Hirsch: The road to the Frozen Four

This season the NCAA Division I Frozen Four features teams with wildly different backgrounds. While Boston College (29-10-1) and Minnesota (26-13-1) boast four and five national titles respectively, Ferris State (23-11-5) and Union College (24-7-7) enter the Frozen Four for the first time.

One thing that’s for sure is that the title game will feature one team with a wealth of experience and the other playing in its first national championship game. On one side of the bracket two teams with long hockey histories, Boston College and Minnesota will face off.  On the other side two less experienced clubs, Ferris State and Union College will take the ice against each other. For the first time since 1996 each team won its respective conference championship, which is one of the few similarities they share.

Despite these obvious differences, all four teams had a tough road to the Frozen Four. Minnesota was faced with two top-10 teams, Boston University and University of North Dakota, in its West Regional games. Decisive wins in both games (7-3 over BU and 5-2 over UND) not only showed that Minnesota could beat those tough teams but they could use its strong offense to do it. Minnesota brings one of the most powerful offenses in the country to the tournament, leading Division I with 154 goals, an average of 3.67 goals-per-game.

On the defensive side of things, Boston College is the favorite for the title and is riding a 17-game win streak (their last loss was a 7-4 defeat to Maine on Jan. 21). The Eagles have shown the strength of their defense by not allowing a single goal so far in the tournament. Blanking Air Force, 2-0 in the Northeast Regional Semifinals and Minnesota-Duluth, 4-0, in the Regional Finals has placed the Eagles at the top of the heap. While its defense is ranked second, behind Union, the two goose eggs in the regional games suggest otherwise. Boston College’s next challenge is preserving its perfect defense against Minnesota, which clearly has the offensive edge.

It’s hard to say which team is the bigger underdog between Union and Ferris State, but the count is pretty close. Both teams are in the Frozen Four for the first time. Neither team has any NHL draft picks, in contrast to Boston College and Minnesota’s combined nine.

Ferris State is having its best season since 2002-03 when it lost to Minnesota in the Regional Finals. Union College made a splash last season qualifying for the NCAA tournament but losing in the first round. Now Union College is making the ECAC proud as the first team from the conference since Harvard in 2003 to make the Frozen Four.

Ferris State and Union have both been impressive defensively so far in the tournament. The Bulldogs have only given up two goals in two 2-1 victories over Denver and Cornell. The CCHA champions had the edge in both games but by a slim margin. A goal by freshman Simon Denis made the difference against Denver and became the game winner when the Ferris State defense was able to hold the lead. The Cornell game was just as close with the Bulldogs breaking a tie game with less than seven minutes remaining.

Union had a tough regular season schedule which they happened to thrive under. The Dutchmen defeated two No. 1 teams during the year proving they can play with the big boys. The first was a 6-3 win over Michigan and the second a 3-1 decision over Merrimack. One of the most impressive features of Union’s success is that they’ve done it all without athletic scholarships. Union is the only team in the Frozen Four which can say that as the only other teams that don’t give athletic scholarships are RIT, Army, Air Force and the Ivy Leaguers.

Allowing only three goals so far in the tournament the Dutchmen topped Michigan State and UMass-Lowell in 3-1 and 4-2 contests, respectively. Union has managed to keep its goals-against down and is first in the nation with an average of 1.80 goals allowed. The Dutchmen have also done well offensively scoring seven goals so far in the tournament in contrast to Ferris State’s four.

Whichever team advances will find a challenge against Boston College or Minnesota. While Union and Ferris State both have good defenses, Minnesota’s 12 goals so far in the tournament suggest it will take a lot to impede its offensive prowess. Teams will find the opposite problem against Boston College and scoring will become the challenge. The biggest threat to the Eagles and Gophers is that both of its potential opponents come in as underdogs and may have morale on their side.

-Aimee Hirsch, Contributing Writer



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