The Men’s Frozen Four lowdown and The Wild; down, out and done

Marc Elliott

NCAA Mens Ice Hockey Championship  programs from the Marc Elliott sports collection
NCAA Mens Ice Hockey Championship programs from the Marc Elliott sports collection

EMO… One of the most anticipated weeks on the hockey calendar is at hand with both the Stanley Cup tourney beginning and the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four down to the Semi’s and the Final. Let’s get down to business on the F4. In the interest of transparency and for a refresher I had emerging from the regionals in my bracket, The Cloud, Notre Dame, Cornell and the UMD Bulldogs. If that had been the F4, I then had The Cloud over the Irish and UMD over Cornell setting up a St. Cloud-UMD rematch. I had St. Cloud prevailing in the National Final. My thoughts there were that they held a 3-2 advantage in games this season and would be looking for a win after dropping the NCHC tourney Final to the Dogs in St. Paul. Of course, that’s not real in-depth analysis, and I did look at several other factors. This was a tough call though. I mean, I could see the Dogs winning too on the back of the extraordinary play of netminder Hunter Shepard. In reality that’s a coinflip of a game. 

Well, those thoughts mean nothing now as my brackets were shot by the end of the first day of the regionals. The teams that did win and will compete in Buffalo NY this weekend are Denver vs. UMass and Providence vs. UMD. As pointed out by another local scribe, the Dogs are the Vegas favorite, and I too believe it to be their tournament to win, it has set up well for them. But hold on there Baba Louie, this tourney is anything but easy to win. So, my thoughts and some talking points. We saw some “unusual” outcomes in the regionals. The State of Hockey had three number one seeds and two of them were ousted in their first contest. Many fans would say that that’s reflective of the “parity” found in the collegiate game over the past 10-15 years. But one analyst, Dave Starman, working on the Fargo regional whereby St. Cloud was beaten by American International in their first game said, no, he doesn’t believe that there is parity.

He went on to give a detailed explanation of why he thinks that and it centered around teams building with star players from the National Training and Development Program ran by USA Hockey, aka “one or two and done” players, versus those who recruited players who were quite good and willing to stick around for four years and develop a superior and experienced  “team”. While Starman’s theory certainly has merit, whether you recruit superstars who likely will leave early or build with “steady eddies”, the end result has still created parity. And if I compare the college landscape now with the game back in the seventies, there isn’t a heck of a lot of separation in the game right now, however you wish to categorize that. I think that’s a good thing. The college game and the pro game have never been better in my view. 

FOR U-MASS this is their first F4 ever. While they are lacking in tourney experience, they do have what most pro scouts and GM’s believe to be the best player in college hockey this year in D-man Cale Makar. His rights are with COL, and many believe he could not only start for them right now, but also run their power play. The remainder of the club has strength too. Their goalies are ranked 1st and 16th, Lindberg, 10-3-0, 1.42GAA/.939SV% and Murray, 20-5, 2.11GAA, .919SV%. Makar is the 3rd leading scorer with 16G/32A/48pts, their team offense is 3rd at 3.77 GPG, and team defense is 6th at 1.97 GAPG. Their PP was 2nd at 28.17% and the PK was 4th at 87.50%. They are 10th in PIM’s at 10.10 minutes PG. They played 5 tourney teams, going 6-4 and outscored their two opponents 8-0 in the regionals…. 

DENVER U has been in 2 of the last 3 F4’s winning the title in 2017. This program has a storied history and is seeking it’s 9th National Title. Overall, they are more of a “team” then a group laden with stars although their 2 goalies rank 7th and 10th nationally. Devin Cooley is 11-6-2 with a 1.86 GAA and a .934 SV%. Filip Larrson is 13-5-3 with a 1-87 GAA and a .935 SV%. The team has no upper level scoring stars and ranks in a tie for 28th on team offense at 2.80 GPG. On team defense though, on the strength of their netminding they rank 7th with a 1.98 GAPG. The DU PP is 48th at 15.0% and the PK ranks 21st at a rate of 83.22%. They rank 42nd in PIM’s per game at 10.05. Prior to the regionals they played 3 tourney teams going 3-6. In 2 regional games they outscore their opposition 5-0…

THE PROVIDENCE FRIARS won the title in 2015 and are back with high hopes. While they don’t feature any star scorers, (their leader is tied for 31st, Jack Dugan, 10G/29A/39pts) their team offense ranks 9th at 3.22 GPG. They lean on one netminder heavily and that player, Hayden Hawkey (24-11-5) is the 9th ranked tender in the country with a 1.87 GAA and a .920 SV%. This has led the Friars to have the 4th ranked team defense with a 1.95 GAPG average. Their PP is 13th at 22.16%, and their PK is 5th at 86.83%. They are at 34th in PIM’s at 10.44 PG. Prior to the regions they met 4 tourney clubs going 4-4-1. They outscored opponents 10-3 in the regional with one SO…

THE DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPION UMD Bulldogs, well, they have an epic quest before them. No team has repeated since 02-03 (Minnesota) and 04-05 (Denver). But as I said earlier, I like the way this sets up for the Dogs. They have played a schedule that has battle tested them, they have scoring, defense, goaltending and special teams and they have that one crucial factor in my book; experience. This is a team that will bend but for the most part they won’t break. The leading scorer is Parker Mackay with 15G/15A/30pts. The team is led by 6th ranked goaltender Hunter Shepard at 27-11-2 with a 1.82 GAA and a .920 SV%. Team offense ranks 11th at 3.15 GPG, T4th on team defense at 1.95 GAPG, 14th on the PP at 21.99 PG, 10th on the PK at 85.71% and are 27th in PIM’s with 10.97 PG. The Dogs played 4 tourney teams in-season going 8-6. They outscored opponents 5-2 in two regional wins… 

IN THE SEMIS; I’ll take UMass to prevail over Denver, and I’ll take UMD over the Friars. In the Championship, if I go with data, I’d take UMass, if I went with emotion, I’d take UMD. I’m tossing both aside and going with playoff experience; UMD Repeats! PEACE   

THE MINNESOTA WILD went 1-2 last week, but lost their playoff bid after COL won on Tuesday after the Wild beat the JETS in St. Paul, going 5-0 against them for the season. I’ll have a wrap next week… OVER & OUT!