By Ryan Stieg, AllPuck.com
There’s been quite a bit going on over the past two weeks since the NCAA Regionals, most of the big stories being players leaving school early for the NHL.
Two stories stand out above the rest.
The first is that longtime Colorado College head coach Scott Owens resigned. Owens has been at the helm since taking over for Don Lucia in 1999. During that span, the Tigers made the Frozen Four in 2005 on top of six other NCAA appearances. No reason was given for his resignation, but my theory is that maybe the powers that be wanted to move in a different direction, like Denver was last year with George Gwozdecky. The Tigers haven’t made the NCAA tournament in three years and just went through their worst season in 20 years. Whatever the reason, it’s a sad day because Owens is a talented coach who kept a small school competitive on a national stage. I’m sure he’ll be missed by the Tiger faithful.
The other is that NCAA seems willing to reconsider its idea to stage the Regionals at neutral sites. On paper it seemed like a sound plan; it isn’t fair for one team to have a distinct home-ice advantage over the other teams in the region. The plan backfired because attendance at the Regionals has been terrible. Attendance turned around a little this year, but it’s still bad. A total of 8,893 fans for a regional championship between Minnesota and St. Cloud State sounds fine — except that the game was in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center, which holds more than twice that number (18,568).
If the NCAA is smart, they will return the games to campus sites. Yes, it gives one team an advantage, but a good team overcomes that. I’ve seen it happen. Miami beat Minnesota-Duluth in 2009 in front of a loud, very partisan crowd at Mariucci Arena. (How partisan was the crowd? I was cheering for both teams and when the Redhawks scored first, I cheered and pumped my fist. I was the only one in the arena to do so outside of the Miami pep band. It was weird).
Both of those stories pale in comparison to the Frozen Four, which starts Thursday. This year features three powerhouse progams and one on the rise. I got three out of the four teams correct with my predictions two weeks ago, which was my best performance in the Regionals so far. Let’s see if I can keep my luck going.
FROZEN FOUR – Philadelphia
Game #1: Union vs. Boston College
Boston College has been the team to beat for a decade. Union made its first Frozen Four in 2012 and almost made it again last year. The high-flying Eagles have the best line in the country: Johnny Gaudreau (35 goals, 77 points), Kevin Hayes (27, 63) and Bill Arnold (14, 52). Gaudreau’s linemates are just as scary as the presumed Hobey Baker winner. Boston College also put on a show in the Northeast Regional, easily dispatching Denver and beating arguably the best goalie in the nation, Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, to make it to Philly.
Union counters with a balanced attack. Five scorers have more than 30 points, led by 48-point man Daniel Carr. They also have one of the best netminders in Colin Stevens, who shut down Vermont and Providence in the East Regional. The Dutchmen also defeated Boston College in the 2013 tournament, thrashing the Eagles 5-1. Normally a good defense like Union’s stops a good offense. However, Boston College isn’t an ordinary offense. It’s also an even-numbered year, which doesn’t bode well for the Dutchmen. The Eagles strike quickly, and although Union fights back, Boston College moves on with a 5-3 win.
Game #2: Minnesota vs. North Dakota
Both the NCAA and ESPN had to be salivating when two former arch-rivals, the Golden Gophers and Fighting Sioux, emerged victorious from Regionals. The crowd will already be great. The atmosphere will be even better. TV ratings should also improve this year. The buildup leading to the game has been big, and the game should be just as fun.
Minnesota rolls into Philly after easily disposing of Robert Morris and St. Cloud State (told you the Huskies were overrated). The Gophers have five 30-point scorers on the team, including pesky forwards Kyle Rau and Sam Warning (37 and 32 points, respectively). Sophomore Adam Wilcox was a Hobey Baker finalist and shut out St. Cloud in the Regional final. Wilcox also has a sparkling 1.88 GAA and a .934 save percentage.
North Dakota has two 30-point men in Rocco Grimaldi and Michael Parks as well as two crafty 20-point scorers in Mark MacMillan and Drake Caggiula. The Sioux also have a goalie that can keep pace with Wilcox in Zane Gothberg. Gothberg had a solid season going (1.98 GAA, .926 save percentage) then really shined in Cincinnati, where he outdueled Hobey Baker finalists Joel Rumpel and C.J. Motte.
I went back and forth with this prediction, and I think it’ll be a hard-fought one until the final horn. Minnesota scores first, but North Dakota ties it before the end of the first. The second period is scoreless and the two squads both score early in the third to knot the score 2-2. In the end though, I think Minnesota is just a little bit better and a late garbage goal gives the Gophers a 3-2 win.
We now have reached Saturday, where two proud programs will battle for the national title. Minnesota is in search of its sixth championship and first since 2003. Boston College also searches for its sixth, and fourth straight in even-numbered years. The game is spirited from the start. The Gophers score first on a tip-in by Rau, but the Eagles get goals from Gaudreau and Hayes to go up 2-1 at the end of the frame. Arnold then scores for Boston College midway through the second, but Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly blasts a slap shot into the net, seconds before intermission to cut the deficit to one. Minnesota fires relentlessly at the net in the third period, but is unable to tie the game. Lucia pulls Wilcox to get the extra attacker, but it backfires as Gaudreau scores an empty-netter. The final seconds tick off the clock and Boston College gets its sixth title with a 4-2 victory.