Somewhere back in the summer, there was a thread where we started talking about hockey on OTE. Now, that seemed innocuous enough - because let's be honest, our threads kind of get ridiculous from time to time, especially during our B1G Team Preview Weeks - but that little conversation turned into OTE getting its own hockey coverage. For that, I want to first take a step back and give huge props to my man Big Maple for taking the reins of this thing and giving us some great insight into the first year of B1G hockey and for establishing what I think will be some great hockey talk in the future.
That said - [waits for applause to die down] - as an admitted hockey fan, I had promised to do some hockey writing this year as well. Unfortunately, I'm apparently really good at saying I'll write about something and then delegating it to someone else. Actually, I'm just really good at doing that in general. So, uh, yeah, let's move on. The point of this all is that I wanted to get our own NC_Buckeye, Big Maple, and myself to talk about this year's Frozen Four, taking place tonight and Saturday. This will be a nice two-part piece so we don't get too overwhelming. Today, I asked our guys to answer the simple questions about each participant - Why they'll win, why they'll lose, what will happen - and the results were as follows. Enjoy! Oh, and let's just use this as our open thread for the evening.
Why will the Golden Gophers win the 2014 Frozen Four?
Big Maple: Goaltending, team defense, a fast transition game, and scoring finish. They're a deep team and one in which their role players are better than the role players on most teams. Oh, and if Wilcox is on his game they will be very tough to score on.
Jesse: So here's the thing. I have watched probably 12-15 games this season, so I'm not exactly an expert as to why Minnesota is the best. However, when I have watched, it seems like it was always Minnesota and Wilcox stonewalling teams. Looking at the numbers, I really do think that Minnesota has a great matchup with UND. Moreover, I think Minnesota is the most complete team of the four left in the tournament, which should lend itself well to winning it all.
NC_Buckeye: Watching Minnesota play this season has been an eye opening experience for this Buckeye hockey fan. They've got scoring happening all over the place. Multiple lines, younger players, older players. Hell, 12 players had 6 or more goals for the season. And as good as their offense is, their defense is just as impressive. They're quick to the puck, they prevent their opposition from grabbing any inertia, and they have the best goalie in the country.
Oh, did I mention they have a coach that's been in the tournament 15 times and has had a Gopher team in the Frozen Four 4 times?
Why will the Gophers fail miserably and get annihilated in the Semis by the hated North Dakotans?
Big Maple: For this to happen the Gophers would have to come out completely flat, or have had a team meal consisting solely of gas station oysters. There is a chance they can lose, but I don't see them getting annihilated. They're too good and there is so much on the line. That last regular season game against Michigan - where they were peppered - was a result of having locked up top spot in the B1G and not having intensity, but that won't happen this time. Plus they really hate UND, I mean really hate them.
Jesse: So, uh, like Maple said, there isn't exactly a lot of love between these two teams, huh? Reminding you all that my hockey experience is somewhat limited to ‘Teams Omaha has played' makes it hard for me to understand these dynamics, but after meeting some ND fans, I can understand why Gophers probably hate them. That said, I don't see it as nearly as far a reach for the Gophers to get run out of the building if they're not on their game. This team outhustled a good Wisconsin outfit, outshooting them and keeping constant enough pressure like they'll look to do against Minnesota. All it takes is one bad day.
NC_Buckeye: I agree. I don't see them getting annihilated. But... the Gophers' exit in the Big Ten tournament wasn't very impressive. Does Minnesota have a heart issue or a big game issue? Or was Ohio State just playing for their lives? If UND has a lead in the third period, how do the Gophers respond to that? That would definitely answer the character issue IMO.
The other thing is that they are playing an old conference foe. Someone who is not intimidated by the Minnesota juggernaut. And North Dakota has been playing this tournament like they're out to prove that they are not a 14th seed. 5-2 against Wisconsin. 2-1, 2OT against Ferris State. I expect them to come out and punch the Gophers in the nose and not back off a second. Should be a good game.
What do you think is Minnesota's finals fate?
Big Maple: So hard to say, all four teams are great teams. No one won any flukes to get there. I sure hope the Gophers win the whole thing for B1G bragging rights.
Jesse: The Gophers are winning it all.
NC_Buckeye: I think Lucia has them ready and they play in the Final Saturday night. Do they win it all? Depends on their opponent. I like them against BC but Union is a wildcard. And the Gophers have demonstrated in the past that they can fall down if they don't dominate a team as expected.
