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Mark Divver | The Providence Journal | April 11, 2019

Providence vs. Minnesota Duluth: Coaches see 2019 Frozen Four game as an even matchup

Minnestoa Duluth is ready to repeat

BUFFALO — Buckle up. When Providence College and Minnesota Duluth collide in the first national semifinal game at the Frozen Four, it projects to be a bruising, low-scoring battle of wills.

The Friars (24-11-6) and the defending national champion Bulldogs (27-11-2) are practically mirror images of each other. Both play a muscular game, don't give up many scoring chances and have very good goalies.

FROZEN FOUR 2019: Schedule, bracket, scores and live updates

"As I told our guys this week, if you look at the major statistics across NCAA Division I, Providence and Duluth are almost right next to each other on every stat -- scoring offense, scoring defense, power play, penalty kill, save percentage -- both of them are .920. Not a big difference between the teams," PC coach Nate Leaman said Wednesday after his team practiced at the KeyBank Center.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Thursday's game is similar to the last meeting between the teams, which was at the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester in 2016. A goal in the second overtime by Karson Kuhlman, now with the Boston Bruins, gave Duluth a 2-1 win.

"It was an unbelievable hockey game. Double overtime. Great pace. Hard ice all over. We were fortunate to win that game," said Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, who has guided his team to three straight Frozen Fours.

"Duluth is one of the best-coached teams that I've watched on film in a long time," Leaman said "They're heavy, they work as a group of five, they're good on the specialty teams."

Sandelin is wary of PC's power play, which was a devastating 5-for-9 against Minnesota State and Cornell in the East Regional. "Tells me we've got to stay out of the box," he said. "They're probably riding a lot of confidence."

PREVIEW: Meet the teams in this year's Frozen Four

So far, this year's Friars are following the same path as the 2015 team, which capped its season by winning the school's first national championship.

Both lost in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, were among the last teams into the national tournament, then were placed by the NCAA in the East Regional at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, a source of some controversy around college hockey. They took advantage of playing in their backyard and advanced to the Frozen Four.

"The similarities have been that both teams had really high expectations," Leaman said. "I don't think either team developed the chip on their shoulder, the desperation they needed, until it got to the NCAA tournament.

MAKE YOUR PICK: Click here for a printable tournament bracket

"Every article that's been written about us this year has been, 'The Friars are great. All their analytics are terrific. Second half, it's going to be all Friars, all Friars.' We didn't develop the chip on our shoulder until the tournament. I thought the same way with the 2015 team.

"Both teams have developed toughness throughout the year. I think that's important for this time of year. If everything goes smooth sailing, you can get in trouble this time of year. I think adversity is actually a good thing."

Duluth has benefited from some bumps in the road, too.

"I think it makes you a better team. You're going to go through that," Sandelin said. "Sometimes everybody wants it to be real easy. This has not been an easy year to get back here.

MAKE YOUR PICK: Click here for a printable tournament bracket

"I give our guys a lot of credit because there's been a lot of challenges. It made our team better, for sure."

As for Thursday's outcome, he said, "these games are going to be won at both nets. ... They get hard to the net. We have to find a way to get to theirs.

"I think it's going to be another close, hard-fought [game], not a lot of room, physical, maybe a bounce here or there. I'm expecting a very, very hard, heavy game."

Leaman sees it the same way. "I think it's going to come down a lot to will and want and desire, who can influence their game on the other team and specialty teams."

The winner of PC-Duluth will face the winner of UMass-Denver for the national championship on Saturday night.

FACTS FIRST: 71 facts to know about the 71st Frozen Four

This article is written by Mark Divver from The Providence Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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