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Three things to watch for as 2011 Frozen Four begins today

Even when I was a kid and had infinite amounts of time to watch every sport available, college basketball just didn’t do it for me. There’s a part of me that regrets that since I grew up in the days of the “Fab Five” and the last era in which professional stars played a little while before jumping to the NBA, but for whatever reason, it didn’t touch a chord. So let’s just say I didn’t watch a second of that much-maligned horror show between Butler and the University of Connecticut.*

The Frozen Four has been a puck-based counterargument to the Final Four for many years now, even if its profile is much lower. The first two of three matches is set to take place today, as Minnesota-Duluth takes on Notre Dame at 5:00 pm ET while Michigan and North Dakota play a fitting primetime match at 8:30 pm ET.

The best part might be that the games are taking place at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota, one of the places in which all forms of hockey are treated as epic events. If NBC ever ran a “Friday Night Lights” spin-off that focused on hockey instead of football, it would need to take place in Minnesota. ESPN’s David Albright astutely points out that if the Frozen Four ever settled on a single headquarters, it would have to be “The State of Hockey.”

Here are a few storylines to watch in these games.

1. Hobey Baker finalist at play …

While Andy Miele’s Miami of Ohio team is already out of the discussion (and he’s already a member of the Phoenix Coyotes organization) and Boston College’s Cam Atkinson is now playing in the Columbus Blue Jackets system, one finalist for college hockey’s top award will be on display in the primetime game. North Dakota’s star forward Matt Frattin will play tonight.

2. A guaranteed “David and Goliath” final game.

No matter who wins, there will be one mammoth NCAA men’s hockey dynasty going up against a Cinderella team. Michigan is a nine-time champion and North Dakota has seven titles to their name, while Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth have never won a championship. If you enjoy rooting for underdogs, you’re in luck in 2011.

3. North Dakota is the biggest Goliath, though.

While Michigan features a storied hockey history and beloved coach Red Berenson, North Dakota is the clear favorite this time around. They have gone a stunning 14-0-1 since January 28th, according to ESPN’s Albright. Albright points out the fact that they are also winning in dominant fashion, as they outscored opponents 12-1 so far in the tournament.

***

While the NHL is our main area of concern here at PHT (hence the “Pro” in Pro Hockey Talk), tournaments like these often showcase future talents and high-level hockey. We’ll keep an eye on the games for you, so stay tuned for results and more.

* – Am I the only one who feels weird about writing “UConn”? Saying it is fine, but actually writing it just feels wrong to me.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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After three full days without NHL action, the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks will get underway tonight. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

San Jose at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 1 will be on NBC. To stream the contest using the Live Extra app, click here.

We wrote a lot about this series over the weekend. If you haven’t taken a look yet, here are the relevant links:

Penguins or Sharks? PHT makes its Stanley Cup Final picks

Penguins, Sharks discuss bumpy road to Stanley Cup Final

Yes, Thornton and Marleau have been dreaming of a run like this

Sharks and DeBoer ready for Pittsburgh, ‘the fastest team in the league’

Fleury: Now’s not the time to think about future in Pittsburgh

Should Lightning trade Bishop and hand the torch to Vasilevskiy?

Pittsburgh Med: Bonino ‘fine,’ Letang MIA and Daley not ruling out a return (Update)

Matt Nieto should be available to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

Subtle but effective offseason pushed Sharks to next level

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.

PHT Morning Skate: Predicting the 2016 Stanley Cup Final

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski celebrates after scoring a goal against the Minnesota Wild duyring the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. San Jose won 4-3. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Among the 21 NHL.com and NHL Network experts offering their prediction for the Stanley Cup Final, 17 of them are choosing the San Jose Sharks. (NHL.com)

The majority of ESPN’s experts are also picking the Sharks. (ESPN.com)

For CBS Sports, Adam Gretz and Chris Peters are split on the outcome. (CBS Sports)

Tickets for the first Stanley Cup Final in San Jose appear to be going for significantly more than their Pittsburgh Penguins counterparts. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Inspired by John Scott‘s comments, here’s the start of a World Cup All-Snubs’ team. (TSN)

Peter DeBoer said that then New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello fired him from the Devils’ head coaching job late at night on Christmas. The news then broke on Dec. 26. (Tom Gulitti)

Vegas tabs Joe Pavelski as Conn Smythe frontrunner

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks awaits a face off against the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are Vegas favorites to win the 2016 Stanley Cup, but the odds lean toward a San Jose Sharks player capturing the Conn Smythe.

Bovada released a variety of odds on Sunday after others surfaced on Friday.

Joe Pavelski is pegged as a +400 favorite as a winner, edging some other top candidates such as Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Matt Murray.

Here’s the full list:

Pavelski +400
Crosby +500
Kessel +500
Murray +500
Logan Couture +500
Martin Jones +600
Brent Burns +700
Joe Thornton +900
Evgeni Malkin +900
Kris Letang +1400

Bovada also released prop bets, including how long the series might last. Check that out here.