2015 Frozen Four Preview: Storied programs go head-to-head as Boston University, North Dakota faceoff

By Ken McKenna
Drake Caggiula - University of North Dakota; Jack Eichel - Boston University - 2015 Frozen Four Semi-final

Photo: University of North Dakota forward Drake Caggiula and Boston University forward and 2015 prospect Jack Eichel are a pair of nine’s that led their schools in scoring in the 2014-15 season (courtesy of Tim G. Zechar/Icon Sportswire and Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

While the first semi-final game at the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four features two schools with little or no history at this event, the second game of the day pits two schools – Boston University and the University of North Dakota – with a combined 63 appearances and 43 titles between them.

For North Dakota, who are making their second consecutive Frozen Four appearance, it is a chance to avenge a last-second loss to Minnesota in 2014. North Dakota last made it to the championship game in 2005, current head coach Dave Hakstol’s first season leading the team, with their last title win coming in 2000 when current Nebraska-Omaha head coach Dean Blais was at the helm.

With 22 Frozen Four appearances and five titles under their belts, Boston University is trying to win their first championship since 2009, when they produced a come-from-behind, overtime win over Miami University. That win was also their last appearance at this event, however, so this is new territory for all of the BU players, as well as for head coach David Quinn.

Who: University of North Dakota vs. Boston University
When: April 9th, 8:30 PM EST
Where: TD Garden, Boston, MA

University of North Dakota (NCHC)

How they got here: North Dakota has posted a record of 29-9-3 to date, winning the regular season conference title along the way but losing in a 2015 Frozen Faceoff semi-final game to St. Cloud State. North Dakota was nevertheless the top seed for the West Regional in the NCAA Tournament, where they defeated Quinnipiac by a 4-1 score, then avenged their loss to St. Cloud by beating that team, 4-1, to advance to the Frozen Four.

Players to watch: With a roster that features 14 NHL draftees – the most of any team at the Frozen Four – there is any number of players that could step up to be the hero for UND. But it is an undrafted player that has led the way on offense this season, with junior forward Drake Caggiula sitting atop the UND scoring ranks with 36 points (18G, 18A) in 41 games. Caggiula has proven to be effective on special teams, posting four power play goals and three shorthanded goals, a figure that ties him for the national lead in that category.

Senior forward Michael Parks (PHI) is UND’s other main offensive weapon in the forward ranks, having totaled 32 points (12G, 20A) in 41 games to date. Like Caggiula, Parks has also been effective when the team is killing penalties, scoring a pair of shorthanded goals for a team that led the nation (11 SHG) in that category.

Beyond Caggiula and Parks, the UND roster currently sports 10 players that have scored from 14 points up to 27 points. That figure includes four defensemen – Jordan Schmaltz (STL), Paul LaDue (LAK), Nick Mattson (CHI), and Tucker Poolman (WPG) – who are a part of the top group of offensive defenders in the nation. Schmaltz leads the way with 27 points (4G, 23A) in 41 games, with three of his goals coming on the power play.

In goal is where North Dakota finds perhaps its greatest strength, with Hobey Baker Award finalist Zane McIntrye (BOS) providing an unflappable presence between the pipes. McIntrye has appeared in 40 of UND’s 41 games this season, posting a 2.00 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. His 29 wins are the most in the nation.

One important player missing from the North Dakota lineup is senior forward Mark MacMillan (MTL), whose season ended on Feb. 28th due to an injury. MacMillan was the leading goal-scorer for UND (16) at the time of his injury, but his greatest strengths may have been his defensive play and his proficiency at the faceoff dot.

What they do best: Although their semi-final opponent is more effective offensively, North Dakota is nevertheless among the top teams in the nation in that category. They have been particularly adept at producing points from their defensive group, and in general have spread their scoring across the lineup. Of the four teams at the Frozen Four, North Dakota is the best defensively, and they are particularly good at protecting a lead heading into the third period (25-0-2). But even on an off night, UND still has McIntrye in net keeping things close.