Yeah... I think they'll win the trophy.
Why will the North Dakotans win the 2014 Frozen Four?
Big Maple: By going on a great two game run, they certainly are good enough to do so. But, in my opinion they are the least consistent of the four teams competing. They can play great, but have also dropped a few games to some dogs this season
Jesse: Because their former coach - Dean Blais, now Omaha's coach - looks like David Letterman and so somehow they'll pay homage to his retirement and... Okay, that's a stretch. As I said above a bit, the reason that North Dakota can win is because they can be relentless. I'm not super familiar with all of their team, but looking at statistics, they might not have heavy hitters like Johnny Gaudreau, but they have guys up and down who can put the puck on net and take advantage of situations. They'll win if they come out patient, and if they just outright outhustle the Gophers.
NC_Buckeye: Against Wisconsin and against Ferris State, the [redacted Native American name] looked like a really tight team. I watched a lot of the tournament games. And I have to say there was some very sloppy hockey being played. Ferris State vs Colgate. Quinnipiac vs Providence. Also Minn State vs Mass-Lowell. Not real impressive.
But UND was playing at a different level than that. They looked more like Minnesota than the other teams I've mentioned. Like Minnesota they are pretty deep. Scoring all over the place. Also similar in having a very responsive defense.
And did you know their coach, Dave Hakstol, has had every UND team since he arrived on campus play in the tournament? That's 9 for 9. He hasn't won it all. But statistically it's going to happen sooner or later.
Why will the North Dakotans fail miserably and lose to those Gophers from the adjacent state?
Big Maple: Again I see this game being a close game, these two hate each other, and as Gophers fans like to say, "UND are a bunch of goons" so if UND spends a good amount of time in the box, they will surely be bounced.
Jesse: Because Minnesota has more talent. Bottom line, North Dakota has played well enough in the tournament to get to this point. They are well coached, well regarded, and athletic enough to play with anyone. However, they are not the most talented team - in fact, I would argue they're the least talented of the four teams in the finals - and outside of some Sioux Magic, I just don't see them getting past Minnesota... Especially because it's Minnesota.
NC_Buckeye: Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. I think the Gophers will be more than prepared for their western neighbor. Maple's point about the penalty box is a good one. Lucia needs to make sure his guys don't get too emotionally involved in the game. They need to perform like surgeons, go to work, do what they do.
What do you think is their finals fate?
Big Maple: Lose in the semi finals, or lose in the finals, I don't see them being champions.
Jesse: They're losing to Minnesota. I'm being redundant, though.
NC_Buckeye: Yeah, I don't think they advance either. But if they get past the Gophers and somehow play Union on Saturday -- I would go with UND over Union. IMO Hakstol gets his first championship in that scenario.
Why will BC win the 2014 Frozen Four?
Big Maple: Certainly not because of those hideous flesh tone uniforms they have. Seriously though, offense offense offense! BC is a good team, but they can be scored on, they usually outscore the opponents though. BC goas as good as Johhny Gaudreau goes. To stop BC you need to stop him.
Jesse: Because of the aforementioned Johnny Gaudreau who will be named the Hobey Baker award winner and who is kind of the man. I watched the Quarterfinals against UMass-Lowell and this was an offensive super team. Gaudreau will be a star at the next level and that is just a part of the bigger reality that they have 3 of the top 6 scorers in NCAA hockey. Oh, and they're more than functional on defense as well. There is a reason they're here.
NC_Buckeye: Yep, Gaundreau is a force. And the Eagles have some pretty good players backing him up (Hayes, Arnold, Brown, & Fitzgerald to name a few). If BC gets in their groove, watch out. They're going to rack up some points.
Also not beat this drum too much. But everything I said about Lucia and Hakstol, forget it. Jerry York is the best coach in this tournament. And it's not even close. He's won it all 3 of the last 6 years. He's been in the tournament more than any active coach (like 20 times). This is a man that brought an NCAA trophy back to Bowling Green, Ohio for crying out loud.
Based on that it's pretty hard not to pencil in the Eagles for the Finals.
Why will BC lose to Union?
