Article from stateofhockey.com
Written By Jackson Boline:
Four teams vie for coveted title and chance to advance to NCAA tourney
Four teams will compete for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff title this Friday and Saturday at the XCEL Energy Center in St. Paul.
Two teams return from the 2022 field as Denver and North Dakota will vie for the Frozen Faceoff title after losing out to UMD a year ago.
The Fighting Hawks last won the NCHC playoff title in 2021. They will be joined by St. Cloud State and Colorado College this year.
St. Cloud State’s lone Frozen Faceoff title came in 2016 under the tutelage of Bob Motzko.
Denver won in 2014 and 2018 and is coming off a national championship. Colorado College has yet to win a Frozen Faceoff tournament.
The puck drops Friday at 4:00 p.m. when Denver faces Colorado College. St. Cloud State and North Dakota will battle at 7:00 p.m.
The championship game will be played Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are available for Friday and Saturday sessions by clicking below:
No. 4 Colorado College Tigers
#4 Colorado College
Top Scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):
Hunter McKown (Junior) 20-6-26
Noah Laba (Freshman) 11-10-21
Stanley Cooley (Sophomore) 6-14-20
Goaltender: Kaiden Mbereko (Freshman) 8-15-2/2.36/.925
Team Outlook: Colorado College came into the postseason without a regulation victory since January 13th when they defeated St. Cloud State 4-2. That means nothing now after upsetting No. 2 seed and seventh-ranked Western Michigan in a two-game sweep to keep the dream of an NCAA Tournament appearance alive.
CC made history after their sweep against Western Michigan by becoming the first No. 7 seed to make the Frozen Faceoff and the second-lowest seed ever to qualify. The Tigers defeated the Mustangs on the road in Kalamazoo 3-1 on Friday, March 10, and 3-2 in overtime on Saturday, March 11 to complete the sweep and advance to the Semi-finals. This will be Colorado College’s second appearance ever at the Frozen Faceoff and its first since 2019.
The Tigers gained confidence in their offense at the right time. They were able to score six goals in their two games against the Mustangs. CC had times this season where it was difficult to catch a break and score goals even in games they felt as if they were the better team. “We’re finally getting secondary scoring from guys who have been getting chances, but the puck is finally going in,” said Head Coach Kris Mayotte.
Colorado College averages just over two goals per game and have netted 78 on 990 attempts. The Tigers know themselves not as an offensive powerhouse but a defensive team. In fact Mayotte thinks they are one of the best defensive teams in the NCHC. He’s not that far off saying that, because the Tigers are allowing just 2.7 goals per game.
Freshman goalie Kaiden Mbereko has been a huge part to the defensive success of the Tigers. Mbereko has not had a save percentage under .900 in a game since October. This type of goaltending can help a team win every game.
“I think the overall surprise is how a freshman goalie can be as consistent as he’s been,” said Mayotte. “He gives us a chance to win every night.”
The Tigers certainly qualify to be called this year’s Cinderella story as they are the first No. 7 seed in the tournament, but will lack of Frozen Faceoff experience catch up to them?
Bryan Yoon is one of the few CC players who has experience.
“I just keep telling them to enjoy the moment and try to stay in the present, while enjoying the process. It’s special to be at the X in this fun time,” Yoon said.
Colorado College will have to play underdog in this years Frozen Faceoff Tournament, but with confidence rising for the Tigers, they feel like they can make some noise in downtown St. Paul.
No. 1 Denver Pioneers
Top Scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):
Massimo Rizzo (Sophomore) 17-18-46
Carter Mazur (Sophomore) 22-14-36
Mike Benning (Juinor) 13-21-34
Goaltender: Magnus Chrona (Senior) 22-7/2.22/.914
Team Outlook: The reigning National Champion is the only team in the NCHC who has advanced to all Frozen Faceoff’s since the inaugural 2014 Tournament. The No. 1 seed Pioneers rolled past the bottom-seeded Miami RedHawks in two games scoring 13 goals in those games. They have now won the last two Penrose Cups as NCHC regular-season champions and are looking to win their third Frozen Faceoff title at the Xcel Energy Center and first since 2018.
The Pioneers are an offensive juggernaut who have scoring up and down their lineup. They average 3.9 goals per game while allowing just over two. They have six players with at least 30 points on the season.
Denver is facing an in-state rival which will be the fifth time this season the Pioneers and Colorado College have met.
“We know what they are, very good defensively and hard to penetrate,” said head coach David Carle.
They have swept their fellow Colorado foe this season four games to none.
The Denver Pioneers are looking to not only get their third Frozen Faceoff Title but also repeat as National Champions.
“The temptation when you’re trying to repeat is to think everything is going to be okay, but I think dealing with the lows is important, we have always responded from them well,” said Carle.
For a 30-win team, Denver has faced an influx of adversity, whether it’s the injury bug or losing critical games or even losing the No. 1 rank in the nation, but they have bounced back after every road block during the season.
No. 2 St. Cloud State Huskies
#2 St. Cloud State University
Top Scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):
Jami Krannila (Senior) 19-18-37
Grant Cruikshank (Grad. Student) 21-11-32
Zach Okabe (Senior) 16-16-32
Goaltender: Jaxson Castor (Senior) 11-7-2/2.19/.918
Team Outlook: St. Cloud State will be the lone Minnesota team making the short trip to St. Paul. The Huskies had to go through their in-state rival University of Minnesota-Duluth, which took all three games as UMD won on Saturday March 11, but St. Cloud won Sunday March 12 by a score of 5-1 in the deciding game. Eighth-ranked SCSU will be making their sixth appearance in the Frozen Faceoff and first and since 2021 when it was held in Grand Forks. The Huskies last won the NCHC title in 2016 when it was held in St. Paul.
