Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thursday Frozen Four Gameday: Back to Business

Frozen Four Semifinals from TD Garden in Boston:
Both games on ESPN 2:
Nebraska Omaha vs. Providence, 4 p.m. CT
North Dakota vs. Boston University, 7:30 p.m. CT



0.6

It's a memory that DDC, and all Sioux hockey fans a like, remember very well.

UND had the favored Minnesota Gophers on the edge of overtime in the 2014 Frozen Four semifinals in Philadelphia.

A face off loss in the offensive zone, a quick Minnesota transition and a seeing-eye bleeder to the back of the UND net later, a devastated North Dakota squad saw its quest for an eighth national championship fall by the wayside against it's biggest rival, 2-1 with 0.6 left on the clock, in gut-wrenching fashion.

Fast forward a year.

For UND, with 0.6 now far in the rear view mirror, yet still very much fresh in their minds, it's back to business. This time, North Dakota is here to finish the fight.

What will be the story of tonight's Frozen Four semifinal showdown with a dynamic Boston University team playing in front of what will essentially be a hometown crowd from TD Garden in Boston?

We'll find out in a few short hours.

Here's a look at UND coming into their semifinal tussle with BU.

Green and White Go-Tos

UND's Zane McIntyre, Jordan Schmaltz and Paul LaDue celebrate
following their 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State in the West Region final,
March 28 in Fargo. (Photo credit: Grand Forks Herald)

Players to Watch:


Jr. F, Drake Caggiula, 18 goals, 18 assists -- 32 points
Sr. F, Michael Parks, 12 g, 20 a -- 32 pts (1 point in last 10 games)
Jr. D, Jordan Schmaltz, 4 g, 23 a -- 27 pts
Fr. F, Nick Schmaltz, 5 g, 21 a -- 26 pts

Jr. G, Zane McIntyre, 29-9-3 (.744 win percentage 4th in NCAA), 2.00 goals against average (11th in NCAA), .931 save percentage (7th in NCAA)

Standout Stats


3.29 goals per game (8th in NCAA), 2.17 goals allowed per game (7th in NCAA), 16 players with at least 11 points, 25-0-2 when leading after two periods, 20-3-3 when scoring first.

134 career points from the senior class is 45 more than BU's and leads all Frozen Four teams. 13-8-3 against tournament teams this season.

The Picks


Let's start with the other side of the bracket.

Nebraska Omaha vs. Providence

These are two teams looking to make a permanent name for themselves on the college hockey scene.

An elite goaltending match up headlines the early game from the Frozen Four and this should be a dandy to watch. Ryan Massa vs. Jon Gillies.

With these two stalwarts in the nets, DDC expects a fast-paced, grinding battle. Scoring first will be a huge key. Who will break first?

Tough one to pick, but having seen both of these two teams first hand this season, DDC expects the speed of the Mavericks to win out. Dean Blais is a heck of a coach and this UNO squad has taken some huge strides this season and DDC thinks this continues into the national championship game.

OMAHA WINS, 3-1 with an empty net goal.


North Dakota vs. Boston University


Seriously. Can it get any better than this?

A high-flying offense in Boston U vs. a tenacious, gritty defensive team in North Dakota.

This is what the Frozen Four is all about. Two all-time programs going at it on the grandest stage.

This match up is one of youth vs. experience. UND's senior class has been here before. They've played under the biggest lights in the biggest spots.

As of today, 0.6 is the story of this North Dakota senior class' lasting legacy.

And simply put, this legacy is one they desperately want to change.

From day one this season and even further back as when they departed Philadelphia in crushing fashion, this UND squad has had one goal in mind and that is to hang the eighth green banner from the rafters of Ralph Engelstad Arena.

BU is talented and features the best player in college hockey in Jack Eichel. No doubt, the Terriers want this game just much as North Dakota does. However, DDC believes that the demons of 0.6 in Philadelphia are what separates UND from BU.

Outside of maybe Boston College, the Terriers haven't seen a team play like UND does defensively. 

Zane McIntyre and the North Dakota defense have played at an elite level all year and with the motivation of No. 8 and 0.6 on the mind of the Green and White, DDC sees this continuing.

