Frozen Four Heading to Chicago

It was a big weekend for college hockey players, as Friday marked the first day of competition leading to the NCAA Division 1 men’s ice hockey national championship. Sixteen teams, including 93 NHL prospects competed in the first round of elimination preceding the 2017 Frozen Four and with four remaining semifinalists heading to the United Centre in Chicago on Apr. 6, this year’s final game is projecting to be more than intense.

College Hockey Brackets

The east and west regional brackets endured the first round in four games on Friday, resulting in the elimination of Providence College, Western Michigan University, Ohio State University and the University of North Dakota.

East Regional

The first-seeded Harvard University Crimson beat the fourth-seeded Providence College Friars 3-0 on Friday, advancing them to the East Regional title game. For Harvard, this was their first NCAA tournament win since 1994 and first NCAA tournament shutout since 1987.

The third-seeded Air Force Academy Falcons were victorious over the second-seeded Western Michigan University Broncos, beating them 5-4 on Friday. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they were unable to beat the Crimson in the quarterfinals and Harvard University has advanced to the Frozen Four’s semifinals in April.

One of Crimson’s defensemen, Adam Fox is beginning to get himself noticed this year. Recently named ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year, the third-round pick of the Calgary Flames 2016 Draft class was one of Harvard’s two defenseman to score goals so far, not to mention a couple assists to top it off.

Harvard’s Goalie, Merrick Madsen was also named Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional bracket. Madsen was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.

West Regional

The first-seeded University of Minnesota – Duluth Bulldogs won 3-2 in overtime against the fourth-seeded Ohio State University Buckeyes on Friday, advancing them to the west regional title game on Saturday.

The second-seeded Boston University Terriers played into second overtime against the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Friday. Obviously a tight game riddled with parity, the 4-3 win would eventually go to the team well-endowed with two-way defensemen. Boston University’s Charlie McAvoy scored the winning goal, which really helps to paint a detailed picture of what kind of defenseman he truly is. McAvoy was drafted in the first round of the 2016 Draft at No. 14 by the Boston Bruins last summer and continues to be an offensive force at the blue line.

Another standout player for the Terriers was their goalie, Jake Oettinger, who made a career-high 56 saves this game. Oettinger was the only player in the tournament who’s also a top prospect eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Although North Dakota’s season has come to an end, right-winger Brock Boeser, a first round pick of the 2015 Draft, selected by the Vancouver Canucks at No. 23, ended up signing an entry-level contract with the Canucks and played in his first NHL game the following day, only to score his first NHL goal against the Minnesota Wild.

Boston University was also the only team competing with four, first-round NHL prospects on their roster, along with another four from the second round. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep them in the running for the Frozen Four though. The Minnesota – Duluth Bulldogs ended up beating them 3-2 on Saturday, which gave the Bulldogs entrance to the Frozen Four, where they will face Harvard University in the semifinals.

Northeast Regional

The fourth-seeded University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat the first-seeded Minnesota University Golden Gophers 3-2 on Saturday, advancing them to the quarterfinals. Also competing in the first round was the University of Massachusetts – Lowell River Hawks, who beat Cornell University 5-0. They advanced to the quarterfinals and faced Notre Dame, who beat them 3-2 in overtime.

One of the many things that stands out about the Fighting Irish is their knack for acquiring fine young men. Anders Bjork, a fifth-round pick drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 2014 Draft has been making major headlines throughout the weekend and the last couple of months. On Saturday, he scored two goals on Minnesota University and registered three assists against UMass – Lowell. He’s also one of top 10 finalists for the 2017 Hobey Baker Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top NCAA division 1 men’s hockey player. Bjork is also one of five finalists for the 2017 Hockey Humanitarian Award, which is another annual award presented to college hockey’s finest citizen for leadership in community service.

Midwest Regional

The first-seeded University of Denver Pioneers beat the fourth-seeded Michigan Tech University Huskies 5-2 on Saturday at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, advancing them to the quarterfinals. Although Pioneers’ captain, Will Butcher was the team’s only NHL defenseman prospect to score a goal this weekend, Blake Hillman, a sixth-round pick drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016, got a +2 plus/minus rating in each of their two games.

This year’s first round also had a new team in the mix, the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lion Icers. They beat the second-seeded team, the Union College (N.Y.) Dutchmen 10-3  but were unsuccessful in their endeavours against Denver in the quarterfinals. Denver won 6-3 on Sunday and will be facing Notre Dame in the Frozen Four’s semifinals.

College hockey continues to provide top players to the National Hockey League and tournaments such as the Frozen Four are becoming increasingly important for players and coaches alike. It’s no surprise that the growing number of NCAA-developed players are finding success at the NHL level. Along with the additional exposure comes greater insight to the flourishing event. With each new crop of talented young guns making their debut, the tournament’s level of competition picks up speed. Consequently, parity increases, just like it does in the big league. The similarities between these two leagues are becoming increasingly clearer and now we’re seeing more and more players make the swift and seamless transition to the NHL.