Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The NCAA Division I men's ice hockey national champion will be crowned on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and the only thing certain is that the winner will be adorned in some shade of maroon for the third consecutive spring.

Maroon-and-gold Boston College won it all in 2010, and then maroon-wearing Minnesota-Duluth did the same thing last year. Minnesota and first-timer Ferris State also wear maroon and gold, while other Frozen Four rookie Union is decked out in maroon and black. Other than the similarity in colors, any of the four schools this weekend is capable of skating away with the NCAA championship.

Ferris State and Union, who will play each other in the first game on Thursday, may be new to the national semifinals, but both have had solid clubs this season. So has Minnesota, which has now been to the Frozen Four 23 times and has won five national titles, and BC, which is going for the 20th time and has four NCAA crowns to its credit.

Ferris State (25-11-5 overall) won the 2011-12 Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title, and head coach Bob Daniels just claimed the Spencer Penrose Trophy as the top collegiate hockey coach in Division I. Senior forward Jordie Johnston is the Bulldogs’ top scorer with 20 goals and 16 assists for 36 points, while senior goaltender Taylor Nelson has a record of 20-6-3 to go along with a 2.10 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage, and three shutouts.

Union (26-7-7) swept both the Eastern College Athletic Conference regular-season and postseason crowns, and recorded its first two NCAA Tournament wins two weeks ago at the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn. The Dutchmen also have one of the top four power plays in the country (24.3 percent), and have also allowed the fewest goals per game in Division I (1.80). Junior forward Jeremy Welsh (27-16—43) is Union’s leading scorer, while the Dutchmen’s top netminder is sophomore Troy Grosenick (22-5-3, 1.64, .936, 5 SO).

Boston College (31-10-1), ranked first in the nation the last several weeks, has won 17 straight games, including the Beanpot Tournament and both the Hockey East Association regular-season and playoff titles. Goaltender Parker Milner (27-5-0, 2.71, .935, 3 SO) then did not allow a goal in the Eagles’ wins over Air Force and Minnesota-Duluth at the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass. BC is killing penalties at an 88 percent rate while also scoring a nation-high 11 shorthanded goals. Chris Kreider leads the Eagles in scoring with 23-21—44 points, while freshmen forward Johnny Gaudreau has also hit the 20-goal mark.

Minnesota (28-13-1), which tops the nation with 3.67 goals per contest, is back at the Frozen Four for the first time in seven years. The Golden Gophers rebounded from a loss to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five three weeks ago with convincing victories over both Boston University and UND at the NCAA West Regional in St. Paul, Minn. Sophomore forward Erick Haula (20-28—48) is Minnesota’s leading point-producer, while in goal the Gophers have relied all season on senior Kent Patterson (28-13-1, 2.23, .911, 7 SO).

Ferris and Union will face-off at 4:30 p.m. ET today on ESPNU, while BC and Minnesota will follow at around 8:00 p.m. tonight on ESPN2 (all games streamed at The winners will meet on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2 to decide the 2012 Division I NCAA champion.

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