arch Madness is not over. We’ve still got one more exciting and action-packed Final Four…excuse me…Frozen Four to look forward to this weekend. Down in the windy city at the United Center in Chicago, the Denver Pioneers, Harvard Crimson, Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs and fellow Hockey East native Notre Dame Fighting Irish will face off for the right to crown themselves national champions.
It’s quite simple: this national championship is the Pioneers’ title to lose. They are by far the most equipped and talented team in the field and a 31-7-4 record and No. 1 seed in the tournament is clear proof of that. Three conferences are being represented in Chicago this weekend: Denver and Minnesota-Duluth represent the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), Harvard hails from the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) and most notably, Notre Dame stands tall as the last team standing representing the Hockey East Association. No doubt about it, this Frozen Four is going to be an instant classic.
University of Denver
It’s no surprise that the Pioneers came in and earned the No. 1 seed in the national tournament. Denver ended its regular season with an 11-game winning streak before falling to the University of North Dakota in the conference’s annual NCHC Frozen Faceoff. The Pioneers dominated conference play this season, earning a regular season title with an impressive 18-3-1 record in conference play. The team’s success lies at the blue line and its firepower at the back end. Specifically, Tanner Jaillet has been solid between the pipes. Only averaging 1.86 goals allowed, Jaillet has proven to be a stand-up goaltender in big-time situations. Through two rounds in the tournament only five goals have gone past him. He has to be the guy to step up for this team because with Notre Dame next on the docket, the Pioneers will have its work cut out for them.
University of Notre Dame
If any team has a chance of derailing the Pioneers, it’s the Fighting Irish. Many Wildcat fans saw how quickly Notre Dame can take over a game this season. Despite falling a game short of a Hockey East championship appearance, a 23-win season was more than enough to secure a bid. The Fighting Irish may be the hottest team entering this weekend given the path they had to take to get here. With a stingy win over No. 4 Minnesota and an incredible overtime win against Hockey East champion UMass Lowell, the Fighting Irish have all the momentum going into their battle with Denver. Andrew Oglevie was the hero for Notre Dame in the last matchup and with guys like Boston Bruins prospect Anders Bjork complementing him as the two leading point-scorers on the team, Notre Dame is the one team nobody wants to face in the final.
The Bulldogs are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament atmosphere. Finishing just behind the Crimson at No. 3 in the regular season rankings, this is the matchup college hockey fans deserve. Minnesota Duluth is seeking its first national championship since 2011 and this year looks like a prime year to return to the top of the college hockey world considering the offense they possess. The Bulldogs have gamers with veteran presence, such as Alex Iafallo and a young talent in Adam Johnson. Iafallo has had the hot stick in the most recent matchups as he is carrying a trend of scoring two points in each game he has played in during the tournament. Overall, Minnesota Duluth is one of the more battle-tested teams in this Frozen Four field; its matchup vs. Harvard is the one I have circled on my board.
With the departure of Hobey Baker award winner Jimmy Vesey last season, the Crimson have still managed to uphold a strong hockey team. The Crimson also had the luxury of being placed in a relatively easy bracket, avoiding the big-time teams the original field had to offer. The Crimson punched their ticket to Chicago only having to beat No. 13 Providence College and No. 8 University of Western Michigan, compared to other teams within the top-5 of the national rankings. I guess you earn that right when you finish as No. 2 in the nation before the tournament bracket was revealed. It’s now April 6 and the Crimson haven’t lost a game since Jan. 27. If consistency is any indication, the Crimson is a heavy threat and no doubt one of the favorites to take the crown this year.