Big Maple: I'm an old ECAC guy so I will say yes. Looking at the respective schedules they both had about the same record against common opponents, and Union is on a tear of late beating good teams convincingly in both their conference tournaments and the earlier rounds of the NCAA's and are playing with a ton of confidence. BC lost two games to Notre Dame and were put out of their conference tourney.
Jesse: If they lose to Union, it's because Union is probably just as balanced as Minnesota in my book. Their offense isn't quite as potent as BC's, but you're also comparing to an extreme. Oh, and Union's offense is second best in the NCAA still. Add that to the fact that Union is on kind of a roll right now. So BC loses because Union's defense does enough to slow down BC and their offense overwhelms BC.
NC_Buckeye: Like Minnesota, BC has had moments when they drop the ball. (Miss the pass... clank the bar... what's the hockey equivalent?) Oct. 10, @Mich (1-3). Oct. 27, @Minn (1-6). Nov 23, @Maine (1-5). Nov. 29, Holy Cross (4-5). Feb. 22, @Mass-Lowell (2-2). Mar 1, Notre Dame (1-2 OT). And don't forget their HE tournament second-round loss to Notre Dame. Do they have a problem with away games like Wisconsin? Are there heart/character issues going on? Don't know, haven't seem them enough to say definitively. They manhandled Denver 6-2 and edged out conference mate Mass-Lowell 4-3 in the tournament.
Guess I'm saying they're very beatable.
What do you think is their most likely fate?
Big Maple: Losing to Union College.
Jesse: I'm with Maple on this one. I think that Union beats BC here.
NC_Buckeye: This one is a toss-up for me. If I have to choose, I'm leaning towards BC because of the Jerry York factor. Plus, I think Minnesota vs Boston College, the two traditional hockey powers, would be a nice capstone to the season.
Why will Union win the 2014 Frozen Four?
Big Maple: Union has quietly put together one of the nations best hockey programs over the last five years. I also think of the four teams left, they are on the best run through their conference tournament and the early NCAA rounds, they are playing with confidence and no one is really picking them, so they have a chip on their shoulder that will surely fire them up.
Jesse: So, I kind of started talking about this before, but Union is on a hell of a roll right now. I was able to watch their Quarterfinal game as well and they frustrated Providence to no end. Moreover, they've been doing this for a while. I had to look it up - because I'm not exactly the most knowledgeable Union fan - but they haven't lost since January. I think they'll keep doing that right now, and that's in spite of many people picking BC-Minny already.
NC_Buckeye: For me, Union is a wild card. I have not seen them play. Just looking at the stats confirms what Jesse says above. Union has 12 guys with 6 or more goals on the season. They look to be very deep. Plus they pretty much dominated the ECAC this season.
Why will Union get stomped by BC?
Big Maple: They won't, it will be a good game, BC will have their hands full.
Jesse: I should have reworded these questions. Anyhow, Union loses this if they allow BC to play fast and score goals early. Playing from behind against such a powerful offense as BC's is just asking for trouble, and while Union can match BC blow-for-blow on that end of the ice, I would think that it would be bad news to play with fire.
NC_Buckeye: If BC gets hot, this game will get interesting. Regular season plus tournament, Union has seen a full slate of Hockey East schools now. But they've got some unimpressive losses too (Lake Superior, Rensselaer, & St. Lawrence).
BTW, Rick Bennett is in his 3rd year at Union and has had his team in the tournament every year. In fact, last year the Dutchmen pounded BC in the 1st round (5-1).
What do you think is their most likely fate?
Big Maple: I think they make it to the final, and win are lose in a one goal heartstopper of a game.
Jesse: Man, it's like I'm just repeating everything Maple says! But yeah, I think they beat BC and we are treated to one heck of a finals matchup. Union and Minnesota are deep, talented at all levels, have great coaching, and would give us something fun to watch. I'm terrible at predictions, though... Still, I'm sticking with my Minnesota pick, but it's going to be close.
NC_Buckeye: I think this is going to be a very interesting weekend. And that Minnesota is going to beat Boston College.
So there you all have it. Let's meet back here at 5:00 Eastern to chat about Union-BC and then stay for some Golden Gopher-[Redacted Offensive Mascot Name] after that. We'll have Part II tomorrow as a lead in to Saturday's finals.
Game 1: Union-Boston College; ESPN2 5:00 Eastern
Game 2: Minnesota-North Dakota; ESPN2 8:30 Eastern
NCAA Frozen Four Official Bracket Site here.