And then there were four.
The Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO will be the center of the college hockey universe for the next week as the four remaining teams – Boston College, Maine, Michigan State and North Dakota along with legions of spectators will descend upon the city.
This year’s Frozen Four features a combined 37 NHL prospects on the four teams’ rosters. Boston College has the most with 12, followed by North Dakota with 11 and seven each for Maine and Michigan State. Among the NHL teams who will be well represented include the Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues.
With the exception of Michigan State, all of the teams are making return trips to Frozen Four, after having participated last year in Milwaukee. Below is a preview of the Frozen Four semi-final matches, which take place on Thursday, April 5. The semi-finals will be broadcast live on ESPN2. The National Championship game on Saturday, April 7 will be carried live on ESPN.
Semi-final Game #1: Maine vs. Michigan State
The Spartans will be looking for some revenge in the rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament East Regional final that saw the Black Bears edge them 5-4 back on Mar. 26, 2006 in Albany, NY. The two teams have almost identical offensive and defensive numbers and have a very good mix of upper and lower classmen. The matchup to watch will be in goal as Maine’s 6’7 sophomore Ben Bishop (STL) and Michigan State’s 5’6 sophomore Jeff Lerg will be going head-to-head.
Maine will be making their second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four. It also marks the fourth time in six years and the 11th time overall that the Black Bears will be making the trip. Maine will also be seeking to win their third National Championship and first since 1999. The Black Bears are coming off of convincing wins over St. Cloud State and UMass to win the NCAA Tournament East Regional bracket back on Mar. 23 and 24. In the Regional, Maine outscored their opponents by a combined score of 7-2. One of the keys behind the Black Bears success in the Regional was their stellar power play. The Black Bears were 4-for-13 (30.7 percent) with the man advantage in the regional. Maine comes into the Frozen Four with the nation’s best power play, with an efficiency rating of 25.7 percent. In addition, the Black Bears also have the nation’s 16th-ranked penalty kill, with an efficiency rating of 85.6 percent.
One of the keys behind Maine’s success in the East Regional was the return of behemoth sophomore goaltender Ben Bishop (STL). The Des Pares, MO native was brilliant in his return, stopping a combined 68 of 70 shots in the East regional and earned a spot on the All-Tournament team. How well Bishop performs will dictate how far the Black Bears will go in the Frozen Four.
The good news for Maine coming into the Frozen Four is that much of last year’s team remains intact. The only significant losses were that of Greg Moore, Derek Damon, Travis Wight and Steve Mullin, all of whom have graduated. Upfront, the superb trio of seniors Michel Leveille and Josh Soares, and freshman Teddy Purcell lead the team. Leveille lead the team in scoring with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists). Soares leads the team with nine power play tallies, while Purcell, the Hockey East Rookie of the Year, leads the team in assists with 27. The Black Bears have always been known for their outstanding defense and this year is no different. Maine possesses the nation’s 12th ranked defense that features a trio of NHL prospects in senior Mike Lundin (TB) and sophomores Matt Duffy (FLA) and Simon Danis-Pepin (CHI).
The Michigan State Spartans will be making their 11th Frozen Four appearance and first since 2001. Michigan State is also seeking their third National Championship and first since 1986.The Spartans were a bit of a surprise to many coming out of the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional after soundly defeating Boston University on Mar. 23 in the semi-final match before upsetting top-ranked Notre Dame in a tight 2-1 regional final match the following night at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI. The Spartans outscored their opponents in the regional by a combined score of 7-2. Perhaps the most significant stat for Michigan State in the regional tournament was their stellar penalty killing. The Spartans were a perfect 8-for-8 shorthanded the Midwest Regional.
How far Michigan State goes in the Frozen Four will depend largely upon diminutive sophomore goaltender Jeff Lerg. The Livonia, MI native has proven time and time again that he can come up big when it matters most and nowhere was that more evident than in the Midwest Regional. Lerg stopped a combined 46 of 48 shots and earned the regional tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor.
Like Maine, Michigan State features a very good balance of upper and lower classmen. One line to watch is the Spartans’ "09" of sophomores Tim Kennedy (BUF), Justin Abdelkader (DET) and Tim Crowder (PIT). The trio has combined for 95 of the team’s 339 points (28 percent) coming into the Frozen Four. Kennedy leads the team in scoring with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists). One of Michigan State’s clutch performers this season has been junior Bryan Lerg. He ranks second on the team with 36 points (23 goals, 13 assists) and leads in goals. The Livonia, MI native also leads the nation with eight game-winning goals. In addition to their strong group upfront, the Spartans also have a strong compliment of blueliners led by seniors Ethan Graham and Tyler Howells, and freshman Michael Ratchuk. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect has also seen time as a forward this season. One noticeably absent player has been freshman Ryan Turek (STL). The Northville, MI native has played 31 games this season but did not see action in the Midwest Regional due to being a healthy scratch. It is unclear whether he will see playing time in the Frozen Four.
Semi-final Game #2: North Dakota vs. Boston College
The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux will be looking to get some payback this year in the rematch of last year’s first semi-final game of the Frozen Four that saw them go down to the Boston College Eagles 6-5. The contest pits two of the nation’s hottest teams against one another as well as two 50-plus points producers going head-to-head in senior Brian Boyle (LA) for Boston College and sophomore Hobey Hat Trick finalist Ryan Duncan for North Dakota. Boston College comes into then Frozen Four on a 12-game winning streak, while North Dakota comes in with a record of 15-3-4 since the start of the 2007 calendar year.
