On April 10, in Philadelphia there will be four teams ready to capture the highest honor in college hockey. The road to the Frozen Four starts today and there will be a new champion crowned. The Yale Bulldogs, the 2013 champions, didn't make the tournament this year and will relinquish their title as national champs come April 12.
The field is full of interesting first round match-ups especially with the conference realignments. We will highlight some of the opening games and pick who will be making the trip to Philadelphia.
Union, Quinnipiac, Providence and Vermont are the teams that habitat in this region of the bracket. Union has been one of the best teams in the country all year long with a 28-6-4 record and ranking in the top five for goals per game (3.68), goals against per game (2.08) and goal margin (+61). This team has wrecked Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State in the regular season and cruised through ECAC playoffs. They face a Vermont team that has had troubles scoring (less than three GPG) and do not have a clear number one goalie. As for Quinnipiac, they left off where they were last season. They have played some great hockey over the last two years and Michael Garteig has been great in net. Along with the rock solid defense in front of him, the Bobcats have let in less than two goals a game (1.97). They should make quick work of Providence who play a very defensive game. Their only offensive threat is Ross Mauermann who is having his best season.
It will be an epic game with Union and Quinnipiac, but I think Union will be able to sneak some goals through Garteig and the Bobcat's defense. Union moves out of the East in a wild second round game.
Boston College, UMass Lowell, Minnesota St. Mankato and Denver meet in Worcester to battle it out. Boston College is the clear favorite to come out of the Northeast with UMass a far second. Minnesota St. Mankato have two studs in Johnny McInnis and Jean-Paul Lafontaine who both have scored 20 goals (McInnis has 21). Both are upperclassmen who will need to be at their best to knockoff UMass and their top rated defense and goalie. Umass averages 1.85 goals against (leads country) and Connor Hellebuyck is the best goalie in college hockey. With a .943 save percentage, it will be a sift task for McInnis and Lafontaine to notch a point in the opening game. Denver was the six seed in the NCHC tournament and knocked off the eight seed, Miami, to make it to the tournament. Johnny Gaudreau of Boston College will make quick work of Denver. Gaudreau has 69 points on the year and is averaging 1.86 points per game.
BC's offense has just been too good (4.05 GPG). Even facing the best goalie in the country, Gaudreau and his line mate Kevin Hayes (56 points, third in country) will be too much to handle. BC moves on to face Union in Frozen Four.
This is a bloodbath waiting to happen. Minnesota, Notre Dame, St. Cloud State and Robert Morris meet in Saint Paul to figure out who survives. Robert Morris needs a miracle to beat Minnesota. The late game featuring Notre Dame and St. Cloud will be one heck of a meeting. St. Cloud got bounced first round of the NCHC tournament which will only motivate them to score more than they already do (3.67 GPG). Notre Dame's Steven Summerhays has played his best hockey as a senior and will need to be at his best in this game. If Summerhays can stand on his head and give T.J. Tynan a chance to play on the opposite end of the ice, ND could survive. I'm giving the edge to St. Cloud because it will be a home game for them.
Minnesota will need to play their best in all areas to beat St. Cloud. The Husky moves on after am absolute shootout in St. Paul. I could see a 7-6 final here.
Wisconsin, Ferris State, Colgate and North Dakota meet up in Cincinnati. There are upsets waiting to happen at U.S. Bank Arena. North Dakota and Wisconsin are even matched teams. Wisconsin beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and took the number one seed in the Midwest. North Dakota on the other hand got bounced in the second round of the NCHC, but historically do very well in the NCAA tournament. The Sioux have 19 Frozen Four appearances and seven national titles. As a four seed, this team could be the Cinderella out of Cincy. This is a must watch first round game. As for the Ferris State and Colgate match-up, Ferris State should be able to muscle past the Raiders.
Whoever comes out of the late game should beat Ferris State in the second round. The "Fighting Sioux" are a resilient team and will be headed to Philadelphia to take on their conference rival.
The Frozen Four
St. Cloud State v. North Dakota
Union v. Boston College