Hockey East teams reach Frozen Four title game
(Photo credit: Rich Gagnon/BU Athletics)
It began back in October with the annual Ice Breaker Tournament that kicks off the NCAA hockey season. It ends with the Frozen Four title game.
That will be Saturday night at TD Garden when Providence College and Boston University meet for the national championship on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. after each prevailed in Thursday’s two semifinal games.
It marks a first all-Hockey East final since 1999 when Maine beat New Hampshire, 3-2, in overtime. It also affords the first opportunity for a New England team to win the title with Boston as host city (eight times) since BU took out Cornell, 4-0, in 1972.
Here’s how each team punched their ticket in Thursday’s semifinal games.
Game 1 – Providence College 4, Nebraska-Omaha 1
The scoreless first period featured a golden scoring opportunity for each team. At the seven-minute mark, Providence’s Trevor Mingoia went in alone on Mavericks’ goaltender Ryan Massa, but slid the puck wide left on the backhand. Massa led the Frozen Four goaltending corps with a 1.92 GAA and .939 save percentage.
Omaha’s 2-on-1 with a minute to go by Justin Parizek and Tyler Vesel resulted in a shot and rebound, both stopped by the highly touted Calgary Flames’ draft pick and South Portland, Maine, native Jon Gillies.
Canton’s Kevin Rooney peppered Massa with a shot and then his own rebound early in the second. At 13:56, Omaha captain Brian O’Rourke took two for elbowing and the Friars threw it all at Massa with several glaring scoring opportunities around the crease. At 11:02, yet another crease melee created the first goal of the game when Providence captain and North Andover native Noel Acciari pulled the puck out of a scrum and slid a backhander past Massa; Nick Saracino and Brian Pinho assisting.
Saracino stole the puck along the Mavericks’ dasher and fed Mark Jankowski down low, where another Flames’ pick promptly deposited the puck over Massa’s right pad at 14:58 for a 2-0 lead. Jake Walman also assisted.
Providence outshot Omaha, 33-16, after two periods.
“I thought when we hit the ice they played with a bit more confidence,” Omaha coach Dean Blais said about his team’s slow start.
Jake Guentzel went point-blank on Gillies to no avail two minutes into Omaha’s possible last period of the season. The Mavericks finally dented Gillies at 10:46 when he misplayed the puck. It squirted to Vesel who shoveled it to Guentzel for a laser past Gillies at 10:46.
The one-goal deficit was short-lived when Mingoia took a Jankowski corner pass and rifled it top shelf past Massa at 11:10. Omaha pulled Massa with two minutes to go, but with 31 ticks left Saracino hit the open net with his team’s 48th shot of the game in the 4-1 final.
“I think we struggled early in the year, but we’re playing better now and we know our identity,” Friar’s coach Nate Leaman said about his team’s 60-minute game out of the blocks. “It’s the growth of the team throughout the season. It’s the lessons we learned [in previous games to get here]. I think we were hoping a lot and not going after it. We’re not a very good team when we’re hoping.”
Game 2 – Boston University 5, North Dakota 3
It took only four minutes for the second-best power play in the country to get BU on the move when the best player in the country converted at 4:59. The favorite to be named the Hobey Baker Award Friday night as college hockey’s best player and the nation’s leader with 67 points, Jack Eichel put a backhand top shelf past Bruins’ draft pick Zane McIntyre; Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen assisting.
Then with 48 ticks left — and again on the power play — another of BU’s sensational freshmen, Brandon Hickey, launched a rocket from the left point with McIntyre never flinching for a 2-0 lead. Cason Hohmann and Robbie Baillargeon assisted. Hickey is a Calgary Flames draftee.
“With all the chances to play, the freshmen develop faster and all of a sudden you’re ready for the situations you’re put in,” Hickey said about BU’s eight freshmen who contributed six points. “Coming in with this many freshmen actually helps us out because we’ve played a lot more.”
With the shots even at nine apiece entering the second period — and BU captain Matt Grzelcyk, also a Bruins’ draft pick, on the penalty pine — Luke Johnson pulled North Dakota to within one 44 seconds in when he sent a goal line laser across Matt O’Connor’s crease. It found daylight off O’Connor’s pads for the third consecutive power-play goal of the game.
It also ignited UND’s play as North Dakota swarmed the BU end, hitting iron three times with no goals. Not a good omen.
Freshman A.J. Greer put the Terriers up, 3-1, at 11:20 when he launched a right-wing shot past McIntyre with freshmen Eichel and Brien Diffley assisting. Then at 13:10, Marblehead’s own Doyle Somerby scored his first of the season when he pinched the left the left dasher and sent a shot that was screened all the way to twine. Burlington’s Diffley assisted again, picking up his second point.
The final 20 minutes were frantic. O’Connor fumbled the puck around his crease on a BU power play; Troy Stecher jumping on the loose puck for the “shortie” at 12:10.
“I don’t think we managed the puck well in the first 8-10 minutes of the game,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said postgame. “They made plays. We needed to grind and make them defend. Bounces were a little hard to come by for us until Troy got the shorthanded goal.”
At 16:17 with Oksanen in the penalty box, Connor Gaarder got North Dakota to within one. With 1:33 to play, matching penalties were assessed — and North Dakota pulled McIntyre for the 5-on-4 edge-of-your-seat finish.
BU sealed the deal at 19:42 when — who else — Jack Eichel sent a 150-foot shot into the empty net.
“We weathered the storm,” BU’s second-year head coach David Quinn said after. “This is the Frozen Four; people aren’t going to lay down for you. This was a funny game in a lot of ways — a lot of peaks and valleys.”
Saturday night, either Providence College or Boston University will occupy the peak of the 2014-15 NCAA season.
(Bob Snow has covered the Frozen Four since 1998.)