive zone, especially against the high caliber offenses that are left in the tournament, it will likely be their undoing.



No. 5 University of Minnesota-Duluth

Season Record: 15-10-2 (13-9-2 3rd in NCHC)


Top Players: Senior forward Nick Swaney (13-14-27), junior forward Jackson Cates (11-16-27), senior forward Kobe Roth (13-10-23), and junior forward Cole Koepke (14-8-22)


Top Goaltender: freshman Zach Stejskal (4-3-0, 1.75 GAA, .934 SV%)


Why they will win the Frozen Four: Minnesota-Duluth has made it to three straight national championships and has won two of them. Head Coach Scott Sandelin has had a lot of post-season success and knows how to get the most out of his players.


On top of this, they have good depth defensively and goaltender Zach Stejskal has shown that he can steal a game, stopping 57/59 in UMD’s 5OT win over UND in the Fargo Regional Final.

Why the will not win the Frozen Four: UMD struggled down the stretch and have won just three of their last eight games.


They have decent offensive depth, at best, and get limited production out of their third and fourth line. While they have a strong defensive core, this lack of offense upfront could hurt the Bulldogs against some of the deeper teams in the tournament.


Additionally, starting goaltender Zach Stejskal has very limited experience with only 7 games played at the Division One level. While he has been good, this lack of experience in net could be an issue for UMD, especially in the high pressure atmosphere of the Frozen Four.



No. 2 University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Season Record: 18-5-4 (13-5-4 3rd in Hockey East)


Top Players: junior forward Bobby Trivigno (10-21-31), senior forward Oliver Chau (5-20-25), grad transfer Carson Gicewicz (17-7-24) and sophomore defensemen Zac Jones (8-15-23)


Top Goaltender: junior Filip Lindberg (9-4-1, 1.33 GAA, .946 SV%, 4 Shutouts)


Why they will win the Frozen Four: This is one of the deepest teams in UMass History.


All four lines are extremely dangerous in the offensive zone and are responsible in the defensive zone. They have an elite D core with three potential NHL defensemen in Zac Jones, Marc Del Gaizo and Matt Kessel.


Additionally, they have a phenomenal goaltender in Filip Lindberg who has looked almost unbeatable in the first two games of the tournament. Lindberg stopped a combined 48/49 for a .979 SV% and 0.5 GAA in UMass’s games against Lake Superior State and Bemijdi State in the East regional.

Why they will not win the Frozen Four: There doesn’t seem to be much that can stop this UMass Squad. If UMass is to be beaten in this tournament, it is going to come down to superior defensive zone coverage.


With an average goals-per-game of 3.52 and goals-against-per-game of 1.70, it is going to take a great effort from the opposing goaltender and defensemen to beat UMass.


If they are to fall, expect it to be a low-scoring victory for their opponent, perhaps 1-0 or 2-1.