Fresh Faces Head to Frozen Four
Fresh faces – From 1994 to 2010, every school that won the NCAA championship had won the national title at least once previously. Now, for the second time in three years, we are assured of a first-time champion as all four teams head to Pittsburgh in search of their first title. UMass Lowell (then the University of Lowell) did win three Division II national championships prior to moving to Division I in 1983-84.
First Frozen Fours – Yale made the Frozen Four 61 years ago, in 1952, when the entire NCAA Tournament was a four-team event held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. That 4-3 loss to St. Lawrence encompasses the entirety of Frozen Four experience for the four teams in Pittsburgh. For perspective, that trip came 31 years before any of the other three teams elevated their hockey programs to Division I.
This marks the first time since the debut of the NCAA Tournament in 1948 that three teams are making their Frozen Four debut.
Banner seasons – Three teams in the field won their regular-season conference championships, and each did so for the first time in school history. UMass Lowell won Hockey East, Quinnipiac won ECAC Hockey and St. Cloud State won a share of the WCHA title. Yale finished third in the ECAC.
Steel city connections – Two players with Pittsburgh ties played key roles in sending their teams to the Frozen Four. Yale’s Jesse Root, a Pittsburgh native, scored the game-winning goal in each game of the West Regional. Meanwhile, UMass Lowell’s Scott Wilson, a Penguins draft pick, had the game-winner and added an assist in the Northeast Regional final, extending his point streak – and Lowell’s winning streak – to seven games. UMass Lowell assistant coach Jason Lammers is also a Pittsburgh native.
PA state of mind – Consol Energy Center welcomes the Frozen Four as the state of Pennsylvania hosts the event for the first time, and the first of back-to-back seasons. Next April the Frozen Four moves East to Philadelphia. Consol Energy Center has hosted seven college games in the past, most recently the four-team Three Rivers Classic earlier this season won by Robert Morris and also featuring Miami, Ohio State and Penn State. This marks the first visit to Consol for these four teams.
CT state of mind – In the first 64 years of the NCAA Tournament, one team from Connecticut reached the Frozen Four – Yale, in 1952. Quinnipiac and Yale – separated by about 7 miles, as the crow flies – doubled that number this year alone. Their regional wins prompted Connecticut governor Dan Malloy to tweet that the teams “have established #CT as the center of the college hockey universe” (@GovMalloyOffice). Quinnipiac and Yale play annually for the Heroes Hat, won this year by Quinnipiac.
Senior leadership – Many coaches point to senior leadership at this time of year, which may provide an edge for top overall seed Quinnipiac. The Bobcats have 12 seniors on their roster, as many as the other three teams combined. Each team has received significant contributions from its seniors, however. St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc is the top scorer in the field with 50 points. Two of Yale’s top two scorers and its goaltender are seniors. UMass Lowell only had two seniors in its lineup last weekend but one was Riley Wetmore, the team’s top center.
Future watch – Fifteen players in the Frozen Four have been drafted by NHL teams, including Yale’s Kenny Agostino and St. Cloud State’s Ben Hanowski, whose rights were dealt to Calgary March 28 as part of the Jarome Iginla trade. Each team has at least three drafted players and a total of 12 NHL teams will have prospects playing in Pittsburgh. In addition, a number of top NHL free agents will be in action, including Yale’s Antoine Laganiere and Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell.
Leading men – Three of the four coaches in the field are leading their alma maters and the fourth, Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold, has a tenure more than twice as long as any of his counterparts.
Follow dad’s lead – Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell and Yale’s Stu Wilson are both sons of former national champions, with Kevin Hartzell winning the 1979 title as a freshman at Minnesota and Wayne Wilson winning in 1984 at Bowling Green. Both went on to successful coaching careers: Kevin Hartzell coached Eric in the USHL and Wayne Wilson led his RIT team to the Frozen Four in 2010.
More family matters – Quinnipiac has two pairs of brothers on its rosters, twins Connor and Kellen Jones and defensemen Alex and Loren Barron. What’s more, the Bobcats have two more sets of brothers committed to the school in upcoming seasons. Brothers have been teammates on a handful of recent NCAA champions, most recently when Boston College won in 2010 with Joe and Steve Whitney and Cam and Tommy Atkinson. The last twin brothers to win the title were Anders and Magnus Lundback of Maine in 1999.
BCS busters – For 10 straight years, at least one school that plays Division II or III in sports other than hockey has reached the Frozen Four (UMass Lowell and St. Cloud State are this year’s; Lowell will elevate its athletic department to Division I in the fall). This is the first time since 1991 that no school with a Division I-A (or Football Bowl Subdivision) football program has reached the Frozen Four.
Hobey watch – Two candidates for the Hobey Baker Award – which will be presented Friday in Pittsburgh – are in the field in Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell and St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc. Both were the player of the year in their respective conferences.
From all over the map – Nearly half of the states in the U.S. will have a player in the Frozen Four, as the four rosters include representation from 21 states. Six countries are represented, with three of the four teams featuring players from Europe. Minnesota has 20 players in the Frozen Four (most, 14, coming from St. Cloud State), but no other state is in double-digits.
Battle tested - Each team in the field has faced adversity at some point this season. UMass Lowell started the season 2-5-1 (and then 4-7-1). Yale suffered through a five-game losing streak that coincided with an injury to starting goaltender Jeff Malcolm. Quinnipiac was 3-3-1 - all against teams that didn't make the tournament - before reeling off its remarkable 21-game unbeaten streak. St. Cloud State never lost more than two games in a row but did get swept in two non-conference series (at UNH and vs. Northern Michigan), a big reason the WCHA co-champs entered the tournament as a No. 4 seed.