2016 NCAA Frozen Four Preview: Top college lines go head-to-head when Denver and North Dakota faceoff

By DJ Powers
Tanner Jaillet - Denver University; Drake Caggiula - North Dakota

Photo: NCHC conference rivals Drake Caggiula (L) of the University of North Dakota and Tanner Jaillet (R) of the University of Denver renew acquaintances in the semi-finals of the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four (courtesy of Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)



While the early semi-final match of the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four features a pair of eastern hockey powers, the second game spotlights a pair of NCHC rivals as the University of Denver takes on the University of North Dakota.

The season series for the two teams was deadlocked at 2-2-1, with the most recent meeting on Mar. 19th ending in a 1-1 tie. North Dakota topped the conference and is ranked #3 nationally, while Denver was the NCHC runner-up and is ranked 6th in the nation.

Semi-final #2: University of Denver vs. University of North Dakota

This semi-final is a rematch of the 2005 National Championship game, which is also the last time Denver and North Dakota met in the Frozen Four.

The University of Denver will be making their 14th Frozen Four appearance and first since 2005. Denver is also the last team that won back-to-back National Championships, back in 2004 and 2005.

The Pioneers won the West Regional, defeating Boston University and Ferris State respectively. Denver comes into the Frozen Four having scored more goals than any other team in the NCAA Tournament to date, outscoring their regional opponents by a 13-5 margin.

Denver’s electrifying “Pacific Rim” line of sophomore Danton Heinen (BOS), freshman Dylan Gambrell and junior Trevor Moore combined to posted an impressive 12 points (five goals, seven assists) during the regional. Heinen, who was named to the All-Regional team, currently leads all Frozen Four players with six points (one goal, five assists) in NCAA Tournament play. Gambrell, a 2016 NHL Draft-eligible forward who was also named to the All-Regional team, has posted four points (two goals, two assists) in the NCAA Tournament.

The best story coming out of the regionals for Denver was the emergence of freshman defenseman Blake Hillman. The Elk River, MN native earned the regional’s MVP honor after a terrific performance in which he amassed four points (two goals, two assists), including netting the game-winner versus Ferris State in the regional final. Hillman and junior Will Butcher (COL) comprise Denver’s top defensive pairing as well as one of the nation’s top-scoring defensive duos.

Sophomore Tanner Jaillet has allowed the most goals (5) of the Frozen Four starting netminders, but he has been outstanding when called upon, making crucial saves at key times. Jaillet has faced 42 shots in the NCAA Tournament to date.

The University of North Dakota will be making their third consecutive and 22nd overall Frozen Four appearance. The Fighting Hawks won the Midwest Regional, defeating Northeastern and Michigan respectively.

The biggest story for North Dakota from their regional was the superb performance of sophomore netminder Cam Johnson. The Mike Richter Award finalist stopped a combined 49 of 53 shots en route to earning the regional MVP award. His miniscule 1.67 goals-against average for the 2015-16 season leads all Frozen Four starting netminders.

While much of the attention up front has focused on the Fighting Hawks’ dynamic “CBS” line of freshman Brock Boeser (VAN), senior Drake Caggiula and sophomore Nick Schmaltz (CHI), it was the stellar play of another line that was most notable in the regional.

North Dakota’s “Heavy” line, which is comprised of junior Luke Johnson (CHI), sophomore Austin Poganski (STL) and freshman Rhett Gardner, combined to post five points (two goals, three assists) in an impressive performance during the regional. The five combined points matched that of the “CBS” line. Johnson and Gardner netted the game-winners in the regional games, Johnson versus Northeastern in the semi-final, and Gardner versus Michigan in the regional final. Johnson was one of five Fighting Hawks named to the All-Regional team.

North Dakota’s offensive output wasn’t limited to their forward lines, as the Fighting Hawks defensemen accounted for seven points (two goals, five assists) during the regional. Among those leading the way was sophomore Tucker Poolman (WPG). The East Grand Forks, MN native’s excellent performance earned him a spot on the All-Regional team. Poolman and defensive partner Paul LaDue (LAK) combined to post four of the seven points produced by North Dakota defensemen in the regional, including both goals.

BC vs Quinnipiac | Denver vs. North Dakota

Follow DJ Powers coverage of the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four and her Twitter account via @DJPowersHF