The stage is set. The ice is Frozen. It's time to wait and watch what happens. These are most compelling storylines that we're talking about ahead of the 2019 Frozen Four.
Frozen Four 2019: Championship info
The 2019 hockey tournament started with 11 of the 16 teams vying for a first-time championship. Now, three of the four remaining teams are programs that have seen recent success, leading to the conclusion that experience can factor in during the postseason.
Denver, appearing in its 17th* Frozen Four, is on the brink its ninth championship. The Pioneers are enjoying the longest active NCAA tournament appearance streak, with this marking the team’s 12th appearance this postseason. In the last two decades, the Pioneers have raised a trophy three times. The team’s sophomores, juniors and seniors all know what it is like to compete for a championship. On a stage like the Frozen Four, that doesn’t go unnoticed.
Providence, too, has seen its fair share of tournament play. The Friars won it all in 2015, and although this is the team’s first Frozen Four appearance since them, Providence has competed in regional play every year since its championship, and six times since 2003.
Minnesota Duluth, of course, has just gained the experience of winning a national championship. Most of that roster knows exactly how it feels both to lose a national title game (in 2017) and raise the trophy in success (in last year’s tournament). The Bulldogs certainly seem to know how to get themselves to that championship game, and experience like that is hard to come by.
2019 TOURNAMENT FIELD: Meet the team's playing in this year's Frozen Four
NHL draft prospects in the field
Get your pens and memorabilia ready, because we’ll have several future NHL players on hand in Buffalo. 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). The highest draft pick in UMass history, Cale Makar was selected fourth overall in 2017 by Colorado. He’s been pegged as a huge catalyst for the Minutemen’s success, and eyes will be on him in New York to see his impact on the tournament.
Not impressed? Don’t worry, those are just the first-round draft picks. There are 22 other NHL picks playing on Frozen Four teams.
Who needs forwards when your defensemen can score like it’s their job? Massachusetts’ Cale Makar is the top-scoring defenseman in the Frozen Four, leading his fellow defensemen and the field with 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 points. The 6-foot sophomore is also a Hobey Baker finalist and Hockey East Player of the Year to boot.
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Providence’s Jacob Bryson leads all defenseman for the Friars with 27 points (4g, 23a) and the returning All-American ranks sixth among all Providence players in points. Fellow All-American Scott Perunovich tops Minnesota Duluth’s defensemen with 3 goals and 26 assists for 29 points. He’s tied for second-most points among all Bulldogs.
Rounding out the tournament’s top defensemen is Denver’s Ian Mitchell, an All-NCHC selection who has six goals and 21 assists on the season so far. Mitchell is the fourth-highest point producer for the Pioneers and, of course, the top among defensemen.
First time, best time
Massachusetts is the only team in the Frozen Four field that’s looking for its first-ever national title. The Minutemen had a cameo in the 2007 NCAA tournament, but this is the program’s first Frozen Four appearance.
Head coach Greg Carvel has lead the Minutemen to a meteoric rise, improving from a 5-29-2 season record two season ago to this season’s 30-9 record. Carvel’s recruiting methods have had a major impact, and the Minutemen are lead by a wildly successful sophomore class featuring the like of Cale Makar, Mitchell Chaffee and netminder Matt Murray who was stalwart for UMass for most of the season.
Speaking of first-timers, Denver’s David Carle is only the fourth head coach since 1988 to reach the Frozen Four in his first season at the helm. Carle has a great hockey story, too. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 7th round of the 2008 NHL entry draft and recruited to play at Denver before being diagnosed with a heart disease and forced to retire. Carle stayed on as a student assistant coach until graduation, and then was brought back on in 2014 as an assistant coach for the Pioneers. Add to that the fact that the 29-year-old is the youngest active coach in DI men’s hockey, and we’ve got an interesting storyline to watch out for.
Repeat after me
Minnesota Duluth has been on this stage before, very recently. The Bulldogs claimed the national championship last season after a second straight appearance in the national title game. Now, UMD is looking for a back-to-back championship, and to be the first program to repeat as national champions since Denver in 2004 and 2005.
The Bulldogs have an impressive set of leaders pushing the program. Head coach Scott Sandelin holds the best career NCAA playoff winning percentage (.760) of any active coach. Goaltender Hunter Shepard made his school-record 79th consecutive start in UMD’s regional game against Cornell, stopping 22 shots and extending his NCAA tournament record to 6-0. Finally, senior forward and captain Parker Mackay has four points and three goals in just his last three games, including both goals in UMD’s 2-1 overtime win against Bowling Green. That’s a lot of talent on hand to guide the Bulldogs to the repeat.
*Denver's 1973 tournament appearance was vacated by the NCAA Committee on Infractions
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.