The 2018 Frozen Four begins on Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Before the semifinals kick off, here are four facts to know about each team:
1. Cale Morris – you need to know the name. His .945 save percentage leads the nation. He spent most of last year on the bench behind Cal Petersen, who led the Irish to the Frozen Four last year and now plays for the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. Morris finished the season with a 26-7-1 record, which leads the nation in wins.
“Sitting in behind Cal Petersen, I knew it was going to be a great opportunity for me to soak in as much knowledge about the game on and off the ice. I think I developed as much on the ice as off the ice learning from him as being the captain as well, so he definitely took me under his wing,” Morris said. “And going into this year, I knew that I would have a great opportunity to battle for the starting position with the two freshmen coming in, and that it would be a healthy competition for all of us, and we all push each other each day. So it's been a great ride so far.”
2. Most teams have that one guy who keeps the team loose during games. In case you didn't know, that guy for the Irish would be Bo Brauer. At media day on Wednesday, the players shared some insight on that.
“I think it's good before games just to get guys loose and talking. Bo does a great job of that, getting everyone's voices heard," senior forward Jake Evans said. "I think that's been a big reason for our success this year.”
3. This season, Notre Dame has played Michigan four times and lost twice. The Frozen Four matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan has happened once before in 2008.
4. Jordan Gross is one of five Irish players from Minnesota. He also has skated an impressive 157 games with Notre Dame. Gross said being a Minnesota native, he was thinking about the chance of playing here in Saint Paul at the end of the season.
“Yeah, it's definitely in the back of my mind coming in here at the beginning of the year. Any Frozen Four is extremely special, but knowing it's in Saint Paul, that kind of meant a little more to me,” Gross said. “[The] consecutive games, I think that's a big attribute to our trainer and strength program. They've done a really good job of building up the muscles, doing a lot of stuff to make sure you don't get injured. So, I think that mainly goes to him.”
1. Coach Scott Sandelin played in a Frozen Four as a student-athlete in 1984 with North Dakota. Sandelin was a defenseman, and unfortunately lost to (ironically) UMD in the semifinals. He shared about some of his experience at media day:
“We didn't have the week off. We stayed out there, and it's certainly not the magnitude that it is now. But it was –– they even had a third-place game back then. But it was pretty cool. Still, but I don't even think it was the Frozen Four then, but I remember it being out –– we beat RPI that year and stayed out in New York because it was in Lake Placid. I was in North Dakota and we lost to Duluth, surprising, but it's a big event. It's awesome how it's grown and it's something that people look forward to every year.”
2. Minnesota Duluth forwards Karson Kuhlman and Jared Thomas are the first two Bulldogs in program history to compete in four NCAA tournaments.
3. Kuhlman, the team’s captain, leads the team in career goals (38), assists (39), points (77) and game winners (7). He also wins the best attendance award, as he has not missed a game with the Bulldogs since joining the program in 2014. His 162 consecutive appearances in the longest in NCAA DI history.
"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
4. It should be noted that the Bulldogs lost a lot of talented and experienced players from last year’s squad that played in the national title game. On Wednesday, Kuhlman spoke about how the team has been better as the season progressed despite losing a core group of players from last year.
“It was a learning experience for us. A lot of guys had not been in games of that magnitude where it's playoff hockey, and now that we're where we are here it's obviously one and done. I think it was good learning lessons for us … But, just consistency. I think we’ve really been focusing on 60 minutes of hockey. Early on in the year, we were a couple of shifts there and a couple of shifts there and then take a few off. And we're doing a good job of playing a full 60 now.”
1. This marks the first time in 20 years the Buckeyes have reached the Frozen Four. Back in 1998, Ohio State fell to Boston College, 5-2.
2. The Buckeyes are the least penalized team and the best face off team (54 percent) out of the four Frozen Four squads.
#DYK— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) April 4, 2018
Ohio State joins Boston College, Minnesota, & Wisconsin as the only universities to send both programs to the Frozen Four in the same season.@OhioState_MHKY faces Minnesota Duluth in #FrozenFour 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPNU!#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/g8Harv6l9d
3. Ohio State will be missing senior Matthew Weis, who is out with an injury. He sustained the injury prior to the Big Ten tournament championship game. This season he finished with a career high in goals (12), assists (25) and points (37).
“With the loss of Matt Weis, obviously it was devastating to us and our team," captain Mason Jobst said. "You never want to lose a senior, especially in a moment like this. But he's been great. He's been a support and he's been with us this whole time, this whole ride. We've got a lot of great players in (the locker room) who stepped up and filled in for him.”
RELATED: How did each team get to Minnesota?
4. Head coach Steve Rohlik is from St. Paul. During Wednesday’ press conference he was asked about his favorite place to eat, but he kept things pretty hush hush. In case you were curious, he mentioned his dad like’s Mancini’s and that the team ate at Louie’s last night, two Saint Paul eateries.
“Lots of memory, lots of history, and it's a big part of my life,” Rohlik said about Saint Paul. “It's fun to come back, but like I've told a lot of people, that's all great and dandy, but for me it's truly not about me, this is about Ohio State and about the 27 guys in our room. That's truly our focus.”
1. Michigan head coach Mel Pearson became the ninth head coach of the program after Red Berenson announced his retirement in April 2017. Pearson became the first coach in history to lead two different programs in consecutive years to playoff berths. Pearson was the head coach at Michigan Tech from 2011-17.
2. Some may be surprised that Michigan made it all the way to Minnesota, as the team was picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten coaches preseason poll. They finished 22-14-3 on the season and 11-10-3 in conference play. The Wolverines fell to Ohio State 3-2 in overtime in the semifinal game. On Wednesday, the team spoke about how their journey has been similar to the men's basketball team in the Final Four.
"I think just watching it as a team, seeing the stuff that they did, being unranked in January and then kind of working their way up, very similar to us," goalie Hayden Lavinge said. "Watching the team shows us we can do the same thing. They made it to the finals. That's our goal right now, just one at a time. And the atmosphere that they brought to Ann Arbor and the energy that they brought it's translated on to us and it's just a good vibe."
3. Senior and captain Tony Calderon has been impressive for the Wolverines this season. His 24 goals are the most by a Michigan player in the first 39 games of a season since Kyle Connor's 35 back in 2015. Pearson spoke about how Calderon had a commitment to being a better player this season.
"He really did a good job this summer. I met him in April, talked about a lot of things. One of them was do you want to try and play after you're done? And there's certain things that he had to do to make himself a better player? He was a good player, always could score. Needed to work on his skating, especially his speed. Just work on his conditioning, his all-around commitment to the game of hockey," Pearson said. "Everybody wants to play after, but do you want to put the time in and make that commitment to be a player. And he has. And good for him. He's had a tremendous year for us. He's a great young man. Great captain. But he made that commitment this summer. Finally the switch went on."
4. Michigan ranks sixth nationally with 50 points on the season and is tied for third in assists with 34. But one stat that stands out for the Wolverines are the blocked shots. They have blocked the most in the country, recording over 600, and average 15.38 blocks per game.
"It's so important," Pearson said. "We didn't do a very good job the first half [of the season]. If you look at the stats, first half to second half, we've done a much better job. It was just a constant showing on video."