Like any high-level fast-paced Frozen Four, the one-and-done format leaves the door wide open for any entrant to burst through. It could be low scoring or high scoring.
Of the former, three of the teams — UMass, Providence and Denver — posted shutouts to advance to next week's Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y. The four starting goaltenders have a combined career save percentage of .958. Denver freshman Filip Larsson of Stockholm, Sweden, and UMass freshman Filip Lindberg of Espoo, Finland, both had a pair of shutouts victories in their respective regions and will bring a friendly Nordic rivalry to the Nickel City event.
Of the latter, newcomer UMass (30-9-0) was picked in the preseason to finish only sixth in Hockey East, yet captured the regular-season title along with an early December No. 1 national ranking. It features a potent arsenal behind a talented sophomore class, which has produced a nation-best 194 points (75 goals, 119 assists). The backline is equally potent with 126 points (39 goals, 87 assists). The Minutemen lead the country with seven goal-scorers with 10 or more goals.
Still, the most improvement in the UMass program may be its mental approach as much as a physical one. The Minutemen went from five wins two years ago to 17 last year, before stepping up to reach the 30-win plateau this year. Of the Frozen Four participants, UMass is situated closest (385 miles) to Buffalo, New York and also is the largest in terms of undergraduate enrollment (23,515).
"Our culture is the strength of our team. We have pretty high standards. Everyone is pulling in the right direction. That's what important to me. Then, you add Cale Makar to accelerate the process," said UMass coach Greg Carvel, who singled out sophomore defenseman Mario Ferraro as a tempo-setter. "Mario Ferarro is as important as Cale Maker to our team. He doesn't have the same offensive numbers but he's a real leader in our locker room and helps hold our team to our standards."
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Carvel said he has to bone up on his preparation work on Denver (24-11-5), the Minutemen's opponent for next Thursday's second semifinal (8:30 p.m. ET).
"Denver, I have no awareness of them. We haven't played them. ... But, I do know that Denver is a team that has won national championships and is a perennial top-five team so we may go in as a higher seed but we feel like we're the underdog."
During yesterday's NCAA teleconference call among the coaches, Denver first-year coach David Carle kept his scouting report on the Minutemen close to the vest, and hadn't watched video on the Minutemen. When asked about UMass sophomore sensation Makar, Carle, the brother of 2006 Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Carle, was brief: "He's dynamic. He's a very good skater. He's very influential on the game."
Denver's Carle is just the fourth coach in the last 31 years, or since the tournament expanded to 12 teams, to reach the Frozen Four in his first season behind the bench. The last to do so was Brad Berry, who guided North Dakota to the 2016 national title. Denver has won nine national titles, the most recent coming in 2016, and has the longest active NCAA appearance streak with 12.
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Providence (24-11-6), which plays defending champion Minnesota-Duluth (27-11-2) in the opening national semifinal at 5 p.m. at KeyBank Center, has the second-most consecutive NCAA appearances among the field with six and counts as having the most NHL draft picks with nine. The Friars are the most veteran with six seniors and seven juniors. PC defeated top seed Minnesota State, 6-3, and then topped Cornell, 4-0, to win the East Region in the friendly confines of the Dunkin' Donuts Center to punch their ticket north.
"We had to beat two very good teams to get out of the region. I like our team a lot. We've grown a lot. We're playing some good hockey right now," said coach Nate Leaman, whose Friars are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. "During the course of the season, we played some real good games but didn't win the scoreboard. (Last week) we played real well and we won the scoreboard. Hopefully, the lessons you learn over the course of the season will help you to be well-balanced and prepare you to handle anything that comes your way."
Providence junior defenseman Jacob Bryson, whom Leaman calls the "best I've ever coached" is a Buffalo draft pick and will be heavily watched by the Sabres' brass.
Minnesota-Duluth won titles in 2011 and last year, and is the top faceoff team (52 percent) of the group. The Bulldogs have a sniper in senior Parker Mackay (15-15-30), who succeeded current Bruin Karson Kuhlman as the UMD leader. All six defensemen and goalie Hunter Shepard (1.82 GAA, .920 save percentage) return from last year.
"Every year is a different challenge," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said.
This article is written by John Connolly from Boston Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.