The 2018 Frozen Four begins on Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Three teams representing the Big Ten, and one team from NCHC, will be in Minnesota playing for a shot at the national title. Minnesota Duluth will play Ohio State at 6:00 p.m. ET, followed by Notre Dame facing off against Michigan at 9:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 5. The championship game is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 7.
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Here are nine things to know about the Frozen Four this year:
1. Hello, Minnesota!
The Frozen Four was last in Saint Paul back in 2011. Minnesota Duluth defeated Michigan 3-2 in overtime to take the national title. If both teams can win their semifinal games, then college hockey fans could easily see a repeat of the 2011 championship game. This year marks the sixth time that the Frozen Four has been in St. Paul, and the 10th time in the state of Minnesota.
2. There’s some history for these Frozen Four coaches
The world of college hockey coaches is sometimes small. Last year, Denver's head coach Jim Montgomery defeated his former mentor in Notre Dame’s Jeff Jackson. There’s a chance for a similar storyline in this year’s Frozen Four. Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik, joined the Ohio State program in 2010 after 10 seasons on the coaching staff at Minnesota Duluth (2001-10) with head coach Scott Sandelin. During his time in Duluth, the Bulldogs advanced to two NCAA tournaments, including a Frozen Four appearance in 2004, and they won the 2009 WCHA playoff title.
The week prior to the Frozen Four, Rohlik had some kind words for the Minnesota Duluth coach.
“Sandy loves the game. There's no one more passionate about the game. And again, you know, he's just, every year you're looking, he's just won... I mean, they go out on the trail, they got good recruits," Rohlik said. "They've done it for a long time. And you can feel when they have the passion for what Bulldog hockey is.”
"Doesn't matter who you play at this time of the year. What conference they're in. They're all good teams and you have to just focus on what you need to do to win a hockey game." - UMD coach Scott Sandelin pic.twitter.com/mzMUQzH2q8— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 4, 2018
"He's a very good coach. I think he's very fiery, very passionate. You see his teams play the same way. I'm not surprised that he's done a great job," Sandelin said of Rohlik. "I think their team this year is better than last year in different ways. They're a little more complete team. But, he's got a good staff around him, too. He's a good friend of mine, and obviously, when you spend 10 years together you become pretty good friends. And he's a very good coach and very deserving of the opportunity to be here with his team. And it wouldn't surprise me down the road they're going to be down here more times."
RELATED: Meet the Frozen Four coaches
3. The most Frozen Four experience
Well, Michigan takes the win on this one. The Wolverines will be making their 25th Frozen Four appearance in program history, but this is the squad’s first time since 2011. Next would be Minnesota Duluth making its sixth appearance and second consecutive trip. Notre Dame also made the Frozen Four last year, and this marks its fourth appearance. Ohio State is making only its second trip to the Frozen Four, with the Buckeyes' last appearance being in 1998. This year makes the first time since 2008 that multiple teams are making return trips to the Frozen Four.
4. Potential award winners
This weekend the Hobey Baker Award and Mike Richter Award will be announced on Friday before the championship game on Saturday. However, fans will get to see a finalist for both awards on the ice. That impressive guy - Notre Dame’s goalie Cale Morris. He was a Hobey Baker Award Top 10 finalist and he is a finalist for the Richter Award. His .945 save percentage leads the nation.
5. Who’s on the call?
ESPN’s lead hockey play-by-play commentator John Buccigross teams up with lead hockey analyst Barry Melrose and reporter Quint Kessenich to call the Frozen Four for the sixth consecutive year. Here is the schedule for the Frozen Four with times and TV information.
6. If you’re in town, here’s what you should know
ESPN will host a Frozen Four and #CawlidgeHawkey fan gathering on Friday, April 6, (7:15 p.m. CT) at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub with John Buccigross and Barry Melrose. The one-hour session with ESPN’s Frozen Four commentators is free of charge to the public and will feature a Q&A session, picture and autograph opportunities along with numerous giveaways. Additionally, the Mike Richter Award, presented to the college hockey’s top goaltender, will be given away that night with both Stanley Cup winning goaltender Mike Richter and the winning goaltender expected to be in attendance. Fans can check out the Frozen Fest before Thursday's game where teams make their red carpet arrivals. Click here for more details on the about the Frozen Four.
7. The scouting report
Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on Ohio State:
"I think they're a much better defensive team this year. I think last year they were maybe a little bit looser defensively, so their system, what they've employed, has worked. You look at, they're barely giving up just over two goals a game. Their penalty killing is good, number one. So I think they've always been good offensively. And they are still, just like they were last year, but I think just tighter defensively. And those guys play a little bit more complete game on both sides of the puck."
Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik on Minnesota Duluth:
"I think they're a lot like us. Their work ethic. They're relentless. Their speed. They're here for a reason. You watch video on them, obviously being with Sande, know how he coaches, know how their teams play, they're going to go 60 minutes. If it goes longer than that, they're going to go longer than that. We've got to be at our best. We've got to play our best hockey game tomorrow night."
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson on Michigan:
"They're much improved. They've grown a lot over the last several months. I remember when I took over Notre Dame, it took us over half a year to get our culture in place, to get our system in place, to figure out what players we had. And they had to figure me out.
"And I'm sure the same thing happened to Mel (Pearson) this year. But, I saw from January to a month later when we played them, I saw them better than they were earlier. And I think that he's done an incredible job this year and that program's back on the rise.
"So, they've been one of the best offensive teams in the country in the second half, and their goaltender's certainly solidified their game in the second half as well. So all in all, they're as good a team as there is left playing. So, we'll more than -- have our hands full."
8. Big Ten in the building
Three teams are representing the Big Ten in this year's Frozen Four. This is just the fifth time in tournament history and the first time since 2005 that three schools from a single conference have been in the same Frozen Four. (h/t College Hockey Inc.)
With the Frozen Four being in the state of Minnesota, and a Minnesota team playing in the semifinals, there are certainly a lot of natives represented on each team. Minnesota Duluth has 17 players from the state of 10,000 lakes. Notre Dame has five, Ohio State has three and Michigan has one.