NCAA 2005 Frozen Four preview

By DJ Powers

The field of 16 is now down to four NCAA teams vying for the national championship: Colorado College, the University of Denver, the University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota. The Frozen Four, which gets underway on April 7th in Columbus, will be an all-WCHA series. It’s the first time in NCAA hockey history that all four teams are from the same conference. The University of Wisconsin is the lone WCHA team who played in the NCAA tournament, but did not make the finals.

While the Frozen Four is an all-WCHA affair, all participating teams made this year’s NCAA Tournament a memorable one that featured some fantastic finishes and stellar player performances, including some by NHL prospects. Below is a brief look back at the NCAA Tournament regionals and a look ahead to the Frozen Four.

The road to the Frozen Four

To get to the Frozen Four, teams had to win their respective regional bracket: Colorado College (Midwest), the University of Denver (Northeast), the University of Minnesota (West) and the University of North Dakota (East).

The Colorado College Tigers faced the Colgate Raiders in one of the two Midwest Regional semi-final games. It was the highest scoring match of any in the tournament, thanks to the Tigers’ dynamic duo of juniors Brett Sterling (ATL) and Marty Sertich. The twosome combined to score three of the Tigers’ six goals en route to the 6-5 win on Friday. On Saturday, Colorado College faced the Michigan Wolverines in the Midwest Regional Final after Michigan soundly defeated Wisconsin 4-1 on Friday.

After Michigan staked out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period, the Tigers came roaring back to score four unanswered goals in the second and third periods to win the Midwest Regional on Saturday. The line combination of juniors Joey Crabb (NYR) and Trevor Frischmon and sophomore John Brunkhorst were sensational in the match, accounting for six points (three goals, three assists) including a short-handed goal and the game-winner.

Colorado College will face their archrival Denver Pioneers in one of the Frozen Four semi-final games. The game will be a rematch of the WCHA Conference Championship game and the Tigers, who lost a 1-0 heartbreaker in the contest, will look to avenge the loss in the Frozen Four.

The Denver Pioneers got all they could handle from Bemidji State in their semi-final match of the Northeast Regional on Saturday and needed overtime to defeat the Beavers 4-3. The outstanding duo of junior Gabe Gauthier and senior Kevin Ulanski accounted for six points (two goals, four assists) to lead the Pioneers. Denver next faced New Hampshire on Sunday in the Northeast Regional final after New Hampshire defeated Harvard 4-3 in overtime in one of the best matches of the entire tournament on Saturday. Like Bemidji State, New Hampshire made Denver work for their win. In the end, it would be Gauthier once again to be the hero for the Pioneers. Gauthier bagged his first career hat trick to lead Denver to a 4-2 win and their second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers faced two of the nation’s top defensive teams in the West Regional. Not surprisingly, both contests were low scoring affairs that ended in overtime. Their West Regional semi-final match versus Maine on Saturday featured one of the best goaltending duels of the tournament. Minnesota sophomore Kellen Briggs and Maine junior Jimmy Howard (DET) were sensational keeping the game scoreless through the end of regulation. The line of freshman Evan Kaufman, junior Andy Sertich (PIT) and senior Garrett Smaagaard combined on the game-winning goal at the 1:46 mark of overtime. Briggs stopped all 25 shots he faced in the win while Howard stopped 37 of the 38 shots he faced in the losing cause. Minnesota met Cornell in Sunday’s West Regional Final after the Big Red had defeated Ohio State 3-2 in their regional semi-final match. Senior Barry Tallackson (NJ), who has dealt with struggles of his own this season, notched his biggest goal of the year at the 4:31 mark of overtime to send the Golden Gophers back to the Frozen Four after a one-year absence.

Minnesota will face a very familiar adversary in North Dakota. The game will be a rematch of the WCHA Final Five third-place game that took place back on March 19th. The Golden Gophers will look to avenge the 4-2 loss that they suffered at the hands of the Fighting Sioux.

The North Dakota Fighting Sioux faced Boston University in their semi-final match in the East Regional. Sophomore Jordan Parise was brilliant in goal for the Fighting Sioux. Parise, the older brother of New Jersey Devils prospect and former UND standout Zach Parise, stopped a combined 62 of 65 shots in the East Regional against Boston University and Boston College respectively. North Dakota got great offensive production out of their top two lines in the regional series. In the semi-final game versus Boston University, it was the line of seniors Colby Genoway and Rory McMahon and sophomore Chris Porter (CHI) that accounted for most of the scoring. In the regional final versus Boston College, the high-powered trio of freshmen Travis Zajac (NJ) and Rastislav Spirko along with sophomore Drew Stafford (BUF) stole the show combining for six points (three goals, three assists) including the game-winner.

Sizing up the goaltenders

Colorado College and Denver have rotated their goaltenders much of the season with tremendous success. Colorado College head coach Scott Owens elected to go solely with senior Curtis McElhinney (CGY) in both games of the Midwest Regional. McElhinney’s performance has been very good, but not spectacular overall. He comes into the Frozen Four with the highest goals against average (4.00) and lowest save percentage (.818) of any goaltender in NCAA tournament play making it to the Frozen Four. Should McElhinney begin to struggle, the Tigers are in the fortunate situation to be able to go to sophomore Matt Zaba (LA) instead. Zaba enjoyed an outstanding regular season for Colorado College and could step in when needed.

