Frozen Four preview: Hayes, Holl among prospects playing for NCAA title
|Senior defensemen Justin Holl (left) has been an integral part of top-ranked Minnesota's run to the Frozen Four, while senior forward Kevin Hayes has put up 63 points so far this season, second-most in the nation. (Photos courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics and John Quackenbos/Boston College)|
Five Blackhawks prospects will vie for college hockey’s ultimate prize—the NCAA championship—at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on April 10 and 12. Here’s a look at who’s involved and their road to Philly:
(1) Minnesota vs. (14) North Dakota
How they got there: Minnesota trounced Robert Morris 7-1 in the first round, then blanked St. Cloud State 4-0 to emerge from the West Region. North Dakota upset BIG10 champion Wisconsin 5-2 in the first round before squeaking past Ferris State 2-1 in double overtime to book their berth to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2008.
History: Minnesota and North Dakota will rekindle one of college hockey’s best rivalries from the old WCHA, although the two teams have moved on through realignment, joining the BIG10 and NCHC, respectively. The Golden Gophers ended UND’s title hopes two years in a row (2011, 2012), and they hold a 138-130-15 edge in the all-time series. North Dakota began the season with a 4-7-2 record with just one win on home ice, but finished with a 21-6-1 run, including a 10-game streak without a loss from Nov. 30-Jan. 24. These two teams also feature two of the top six goalies in the nation: Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox (25-5-6 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .934 save percentage) and North Dakota’s Zane Gothberg (20-9-3 with a 1.99 GAA and .926 SV%).
Holl has played a vital role on Minnesota’s blue line in his senior season, going back to his natural position after splitting his junior campaign between defense and forward. Holl has 12 assists in 37 games so far for the Gophers and ranks second among active roster players with 140 games played over four seasons. UND freshman Johnson has impressed in his first campaign, posting 21 points (8G, 13A) in 41 games so far; his 103 shots on net rank second on the team. Mattson recorded career highs in assists (18) and points (22) this season, sharing second among team defensemen. Additionally, the junior blueliner earned the NCAA Elite 89 Award, which honors the championship competitor with the highest level of academic achievement (Mattson has a 3.966 cumulative GPA).
Game broadcast: April 10, 7:30 p.m. CDT, ESPN2
(2) Boston College vs. (3) Union
How they got there: Union cruised past the University of Vermont 5-2 in the first round and defeated Providence 3-1 to reach the Frozen Four for just the second time in school history. Boston College posted a 6-2 win over Denver in the first round of the Northeast bracket, then defeated Hockey East foe UMass-Lowell 4-3 in the regional final.
History: Union’s 5-1 win over BC in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament might still be fresh in the Eagles’ memories; the two teams didn’t play during the 2013-14 regular season, so Thursday afternoon’s semifinal will serve as a revenge match. The Dutchmen enter the contest with a 15-game unbeaten streak and boast one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, anchored by defenseman Shayne Gotisbehere and netminder Colin Stevens, who ranks second in the nation with 26 wins and six shutouts. They’ll be thoroughly challenged by the seemingly unstoppable BC offense, keyed by the most prolific line in college hockey (192 points combined), which features two of this year’s Hobey Baker finalists, among them Chicago prospect Kevin Hayes.
Hayes’ senior season has been eye-opening, as Chicago’s 2010 first-round pick has compiled 63 points (27G, 36A) in 39 games so far this season, including seven points (3G, 4A) in the first two games of the NCAA tournament. Moving from center to wing has helped his game, as he’s been a beast along the walls and behind the opponent’s net, creating space for linemates Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold. Calnan was eased into his first season with the Eagles, playing a depth role and compiling 12 points (4G, 8A) in 36 games, fifth-best among team freshmen.
Broadcast: April 10, 4 p.m. CDT, ESPN2