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


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.


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


11 players with at least 14 points.

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


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.