This year I think I am going to do a bit of a different type of preview for the Frozen Four and do it by position. And what better position to start with than simultaneously the most important and most unpredictable position on the ice. As we saw in the regionals, a single bad game from a goalie who has been great all year (looking at you, John Muse and Ryan Rondeau) can send a team home early. On the flipside, as I’ll get to in a bit, a goalie who maybe isn’t very good can steal a win and send his team to the Frozen Four.
Aaron Dell has been the best of the bunch statistically this year, posting a .924 save percentage and leading the nation with a 1.81 GAA. Still, there have to be some questions about his game heading into next weekend. First, there is the obvious factor that this is only his first year seeing significant playing time, and it’s tough to know how a guy is going to react in a Frozen Four, even though he handled the NCAA tournament pressure quite well. Secondly, his save percentage plummeted in WCHA conference play, as he posted only a .912 mark which was good for only a tie for 6th in the conference. And lastly, his great GAA can be explained probably more by the fact that he always has six good to great defensemen playing in front of him, and he doesn’t see a lot of shots (nor does he see a lot of great opportunities). I think he’s the best goalie left, but I also wouldn’t call him a huge positive for the Sioux.
Michigan has a pair of goalies in Bryan Hogan and Shawn Hunwick who each could play this weekend, though based on last weekend it’s likely that Hunwick will be the guy. And why not? Last year he went from being a walk-on practice goalie, leading Michigan to the CCHA playoff title, and has backed it up this year by posting a .931 save percentage in CCHA games and a 1.95 GAA. He’s only been playing a year, so it’s impossible to tell if this is his true talent (although given that no one posts a .930 save percentage and if he was really this good he would have been playing all along, there’s about a 99.9999% chance he’s not this good) but Hunwick definitely has two more games in him and could steal Michigan a national title.
Minnesota-Duluth is probably going to go with Kenny Reiter like last weekend. Freshman Aaron Crandall had just an .894 save percentage this year and Duluth might as well pack up and go home if they think they’re riding him to a national title. Reiter’s .914 mark was good but not great this year, but he had a nice 32 save shutout against Union in their first round game. Although, given that he only had two in the regular season, and one was a 14 save shutout vs. Michigan Tech, I wouldn’t expect to see a repeat performance.
Notre Dame is probably weakest in net. Although they played in the extremely defensive CCHA Mike Johnson’s .906 save percentage was 12th in the league, and had Steve Summerhays qualified, his .863 mark would have been very much in last, by about 20 points. Jeff Jackson’s system will try to stifle Duluth a bit, but I think the Irish will have trouble containing not just the first line of Connolly, Connolly and Fontaine, but the other two lines as well.