This year’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh offers up one of the great storylines for all the teams involved. One way or another, someone is going to win their first national championship in hockey.
For three out of the four schools (UMass-Lowell, Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State), it’s their first trip to the Frozen Four. Yale hasn’t made the national semifinals since 1952.
Thursday’s first semifinal matchup provides quite the contrast in styles. Hockey East champions UMass-Lowell bank on dogged defending and the play of budding superstar freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck to lead them to glory. They’ve got some scorers in Scott Wilson, a Penguins prospect, as well as Joseph Pendenza, Derek Arnold, and Riley Wetmore. Make no mistake, if Lowell is going to win it all, it’ll be because of Hellebuyck.
Yale, on the other hand, loves to push play and use their speed to their advantage. Newly acquired Flames prospect Kenny Agostino (part of the Jarome Iginla deal) leads the way for them in scoring and has great support in a pair of seniors, Andrew Miller and Antoine Laganiere. Coach Keith Allain has helped Yale to become a consistent tournament team, but he’ll need senior goalie Jeff Malcolm to bring his “A” game to take out Lowell, something he’s done already in helping the Bulldogs upset Minnesota and North Dakota.
In the late game, Quinnipiac facing St. Cloud shows off a pair of regular season champions looking to prove that winning over the long haul of the season pays dividends.
Quinnipiac has done their business all year thanks to a lineup that features 11 seniors. Making a run at the title is a heck of a way to go out with style. Goalie Eric Hartzell is a Hobey Baker finalist and the key to their season. The Bobcats have a host of talent up front in Lightning prospect Matthew Peca (not related to former Sabres/Islanders center Michael), Jets prospect Jordan Samuels-Thomas, senior Jeremy Langlois (pictured), and the super-twins Connor and Kellen Jones (the latter an Oilers prospect).
St. Cloud does things a bit differently. The bulk of their talent is made up of underclassmen with the lone exception being Hobey Baker finalist Drew LeBlanc. Junior and Kings prospect Nic Dowd has been a big time tournament player for them, but it’s a crew of freshmen that help steal the show. Jonny Brodzinski, Kalle Kossila, and Joey Benik have been big in the postseason. Senior and Flames prospect Ben Hanowski has stepped up big himself since being part of the Iginla deal.
If sophomore Ryan Farragher can keep holding things down in goal and silence the Quinnipiac attack, things are looking up for the Huskies.
Predictions: It’s impossible to pick against Connor Hellebuyck at this point. He and Lowell have been too strong. I like Lowell to take down Yale and then St. Cloud in the finals to win their first national championship.