Like Colorado College, Denver also has the luxury of going with two solid goaltenders. In Denver’s case however, head coach George Gwozdecky has continued to rotate his goaltenders into the NCAA tournament. If the rotation goes as usual, Denver will start sophomore Glenn Fisher (EDM) against Colorado College. Fisher went the distance stopping 22 of 25 shots in the Pioneers overtime win over Bemidji State in the Northeast Regional semi-final. Fisher’s goaltending partner, freshman Peter Mannino went the distance, stopping 31 of 33 shots he faced in the Pioneers’ 4-2 win over New Hampshire in the Northeast Regional Final. Should the Pioneers want to go with the goaltender with the better stats, they may choose to go with Mannino. He has posted three shutouts in his last four wins. In addition, he posted a 2.00 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in NCAA tournament play.

Minnesota and North Dakota will face one another in the second of the Frozen Four semi-final games. Both teams’ goaltenders performed superbly in the NCAA tournament and will in all likelihood be the starters in their Frozen Four semi-final match. Minnesota sophomore Kellen Briggs comes into the Frozen Four sporting the best goals against average (0.48) and save percentage (.977) in tournament play. Briggs enjoyed an outstanding regular season that ended with a hand injury back in late February that forced him to miss most of the WCHA Conference playoffs. His most recent loss coincidentally, came against North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five third-place game.

Like Briggs, North Dakota sophomore Jordan Parise also comes into the Frozen Four with impressive stats with a 1.50 goals against average and a .954 save percentage in tournament play. He notched his second shutout of the season in North Dakota’s 4-0 win over Boston University in the East Regional semi-finals. His stellar performance in the East Regional earned him the All-Regional MVP honor.

Special teams

All four goaltenders, like the respective teams that they play for, are relatively evenly matched. One noticeable area of disparity between the four teams during the regionals was their special teams performances. Minnesota and North Dakota were perfect in their respective penalty-killing situations. Minnesota went 7 for 7, while North Dakota went 18 for 18. Colorado College has had the most successful power play of the Frozen Four teams during the regionals. The Tigers went 3 for 14 on the power play overall, but surrendered two short-handed goals to Colgate in their Midwest Regional semi-final match. Denver is the only team going into the Frozen Four that did not allow a short-handed goal in the regionals, while Minnesota is the only team that did not score a power play goal in the regionals.

Prospects Notes

Michigan junior Jeff Tambellini (LA) enjoyed an outstanding NCAA Tournament for Michigan. In the Midwest Regional series versus Wisconsin and Colorado College, he notched five points (three goals, two assists). His three goals are tied with Denver junior Gabe Gauthier for first in NCAA Tournament play. Tambellini was the only player in the NCAA Tournament to score two power play goals. His outstanding performance earned him a spot on the All-Regional team along with teammates Brandon Rogers (ANA) and Al Montoya (NYR).

Maine junior goaltender Jimmy Howard (DET) was superb against Minnesota in the West Regional, stopping 37 of the Golden Gophers 38 shots, several of which were of the highlight reel variety.

Harvard senior goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris (PHI) capped his outstanding collegiate career with a sensational performance in the 4-3 loss to New Hampshire in the Northeast Regional semi-finals. With his name firmly etched in the Crimson record books, Grumet-Morris will leave Harvard as one of the top goaltenders in the school’s storied hockey program.

North Dakota freshman Travis Zajac (NJ) led all rookies in NCAA Tournament scoring with three points (two goals, one assist). His performance earned him a spot on the All-Regional team. The only other NHL prospect to have played in the East Regional to make the All-Regional team was Boston College sophomore Brian Boyle (LA).

New Hampshire sophomore Daniel Winnik (PHX) scored the game-winner at the 15:06 mark of overtime to defeat Harvard in the 3-2 overtime thriller in the Northeast Regional semi-finals. He also scored a beautiful goal on a penalty shot in New Hampshire’s 4-2 loss to Denver in the regional final. His outstanding performances earned him a spot on the All-Regional team along with teammates Tyson Teplitsky and Kevin Regan (BOS).

Boston College freshman Cory Schneider (VAN) didn’t have a good ending to his rookie campaign as he suffered his first loss of the season against North Dakota in the East Regional finals. Schneider finished the NCAA Tournament with the lowest save percentage (.767) and second highest goals against average (5.40).

“Hobey Hat Trick”

On Wednesday, March 30th the three finalists for the 2005 Hobey Baker Award were announced. Colorado College’s dynamic duo of juniors Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling (ATL) along with Cornell sophomore sensation, goaltender David McKee have been named to this year’s “Hobey Hat Trick”. The winner of the award will be announced on April 8th in a ceremony at Nationwide Arena in Columbus during the Frozen Four.

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