NCAA Frozen Four in Boston a clash of the Midwest and West

NCAA frozen four
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

BOSTON — Denver’s only other trip East this season didn’t turn out too well, with losses to Boston College and Providence before the long flight back home.

Now back for this weekend’s Frozen Four, the Pioneers don’t have to worry about the Eagles or Friars — or any Eastern teams at all. Four schools from conferences in the Midwest and West will compete for the NCAA hockey championship at the home of the Boston Bruins.

It’s the first time since 2011 that the East has been without a representative at the Frozen Four.

“There’s good teams in every conference,” Pioneers forward Bobby Brink said on Wednesday, a day before Denver’s semifinal matchup with Michigan. “I wouldn’t say there’s really a divide; we don’t really look at (it that way). Maybe some people do.”

This weekend it will be hard to ignore, with the Pioneers and Wolverines followed by Minnesota State and Minnesota. All three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award — including Brink, the nation’s leading scorer — are in Boston and from western teams.

Only one team in this year’s Elite Eight, Quinnipiac, was from the East. There were two last year, when UMass won it all in a Frozen Four that featured three Minnesota teams.

“And we weren’t one of them,” Minnesota Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “They were going to enjoy that, with us not being there. If you’re going to pick on one team, they’re going to pick on the Gophers, I can tell you that.

“We got our shot this year,” he said, “and we’re back in it with them.

OPENING UP

Minnesota State reached the Frozen Four last year, losing in the semifinals to St. Cloud State. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance at the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins was capped at 25% of capacity.

“There was a decent amount of fans, but it’s not going to be like what we’re expecting this year,” Mavericks forward Nathan Smith said. “Hopefully, the place is pretty loud and we’ll try to use that energy to our advantage.”

Minnesota State has won its conference five straight seasons but missed out on a trip to the 2020 NCAA Tournament because of the pandemic.

“Now everybody gets to experience it,” coach Mike Hastings said. “Hopefully, we’ve turned that page to a book we’re never going to go back and read again.”

HOCKEY HEISMAN

Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay and Minnesota forward Ben Meyers are the other Hobey Baker finalists. McKay is in the final three for the second straight year; he is also in the running again for the Mike Richter Award that goes to the nation’s top goalie.

McKay’s 37 wins is an NCAA record, and his 34 career shutouts are also the most ever.

Myers scored six goals with nine assists in just seven games after returning from the Olympics, with an overtime goal and three assists in the Worcester Regional. He was the No. 2 American in scoring in Beijing, with four points in four games.

Brink, a 2019 second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, had 14 goals and 42 assists to lead the nation.

TITLE TALLY

The four schools have won a combined 22 national championships, the most for a Frozen Four field. Michigan has won nine — its last in 1998 in Boston. Denver has eight, winning the first of back-to-back titles at this building in 2004; Minnesota won in 1974 at the old Boston Garden. Minnesota State, which lost in the national semifinal last year, is looking for its first title.

Wolverines forward Mike Pastujov said the team watched film of the 1998 win.

“Seeing the emotion that they play with, the raw emotion that college hockey brings to the ice, it brings a lot of pride to Michigan.” he said. “We’re looking to follow in their footsteps and get it done in Boston.”

BY THE NUMBERS

There are 41 NHL draft picks in the field; last year, the number was 18. Minnesota leads with 14. Nine of them are first-rounders, including seven from Michigan. Twenty-five of the NHL’s 32 teams have at least one prospect in the tournament.

The teams are the top four in the NCAA in scoring, with Denver averaging 4.3 goals per game, followed by Minnesota State (4.1), Michigan (4.0) and Minnesota (3.6).

Minnesota State’s 37 wins are the most in the country. Only two schools have won more games in a season, and both went on to win the national championship.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

Chase Agnello-Dean/Getty Images
0 Comments

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
1 Comment

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”