UND WINS, 4-1


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Omaha vs. Providence: It's Been Awhile

One phrase may sum up Thursday's Frozen Four semifinal match up between Nebraska Omaha and Providence College: It's been awhile.

On one side of the ice, "it's been awhile" refers to a Friars squad that hasn't made it to college hockey's grandest stage since 1985.

On the other, the phrase refers to UNO's head coach, Dean Blais, who returns to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2001, while with North Dakota. Blais won two national championships with the Fighting Sioux in 1997 and 2000.

While there is some experience for both programs in some shape or form, the current incarnations of these UNO and PC squads are fresh to the national championship scene. Outside of their first run since 1985, it's the first appearance in the Frozen Four for Providence head coach Nate Leaman.

And while the Mavericks head coach may have the experience, this is UNO's first Frozen Four appearance in their 18-year history, after notching their program's first two tournament wins in the this year's Midwest Regional.

So, what should college hockey fans expect when the Friars and Mavericks get together in TD Garden in Boston on Thursday? A look at the nets tells the biggest story as Omaha's Ryan Massa and Providence's Jon Gillies are two of the best goaltenders that college hockey has to offer.

Here's a look at the two teams as they prep for their Frozen Four faceoff.

You Know UNO?


Players to Watch:


So. F, Jake Gunetzel, 13 goals, 25 assists --38 points
So. F, Austin Ortega, 20 g, 17 a -- 37 pts. 11 game-winning goals leads the NCAA.
Fr. F, Jake Randolph, 5 g, 21 a -- 26 pts

Sr. G, Ryan Massa, 14-7-6, .939 save percentage (best in NCAA), 1.92 goals against average (5th in NCAA)

Nebraska Omaha's Ryan Massa leads the NCAA in save percentage (.939)

Friars Flying High


Players to Watch:


Jr. F, Nick Saracino, 13 g, 22 a --35 pts
Sr. F, Shane Luke, 13 g, 18 a -- 31 pts
Jr. F, Noel Acciari, 14 g, 16 a -- 30 pts

Jr. G, Jon Gillies, 22-13-2, .929 SV PCT (12th in NCAA), 2.01 GAA (13th in NCAA)

PC's Jon Gilles  is in the Top 13 in the NCAA in goals against average and save percentage.

Standout Stats


Nebraska-Omaha:


11 players with at least 14 points.

13-3-1 when scoring first, 15-1-1 when leading after 2 periods

Providence:


14 players with at least 11 points.

2.05 goals against per game (5th in NCAA), 15.2% power play (40th in NCAA)

We've gotten a look at BU, Nebraska-Omaha and Providence. So, check in tomorrow for DDC's look at North Dakota and his picks for the semifinal match ups from Boston. We're just one day away, folks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Boston U: Only Eichel? You Don't Know Jack

If you've followed college hockey even a little bit this season, you're well versed in Boston University's Jack Eichel.

The North Chelmsford, Mass., native has dazzled the NCAA this year and his numbers speak for themselves.

The rookie forward leads the NCAA in points (67), points per game (1.76), assists (43), assist per game (1.13), plus/minus (+49) and power play points (22). He's also fifth in goals (24).

He's a presumed Top-2 pick in this year's NHL draft, appeared on a recent SportCenter episode and is everyone's odds-on-favorite to win the Hobey Baker award as college hockey's finest player.

So the formula seems simple. Stop Eichel, stop the Terriers, right?

Freshman phenom Jack Eichel leads the Terriers, but who else should fans keep their eye on?
Simply put, absolutely not.

The UND men's hockey team will have its hands full this Thursday night in TD Garden in Boston during their Frozen Four national semifinal showdown with a BU squad that can deliver up and down their lineup.

Let's take a closer look at some of "the rest" of the Terriers.

Up Front


Jr. F, Evan Rodrigues'
45 points is in the most
in the NCAA
since Christmas
First up, the Northeast Regional Most Outstanding Player, Evan Rodrigues.

