Thursday, April 11, 2013

Frozen Four thoughts

The Frozen Four semifinals are today, with UMass-Lowell taking on Yale at 3:30 p.m. and St. Cloud State playing Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. (both games will air on ESPN2). One of the themes of this year's championship weekend is the newness of the field, which has people asking, "Who are these guys?"

Three of the teams are making their first appearance in the Frozen Four, and Yale is there for the first time since 1952.

The big names — Boston College, North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, etc. — might be missing, but as  St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko said on Wednesday, "The right teams are here. It's not the named teams aren't here. The right teams are here."

He's right. Quinnipiac is No. 1 in the country and won the ECAC, St. Cloud State was the WCHA co-champion, Lowell won the Hockey East regular-season and Yale had a 20-win season.

A few more thoughts (other than I wish I was there):

• No matter who's playing in the Frozen Four, though, the event has become huge and a very hot ticket for fans. Last year's championship game between Boston College and Ferris State in Tampa, Fla., drew 18,818. (Perhaps this is another reason why the regionals are so poorly attended; fans might are making — or hoping to make — the Frozen Four the destination.)

• Remember when Lowell came to Mankato at the beginning of the 2011-12 season and swept the Mavericks? MSU fans were stunned because the River Hawks had won just five games the season before and made a coaching change. Norm Bazin turned things around there, though, winning 24 games and getting to the NCAA tournament. This year, Lowell won 28 games, the Hockey East title and is in the Frozen Four. After the big leap MSU made under Mike Hastings this year, could this be the next step for the Mavs?

• It was announced on Wednesday that Bazin won the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year. Motzko and Quinnipiac's Rand Pecknold were listed as co-runners-up. Last week, MSU's Hastings was named one of the finalists for the award.

• The Hobey Baker Award will be announced on Friday, and two of the three finalists (the Hobey Hat Trick) are in the tournament. They are Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell and St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc. The other is Boston College foward Johnny Gaudreau. I am a former Hobey voter and this would be a tough vote this year, especially between the two seniors. I love LeBlanc's story— coming back from a horrific injury the previous season, being the WCHA's player of the year and student-athlete of the year — but I think the dominant Hartzell (40 games, 1.55 GAA, .933 SV%) has the edge.

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