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2 posts categorized "Frozen Four"

April 09, 2011

Frozen Four | Breaking down the final

FELDY: I'm back at a quiet (for now) Xcel Energy Center for the NCAA championship game, Minnesota-Duluth against Michigan. The Wolverines are chasing their 10th national title; UMD seeks its first, in just its second-ever appearance in the final.

It's pretty clear this game will come down to two things: Goaltending and special teams (though, you could say that about any hockey game at any level, I suppose). So, let's take a position-by-position look at the finalists. The puck is set to drop exactly 1 hour, 49 minutes from now.

FORWARDS
Edge: UMD
The reasons: Michigan doesn't have the dynamic group of playmakers that two of the other Frozen Four teams do, but, obviously that didn't matter in the Wolverines win over top-ranked North Dakota on Thursday. Still, UMD has the best line in the country (Mike Connolly-Jack Connolly-Justin Fontaine). And, in Thursday's 4-3 win against Notre Dame, the Bulldogs received key contributions from second-liners J.T. Brown and Kyle Schmidt, and third-liner Joe Basaraba. UMD can't afford to sleep on Michigan's third line, though. Seniors Ben Winnett and Matt Rust, and junior Luke Glendening, are smart players and veterans who won't back down from UMD's offensive playmakers.

DEFENSEMEN
Edge: UMD
The reasons: Michigan gave up 40 shots to North Dakota on Thursday. Say all you want about Michigan's d-men's willingness to drop and block shots, but had it not been for the sensational play of goalie Shawn Hunwick (more about him later), the Wolverines would be watching tonight's game in Ann Arbor. Duluth's defensive corps lost talented Dylan Olsen after Christmas break, when he left for the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Yet, despite losing a player who was a first-round draft pick, UMD's defensemen seem to have become stronger as a group down the stretch. Freshman Justin Faulk -- who likely will head to the NHL after this season -- is one of the best offensive defensemen in college hockey. He has 33 points in 38 games.

GOALIES
Edge: Michigan
The reasons: Shawn Hunwick has been outstanding for the Wolverines in the national tournament, allowing a total of three goals in three games. He's just 5-foot-7, but the way he's playing is reminiscent of the way diminutive North Dakota netminder Karl Goehring (he of Apple Valley and Minnesota high school state tourney fame) played during the Sioux's run to the 2000 NCAA title. Hunwick will have to carry the Wolverines again tonight, and will again have to be their best penalty killer. On the other side, UMD's Kenny Reiter is an adventure. He made some nice saves against Notre Dame, but allowed two soft goals on shots from above the circles. If he isn't focused tonight, UMD will have to win an 8-7 game.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Edge: UMD
The reasons: Duh. Did you watch the Bulldogs power play on Thursday? As I state above, it's a well-oiled machine and they run a system that is rather unorthodox, sort of an inverted umbrella, I've heard it called. Faulk runs the point as efficiently as any player in the college game, which leads to the question: Why not just focus on stopping Faulk at the point? Well, because that leaves a 4-on-3 for guys like Connolly, Connolly, Fontaine and Brown. Not good odds for the opposition. To be successful, Michigan has to do what it did to North Dakota -- wall up at the blue line, force UMD to dump it in, then take away time and space, not letting the Bulldogs cycle the puck.

COACHING
Edge: Michigan
The reasons: See Thursday's win against North Dakota for the reasons here. Red Berenson might be in his early 70s, but the college game has not passed the Wolverines head coach by. Against UND, he took a Michigan team that traditionally plays an um-tempo, we're-gonna-outscore-you style, and turned it into Alaska-Anchorage, but with better players. They mucked up the neutral zone, took away time and space from the Sioux and got them flustered, forced them to make bad passes and try to become too creative. In other words, the old-timer still has a few tricks up his sleeve and knows how to coach. More importantly, he has a group of players who buy into what he asks them to do.

WHO WINS?
The score: UMD 3, Michigan 2, OT.
The reasons: I just can't see Michigan getting away with playing a muck-it-up style two games in a row against talented teams like UND and UMD. North Dakota had a handful of great scoring chances where, either Hunwick robbed them, or they missed the net. That won't happen twice in a row. Hunwick will hold Michigan in the game again, but, in the end, UMD has too much firepower and they'll bring the NCAA championship trophy back to AmSoil Arena for the first time.