The senior forward has notched some gaudy numbers himself not only this season, but in his career, entering the Frozen Four as the NCAA's active scoring leader with 121 points. Rodrigues' 1.03 assists per game and 1.56 points per game are  2nd and 3rd best in the country this season.

The Senior scored three goals in the regional, including the game-winner against UMD in the regional final, and added an assist. Rodrigues' 45 points since Christmas are the most in the NCAA.

Complimenting Eichel and Rodrigues, junior Danny O'Regan rounds out the Terriers top line with the 13th best points per game in the NCAA averaging 1.23 per game.

Outside of the top line, converted defenseman Ahti Oksanen's 24 goals (.68 per game) is the 4th best in the NCAA and the junior's 9 power play goals are third.

So, stop their forward lines and that's it, right? Wrong again.

In the D-Zone


Jr. D, Matt Grzelyck's
37 points is 4th-best
by a D-man in the NCAA
BU's 12th best defensive corps allows just 2.26 goals per game and is led by a pair of juniors.

Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is fourth in the country scoring per game by a defenseman with 37 (10 goals, 27 assists).

Between the pipes, Matt O'Connor leads the NCAA with a .839 win percentage and is 15th in the country with a .928 save percentage.

We've solved it. Stop a dynamic top line, plus one and a solid D-corps. Depth will be the Achilles heel, right? Again, a closer look may speak different.

Terriers Dig Deep


Outside of those already mentioned, BU has solid depth with seven other players coming into the Frozen Four with at least 11 points.

What Can Slow BU?


There are certainly a lot of pretty stats to suggest the Terriers are a force to be reckoned, but, what can hold this BU team down?

Special teams are always a key to a playoff run. BU has been excellent on the power play this season, featuring the second best percentage (25.6%) in the nation. However, the Terriers haven't been world beaters on the penalty kill, carrying a 83.1% kill, just 28th best in the NCAA, into the Frozen Four.

Come Frozen Four time, experience can play a big-time role. While BU has passed every test put in front of them this season, the Terriers have only played eight games against NCAA tournament teams this season, going 5-3 in those games. On the other end, UND has played 24 such games, going 13-8-3.

Another aspect of that experience comes in the age of these two squads. No need to look any further than the last two national championship teams, Union and Yale, who featured veteran-heavy lineup, as examples.

BU is very young, with an average age of 20.88 years old, the Terriers are the youngest team in the country. North Dakota is more a year older at 21.95 with its seniors playing in four NCAA tournaments and a Frozen Four. For the coaches, UND's Dave Hakstol is in his 7th Frozen Four in 11 years while BU's David Quinn is in his first in his second season as head man. Can this Terrier team continue to play like veterans?

Check back in tomorrow for a deeper look at Nebraska-Omaha and Providence. Then, on Thursday, DDC will take one last peek at North Dakota and make his semifinals picks. 


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rose and Thorns: Shippin' Up to Boston

UND gives a stick salute to the Scheels Arena faithful after their 4-1 win
over St. Cloud State on Saturday. (Photo: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald)
Two weekends ago, the UND men's hockey team entered the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis fresh off a 5-1, 3-2 sweep of Colorado College as the favorites to take home some more hardware.

Two uninspiring losses later, their first in back-to-back form in two years, the Green and White suddenly found themselves looking for answers coming into the NCAA tournament.

As noted in last weekend's preview, what a difference a week makes.

The NCAA West Regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo saw UND get back to the form that got them the No. 1 seed in said regional. North Dakota rode the emotional wave of a raucous, green and white clad, highly-partisan crowd with a pair of convincing 4-1 wins over Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State to punch their ticket to the Frozen Four in Boston.

Here's what stood out to the DDC in this week's Roses and Thorns.

ROSES


No. 1 -- Scheels Arena


The aforementioned barn, just 70+ miles from the UND campus, provided a special dynamic that willed the Green and White to Boston. North Dakota sure did provide the crowd something to cheer about. The sold out arena delivered a distinct, home-ice advantage to the Green and White and UND played with a passion that could not be slowed all weekend. Every goal, big hit and timely save brought an enormous cheer from the 5,000+ in Fargo.

