It’s game day for the 2018 Frozen Four. During the postseason, there’s been a lot of chest thumping from Big Ten Hockey Conference fans.
But is it warranted?
The Big Ten has all the advantages, however, since college hockey realignment, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has been the most dominant. In the four previous Frozen Fours, the NCHC has won two NCAA titles— including two in a row.
NCHC, Conference of Domination
During the past five seasons, the NCHC has also sent the most teams to the Frozen Four. Break down by conference: — Frozen Four berths since 2014: NCHC (8), Hockey East (5), Big Ten (4) and ECAC Hockey (3). The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is looking to continue that NCHC dominance by making it three straight NCAA titles. (Other NCAA titles: North Dakota, 2016 and Denver, 2017).
During the previous four seasons, a single B1G hockey team has made the Frozen Four, Minnesota in 2014. After a three year hiatus, the B1G has three teams in this year’s Frozen Four. That said, it that all that impressive? Including this season, the last five seasons, the NCHC teams have qualified the following teams for the Frozen Four (UNO, UND X3, DU X 2 and now UMD X2).
My colleague at Inside Hockey Chris Lynch wrote this about the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are making their second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four and third bid this decade. They won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last season and gave Denver all they could handle before falling in the National Championship game in Chicago. Six seniors from that team graduated and goaltender Hunter Miska departed early for the pros. With all the changes, Duluth struggled early in the 2017-2018 season. They sat near the bottom of the NCHC approaching the break. A sweep of Nebraska-Omaha and a victory in the Ledyard Bank Classic in Hanover, NH, helped the team correct course. The team stumbled again in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, in which the Bulldogs lost to Denver and North Dakota. They were fortunate to beat out Minnesota for the final spot in the NCAA Tournament by .001 points in the Pairwise. Sandelin’s team capitalized on the opportunity, defeating Minnesota State-Mankato in overtime and edging Air Force in the Sioux Falls Regional Final.
First, everything written above is true, however, look at the Bulldogs schedule. It’s not an understatement to say that they peaked at the right time. After the first of the year, the Bulldogs are 14-7-0 and had an impressive five series sweeps. As NCHC hockey fans know, sweeps in conference play don’t come easy. This conference is a meat grinder, top to bottom.
Sometimes, I think our friends from the East coast don’t realize how tough the NCHC is. There are no filler teams or also-rans in the NCHC. The Bulldogs aren’t a bunch of wilting violets. They’re a heavy hockey team that plays an honest 200-foot game. They’ll beat you up with their physicality. Moreover, the Bulldogs are battle tested. They’ve played the eighth toughest schedule in college hockey. So, don’t be confused with their 3rd place finish in the NCHC.
Yes, I realized that the Buckeyes are a good hockey team. They’re ranked 10th in the nation in offense, scoring 130 goals 3.25 GPG. Yes, the Buckeyes are strong defensively and ranked 3rd in the nation in defense giving up 2.08 GPG.
The Ohio State Buckeyes shouldn’t expect an easy path to the finals. They’re going to have their hands full when they faceoff against the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are 20th in the nation in offense, scoring 115 goals 3.05 GPG. The Bulldogs are strong defensively, ranked 8th nationally in defense giving up 2.14 GPG.
Prediction: this game is a rematch of the 2017 West Regional Semi-Finals – much like season, UMD 3- OSU 2 in OT.