How they might be vulnerable: While UND does not have any glaring weaknesses, the team was only average on the power play this season. Losing MacMillan may hurt North Dakota when important faceoffs arise, but the team has soldiered on without their senior forward to this point. The team’s offensive flow could also be disrupted if BU can contain some of the offensive push from the defensive corps.

Ace in the hole: Experience is the main strength for North Dakota, as they sport a roster full of players that competed at this event last year. UND’s senior class has also been the most offensively effective of the seniors from the four remaining schools, producing 134 points in total this season.

Boston University (Hockey East)

How they got here: Boston University is the only one of the Frozen Four participants to win both their season title and the conference championship. They were the top seed in the Northeast Regional at the NCAA Tournament, where they defeated Yale 4-3 in overtime, then edged out Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2, to move on to the Frozen Four. They currently sport a 27-7-5 record.

Players to watch: All eyes will be on BU freshman forward Jack Eichel, the top scorer in the nation as well as the player expected to be chosen second overall at the 2015 NHL Draft. Eichel has been as good as advertised for the Terriers this season, posting 67 points (24G, 43A) in 38 games. He leads the nation in a few offensive categories, including assists, assists per game (1.13), points per game (1.76), and plus/minus (+49), and is tied for the lead in power play points (22) with Matt Leitner of Minnesota State. Adding to Eichel’s impressive freshman campaign is his selection as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But the BU offense doesn’t begin and end with Eichel as senior forward Evan Rodrigues is also among the top scorers in the nation. In 39 games, Rodrigues has posted 61 points (21G, 40A) including five power play goals and five game-winners. Junior forward Danny O’Regan (SJS) was also very productive in 2014-15, posting 48 points (22G, 26A) in 39 games to date. The other forward to top the 30-point mark is junior Ahti Oksanen. The big Finn finished the 2013-14 season as a defenseman, but BU head coach David Quinn moved Oksanen to the wing to start the 2014-15 season, a move that looks brilliant at this point given Oksanen’s 35 points (24G, 11A) in 38 games.

Yet again, the Terriers didn’t simply rely on their forwards for offense as they possess defensemen that are nearly as adept as the North Dakota unit at producing offense. Leading the way from the back-end is junior captain Matt Grzelcyk (BOS), who produced 37 points (10G, 27A) in 39 games for BU. His point total placed Grzelcyk fourth in the nation among defensemen, while his +32 ranked third overall in that category. Senior defenseman Cason Hohmann also produced at a good clip, putting up 28 points (10G, 18A) in 39 games, while freshman defender Brandon Hickey (CGY) produced 16 points (5G, 11A) in 39 games.

Like each team at this tournament, goaltending has been a key to the Terriers success this season. Big netminder Matt O’Connor has raised his profile after a strong season in which he posted a 2.10 goals-against average and .928 save percentage, while his three lossses were the fewest among goaltenders that appeared in more than 30 games. The 6’5”, 205-pound O’Connor fills the net with his size, but he has also become a better player at the position this season, to the point where he has become a hot commodity for several NHL teams looking to sign him as a free agent once his season is done.

What they do best: Offensive production is the name of the game for BU as they are the top offensive team competing at this Frozen Four. To a certain extent, Eichel is the main offensive cog, but his supporting cast is a solid one and is augmented by a talented group of defenders. The Terriers have been particularly effective on the power play, as they are the best in this category of the four teams currently standing. Defensively, BU has been good enough, in part due to the play of O’Connor.

How they might be vulnerable: The penalty-killing has been average for BU this season, although that statistic has been papered over by the highly-productive offense. In general, the Terriers lack experience as the team sports a lineup that includes 17 underclassmen, an area that could be exploited by a more experienced team such as North Dakota.

Ace in the hole: Having the top offensive player in the country is never a bad thing, but having one like Eichel, who is viewed as being a potential generational talent for the NHL, is an especially good trump card to have in your deck. With the Frozen Four taking place in Boston, the Terriers also have the “home ice” advantage, but that could be a double-edged sword if they feel a need to put on a show for the home crowd but fail to deliver early on.

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