“It was awesome,” UND head coach Dave Hakstol said following the 4-1 win over Quinnipiac on Friday. “Right from walking in the building a couple of hours before the game right through the final buzzer. What a tremendous atmosphere for our players to have an opportunity to play in.”

No. 2 -- Tucker Poolman and Luke Johnson


DDC didn't give these two separate roses just to avoid getting too long, but, this pair certainly deserved it. Both Poolman and Johnson scored goals on Friday. Saturday, Poolman notched an assist and Johnson scored again, leading UND to the west region title. Outside of the scoresheet, these two both played uptempo, physical games all weekend. The pair led the way on the forecheck, as well. After a weekend that saw few players deliver on the energy part of the game in Minneapolis, these two set the tone for the Green and White.

No. 3 -- Andrew Panzarella


Before Saturday night's game, the senior defenseman had been a healthy scratch in 15 consecutive games for UND, so, to expect much of an impact from a player who hadn't scored all season was a bit of a long shot. In the biggest of spots, the Washington, D.C. native delivered. Playing for Keaton Thompson who was out with the flu, Panzarella scored a big-time goal in the first period that tied the game 1-1 and got North Dakota going when it desperately needed it. As it has been said many times this season, UND's strongest feature may be its depth. No stronger testament to that was the play of Panzarella on Saturday.

From Tom Miller of the Grand Forks Herald:

When UND coach Dave Hakstol was chatting with broadcasting crews before the regional, Hakstol mentioned Panzarella as one of the players who sets the bar for the team.

Before the regional, Hakstol mentioned Panzarella as one of the players who sets the bar for the team.
Hakstol said he received a few puzzling looks, because Panzarella hasn’t been in the lineup much lately.

“He sets the tone for our hockey team,” Hakstol said. “His work ethic and what type of teammate he is is what sets the bar.

“It’s not by accident that he’s able to step in and be successful. That’s not easy. That says all you need to know about the extra work that young man does to be prepared."

UND's Andrew Panzarella (22) celebrates his goal with Tucker Poolman
on Saturday. (Photo: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

No. 4 -- Zane McIntyre


Seriously. What else can be said about this kid? The Hobey Baker and Mike Richter Award finalist proved his mettle once again in Fargo. For the 14th and 15th time this season, McIntyre allowed just one goal in a game. Although not tested as much on Friday, the junior netminder certainly was tested on Saturday, making several point-blank saves against St. Cloud, leading his team to Boston.

THORNS


UND's Michael Parks (15) and Drake Caggiula celebrate a goal on Saturday
during their 4-1 win over St. Cloud State. (Photo: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

No. 1 -- Rand Pecknold


Quinnipiac looked to be down its best scorer, Sam Anas, in Friday night's game and Pecknold went as far as to say that they'd be "dreaming" to have the forward play. Well, he did. Although Anas was an afterthought throughout, this was interesting talk coming into a NCAA tournament. Was he trying to fleece the UND faithful? Who knows? Then, after QU fell to UND, Pecknold took a shot at the Fargo regional selection, stating it wasn't a neutral site. He later noted that being the No. 14 seed provided them no help. Sounds like sour grapes to this blogger.


No. 2 -- The Flu


Having several players fighting illness certainly isn't an ideal situation, but UND had to fight through just that this weekend. The Green and White were without a top defenseman, Keaton Thompson, due to the flu and reportedly had another player receiving IVs during intermissions. Here's to hoping the week off can get UND back to full health.

No. 3 -- Heartbreaking Final Game for MTU's Riley Sweeney


Man, this was tough. With Michigan Tech under a minute away from its first NCAA tournament win since 1981, Michigan Tech senior Riley Sweeney skated to the red line with an open St. Cloud State net, looking to seal the victory. Sweeney missed the net. SCSU netted the game-tying goal moments later and sent the game to overtime. Then, things got worse for Sweeney. MTU carried the zone in OT and the senior held the puck, but slipped to the ice. A two-on-one rush the other way led to the game-winning goal off the stick of St. Cloud's Judd Peterson. Absolutely heartbreaking stuff. Keep your head up, Mr. Sweeney.

