2014 Frozen Four Preview: Three top-ranked schools competing in NCAA semi-finals

By DJ Powers

Daniel Carr - Union College

Photo: Union College forward Daniel Carr was the only Dutchmen player among the NCAA’s top 50 scorers, with Carr sitting eighth overall in the nation after notching 48 points in 37 games (courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Boston College (Hockey East), Minnesota (Big Ten), North Dakota (NCHC) and Union College (ECAC) comprise this year’s NCAA Frozen Four field taking place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. With the exception of North Dakota, all the teams in this year’s Frozen Four also played in the 2012 Frozen Four. Interestingly, Ferris State, who lost to North Dakota in the Midwest Regional final, was the other team in 2012.

This year’s Frozen Four features a combined 39 prospects (though not all of them are likely to play) representing 22 NHL teams. All Frozen Four teams have at least one NHL-drafted player on their roster.

The two semifinal games, which will air live on ESPN2, will be played on April 10th with the first semifinal game starting at 5pm and the second semifinal game starting at 8:30pm. The two semifinal winners will advance to the National Championship game on April 12th at 7:30pm. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.

Below is a closer at the semifinal matchups. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of April 7, 2014.

Semifinal #1: Union College vs. Boston College

This game is a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament East Regional semifinal in Providence that saw the Dutchmen take down the Eagles, 5-1. Coincidentally, it also marks just the second-ever meeting between the two teams.

This matchup also pits the nation’s top two offenses against one another. Boston College and Union College rank first and second respectively in team offense. The Eagles are averaging 4.10 goals per game, while the Dutchmen are averaging 3.70 goals per game.

Union College enters the Frozen Four after defeating Vermont and Providence College respectively to win the East Regional. The Dutchmen will be making their second Frozen Four appearance and first since 2012. Union College will be seeking their first-ever national championship crown.

The Dutchmen are currently the hottest team in the nation as they bring a 15-game unbeaten streak (14-0-1) into the Frozen Four. The team’s last loss came back on January 31st at St. Lawrence. Union's success this season, particularly in the latter half, has been a combination of tremendous scoring depth and a stifling defense. The Dutchmen are the only team in the Frozen Four that currently ranks in the top five nationally in both team offense and defense.

Another of the team’s strengths is their experience. Union is the most veteran team in this year’s field with nearly half of its roster having also played in the 2012 Frozen Four.

Senior Daniel Carr leads the Dutchmen up front. The Sherwood Park, AB native has posted 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) in 37 games to date. He also leads the team with seven power play goals. Carr is one of the Union College players that NHL teams having been keeping a close eye on as a potential free agent signee.

Junior Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) is one of the anchors of the Dutchmen’s excellent defensive corps. Gostisbehere, Union's lone NHL-drafted player, is expected to garner much of the attention being a prospect of the host city’s NHL team. The Margate, FL native is one of just three players to have played in all 40 games to date. He currently ranks second on the team in defensive scoring with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists). Gostisbehere also leads NCAA defensemen with a +28 rating.

After serving as Troy Grosenick’s (SJS) backup the last two seasons, junior Colin Stevens has taken over the starting job in net this season. The Niskayuna, NY native currently sports a 26-4-2 record that includes six shutouts in 34 appearances. One of Stevens’ more impressive stats is the fact that he hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game since February 15th.

Boston College enters the Frozen Four after defeating Denver and UMass-Lowell to win the Northeast Regional. The Eagles will be making their NCAA co-leading 24th Frozen Four appearance and first since 2012 when they last won the national title. Boston College will be seeking their sixth NCAA championship.

Like Union College, Boston College features one of the nation’s top offenses as well as a strong defense. The Eagles rank in the top ten nationally in both categories. Boston College’s defense currently ranks eighth nationally, allowing an average of 2.28 goals per game. The Eagles are also the only Frozen Four team that ranks in the top five on special teams. Boston College possesses the nation’s top penalty kill, which is clicking at 90.4%. The Eagles power play ranks fifth, operating at a 24.1% rate. The team has also allowed just one shorthanded goal on the season so far.

Boston College is led up front by the nation’s most prolific line of junior Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) and seniors Kevin Hayes (CHI) and Bill Arnold (CGY). On the season, the trio has combined for an astounding 192 points (76 goals, 116 assists) in 39 games to date. Gaudreau and Hayes rank first and second nationally in points, while Arnold is tied for sixth.

Among those anchoring the Eagles' prospect-laden blueline are sophomore Michael Matheson (FLA) and freshman Steve Santini (NJD). Matheson leads Boston College in defensive scoring with 20 points (three goals, 17 assists) in 37 games. Santini has posted 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 34 games. He also leads all Eagles defensemen with a +27 rating and leads the team with 62 blocked shots, as well.

Top 2014 draft-eligible goaltender Thatcher Demko is Boston College’s main man in net. The San Diego, CA native sports a 16-4-3 record that includes two shutouts in 23 appearances. His .761 winning percentage currently ranks fifth nationally.