April 06, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year ... again (Frozen Four style)

FELDY: How often do Phersy and I use that headline? We have a lot of most wonderful times of the year around here. Usually that headline comes out when hockey season starts, or when the playoffs at any particular level of hockey are intensifying.

That's certainly the case this weekend, as the NCAA Division I Frozen Four makes its return to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The last time it was here -- 2002 -- some team from just across the river won it by beating Maine in OT. I might add, it took a player from North Dakota scoring in OT to finally bring the Gophers a title, after 23 years ... :-)

My only prediction for this weekend: The Gophers will not win the NCAA title this time around at The X. Should North Dakota be considered the favorite? Probably. If these were 2-out of-3 series, I'd feel confident in saying the Sioux will win. But this is a one-game shot, followed by another one-game shot, and the other three teams have a ton of talent.

Today was practice day for Minnesota-Duluth, Notre Dame, Michigan and NoDak. Each team also held a post-practice press conference. Here are some of the better comments that came from those:

NOTRE DAME COACH JEFF JACKSON

On the one-game format…
"When you get into one-game situations, it is just a matter of which team goes out and plays 60 solid minutes of great discipline, as far as not taking unnecessary penalties. … One shift can be the difference in the game."

NOTRE DAME SR. F RYAN GUENTZEL

His advice to the 11 freshmen on the roster…
"Enjoy the moment. You're not guaranteed to be in this situation every year. It's really exciting. With such a young team, some people think we are at a disadvantage experience-wise. As far as energy and enthusiasm, I think we're a step ahead."

UMD COACH SCOTT SANDELIN

On the matchup against Notre Dame …
"In some ways, they're similar to our team. They like to play aggressively, they forecheck aggressively. It's going to be critical to get pucks out of the zone and try to challenge them defensively. Special teams are going to be big. Hopefully we can win the special teams and chip one in five on five."

UMD JR. GOALIE KENNY REITER

On UMD's success late this season …
"We picked up our intensity at the end of the season. We've paid extra attention to special teams and systems because special teams are obviously important to have clicking at the end of the year."

UMD SR. D MIKE MONTGOMERY

On the intensity of the Frozen Four…
"In our league, it's a battle every night and it turns into a grind by the end of the year. It's just a mentality thing. As soon as we got into the playoffs, everybody buckled down and knew their role and that's how they've been playing."

MICHIGAN COACH RED BERENSON

On who the crowd will support …
"I think they will root for Michigan. I know the animosity between Minnesota and North Dakota. If it was a game at Michigan State, they would be cheering for North Dakota. We have to play our best game of the season, no matter who is here."

On why Michigan can win …
"Stranger things have happened. You need good goalkeeping, good penalty killing, good backchecking, good play coming out of your zone and you need to be opportunistic. We know they are a better team, but we are going to come and play hard."

MICHIGAN SR. F CARL HAGELIN

On playing possibly in front of a pro-North Dakota crowd …
"We all want to be here, so it doesn't matter where we play. We focus on our task, and our task is to win the game."

NORTH DAKOTA HEAD COACH DAVE HAKSTOL

On facing Michigan …
"I have a great deal of respect for their program, the history and tradition of their program, and the success they have had. More specifically, I have a significant amount of respect for their team this year and the accomplishments they've had over the long haul, winning the CCHA and how well they're playing right now. They're a complete hockey team in every sense of the word."

NORTH DAKOTA JR. F JASON GREGOIRE

On the media attention the Sioux have had lately …
"A big aspect of team lately is that no egos have crept in whatsoever. Whether that is individual awards or media attention, we are all focused on one goal. People might think we are just being cliche, but we actually believe it. We are focusing on the job at hand. Right now, that is Michigan."

NORTH DAKOTA SR. D CHAY GENOWAY

On returning for his fifth season at UND, after suffering a season-ending concussion last year …
"It has been a great experience so far. Obviously, last year was a tough one for me personally. Just to have the chance to do it over again has been pretty special. For this year's senior class to take me and to have the opportunity to join their class has been a pretty cool thing. That's a group of six guys who are pretty tight-knit. It's been a fun ride so far and hopefully we have a lot of memories to come."