So, that's it. Thanks again for reading. Check back in over the next handful of days leading up to UND's Frozen Four battle with Boston University on April 9.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Gameday: It's Time

NCAA West Region
Friday (all times CT):
No. 1 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Quinnipiac, ESPN U, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Michigan Tech vs. No. 3 St. Cloud State, ESPN 3, 3:30 p.m.
Saturday:
UND/QU winner vs. MTU/SCSU winner, ESPN U, 8 p.m.


Ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of year.

It's time for one-and-done. It's time for white knuckles and sweaty palms.

It's time for beating hearts, greasy goals and queasy stomachs.

The time for conference championships and game-planning is over.

For the four teams in the NCAA West Regional, North Dakota, Michigan Tech, St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac, it's two wins to Boston and one loss to the golf course.

It's playoff time.

All four teams that will grace the Scheels Arena ice in Fargo, N.D. this weekend are coming off a loss. Another one will mean the end of their season.

All have some big questions that need answers this weekend.

One team, UND, is coming off losses in back-to-back games for the first time in two years. Two teams, QU and SCSU, are facing key injuries. The other, Michigan Tech, is playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1981.

Who will have the answers this weekend?

Let's get to it. Here's your breakdown of what we'll see this weekend.

The Teams


No. 1 North Dakota, 27-9-3, 16-2-2, NCHC regular season champion


Leading Scorers: Jr. F, Drake Caggiula, 16 g, 17 a --33 pts
Sr. F, Michael Parks, 12 g, 20 a -- 32 pts
Jr. D, Jordan Schmaltz, 4 g, 23 a -- 27 pts

16 players with at least 10 points

Jr. G, Zane McIntyre, 27-9-3 (2nd in NCAA in wins), .929 sv pct, 2.05 GAA

3.26 GPG (10th in NCAA), 2.33 goals allowed (10th in NCAA), 19.6% PP, 84.5 % PK, 23-0-2 when leading after 2

Last Action: 3-1 L vs. SCSU, 5-1 L vs. Denver in NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Big Story: What will be the response after losing back-to-back games for first time in two years? Playing in front of a partisan crowd, just 70 miles from home, UND will need to find goals.

No. 4 Quinnipiac Bobcats, 23-11-4, 16-3-3, ECAC regular season champion


Leading Scorers: So. F, Sam Anas, 23 goals, 16 assists -- 39 points
Sr. F, Matthew Peca, 7 g, 29 a (.76 per game, T-14 in NCAA) -- 36 pts
Jr. F, Travis Denis, 15 g, 18 a -- 33 pts

Jr. G, Michael Garteig, 22-9-3, .918 save percentage, 2.00 goals against average, 5 shutouts (T-6 in NCAA)

Split with SCSU 3-2 L, 4-1 in January

2.76 GPG, 2.24 goals allowed (11th in NCAA) 19.6% PP, 87.9% PK (6th in NCAA) +223 in shots

Last Action: 5-2 L vs. Harvard in ECAC semifinals

Big Story: Head coach Rand Pecknold played coy with media on Thursday after his leading scorer, Sam Anas, who was presumed to be out for the regional, practiced with a no-contact jersey.

No. 2 Michigan Tech Huskies, 29-9-2, 2nd in WCHA


Leading Scorers: Sr. F, Tanner Kero, 19 g, 26 a --45 pts
Jr. F, Alex Petan, 15 g, 29 a -- 39 pts
Jr. F, Malcolm Gould, 14 g, 17 a -- 31 pts

15 players with at least 10 points

Jr. G, Jamie Phillips, 28-8-2 (Leads NCAA in wins), 1.71 GAA (3rd in NCAA), .935 sv pct (3rd in NCAA), 6 shutouts (T-2 in NCAA)

3.55 GPG (6th in NCAA), 1.77 goals allowed (2nd in NCAA), 1.77 scoring margin best in NCAA, 21.6% PP (7th in NCAA), 85.4% PK, +307 in shots, 19-3-0 when leading after 2

Last Action: 5-2 L vs. Minnesota State in WCHA Title Game

Big Story: In NCAA tournament for first time since 1981. Are the Huskies just happy to be here?

