Happy Frozen Four Thursday everyone! One of the greatest days of the year, and one of two days when college hockey is really showcased for the majority of the country. Here is how I see Thursday’s semifinals shaking out, with the usual caveat that in a one game sample anything can happen.
Notre Dame v. Minnesota-Duluth
Semifinal one’s outcome hinges on a key matchup: Riley Sheahan vs. Duluth’s top line. Sheahan and company have shut down some of the more impressive lines in the country this year, allowing North Dakota’s top line to have only 3 points in a two game series earlier this year. That might seem like a lot (though it shouldn’t), but that series featured 8 Sioux goals, making Sheahan’s impact even larger by comparison.
Connolly, Connolly and Fontaine are a bit more versatile than the Sioux’s top line, but they provide the same sort of a challenge. Still, Notre Dame’s offense shouldn’t be overlooked. 24 and 22 goals from Anders Lee and TJ Tynan is impressive, especially against some of the defenses the CCHA runs out there. Duluth is impressive offensively, but Notre Dame scores more goals per game and does it against more defensive teams.
If Kenny Reiter continues his hot streak for the Bulldogs they will have a chance, but I really think Duluth will need secondary scoring to beat the Irish, and I don’t think they will get enough of it.
North Dakota vs. Michigan
The Sioux come in as perhaps the hottest team in the country after 6-0 and 6-1 wins over RPI and Denver. They have 16 NHL draft picks, the second best offense in the country (4.14 goals per) and 3rd best defense (2.14 allowed per). Yes it is a one game sample and yes Michigan is very good, but if the Sioux aren’t playing on Saturday it would be a big upset.
The key for Michigan to beat North Dakota is probably to goad them into taking some penalties. Although the Sioux have a very good penalty kill (86%, 5th in the country), they have been susceptible in penalty filled games this year. Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso, Scooter Vaughan can definitely do it with their speed, especially since some of North Dakota’s defensemen aren’t the fleetest of foot, and Chris Brown can be the type of guy who can post up in front of the net and draw penalties that way.
Defensively, Aaron Dell appears to have the edge, with a .924 save percentage this year. But Shaun Hunwick’s .922 mark is very good as well. He’ll need to be very good to steal one from the Sioux, whose best trait this year is probably their depth. They usually roll four lines all game, as well as six defensemen, and that can be extremely tough to keep up with. I don’t think Michigan will, and I think we’ll see the Sioux in the title game.