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Callan Sheridan | NCAA.com | March 13, 2019

5 college hockey teams who could make their first Frozen Four in 2019

UConn at the top of hockey plays

College hockey has seen 71 years of the Frozen Four, with multiple repeat champions and appearances (hello, Boston College and Michigan, each with 25 appearances) and postseason debuts from 38 different teams. 

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Thanks to the latest bracketology, we have some predictions for which teams are in good shape to make the 16-team tournament bracket, right now. Based on that, we took a look at which schools in that group would enter this year's championships in search of their first-ever Frozen Four

Massachusetts 

Record: 26-8

The Minutemen have rocketed onto the college hockey scene this year, thanks in large part to the development of a strong sophomore class that features three of Massachusetts’ top scorers, as well as standout goalie Matt Murray. Murray ranks in the nation’s top goaltenders with a .922 save percentage and is second in the league with a .800 win percentage. 

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Forwards Mitchell Chaffee, Jacob Pritchard, John Leonard and defenseman Cale Makar have combined for 155 points this season. The team’s top three defensemen have combined for 96 blocked shots alone. Yes, UMass has had some fluke losses to start the year. But that doesn’t erase the talent on its roster. 

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Minnesota State

Record: 29-7-2

Minnesota State might not be name-brand college hockey, but there’s no denying the grind this team has had all year. The Mavericks have high producing offense, ranking third with 361 team points. Minnesota State has nearly doubled its goals in comparison to opponents, perhaps if only for the sheer volume of shot attempts (1153). 

The Mavericks have also had great support from special teams, boasting a league-best 42 power play goals and holding opponents to just 20 on 153 opportunities. This team has been a growing institution in western hockey for the past few seasons, earning WCHA regular season champ honors the past three years and making an appearance in the NCAA tournament four of the last five years. 

Granted, Minnesota State hasn’t been tested much in its conference play, but the Mavericks have had quality wins over Boston University, North Dakota and Minnesota in the season’s first half. 

Western Michigan

Record: 20-13-1

The Broncos had a short-lived tournament appearance in 2017, but beyond that it will have been six seasons since a repeat league postseason appearance. The Broncos have had a more measured incline over the season, progressively entering and then rising in the rankings since December. Early February rankings saw Western Michigan’s biggest jump and highest rank for the season at the time at No. 8 — thanks in large part to an upset sweep of then-No.4 Denver

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The 20-13-1 team is holding its own in the very competitive NCHC, a conference that plays host to league power houses St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and Denver. Senior netminder Trevor Gorsuch has been an institution for Western Michigan, playing over 1,500 minutes so far and backstopping his team to 18 wins.

The Broncos dropped a somewhat expected weekend series to St. Cloud State in late January. Save for that contest (against the No. 1 ranked team in the league) and Western Michigan hadn’t had a loss in 12 games. Since November 10, almost two weeks before Thanksgiving. The team hit a few bumps to round out the regular season, but look forward to NCHC quarterfinals against Colorado College.

Arizona State

Record: 21-12-1

The Sun Devils have been competing at  the NCAA DI level since 2015. Before this current season, the most wins ASU had against DI schools in a season was eight. So...you could say it’s pretty big deal that the team is where it’s at right now. 

Head coach Greg Powers is finally playing with a roster of players that he has mostly recruited. That includes sophomore forward Johnny Walker who is second in the country in scoring. Freshman recruit and one of Arizona’s two draft picks Demetrios Koumontzis has also been a spark for the Sun Devils, often sharing the power play line with Walker, helping him to share the lead for power play goals. Goaltender (and Ottawa draft pick) Joey Daccord has been stalwart for Arizona State’s defense, topping the nation in saves (994), shutouts (7) and tied for second in wins (21).

Arizona State is an independent so there’s no conference record or teams to compare to. But the Sun Devils have faced a varied and competitive season slate. Although the final score didn’t reflect it, ASU was competitive against a then-No.1 Ohio State squad early in the season. The team had a great series against top-ranked Penn State, wins over Colorado College, Boston College and battled Minnesota State to a tie. Does Arizona State have a skilled enough squad to match — and beat — institutional hockey schools? We’ll see. Either way, the Sun Devils have proved they’re not a team to be brushed aside — right now and in the coming seasons. 

American International...or Air Force

Air Force Record: 16-13-5

American International Record: 18-15-1

Both of these teams are in an interesting position. If you’re not following hockey in each league you might wonder what business Air Force or American International has in the tournament bracket. But remember, the winner of each conference tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. For our purposes, we’re projecting the conference winner right now based on in-conference winning percentage. And...enter American International.

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While American International currently holds this theoretical auto-bid spot based on winning percentage, Air Force was the leader for some time as well. Since both teams are currently competing in the Atlantic Hockey tournament and either could win, we've included them both in this list. 

The Falcons have had appearances in the last two NCAA tournaments, and while many of those tournament players returned, Air Force did lose its top two scorers coming into the season. This season’s seniors have stepped up, notably Evan Feno and Matt Koch who both lead the team in points so far this season (46). Freshman Kieran Durgan has made his mark as well, notching 11 goals and 17 points in the season so far to help Air Force. 

The real strength for Air Force is senior netminder Billy Christopoulos. Christopoulos has tracked more than 1,800 minutes in net so far this season, allowing just 64 goals on 727 shots. He by far has the best save percentage in Atlantic Hockey, and his experience from last season’s tournament will only help in postseason play. The Falcons will certainly have an uphill battle, but the right circumstances could see Air Force in its first Frozen Four semifinal game. 

American International had a tough start to the season, seeing five losses in six games throughout October and early November. The Yellow Jackets found their stride before the season break, earning five strong Atlantic Hockey wins before the new year.  Junior Blake Christensen has blazed the way for American International, leading his team with 42 points. Sophomore Tobias Fladeby has leant a hand to the cause as well with 17 goals on the season.

AIC is 17-9-1 in conference competition, giving it a division-leading .648 win percentage. Unfortunately, compared to other leading teams across the NCAA league, the Yellow Jackets won't quite stack up for an at-large bid. The Atlantic Hockey conference tournament is almost certainly the team's only shot at a making its way to the Frozen Four.

*Stats updated Mar. 13, 2019

Callan Sheridan is a graduate of Saint Peter's University and has produced content for The Press Enterprise, the American Junior Golf Association and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Follow her on twitter at @calsh_13.

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