Frozen Four: Denver, Minnesota Duluth approach NCAA title game in different ways
CHICAGO -- When NCHC rivals Minnesota Duluth and Denver meet at 7 p.m. Saturday for the NCAA Division I men's hockey championship at United Center, it will be more than a battle featuring the league's regular-season champion Pioneers and the postseason champion Bulldogs.
It's more than a matchup between the top seeds in the NCAA tournament or a showdown involving the two teams that spent 18 of 20 weeks as No. 1 in the U.S. College Hockey Online polls.
When the Bulldogs and Pioneers face off for the third time this season, it will be a battle of contrasting styles as to how a program should approach the spectacle that is the NCAA Frozen Four.
For Denver, this week has been a business trip. The Pioneers have been a serious bunch after losing in the national semifinals to North Dakota a year ago in Tampa, Fla.
"It was pretty crushing for a lot of us," Pioneers senior forward Emil Romig said.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have been a loose and, at times, goofy group that has decided to take in everything that comes with participating in the Frozen Four. Coach Scott Sandelin has often compared the personality of this squad to the team that won the program's only national championship in 2011 in St. Paul.
"I've told my wife a couple times, I don't know if I've ever figured this group out all year," Sandelin said. "And she just told me, 'Don't worry, they're doing fine.'
"I think it's really important when you get to these points of the year to really enjoy it. ... And I hope they enjoy the hell out of it. Because it's something they'll never forget."
Senior defenseman Dan Molenaar couldn't agree more.
"It's a fun place to be. It's a fun time of the year," he said. "I don't know if I've ever been on a team that's as close-knit as the team we are now. We love coming to the rink. We just love being with each other."
Despite being conference rivals, the Bulldogs and Pioneers played each other just twice during the regular season.
Now fate has finally brought the league's two best teams back together -- for the national title, no less -- and while you'd think this game would have the feeling of a rematch between nonconference opponents, both coaches insist it doesn't.
The Pioneers and Bulldogs know each other very well.
"I think their staff knows us inside out. I feel like we know them inside out," Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery said. "The players know each other extremely well. I don't think the coaches have to say who has to go out on the ice when one line goes over because they're going to know it's my responsibility."
The Pioneers and Bulldogs split their one two-game series on Dec. 9-10 in Denver. The Pioneers won the opener 4-3, getting a goal and two assists from sophomore forward Troy Terry. The Bulldogs won 3-1 the next night thanks to goals by senior wing Kyle Osterberg, sophomore wing Billy Exell and freshman wing Joey Anderson (empty net), plus 38 saves by freshman goaltender Hunter Miska.
"That weekend was a lot of fun as a player. It was back-and-forth hockey. It was a lot of speed. It was pretty physical," Denver sophomore forward Colin Staub said. "There was a lot of hype going into it and it was a lot of fun for players."
There were two asterisks to that December series, however. The Bulldogs went into Friday's game having not played in 19 days and the Pioneers were without freshman forward Henrik Borgstrom, who along with Terry leads the Pioneers in scoring with 22 goals and 21 assists.
Sandelin said he's reminded of Boston University's Jack Eichel when watching Borgstrom.
Montgomery said for goaltenders, Borgstrom's shot is something you have to see in person to truly know what's coming.
"The first time he's let it go on most of the goaltenders, I'm talking great goaltenders in the NCHC ... he puts it by them," Montgomery said. "They're not used to it. He has an NHL release, and hides his release."
This article is written by Matt Wellens from Duluth News Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.