New year, new tournament — new cache of storylines waiting to be uncovered. Only time will tell how the 2019 Frozen Four history writes itself, but until then let’s take a look at some interesting leads that could develop throughout the tournament.
1. Bowling Green is back for the first time in nearly 30 years
Bowling Green is a little rusty on NCAA tournament hockey...29 years rusty, that is. The Falcons received the team’s first tournament bid since the 1989-90 season. In a fun twist of history, No. 4 seeded Bowling Green will face off against Minnesota Duluth in the Midwest Regional. The Falcons defeated the Bulldogs 5-4 in four overtimes (yes, four) to win the 1984 National Championship against the Bulldogs.
Bowling Green finished a 25-10-2 season at third in WCHA standings and advanced to the WCHA championship game. The Falcons’ 25 wins this season is the most under head coach Chris Bergeron and the most since the 1995-96 team’s 26 wins. Cinderella watch? Stay tuned.
2. St. Cloud State seeks its first national title
St. Cloud State is the No. 1 overall seed for the second straight year — no team has done that since the tournament format was shifted to a 16-team field in 2003. Last year, the 25-9-6 team was upset by No. 4 seed Air Force in a 4-1 first-round loss. The Huskies improved to 30-5-3 this season and were unbeaten at home). This could be the year the team takes home its first national title.
3. American International makes its tournament debut
Taking the ice in this tournament for the first time — ever — is American International. That’s not even really the whole story, though. What’s even better is that AIC is enjoying its first winning season since 1993. That in and of itself would be dreamy for the program, but cap it off with a tournament appearance, a possible Frozen Four run — a possible national title? Yeah, that’s a storyline we want to follow.
The field is set. We will be in the West Regional in Fargo, North Dakota to face St. Cloud State on Friday, March 29 in the Regional Semifinal.— AIC Hockey (@AIC_Hockey) March 25, 2019
Tickets are available for all regionals at https://t.co/cgdXveccTQ#AICommitted pic.twitter.com/4XppmmPu0j
The Yellow Jackets topped off a record-breaking season run with the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title, then survived two overtime games to take home the AHA tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Junior Blake Christensen is blazing the way with 16 goals and 30 assists, and of course the team has smashed its wins record with 22 season victories. Who’s to thank for all the change? It could have something to do with head coach Eric Lang, who took over the program in 2016 and in just two seasons has helped to flip the switch.
MEET THE TEAMS: 2019 tournament field announced
4. Arizona State qualifies as an independent program
Where to begin with the Arizona Sun Devils? Set program-best record for the season? Check. Become the first independent program to qualify for the tournament since 1992? Check. Boast a Mike Richter Award semifinalist in the net? Done. Have two players named candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award? Please, check. Oh, and did we mention that this is just the team’s third season competing in the Division I league?
It’s hard to not root for this group of players who've brought ice to the desert. The No. 3 seed Sun Devils will face No. 2 Quinnipiac in the Allentown regional, and the winner will advance to face either Bowling Green or Minnesota Duluth for a chance at the Frozen Four. Johnny Walker led the country in goals scored during the regular season (23) and goalie Joey Daccord finished the regular season tied for the most shutouts (7), tied for second in wins (21), and top-10 in save percentage (.926). ASU is the fastest program to qualify for the tournament in 18 years.
BRACKET TIME: Print your bracket here
5. The NHL draft picks in the field
Get your pens and memorabilia ready, because we’ll have several future NHL players on hand at regional matchups. St. Cloud State’s Ryan Poehling is a first-round pick for the Montreal Canadiens, racking up 31 points so far this season. Providence’s Jay O’Brien will be representing his future employers, the Philadelphia Flyers, as the 18th overall pick in the 2018 draft. The freshman has a lot of time left to make his mark in the NCAA, but a national championship would be a great place to start.
Minnesota Duluth’s Riley Tufte was drafted 25th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2016, and the junior had a breakout sophomore season, topping UMD in goals (16) while finishing third in points (29 — nearly double his rookie-year total). Lastly, the highest draft pick in UMass history, Cale Makar was selected fourth overall in the 2017 draft by Colorado.
Not impressed? Don’t worry, those are just the first-round draft picks. There’s 83 other NHL prospects playing on tournament teams.
6. How the No.1 seeds do
A top seed does not a winner make. Since 2006, at least one No. 1 seed has lost in the first round of games. Last year it was Cornell and St. Cloud State. The year before that, Minnesota. Before that, Providence and St. Cloud State, again. This year's tournament boasts strong top seeds, but also features a plethora of ambitious newcomers. Will the cycle continue? Stay tuned.