Frozen Four field preview

 Photo courtesy of Alex Ganeev

Photo courtesy of Alex Ganeev

The University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team is two days out from playing in their second consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association Frozen Four. Joining them this year is their first-round opponent Ohio State University. On the other side of the bracket  is Michigan University and Notre Dame University, who are also the second returning team from last year’s Frozen Four.

UMD (23-16-3): Having evaded elimination from Minnesota State with their 3-2 overtime thriller and holding off Air Force 2-1 in the West Regional championship, the Bulldogs are back to where they won it all the first time: St. Paul, Minn. at the Xcel Energy Center in 2011.

When describing this young talented team, the word resilient comes to mind. Having lost 10 total players from last year’s roster (seven to graduation and three early departures), not to mention five of six blueliners, the returning road has not been easy for UMD.

The Bulldogs have grown their chemistry all year long while also finding some maturity with eight freshmen consistently playing in the starting rotation. Averaging 3.05 goals per game (GPG) and giving up just 2.14 GPG, UMD and Ohio State are almost identical between the two categories.

Ohio State (26-9-5): Back in the NCAA tournament one year after UMD broke their hearts in overtime of the opening game last year’s West Regional semifinal. The Buckeyes did what many thought they could not do to get to the Frozen Four: beat the defending champions Denver University in the Midwest Regional final 5-1. This is Ohio State’s first frozen four appearance since 1998.

The B1G 10 team is known for their high-octane offense that has developed into a consistent top scoring team in the nation. Ohio State is averaging 3.25 GPG good for seventh in the nation and on the defensive side of the puck, are allowing just 2.08 GPG, the third best mark in college hockey.

The Buckeyes powerful special teams from last year carried over to this year as they boast the nations top penalty kill at 89.3 percent and the seventh best power play at 23.9 percent. With just one loss in their last nine games (Lost 3-2 to Notre Dame in B1G 10 tournament championship) Ohio State will be a tenacious test for the Bulldogs come Thursday night.

Michigan (22-14-3): Piecing together 15 wins in the second half of the season, the Wolverines are back in the Frozen Four after what many thought would be a rebuilding year for the B1G 10 program going 13-19-3 last season.

Michigan Knocked off Northeastern University and Boston College in the Northeast Regional in route to getting back to its first Frozen Four since losing the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game.

The Wolverines are among the top of the nation when it comes to their offense averaging 3.41 GPG, but lack a bit on the defensive side allowing 3.00 GPG which is the worst of the four-team field.

Notre Dame (27-9-2): Like UMD, Notre Dame returns to the Frozen Four for the second straight season in hopes of rewriting last year’s outcome. A favorite of the group, the Irish lead their assault with 17 of the 20 players from last season’s Frozen Four roster.

Although their numbers are not in the tops of the nation, Notre Dame relies on their more than solid defense and goaltending to make up for their lack of offensive power. The Irish are 27th in the nation in goal scoring and 25th in GPG at 2.95. Of the Frozen Four field, those numbers come in dead last.

SportsAustin Rush