The Huskies, like Denver is a team that has been the No.1-ranked team in the nation and lost it the next week. They have been through losing skids but have also gone on extended winning streaks. They have also beat Denver twice Jan. 20-21 and outscored the Pioneers 9-3.
Fith-year senior and captain Spencer Meier said the team’s camaraderie has played a big role in their success.
“Were such a close-knit group, whether were going bowling or something we are always together”, Said Meier. “It’s so fun going to the rink every day because everyone wants to work towards that goal that we have in mind”. Meier talks about how close this Huskies team is.
St. Cloud State may be the only local squad, but with how loyal the University of North Dakota fanbase is and it being St. Patrick Day, it could be a green wave in St. Paul on March 17.
“You just play, and we love that atmosphere, and you never know our fans travel well too, but we know they have a great fanbase too so we look forward to playing in these loud and electric environments. And it’s fun to silence the crowd too,” Said Meier.
Head Coach Brett Larson talked to media on Tuesday, March 14, and talked about important it is for his team to have depth.
“It’s cliché but it’s a next man up mentality when someone go down with injury, and when you go through tough times it gives a chance for another guy to develop,” Said Larson.
The Huskies have two very good goalies who have stepped up in big times.
“It’s a good problem to have” said Larson. “Picking the starter is going to be difficult this week.”
The Huskies are looking to get their second Frozen Faceoff title, but they also have their sights set on a national title, especially after getting so close in the past couple years.
No. 3 North Dakota Fighting Hawks
#3 University of North Dakota
Top Scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):
Jackson Blake (Freshman) 16-25-41
Riese Gaber (Junior) 20-17-37
Chris Jandric (Grad. Student) 4-29-33
Goaltender: Drew DeRidder (Fifth Year) 13-8-4/2.52/.901
Team Outlook: The University of North Dakota has expectations of a national championship every year, and they seem to always be in the mix, but this season has been unusual for the Fighting Hawks.
“It was a challenging year, but our guys embraced it. There are different ways to get to the national tournament and our way is to win this Frozen Faceoff,” said head coach Brad Berry.
The Fighting Hawks have been to eight of nine NCHC Frozen Faceoffs since it became a tournament and have a lone win in 2021 on home ice at Ralph Englestad Arena. This time around they will be fighting not only for the NCHC title but for a ticket to the NCAA Regionals.
A glaring issue early in the season was the amount of goals that were being let in.
“It’s not on the shoulders of the goalies, its about the five defenders in front of him, and when he was better so was our team,” said Berry.
It took three games for No. 6-seed UND to get past No. 3-seed Omaha, losing game one 2-1 but winning the next two on Saturday March 11 and Sunday March 12 to punch their ticket to St. Paul. They will face the lone Minnesota team in St. Cloud State who they have faced four times during the season, with the Huskies going 2-1-1 over the Fighting Hawks.
“Depth of the team is the most important thing in the tournament,” Berry said when asked about what will separate these two teams when they face each other.
Being one of the most historical hockey programs in college hockey, UND will have many fans filling the Xcel Energy Center.
“We know we will have a lot of fans and family down there, but our focus is about what we have to do to win games,” Said Berry.
The University of North Dakota will have to embrace being the underdog, something they may not be used to in years past, but college hockey fans know that with a historically strong program and a rabid fan base, the Fighting Hawks can never be counted out.
NCHC Top Scorers
|1||Polin, Jason (Western Michigan)||38||29|
|2||Mazur, Carter (Denver)||38||22|
|3||Cruikshank, Grant (St. Cloud State)||37||21|
|4||Steeves, Ben (Minnesota Duluth)||35||21|
|5||Gaber, Riese (North Dakota)||38||20|
|6||McKown, Hunter (Colorado College)||36||20|
|7||Krannila, Jami (St. Cloud State)||37||19|
|8||Randl, Jack (Omaha)||37||18|
|9||Rizzo, Massimo (Denver)||36||17|
|10||Okabe, Zach (St. Cloud State)||37||16|
|1||McAllister, Ryan (Western Michigan)||38||35|
|2||Rizzo, Massimo (Denver)||36||29|
|3||Jandric, Chris (North Dakota)||38||29|
|4||Sasson, Max (Western Michigan)||37||27|
|5||Blake, Jackson (North Dakota)||38||25|
|6||Thompson, Aidan (Denver)||30||22|
|7||Peart, Jack (St. Cloud State)||35||21|
|8||Miettinen, Veeti (St. Cloud State)||37||21|
|9||Weiss, Tyler (Omaha)||37||21|
|10||Dornbach, Casey (Denver)||38||21|
|1||McAllister, Ryan (Western Michigan)||38||48|
|2||Polin, Jason (Western Michigan)||38||46|
|3||Rizzo, Massimo (Denver)||36||46|
|4||Sasson, Max (Western Michigan)||37||42|
|5||Blake, Jackson (North Dakota)||38||41|
|6||Krannila, Jami (St. Cloud State)||37||37|
|7||Mazur, Carter (Denver)||38||37|
|8||Gaber, Riese (North Dakota)||38||37|
|9||Randl, Jack (Omaha)||37||34|
|10||Dornbach, Casey (Denver)||38||34|