No. 3 St. Cloud State Huskies, 19-18-1, 11-12-1, 6th in NCHC


Leading Scorers: Jr. F, Joey Benik, 16 g, 22 a -- 38 pts
Jr. F, Jonny Brodzinski, 20 g (11 power play goals leads the NCAA), 17 a -- 37 pts
Jr. F, David Morley, 17 g, 11 a -- 28 pts

So. G, Charlie Lindgren, 18-17-1, 2.26 GAA, .919 sv pct

2.76 GPG, 2.39 goals allowed, 23.7% PP (5th in NCAA), 80.0% PK (44th in NCAA)    

Last Action: 3-1 W vs. North Dakota, 3-2 L vs. Miami in NCHC Frozen Faceoff title game

Big Story: Forward Kalle Kossila and defenseman Andrew Prochno likely to return from injury.

The Picks


No. 1 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Quinnipiac

Will forward Sam Anas play against UND?

Earlier this week, the Bobcats looked like they would be without their most dynamic player, Sam Anas for this first-round showdown with UND.

A red, no-contact jersey and a no comment postgame presser from coach Rand Pecknold later, Anas looks like he could be ready to go.

Gamesmanship? Why not?

Before last weekend's mess-of-a-weekend for UND, the Green and White looked to be a no-brainer pick to make it to the Frozen Four in Boston with what will be essentially a home game just 70 miles from Grand Forks.

What a difference a weekend makes.

Two uninspiring losses later, can North Dakota bounce back?

Defense and goaltending have been the name of the game all year for the Green and White, but this weekend, UND must find a way to be desperate offensively. In losses to St. Cloud and Denver, a lack of energy was evident and 2 goals on the weekend showed that. UND failed to generate any kind of sustained offense in front of their opponent's net and we're held to perimeter shots that missed the net or were blocked by traffic.

DDC's take is that there is just too much senior leadership on this team to allow for another soft performance. North Dakota failed to find rebounds down low in two games last weekend. Expect to see this change.

UND finds a way to get to the paint and knock home some rebounds with a hard-working, Sioux-like victory.

UND WINS 3-1


No. 2 Michigan Tech vs. No. 3 St. Cloud State

SCSU Jr. Forward
Jonny Brodzinski

This is a tough one as DDC really likes both of these teams. St. Cloud State looks like it may get two key cogs, forward Kalle Kossila and defeseman Andrew Prochno, back in time for this weekend.

On the other side of the ice, Michigan Tech is a very well-balanced team, featuring a goaltender in Jamie Phillips that is in the top three in the NCAA in every important statistic. Up front, forward Tanner Kero is a Hobey Baker finalist for a reason.

St. Cloud State showed a tenacious trap game last weekend against UND and got two goals in 30 seconds at the end of the first en route to a victory that essentially got them into the NCAA tournament.

Offensively, SCSU has a dynamic power play that is lead by junior forward Jonny Brodzinski. If MTU can keep St. Cloud's power play off the ice, DDC likes them to advance.

MTU WINS 3-2


North Dakota vs. Michigan Tech, West Region Championship

UND Jr. Goaltender
Zane McIntyre

One player that DDC did not mention in his pick of the UND vs. QU is certainly an important one --

The Thief River Falls, Minn., native was visibly frustrated during UND's loss to Denver last weekend, as the netminder was hung out to dry many times last Saturday afternoon. However, all season long, when UND needed a big stop, the Hobey Baker finalist was the man for the job. And as it often does in the NCAA tournament, goaltending will be the difference in this one.

The Huskies have seen their netminder take control of his fair share of games this season, too. This one will be a treat to watch.

Throughout his three-year career at UND, McIntyre has certainly had his ups and downs, but has shown the ability to shutdown any opponent.

Tech is looking to stake claim to a renewed program and find its way to Boston, but McIntyre won't let it happen.

Big time players find a way to put their team on their back and Zane McIntyre will show his mettle on Saturday, finding an elite level in victory.

UND WINS 3-0


We're all ready. Bring on the Big Dance.