7 Players to Watch in the National Championship

TAMPA, Fla. — The NCAA Frozen Four comes to an end Saturday as the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks face the Quinnipiac Bobcats for the national championship.

It’s a match between one of the most storied collegiate hockey programs in the country and a relatively new entry into Division I. It’s a match between a team laden with top individual talent and NHL draft picks facing a team without that same recruiting power, putting together a strong team game focused on a system.

North Dakota

Cam Johnson
The North Dakota goaltender has had a record-setting season, posting the best save percentage in school history. A box score of the semifinal win over the University of Denver won’t tell you how good Johnson was, but he made a lopsided possession affair tilt in favor of the Fighting Hawks.

Against Denver, North Dakota was out-possessed (all-situation CF% of 40.2%), even though shots were even at 23. Lots of the game, especially earn on, developed off the rush and Denver wound up getting more Grade-A Chances. Johnson was a difference maker for North Dakota and probably put in the best performance of any goaltender in the Frozen Four’s opening day.

Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz
The “CBS” line came as advertised against Denver. Drake Caggiula scored the game’s first two goals, to give North Dakota a 2-0 lead they carried into the third period.

After Denver evened the score, it was Nick Schmaltz who scored with 56.8 seconds left in the game to give the Fighting Hawks the game.

Each player of this trio is averaging well over a point per game and showed in Thursday’s game that they can be the difference. It’s been that way all year, and shouldn’t change for Saturday’s national championship. It’d be a big statement for first-year coach Brad Berry to get the championship and the “CBS” line could deliver it.


Devon Toews
The stalwart defenseman and Islanders draft pick was all smiles in Friday’s press conference. He bounced back every question about the “CBS” line with thoughts on how the team would stick to playing their game, which means that they want everyone taking care of their own zone and creating an aggressive forecheck.

[pull_quote_right author=”Devon Toews”]I think they present challenges like Harvard’s top line and Boston College’s top line… We’ve got to play our game and get in their face, take away their time and space, and we’ll be fine.[/pull_quote_right]Toews had a strong game Thursday and should be a big factor if Quinnipiac is going to find their way to their first-ever national championship.

Connor Clifton
He doesn’t have the profile of Toews, but Clifton was excellent in Thursday’s semifinal. Shutting down Boston College was no small feat, and Quinnipiac was able to do it.

Their penalty kill was impressive and their ability to keep Boston from moving the puck through the center of the ice was wildly impressive. Clifton was a huge part of that, breaking up plays and being a pesky physical presence. If he carries any individual momentum over the semifinal, he could make a big impact on this game.

Michael Garteig
Through 42 games this season Garteig put up a .926 save percentage and eight shutouts, second only to Mike Richter Award winner Thatcher Demko. The senior is in his third year of full-time duty and will remember the only other time Quinnipiac made it to the Frozen Four and the crushing disappointment that brought.

Quinnipiac has plenty of offensive weapons in Sam Anas, Landon Smith and others, but their defense and goaltending are strong and will be a key to the game. As Denver found out in the semifinal, you can outplay North Dakota and still lose because the “CBS” line is that good.

The Bobcats will have to handle the “CBS” line to win. They won’t win a shootout between the two teams, but can beat just about anyone in the country when they’re playing their game.