2013 Frozen Four Preview
By Bob Herpen, TSN Writer
(Sports Network) - It's the year of the underdog, as four schools which have never before won an NCAA Division I championship comprise the field for the 2013 Frozen Four, set to kick off Thursday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Of the four programs vying for supremacy -- Yale, UMass-Lowell, St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac -- only the Bulldogs of New Haven have reached the semifinal round before, and that was 61 years ago.
In the early semifinal, the Hockey East regular-season and playoff champion faces off against an Ivy League stalwart.
HEAD COACH: Norm Bazin (52-23-3); Captain: Riley Wetmore
After years of slogging through the intense competition in Hockey East, playing second fiddle to the likes of Boston College, Boston University, Maine and New Hampshire, Bazin finally has the River Hawks rising to the challenge. Incredibly, they've done it without the flash of larger, more bankable programs.
It begins with netminder Connor Hellebuyck -- who has rolled to an impressive 20-2-0 record. The freshman backstop leads all of Division I with a 1.31 goals against average and .953 save percentage, while tying for tops in the nation with six shutouts alongside Niagara junior Carsen Chuback.
No UMass-Lowell forward ranks in the top 10 in any single offensive category, but the program ranks third of all conference teams in total scores with 121. The school which calls Tsongas Arena home has outscored their playoff opponents 17-5, with two whitewashes, dating back to the Hockey East quarterfinals.
For his efforts in just his second year behind the bench at his alma mater, Bazin was selected as one of the seven finalists, then was given the Spencer Penrose Award as the best coach in Division I hockey this season.
Then known simply as Lowell, the Chiefs won three titles at the Division II level, in 1979, 1981 and 1982.
HEAD COACH: Keith Allain (136-84-19); Captain: Andrew Miller
Allain led his Elis to the NCAA Tournament in three straight years from 2009-11, but ran into roadblocks each time which prevented advancement to the Frozen Four. He's trying to prevent further misfortune by directing his young defense to cut off passing lanes and generally make life miserable for opposing teams that like to skate through the middle of the ice, along with a healthy dose of shot blocking and puck movement in transition from turnovers.
The Bulldogs finished third in the ECAC during the regular season, then swept St. Lawrence before falling to eventual playoff champion Union. That defeat fresh in mind, Yale shocked Minnesota in the West Regional Opener, scoring the fastest overtime goal in tourney history -- six seconds -- in a 3-2 decision against the Golden Gophers. What followed was a 4-1 win against perennial powerhouse North Dakota in the regional final to reach Pittsburgh.
Junior forward Kenny Agostino leads the way with 40 points, while Miller has added 16 goals and 37 points. Senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm clocks in with an 18-6-2 record, 2.35 GAA and two shutouts. Yale has lost just three times since December 1, after beginning the year an inauspicious 5-7-1.
The River Hawks lead the all time series 8-3-0, but the schools have not met since 1999.
The nightcap features a new ECAC powerhouse against a surprise finisher from the WCHA.
HEAD COACH: Rand Pecknold (366-237-57); Captain: Zack Currie
The Bobcats enter new territory this week, thanks to the efforts of East Regional MVP Matthew Peca, who struck for four goals and one assist in victories over Canisius and Union. Prior to those contests, Quinnipiac had only appeared in one previous NCAA Tournament game, a 6-1 loss to Cornell in 2002.
But Pecknold, now in his 19th season guiding the program and also a Penrose finalist, has his kids ready for prime time after an unexpected rise to the top of the national rankings in the latter half of the regular season.
Once again, success starts in the crease, as Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Hartzell ranks third in the country with a career-best 1.55 GAA, is tied for second in the nation with five shutouts and leads all of D-I with 29 victories. His job in the net has been made easier by the country's best penalty-killing unit, which has clicked at a 90.6 percent success rate thus far.
An offense averaging better than three goals per game is fueled by balance: five players have posted double-digit goal totals, led by Jordan Samuels- Thomas' 16 and Peca's 15 tallies, while Peca and Jeremy Langlois are tied atop the points list with 30 -- two of the 16 skaters to reach double-digit point totals. In addition, Quinnipiac can win the close ones, going 10-3 this season in games decided by one score.
ST. CLOUD STATE (25-15-1)
HEAD COACH: Bob Motzko (162-124-35); Captain: Ben Hanowski
The Huskies enter championship weekend sporting the second-best offense in the country -- no surprise given they skate on an Olympic-sized rink rather than one with North American regulation dimensions -- thanks in large part to Hobey finalist Drew LeBlanc, who has racked up 50 points in 41 games, placing second in the country with 37 assists. The fifth-year senior winger is joined by linemate Nic Dowd (38 points), 22-goal scorer Jonny Brodzinski and captain Hanowski, who is second on the club with 17 markers.
Sophomore Ryan Faragher has taken some heat for his performance, and despite the fact that he holds the highest GAA of any of the four remaining goaltenders at 2.24, his 24-14-1 record while competing in the high-octane WCHA is nothing to take lightly.
In his eighth year at the helm, Motzko may not have his most talented club on the threshold of a championship, but this will be his best shot to win after three previous trips to the national postseason (2007, 2008, 2010) ended with early exits.
These programs have met just four times previously, with SCSU having won three of them, including the last matchup in December of 2010.
04/10 13:53:51 ET