North Dakota will be headed to their third consecutive Frozen Four and fifth in the last eight years. This year also marks their 17th overall appearance. The Fighting Sioux will be looking to capture their eighth National Championship and first since 2000. North Dakota is coming off of a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over archrival Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament West Regional final at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Mar. 25. The night before, the Fighting Sioux skated out with an 8-5 win over Michigan in what was perhaps one of the wildest games in the NCAA Tournament regionals this year. One of the keys to North Dakota’s success in the West Regional was their excellent power play. The Fighting Sioux went an astounding 6-for-13 (46 percent) on the man-advantage, five of which came against the Wolverines. North Dakota comes into the Frozen Four with the nation’s third-best power play, with an efficiency rating of 23.8 percent. The Fighting Sioux are also the only team in the Frozen Four whose team defense and penalty kill do not rank in the nation’s top 20.
In addition to a highly successful power play, North Dakota also brings the nation’s sixth-ranked offense. The Fighting Sioux come into the Frozen Four averaging 3.55 goals per game, which is the best amongst the four participating teams. One reason can be attributed to the scoring wealth being spread throughout their lineup. North Dakota has 14 players in double digits in points, including eight with 20 or more points. Sophomore Ryan Duncan leads the team with 57 points (31 goals, 26 assists). His 31 goals and 17 power play goals both rank second in the nation. Sophomore linemate T.J. Oshie (STL) leads the team with 33 assists. Duncan, Oshie and fellow sophomore Jonathan Toews (CHI) make up one of the nation’s most explosive lines. Coming into the Frozen Four, the trio known as the "DOT" line, have accounted for 151 (37 percent) of the Fighting Sioux’s 409 total points. Scoring hasn’t been restricted to just the forwards either. North Dakota also possess a group of defensemen that have proven to be prolific points producers in their own right. Junior Robbie Bina leads the team in scoring among defensemen with 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists), followed by sophomores Taylor Chorney (EDM) and Brian Lee (OTT) with 29 and 25 points respectively.
How far North Dakota goes in the Frozen Four will depend greatly upon the goaltending of junior Philippe Lamoureux and their overall team defense, particularly in penalty-killing situations. While the team has lost only once in their last nine games, two of their most recent three outings were wins where they allowed three or more goals. The five that they allowed against Michigan in the West Regional were the most that the Fighting Sioux have surrendered since their 3-4 overtime loss to Denver back on Feb. 23.
Boston College will be making their second consecutive appearance in the Frozen Four and their third in the last four years. This year also marks the 20th overall Frozen Four appearance by the Eagles. Boston College will also be seeking their third National Championship. The Eagles are the last non-WCHA team to win the National Championship when they did it in 2001. Boston College is also the only Frozen Four team this year to come in as winners of their conference’s championship as well. After having captured the Hockey East crown and automatic bid last month, the Eagles fly into the Frozen Four coming off of convincing wins over St. Lawrence and Miami respectively to win the NCAA Tournament Northeast Regional in Manchester, NH. Boston College allowed just one goal in the entirety of the Regional. The goal, which came early in the second period against St. Lawrence in the semi-final game on Mar. 24, was the last tally that the Eagles have allowed coming into the Frozen Four. Junior Cory Schneider (VAN), who was named the Northeast Regional Most Outstanding Player, was brilliant between the pipes, stopping 61 of 62 combined and posting his co-nation leading seventh shutout. The Marblehead, MA native has not allowed a goal for nearly five periods coming into the Frozen Four.
The chess match to watch in this particular semi-final game will be North Dakota’s high-powered offense going up against Boston College’s stingy defense. The Eagles bring the nation’s fifth-ranked defense into the Frozen Four that has allowed an average of 2.17 goals per game. One of the most impressive numbers that the Eagles have put up during their current 12-game winning streak is the number of goals that have allowed. During that stretch, Boston College has held the opposition to two goals or less in ten of the 12 games and has shut out the opposition three times. The Eagles also come into the Frozen Four having not allowed a power play goal in their last three outings.
In addition to Schneider in net, the Eagles feature a stellar group of blueliners lead by the towering senior forward-turned-defenseman Brian Boyle (LA) and junior Mike Brennan. Boyle, who has been playing on defense partly due to the injuries to sophomore Anthony Aiello (MIN) and freshman Carl Sneep (PIT), has been a boon for Boston College. His enormous frame and great attention to defense have enabled him to effectively shutdown many of the top forwards on the opposing team. Though he has been very successful on the blueline, Boyle continues to put up tremendous numbers as well.
Boston College’s outstanding defense is balanced out by their equally (if not more so) deep forward lines that are led by trio of sophomores in Benn Ferriero (PHO), Nathan Gerbe (BUF) and Brock Bradford (BOS) along with senior Joe Rooney. All four players have tallied 40 or more points thus far. Ferriero and Gerbe both co-lead the team with 23 goals apiece. Gerbe also leads Boston College in power play goals (8), short-handed goals (4) and game-winning goals (6).
How well the Eagles fare in the Frozen Four will depend partly on whether or not they can continue their outstanding play in all facets of the game and Schneider’s sensational performance. The Vancouver Canucks prospect has been nearly impenetrable in Boston College’s last dozen games, and when he has allowed goals to be scored on him, they’ve been far and few in between.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.