Frozen Four Stories

Some of the angles we'll be watching as BC, Ferris State, Minnesota and Union descend on Tampa
Ferris State
All four Frozen Four teams, including Ferris State, celebrated regular-season conference championships.

We'll be blessed with terrific teams, an outstanding venue and - we hope - great weather when the puck drops for the 2012 Frozen Four at Tampa's Tampa Bay Times Forum April 5 & 7.

We also have the chance to see some great storylines play out, as the following demonstrate:

Banner Years – All four teams in the 2012 Frozen Four won their regular-season conference championships, the first time that’s happened since 1996 when Michigan, Colorado College (coached by Minnesota’s Don Lucia), Boston University and Vermont (led by Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis) reached Cincinnati. The four teams in this year’s field all have at least 25 victories and boast a combined record of 110-41-14. Boston College and Union also won their league’s tournament titles.

Two Sides – The two semifinal matchups offer stark contrasts:

FSU-Union   BC-Minn.
0 NHL Draft Picks 26
2 2011-12 NHLers 35
0 NCAA Titles 9
2 NCAA Frozen Fours* 43
4 NCAA Appearances* 64
22.13 Average Age 21.26

* Including this year

Big stages – The Tampa Bay Times Forum is the eighth NHL arena to host a college hockey game this season.

Quintessential Stories

Want to know more about these teams and where they came from? Check out these great feature stories:

BC: Boston Herald on the Eagle Family
Ferris State: Detroit News on Hockey in Big Rapids
Minnesota: Star Tribune on Redemption, Finally
Union: NY Times on a Small School's Big Dreams

Developing Stories

See how player development has keyed these teams' success:

Boston College's Tommy Cross
Ferris State's Jordie Johnston
Minnesota's Nate Schmidt
Union's Jeremy Welsh

More on NCAA hockey's focus on player development

Seeing shades of red – All four teams in the Frozen Four have maroon as one of their school colors.

Meeting again – Minnesota, Ferris State and Union all took part in the Dodge Holiday Classic last season in Minneapolis, Minn. (Dec. 31, 2010 and Jan. 1, 2011). None came out the winner, however – Bemidji State claimed the tournament championship.

Sunny days – Tampa, Fla., marks the southern-most stop in the Frozen Four’s history (previously Anaheim in 1999). That Anaheim event marked the last time the Frozen Four wasn’t sold out (not counting the 2010 Frozen Four in Detroit’s Ford Field).

The last Frozen Four held outside a traditional college hockey market was Washington, D.C., in 2009, which was heralded as an overwhelming success both on and off the ice.

Sunny days II – Seventeen Florida natives played Division I men’s hockey this season, and one is among the four teams to reach the Frozen Four. Union’s Shane Gostisbehere has enjoyed a tremendous rookie season, cited as ECAC Hockey’s Freshman of the Year by InsideCollegeHockey.com. A skilled, creative puck-moving defenseman, Gostisbehere (of Margate, Fla.) jumped into the Union lineup as an 18-year-old, the only regular on the Dutchmen who is still a teenager.

Sunny days III – While no Florida universities sponsor varsity college hockey, the sport does visit the Sunshine State each year. Cornell and Maine – two NCAA Tournament participants – play in the Florida College Classic each December in Estero, inviting two other teams to the event. The only one of this year’s Frozen Four teams to appear was Boston College, which won the Florida College Classic in 2004-05. In addition, the American Hockey Coaches Association, made up of college coaches, holds its annual convention in Naples each April.

Sunny days IV – Two of Minnesota’s top forwards – Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau – have hopes of making a living in the state of Florida. The duo, who play on the same line and were linemates on the U.S. National Junior Team, are both draft picks of the Florida Panthers. Tampa Bay had five draft picks in the NCAA Tournament, but all of their teams lost in the regionals.

Resurgent power – Minnesota returns to the sport’s biggest event for the first time since 2005, seeking its first titles since winning back-to-back crowns in 2002-03. Before last weekend, none of the Gophers had played an NCAA Tournament game.

Great goaltending – To get this far in the tournament you need strong goaltending, and the four teams in the Frozen Four are good examples. None of the four were instant successes in college hockey, either – in fact, all had to wait their turn, three of them behind All-Americans. Of the four, only Minnesota’s Kent Patterson was his team’s No. 1 goaltender a year ago. Three of the four were first-team all-conference selections (BC’s Parker Milner being the exception).

Great defense – All four teams are in the nation’s top nine in team defense, and each has a defenseman who was first- or second-team all-conference. They allowed an average of 1.25 goals per game in regional action, with Boston College yet to allow a goal in the tournament.

Looking at leagues – Four Division I conferences are represented at the Frozen Four for the second time in three years, after Boston College, Miami, RIT and Wisconsin made it in 2010. Union is the first ECAC Hockey team to reach the Frozen Four since Cornell in 2003.

Top prospects – Boston College’s Chris Kreider (New York Rangers) and Brian Dumoulin (Carolina) and Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad (Florida) and Erik Haula (Minnesota) are among the nine first- or second-round NHL Draft picks taking part in the second semifinal. Later round picks are excellent prospects as well, including Minnesota’s Kyle Rau (third round, Florida) and BC’s Bill Arnold and Johnny Gaudreau (both fourth round, both Calgary).

More prospects – The last two Frozen Four teams that had no NHL draft picks on their rosters produced Matt Read (Bemidji State in 2009) and Chris Tanev (RIT in 2010). It stands to reason that Ferris State and Union have some future NHLers in their midst. Union’s Jeremy Welsh may be the top free agent prospect, as the 6-3, 200-pound goal scorer is coming off an MVP performance at the NCAA East Regional.

Brotherly love – Three of the four teams have players whose brothers are in the NHL. Boston College boasts Kevin Hayes, a Chicago draft pick whose brother, Jimmy, plays for the Blackhawks, and Tommy Atkinson, whose brother, Cam, is a Columbus Blue Jacket. Minnesota’s Kyle Rau is the younger brother of the Minnesota Wild’s Chad Rau. Union has two Atlantic Division rivals' younger brothers on their roster: Kelly Zajac (New Jersey's Travis Zajac) and Greg Coburn (Philadelphia's Braydon Coburn).

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