In the second edition of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Target Center in Minneapolis, we have three of the four teams who were there last season back again to try and win the tournament. North Dakota, Miami and Denver all fought for the tournament crowd last year and we have last season’s championship game rematch in the semi finals when we have Miami and Denver faceoff in the prime time match-up. The first game we have Penrose Cup champions North Dakota going up against first timer to the Frozen Faceoff, St. Cloud State.
A lot is on the line for SCSU this weekend. As of right now, they are in a position in the Pairwise rankings to make the NCAA tournament. However, in order for this to remain true, St. Cloud must win at least one game this weekend to be eligible to make the tournament. With this being the only conference tournament that has a third place game, the Huskies should feel lucky that if they are to get beaten by North Dakota Friday afternoon, they still have one more chance to be NCAA eligible, much like what North Dakota did last season.
For the other three teams, no matter how this tournament turns out for them, they will probably be in the NCAA tournament, which starts next weekend. If Denver, or Miami, were to come out victorious and win the tournament, one of them could most likely be a number one seed when it comes to Selection Sunday in just five days. If neither win, Miami will likely remain a two seed where Denver may fall to be the highest two seed and be overtaken by Michigan Tech and BU in the Pairwise.
As for UND, them and Mankato (WCHA) have all but locked up the first two number one seeds in the national tournament. The only way I can see UND not being the top overall seed is if they do not win one game this weekend and Mankato wins the Broadmore Trophy as WCHA tournament champion. So UND is likely to play the Atlantic Hockey champion next weekend in the opening round of the NCAA tournament at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
North Dakota vs. St. Cloud Friday @ 4:08pm
With the top seed UND deciding to play in the tournament’s opening contest on Friday, you should expect a decent crowd at Target Center, especially with North Dakota playing St. Cloud, the most local team in the tournament. It is known across the NCAA that North Dakota fans travel well when it comes to supporting their team on the road and look for this weekend to be no different.
What to Watch For?
As for what to watch for out of this game is the powerful power play for St. Cloud State and the top notch goaltending from Zane McIntyre. SCSU has the fifth best power play in the country and their top unit, led by local products Johnny Brodzinski and Joey Benik, has combined for over 70 points on the season, making them one of the most lethal power play units, if not the most lethal, in the country. Two weeks ago when these two teams met at Ralph Engelstad Arena, North Dakota senior Mark MacMillan would sustain an injury after blocking a Brodzinski one-timer while SCSU was on the power play. His powerful shot and quick release is a top reason why SCSU is so good on the power play. So if theHuskies are to beat UND, then they will need to find success on the power play.
It is no secret that North Dakota has one of the top goalies in the nation in Zane McIntyre. His numbers speak for themselves. McIntyre needs just three more victories to hit the 30 win mark on the season. If McIntyre is to do this, he will be the first goalie to do so for UND since Aaron Dell did it five seasons ago with the famed “Pony Express” team. His 1.96 goals against and .932 save percentage are also good enough to land him in the top 10 in the NCAA in both categories to go along with is nation leading victory total. His poise in the net, willingness to come out and challenge shooters, and very rarely giving up a bad rebound has earned him the right to be called the backbone for this North Dakota roster, well maybe co-backbone with the senior class and their great leadership on and off the ice.
If North Dakota gets into penalty trouble, it could mean trouble for the green and white. However, I think the overall balance to the North Dakota Roster is much too deep for St. Cloud to stop. North Dakota wins this contest and advances to the championship game 3-2.
Miami vs. Denver Friday 7:38pm
Miami was taken to the limit against Western Michigan last weekend being the only series in the NCHC to go three games in the quarterfinal round. With the one day less of practice and rest, it should be interesting to see how it effects the Miami roster. However, at this point of the season, it really shouldn’t matter much since it is playoff time. Yes, we are talking about playoffs. One thing that concerns me about Miami was the lack of defense against Western last weekend. One may argue me and say, but they shutout the Broncos on Sunday! How could you say they had a lack of defense? I say this because they gave up 10 goals combined between Friday and Saturday’s games, including seven on Saturday night. Against a high flying offensive team like Denver, they will need to be tighter on defense or they will find themselves in the third place game on Saturday.
As for Denver, their series with UMD last weekend is the one everybody thought, well everyone but me, would go to three games for how close in the standings, and rankings, the two teams were. Denver would get the best of Duluth in two games and only giving up three goals on the weekend, including a Saturday night shutout. The defending tournament champions are playing a typically tough Miami squad in a rematch of last years tournament championship game, but will have their word cut out for them if they are playing Saturday night once again.
What to Watch For?
For Miami, watch and see if they can tighten up on defense and continue to play like the team that shutout Western on Sunday afternoon. If this is the team that shows up to Minneapolis on Friday, then watch out. I don’t think there are many teams in the country that can beat that team, however one, possibly even two of them are in this tournament. Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber will also have to be playing at the top of their games to keep up with the high flying Denver offense. If they are able to do these things, look for the Miami team the nation has come used to see.
Now it is no secret that the Denver defense likes to get involved with the offense, especially Joey LaLeggia. In 34 games played this season, the senior has 13 goals, 25 assists for 38 points on the season. It is very common for LaLeggia to come up and join the rush on the breakout, but also can be one of the best puck movers on the blue line in the NCHC, if not the NCAA. With freshman Danton Heinen and sophomore Trevor Moore both reaching the 40 point plateau this season, you will also have to keep a very close eye on these two to contribute to the scoring along with LaLeggia.
If the Denver offense can expose the Miami defense like Western did last Saturday night then this game is no contest, but I think this one ends 4-2 with a late empty net goal by Denver.
Everyone likes seeing a North Dakota Denver match-up and the last time these two met in a conference tournament championship game was in 2011-2012 when UND won by a margin of 4-0. If this is the final this season, Look for McIntyre to shutdown the high flying offense and seal the NCHC tournament crown for UND. The final out of this one will be 4-3 in favor of UND.
With St. Cloud playing for their season in the third place game, nothing will be easy for whoever plays them in this one, if in fact this is how it turns out. With placing Miami here, you are looking at a potential classic. One team bidding for a possible number one seed, and the other to try and extend their season another week. this probably will be a fast and physical battle making the score low and tight. With St. Cloud playing desperate hockey, I think they come out on top 2-1 in overtime.
Well there you have my predictions on the weekend. If these do come true, six out of the eight NCHC teams will be in the NCAA tournament and will hold just under 50% of the NCAA field. So here is a recap of how everything will round up:
UND 3 SCSU 2
Denver 4 Miami 3
3rd place game SCSU 2 Miami 1 (OT)
Championship UND 4 Denver 3
Friday’s games and Saturday’s championship will be on CBS Sports Network with the third place game being streamed live on NCHC.tv. Look for further updates from myself and Eric Burton this weekend as we will both be at Target Center covering the weekend’s action. You can follow us on Twitter for live game tweets (@goon48 for Eric and @siouxhockey33 for myself).