NCAA Frozen Four preview

By DJ Powers


It has come down to four teams: Boston College, Denver,
Maine and Minnesota-Duluth. They will meet at the Fleet Center in Boston for
the 2004 Frozen Four beginning on Thursday, April 8th and concluding
with the national title game on Saturday, April 10th. This year’s
Frozen Four features exciting teams led by four of the nation’s best
goaltenders. Three of the four goaltenders are current NHL drafted prospects,
with the fourth likely to garner a lot of the attention of the many NHL scouts
who will be in attendance.


Below is a look at the semi-finals matchups and a guide to
watching the prospects. The numbers in parenthesis indicate the team’s current
national ranking position. The Frozen Four (national semi-finals) will be
broadcast live on ESPN2. The West Final will begin at Noon EST. The East Final
begins at 6pm EST.



EAST FINAL: (1) University of Maine vs. (2) Boston College


Current NHL Prospects on respective rosters

University of Maine: Goaltender Jimmy Howard (DET), Forwards Mike
(ATL), Todd Jackson
(DET), Greg Moore (NYR) and Colin Shields (PHI)


Boston College: Goaltenders Matti
Kaltiainen (BOS) and Joe Pearce (TB), Defensemen John Adams (BUF), Andrew Alberts (BOS) and J. D. Forrest (CAR),
Brian Boyle (LA), Justin
Dziama (NJ), Ben Eaves (PIT), Patrick Eaves (OTT), Ned Havern (DAL) and Ryan
Murphy (LA)



The East Final will feature two very evenly matched teams
that possess the nation’s best and stingiest team defenses. Maine ranks first,
while Boston College ranks second in the nation respectively in team defense.
Both teams have averaged less than two goals against per game coming into the
East Final. Both of these teams have also been ranked in the top five overall
nationally for nearly the entire season. In addition, both teams have owned the
top spot in the Hockey East standings at points this season. The two teams met
three times in the regular season with Maine winning the season series 2-1.
Furthermore, the two teams have almost identical records in Hockey East
conference play this season. Boston College went 17-4-3, while Maine went


Maine, the Hockey East Champions, had a tough time against
Harvard in the East Regional semi-finals but still managed to pull out a 5-4
win before going on to defeat Wisconsin 2-1 in overtime in the hard-fought
Regional Final. Boston College, who was upset early in the Hockey East
conference playoffs by archrival Boston University, came back in the Northeast
Regionals, defeating Niagara 5-2 in the Regional semi-finals before handing
Michigan a heartbreaking 3-2 loss in overtime in the thrilling Regional Final.


This series will feature two of the nation’s best
goaltenders in Boston College junior Matti
(BOS) and Maine sophomore sensation Jimmy Howard (DET). Howard is the top ranked goaltender in the
nation in both GAA (1.20) and save percentage. Kaltiainen ranks first in the
nation in wins (27) and second in the nation in GAA (1.76).


Both teams have excellent talent up front and are remarkably
close in total team offense. Boston College averages 3.46 Goals For per game,
while Maine averages 3.31 per game. The talented top line combination of
seniors Tony Voce and Ben Eaves (PIT) and sophomore Patrick Eaves (OTT), lead the Boston
College Eagles offensive attack. Voce is ranked second in the nation in goal
scoring with 29. The talented trio of sophomore Greg Moore (NYR), freshman Michel
and senior Colin Shields
(PHI) lead the Maine Black Bears offensive attack. Leveille, who has become one
of the best players to emerge from the Maine lineup, is second in the nation in
assists with 34.


The size of the Boston College players may
present problems for Maine. Maine’s roster has only four players (not including
goaltenders) who are 6’1” or taller, while Boston College has nine. Only two
Maine defensemen – freshman
Mike Lundin
and sophomore
Jeff Mushaluk are 6’1” or
taller. In contrast, Boston College has five forwards, including the 6’7”
Brian Boyle (LA), who are 6’1”
or taller.


Maine thrives on low scoring and tight, one-goal games.
Maine’s last seven games have all been decided by one goal. During that
stretch, only two games yielded five or more goals combined. In contrast,
Boston College seems to prefer games won by wider margins. 16 of Boston
College’s 41 games played this season have been won by a margin of three or
more goals.




WEST FINAL: (3) University of Minnesota-Duluth vs. (4) University of Denver


Current NHL Prospects on respective rosters

University of Minnesota-Duluth: Defenseman Neil Petruic (OTT)


University of Denver: Goaltenders Adam Berkohoel (CHI) and Glenn
(EDM), Defensemen Ryan
(NYI), Matt Carle (SJ)
and Brett Skinner (VAN), Forward Connor James (LA) [injured]



Going into this series, many were either hoping for or
predicting a Minnesota/North Dakota West Final. But instead it is the explosive
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and the surprising Denver Pioneers. This series will
match two of the best offensive teams in the nation. Minnesota-Duluth leads the
nation in overall team offense, scoring an average of 4.14 goals per game.
Denver ranks eighth in the nation with an average of 3.37 goals per game. In
the only season series meeting between the two teams (prior to the West Final),
Minnesota-Duluth swept Denver 2-0 back on January 9th and 10th.


Minnesota-Duluth came roaring back in the Midwest Regionals,
after being bounced from the WCHA Final Five by defending national champions,
Minnesota. They first handed the Michigan State Spartans a humiliating 5-0 loss
in the Regional semi-finals before defeating Minnesota in the Regional Final
3-1. The Denver Pioneers, who were ousted very early from the WCHA playoffs by
in-state rival Colorado College, came back in the West Regionals to beat the
Miami-Ohio RedHawks 3-2 in the Regional semi-finals. However, they saved their
best game of the season thus far for the top ranked North Dakota Fighting
Sioux. The Pioneers didn’t just defeat them, they totally shut down arguably
the nation’s most offensively explosive team, handing the Fighting Sioux a devastating
1-0 loss. Once again in the Frozen Four West Final, Minnesota-Duluth will pose
a tough offensive challenge to the Denver Pioneers.


Like the East Final, this matchup will also feature two
excellent goaltenders, both of whom are real workhorses for their respective
teams: Minnesota-Duluth sophomore Isaac
and Denver senior Adam
(CHI). Reichmuth is the only starting goaltender in the Frozen
Four not drafted, but there is no doubt that he will garner a lot of attention
throughout the Frozen Four. Reichmuth and Berkhoel both rank among the nation’s
top goaltenders in minutes played. Reichmuth ranks fourth while Berkhoel ranks
ninth respectively in that category.


The Bulldogs have exceptional scoring depth and the player
that all eyes will be on is Hobey Baker candidate and senior forward Junior Lessard. Lessard leads the
nation in points with 61 and goals with 30. His linemate, junior Evan Schwabe, leads the nation in
assists with 36 and ranks tied for third in points with 55. In addition to
Lessard and Schwabe, Minnesota-Duluth have five other players with 30 or more
points going into the West Final. In contrast, Denver has only three players
with 30 or more points. One of those players is senior Connor James (LA), who is out with a fractured fibula. There is a
possibility that James may play in the West Final. He has resumed skating with
the team and will likely be a game time decision. An area where the Pioneers
have gotten excellent offensive production from, particularly in the second
half of the season, has been from their defensemen. The Pioneers’ three
defensemen who are NHL prospects: senior Ryan
(NYI), freshman Matt Carle
(SJ) and sophomore Brett Skinner
(VAN) all rank among the team’s top scorers.


As good as both teams have been on the offensive side,
inconsistent team defense has plagued both teams throughout the season. In
Minnesota-Duluth’s case, it has been a study in extremes. They have either won
or lost many of their games this season by wide margins. Twenty of Minnesota-Duluth’s
44 games have been either won or lost by three or more goals.


In Denver’s case, the team has played remarkably well versus
ranked teams but have had problems maintaining leads. Nowhere was this more
evident than in the game back on December 20th versus Minnesota
State-Mankato, where the Pioneers staked themselves out to a 7-1 lead only to
see the Mavericks come back and score seven unanswered goals to snatch the
victory from them. Fortunately for the Pioneers, they won’t have to meet the Mavericks
in the West Final. Denver, who is looking to pull off another upset will either
need to have a repeat performance of the West Regional Final versus North
Dakota or be able to maintain a lead.