NCAA Frozen Four set for TD Garden
(Photo credit: BU Athletics)
The college hockey pilgrimage to Boston and the TD Garden is on. With Duke downing Wisconsin Monday night on the hardcourt, all eyes now turn to the frozen sheet as “The Hub” plays host city for the eighth time since the tournament’s inception in 1948. It also marks the third time at the new Garden since it opened in 1995 as the FleetCenter — 1998 and 2004 previously.
From Grand Forks to the Rio Grande and Down East to Down South, the annual gathering of college hockey purists takes on an eclectic flavor with attire representing the landscape of the NCAA’s 59 Division I programs will dot the city and arena, while those of the Boston University Terriers, Providence College Friars, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks and North Dakota predominate. Tickets are at a premium with prices reportedly already averaging $241 for the semifinal and $299 for the championship game.
The 2015 tournament’s uniqueness begins with a possible all-Hockey East final Saturday night for the first time since 1999 when Maine and New Hampshire tangled in Anaheim, Calif. — and a possible first ever in Boston, if BU and Providence advance.
The Terriers are the only local team to win it all in Boston. That would be back in 1970 when they took down Cornell, 4-0.
NHL first-round picks Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota (Chicago, No. 20, 2014), Mark Jankowski, Providence (Calgary No. 21, 2012), and Jordan Schmaltz, North Dakota (St. Louis, No. 25, 2012) will be on the national stage.
Calgary Flames’ draftee Jon Gillies and Bruins’ pick Zane McIntyre head up the 2015 capable quartet of Frozen Four netminders.
McIntyre and BU’s sensational freshman Jack Eichel are Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalists for college hockey’s top player. While that award will be formally presented Friday night at nearby Mathews Arena, put the house money on Eichel to not only cop the Hobey, but also to be taken at No. 1 or No. 2 in this June’s NHL Entry Draft.
The coaching dynamics also present unique factors. BU’s David Quinn, a Terrier alum, is in his second season, succeeding the legendary Jack Parker. Nate Leaman took over at Providence four seasons ago after building the framework at Union College that led to that school winning it all last year against Minnesota in Philadelphia. Dean Blais is the former head coach at North Dakota where Dave Hakstol served under him. Blaise led North Dakota to the 1997 title (over BU) and the 2000 championship (over Boston College) before stepping down in 2004, and then returning to the college ranks at Nebraska-Omaha in 2009. Since Hakstol was named head coach in 2004, North Dakota has made the NCAA tournament each year and reaches the Frozen Four for his seventh time; 21 times overall for the storied program.
All four coaches are 2014-15 AHCA Men’s Ice Hockey Spencer Penrose Award Finalists for Division I Coach of the Year.
The four teams this weekend combine for 43 Frozen Four appearances and 12 national titles, dominated by North Dakota’s seven and BU’s five, respectively. BU last won it all in 2009; North Dakota in 2000. They meet Thursday night.
In the other semifinal, Providence and Nebraska-Omaha are each without a national championship with Providence reaching its fourth Frozen Four overall; UNO’s first. The Friars played in the 1985 title game, losing to Rensselaer.
Here’s the overview for this week’s two semifinal games that will have the TD Garden packed to the rafters Thursday and Saturday before national TV audiences. The semifinal games are Thursday at 5:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on ESPN2; the championship game is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Providence College Friars (23-13-3) vs. Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (20-12-6), 5:00 p.m.
How each got to the Frozen Four:
Providence ended tied for second in the league with Boston College. As the No. 4 seed in the East Regional on “home ice” at the Dunkin Donuts Center, they then needed to take out Miami (Ohio) and Denver to punch a guaranteed ticket up Rt. 95 to TD Garden. They did by 7-5 and 4-1 scores, respectively.
Nebraska-Omaha’s third-place finish in the tough National Collegiate Hockey Conference put them in the Midwest Regional as the No. 2 seed. Their victories over Harvard, 4-1 and RIT, 4-0, assured their trek to Boston.
Players to watch:
For Providence, it all starts in net with Gillies, a surefire bet to get a long look at taking over the 24-square feet of real estate in Calgary in years to come. At 6-foot-5 and 215, Gillies’ 2.00 goals against average can carry the Friars to a first-ever national title. He’ll get help from Jankowski, Nick Saracino, Shane Luke and captain Nole Acciari up front, and horses Tom Parisi, Jake Walman and Anthony Florentino on defense.
Nebraska-Omaha’s talent is led up front by sophomores Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega, and freshmen Jake Randolph and Tyler Vesel. The Mavericks’ heart-and-soul is senior captain Brian O’Rourke on defense along with upperclassman Brian Cooper. Senior goaltender Ryan Massa flies under the national radar screen, but his 1.91 GAA is best in this Frozen-Four goaltending field.
Boston University Terriers (27-7-5) vs. North Dakota (29-9-3), 8:30 p.m.
How each got to the Frozen Four:
BU won the regular season Hockey East championship and the league tournament. As the No. 1 seed, they then took out Yale, 3-2, in OT, and Minnesota-Duluth by the same score in the Northeast Regional.
North Dakota won the NCHC regular-season title and then the West Regional as the No. 1 seed with wins over Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State by identical 4-1 scores.
Players to watch:
For BU, all eyes will be on Eichel, who leads the nation in scoring with a 24-43-67 total. But the Terriers also sport three other 20-goal scorers in Evan Rodrigues, Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen. All that firepower, however, is backed up with captain Matthew Grzelcyk (a Bruins’ third round draft pick in 2012) from next-door Charlestown, and freshmen Brandon Fortunato and Brando Hickey on the blue line. Matt O’Connor’s 2.10 GAA in net brings a formidable roster to TD Garden where BU is 4-0 this season in Beanpot and league tournament play.
McIntyre leads the North Dakota shutdown defense with his 1.99 GAA along with the Schmaltz brothers’ aforementioned No. 1 NHL draft status. Nick Mattson and Paul LaDue on the blue line lead the D-corps. North Dakota boasts no offensive stat leaders, but Drake Cagglula and Michael Parks’ team-leading 36 and 32 points complement a roster that brings determined defense and 60 minutes of snarl to every game.
Quotes from the coaches
Leaman: “We had a tough non-conference schedule to start off the season and we managed to keep getting better throughout the year.”
Blaise: “We’re building a new arena just off campus and it’ll be ready for next year, but it all starts with winning. There is nothing you can do more for advertising or promotion than winning.”
Quinn: “Obviously we have talent but one of the main reasons we’re in the situation we’re in is because we have a true team.”
Hakstol: “I’ll assume it’ll be a great crowd and home-ice advantage for [Boston University at TD Garden], but that’s hockey. Our group will have a good mindset and perspective, and we’ll be well prepared for that entire scenario.”
The entire Frozen Four scenario starts Thursday at 5:00 p.m.
(Bob Snow has covered the Frozen Four every year since 1998.)