Frozen Four: Old rivals, new opponents face off in Tampa
TAMPA -- Nineteen national championships and 62 Frozen Four appearances. With those numbers, college hockey fans should recognize the familar faces of Boston College, Denver and North Dakota.
But the fourth team isn't that much of a surprise either. Three years after finishing as the runner-up in Pittsburgh, the Quinnipiac Bobcats could become the fifth program in last six years to capture their first-ever national championship.
So which pair of the Frozen Four teams will advance to the championship game on Saturday? Let's dig into Thursday's matchups at Amalie Arena.
Quinnipiac vs. Boston College, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2
In the first game on Thursday night, there couldn’t be two opponents with a more different hockey history. Quinnipiac is making only its second Frozen Four in school history. Boston College its 25th and seventh in the past 11 years under legendary coach Jerry York.
"With that anticipation coming down this time, we understand just how good the field is. When you put those win/loss records up for four teams, it's clearly well deserved entries to the Frozen Four. A lot of respect not only Quinnipiac, who we're going to play, but the North Dakota and Denver program too," York said at media day Wednesday.
Less than 150 miles separate their campuses, but it took a trip nearly 1,400 miles away for the programs to finally face off. The unfamiliarity of the Bobcats certainly hasn't gone unnoticed for the Eagles, who have played every other ECAC team in the conference's current model.
"It's kind of weird. I feel like I know pretty much a guy on every team we play against. Quinnipiac, I can't say that I do, which makes it interesting, makes it fun, not knowing that much about them other than on the film. We haven't seen what they're like on the ice yet," said BC captain Teddy Doherty.
"I think it's exciting for us to play a new opponent. We've never played them before," Quinnipiac captain Soren Jonzzon said. "You look at Denver versus North Dakota, I think it's their 275th time playing or something like that. It's kind of funny."
Quinnipiac has held the No. 1 spot in the major polls for the majority of the season. Not many teams have been able to stop Quinnipiac this season as the Bobcats have lost only three games all season.
"When you walk in our locker room, you see on the door it says: Attack the day. We're going to attack the day," Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. "But I think my players have been great with that this year. That's why we only have three losses in April."
The key matchup on Thursday night will be how Sam Anas and fellow forward Travis St. Denis attack the net against a solid BC defense and goaltender Thatcher Demko. Anas and St. Denis combined for 96 points in 41 games played and have scored 10 power-play goals each. Demko, both a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and Mike Richter Award, posted a .936 save percentage and has produced a school single-season record 10 shutouts.
On the opposite end, Quinnipiac senior Michael Garteig didn't face many shots in the regional so he will be tested early by dynamic scorers such as Ryan Fitzgerald and Austin Cangelosi.
The blue lines for both teams will be crucial not just on defense but for some offensive production as well. Boston College leads the nation in defensive scoring with 123 points coming from its blue line while Quinnipiac is just two spots behind in third with 120 points.
Denver vs. North Dakota, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The second game might as well be a complete 180 of the earlier match. Denver and North Dakota have won seven titles each and are well acquainted with one another. The NCHC rivals have already met five times this year, most recently a 1-1 draw in the conference consolation game.
"Everyone knows it's a rivalry game. We've played them so many times over my four year career here, and every time it's a great game and it's a high compete level," senior Bryn Chyzyk said. "So I expect nothing different tomorrow here."
This year’s Frozen Four semifinal marks the 276th meeting between the programs with four of those meetings coming in the national title game. The teams meet for the first time in the Frozen Four since the Pioneers won the 2005 national championship.
"This is just going to be another North Dakota/Denver game with a lot of intensity and a lot of fire behind both benches and behind both teams. And it's going to be highlighted on the North Dakota-Denver timeline," Denver captain Grant Arnold said. "This is a Frozen Four game. There's more at stake, no question about it."
The programs have both gone into a championship slump recently, with UND looking to snap a 16-year championship drought. Despite the early exits in back-to-back Frozen Fours in 2014 and 2015, the experience for the UND upperclassmen could still give them an advantage Thursday night.
"This is a very special group. We've said it all year long. The three guys that are to the right of me and a bunch of the juniors and seniors in that locker room, we've been here before," first-year coach Brad Berry said. "They're hungry. They're focused. They're committed. They're dialed in right away."
Berry played at UND from 1983-86 and barely missed out playing on the 1982 and 1987 national championship teams. However, Berry served as an assistant under coach Dave Haskel, who left last season to coach the Philadelphia Flyers.
On the opposite bench, Denver head coach Jim Montgomery also brings similiar experience under his belt. Montgomery led the University of Maine to a national title in 1993 and still holds the all-time scoring record for the Black Bears.
"I gotta get everyone's focus and mentality channeling in the right direction. And when I was a captain, I had to do that a little bit at Maine," Montgomery said. "And now, as a coach, you come back -- the only thing I do like about my playing days that I can draw to the team is sharing the experience with them about how it's a great event, you've got to enjoy the event, but when it's time to play, you've got to be in the moment."
Much like the five games the season, the season could come down to how the opposing defenses react to North Dakota's CBS line and the Pacific Rim line for Denver.
Both have produced some of the most explosive play of hockey especially during the second half of the season. UND's Brock Boeser, Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz have combined for 144 points while Denver's Danton Heinen, Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore tallied 139 points.
"I've already kind of publicly tried to challenge Coach Berry to let's go head to head, CBS against Pacific Rim Line," Montgomery said. "It would be a helluva show, but he wants to go with his defensive line against them. Maybe he'll bite halfway through the game."