Semifinal #2: North Dakota vs. Minnesota

This matchup renews one of college hockey’s best and fiercest rivalries. Until North Dakota and Minnesota moved to the NCHC and Big Ten respectively this season, these two teams met regularly as members of the WCHA. This Frozen Four semi-final game marks the 291st all-time meeting and first since January 19, 2013 between North Dakota and Minnesota. The last time both teams met in the Frozen Four was in 2005.

North Dakota enters the Frozen Four after defeating Wisconsin and Ferris State to win the Midwest Regional. North Dakota will be making its 21st Frozen Four appearance and first since 2011. The team will be seeking their eighth national championship crown and first since 2000.

After narrowly getting into this year’s NCAA Tournament, North Dakota is just two wins away from becoming the latest low-seeded team to win the national championship. The team entered the NCAA Tournament as the 15th seed. Should North Dakota win this year’s title, it would mark the second consecutive year that such a low-seeded team accomplishes the feat. Yale, the reigning national champion, was the 16th-seeded team in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Unlike in previous years, North Dakota’s scoring this season, particularly among the forwards, has been by committee. Leading the attack up front are redshirted sophomore Rocco Grimaldi (FLA) and junior Michael Parks (PHI). Grimaldi currently leads North Dakota with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 41 games to date. The Rossmoor, CA native has been especially dangerous on special teams this season. Of his 17 goals, a third have come on special teams – three on the power play and three shorthanded.

Parks is one of two Philadelphia Flyers prospects playing in this year’s Frozen Four and is certain to garner considerable attention because of it. The St. Louis, MO native ranks second on the team with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 41 games.

One of North Dakota’s strengths will be their NHL prospect-laden blueline led by the top defensive pairing of senior captain Dillon Simpson (EDM) and sophomore Jordan Schmaltz (STL). Simpson currently ranks third on North Dakota’s roster in defensive scoring with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 41 games. He also leads the team with a whopping 107 shot blocks.

Schmaltz, who is in the midst of a breakout year, currently leads all North Dakota defensemen with 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 40 games to date.

Sophomore goaltender Zane Gothberg (BOS) is a big reason behind North Dakota reaching the Frozen Four this year. The Thief River Falls, MN native was stellar in the Midwest Regional, stopping a combined 67 of 69 shots to lead North Dakota to victories over Wisconsin and Ferris State. Gothberg currently sports a 20-9-3 record. His three shutouts on the season have all come within the last two months.

Minnesota enters the Frozen Four after defeating Robert Morris and St. Cloud State to win the West Regional. The Golden Gophers will be making their 21st Frozen Four appearance and first since 2012. Minnesota will be seeking their sixth national championship crown and first since 2003.

Like Union College and Boston College, the Golden Gophers also possess tremendous scoring depth and an excellent defense. Minnesota ranks in the top 10 nationally in both team offense and team defense. The Golden Gophers offense currently ranks sixth nationally, averaging 3.51 goals per game. The team’s defense ranks second nationally and first among all Frozen Four teams, allowing an average of 2.00 goals per game.

Leading Minnesota’s offensive charge up front are junior Kyle Rau (FLA) and freshman Justin Kloos. Rau leads the Golden Gophers with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games. The Eden Prairie, MN native also leads the team with seven power play goals and six game winners.

Kloos, the West Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, leads Minnesota with 15 goals and ranks fifth on the team with 30 points in 39 games to date. The Lakeville, MN native is part of the Golden Gophers outstanding line that also includes senior Nate Condon (COL) and fellow freshman Taylor Cammarata (NYI). The trio guided the team to the Frozen Four, combining for 10 points (five goals, five assists) in Minnesota's two West Regional wins.

Sophomore Mike Reilly (CBJ) anchors the Golden Gophers prospect-rich blueline. The Chanhassen, MN native leads all Minnesota defensemen with 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in 39 games. Reilly’s 32 points also leads all NHL-drafted defensemen.

Much of Minnesota’s success this season can be attributed to the stellar play of sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox (TBL). The South St. Paul, MN native currently sports a 25-5-6 record that includes four shutouts in 36 appearances. Wilcox’s 2162:43 minutes played lead all Frozen Four goaltenders.

Frozen Four Scenarios

Should Boston College advance

While Boston College and Minnesota have met numerous times in the NCAA Tournament over the years, 2014 will mark the first time that the two teams would meet in the National Championship game should both teams advance.

Should the Eagles meet North Dakota in the National Championship game, it will mark the third time that the two teams have met with the most recent meeting taking place in 2001.

Should Union College advance

Union College has never faced either Minnesota or North Dakota in the NCAA Tournament. The Dutchmen have met the Golden Gophers just three times over the years with the most recent meeting coming on Dec. 31, 2010 at the Dodge Holiday Classic tournament.

Should Union College and North Dakota advance to the national championship game, it will mark the first-ever meeting between the two programs.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF