By Greg Laudani, Sports Writer
The Wildcats aren’t going to Boston this weekend for the Frozen Four, but even though your boys won’t be playing, who do you have winning it all?
It’s hard to argue against Hockey East champion Boston University. Say what you will about the Terriers as a Wildcats fan. But there is no doubt that many will consider them a favorite to win the whole thing.
The Terriers face North Dakota on Thursday, April 9, at TD Garden for the right to play in the National Championship game. Led by freshman phenom Jack Eichel, BU is an offensive powerhouse that few teams have been able to contain.
Eichel was named a Hobey Baker award finalist (nicknamed the Hobey Hat Trick) April 2 after leading the nation in scoring in his first collegiate season. The Hockey East Player of the Year put up 67 points, a record for a BU freshman, and is seen by many as likely to go either No. 1 or No. 2 in the NHL Draft this June.
The projected first-round selection also leads the nation in assists (43), power-play points (22) and plus/minus (+49), as he has been an instrumental cog in BU’s regular season and tournament runs. Eichel tallied a goal and three assists in two games against UNH this season.
BU forwards Evan Rodrigues and Danny O’Regan also make a strong case for the Terriers heading into the Frozen Four. Rodrigues has 21 goals and 40 assists for 61 points this season, while O’Regan recorded 22 goals and 26 assists for BU. Ahti Oksanen’s 24 goals tied Eichel for the team lead.
However, history says otherwise. North Dakota owns the all-time series against the Terriers, going 12-9-2 in 23 meetings with BU. However, the team from Commonwealth Avenue is 2-0-1 in the last three games pinned against North Dakota.
UND has a prolific foursome of its own. Junior Drake Caggiula paces the team in goals (18) and points (36) while playing in all 41 games this season. Senior Michael Parks is also having a tremendous season with 32 points on 12 goals and 20 assists.
Two of UND’s most dangerous players share the same last name. Junior Jordan Schmaltz and with his brother, freshman Nick, have helped facilitate UND’s offense all season. Jordan has dished out a team-high 23 assists and has collected 27 points in 41 games. Nick is not far behind, as the younger brother has five goals and 21 assists for 26 points in his first collegiate season.
The Schmaltz brothers will make it tough on BU, but the Terriers have some firepower to match. The teams go head-to-head for the chance to play either Providence College or Nebraska-Omaha for the NCAA title. The title game is set for Saturday, April 11, at TD Garden (7:30 p.m.)
Providence and Omaha clash in the semifinals at 5 p.m. on April 9. Omaha is led primarily by its youth. The squad’s top seven point leaders this season are all freshmen and sophomores.
Sophomore Austin Ortega leads the team in goals with 20 and is second in points with 37. He added 11 game-winning goals this season, as well, proving his worth when the Mavericks needed him most. Classmate Jake Guentzel’s team-high 25 assists powered his way to a team-high 38 points this season. Guentzel also scored 13 goals in 2014-15.
A pair of dynamic freshmen round out the Mavericks’ top four point-getters. Jake Randolph put up five goals and 21 assists for 26 points, making an immediate impact with the team. Tyler Vesel’s 22 points on eight goals and 14 assists have also provided Omaha a lift.
Omaha freshman Avery Peterson notched 21 points on 11 goals and 10 assists. Maverick sophomores Justin Parizek and Ian Brady also delivered, with Parizek adding 13 goals and eight assists while Brady recorded five goals and 16 assists. Senior goalie Ryan Massa has backboned Omaha with a 1.92 goals against average in 28 games this season.
Providence counters with an upperclassmen-heavy team. Junior Nick Saracino leads the team in assists (22) and points (35) and has scored 13 goals in his third season with the Friars. Senior Shane Luke is another weapon Omaha has to watch out for. Luke salvaged 13 goals and 18 assists this season for 31 points – just behind Saracino for the team lead.
Juniors Noel Acciari and Trevor Mingoia are the Friars’ two leading goal-scorers, as each has scored a team-high of 14. Acciari has added 16 assists to combine for 30 points, while Mingoia recorded 15 assists and has 29 points so far.
Strong goaltending can carry a team – and that will have to be the case with Providence and goalie Jon Gillies. The junior has a 22-13-2 record in 37 games this season and allows only 2.00 goals against per game. “Captain America” has tallied four shutouts and a .929 save percentage so far in 2014-15.
The Wildcats have recorded wins against three of the four finalists in this year’s Frozen Four, defeating Providence three times, (Jan. 13, Mar. 13 and 15), Omaha once (Dec. 31) and Boston University at home (Feb. 15).