NCAA Frozen Four Preview: College hockey’s best come to Pittsburgh

College hockey: yeah, it’s a ‘Burgh thing!

Robert Morris University and the Pittsburgh Penguins have teamed up to grow the sport in our area for some time, and the success of the Three Rivers Classic in December now leads to the spotlight of the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four this week at Consol Energy Center. It will mark the first time that the men’s NCAA hockey champion will be crowned in the Keystone State.

On Thursday the Yale Bulldogs, from the ECAC, will take on the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks, from Hockey East, at 4:30 p.m. ET. Then, the nightcap will see the Saint Cloud State Huskies, from the WCHA, drop the puck with the Quinnipiac Bobcats, from the ECAC, at 8 p.m. ET. Both of Thursday’s games will be carried live on ESPN2.

On Saturday, April 13, the two winners will play for the National Championship at 7 p.m. ET, and the game will be seen live on ESPN.

None of the Frozen Four participants has ever won the National Championship in men’s ice hockey. Yale’s only Final Four appearance was back in 1952. The first team to ever win a national championship in its first-ever Frozen Four appearance was Cornell back in 1967. The last team to win a national title in its first Frozen Four appearance in the modern era was Lake Superior State in 1988. Three teams will have the chance to add to NCAA history this week in Pittsburgh. It should be noted that from 1948 to 1976, only four teams would compete in the NCAA Tournament.

All four coaches are 2012-2013 American Hockey Coaches Association Spencer Penrose Award finalists for coach of the year. Yale coach Keith Allain, UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin and St Cloud coach Bob Motzko are all alums of their respective schools.

For the record, the number of college hockey players playing in the NHL topped the 300 mark during the 2011-2012 season. According to the nonprofit group College Hockey Inc., the number of college players in the NHL has increased by 34 percent in just over a decade. With the addition of the Penn State men’s hockey program this season, there are 59 schools playing Division 1 hockey.

BULLDOG BITS: Yale is 20-13-2 under head coach Keith Allain coming in to the Frozen Four. The Bulldogs set course for Pittsburgh by defeating Minnesota in overtime 3-2 in the West Regional semifinal, and then by putting four goals on the scoreboard in the final 7:35 of the third period against North Dakota. Yale took down UND 4-1.

Yale players to watch include junior forward Kenny Agostino, who leads the team with 17 goals, 23 assists for a total of 40 points, and senior forward Andrew Miller with 16 goals, 21 assists for 37 points. Senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm went 18-6-2 with a 2.35 goals-against-average. Junior forward Jesse Root, from Mt. Lebanon, was the West Regional Most Valuable Player.

RIVER HAWKS REINFORCEMENTS: Massachusetts-Lowell went 28-10-2 under head coach Norm Bazin. The River Hawks skated past Wisconsin 6-1 in the Northeast Regional semifinal, and then they shut out New Hampshire 2-0 to punch their ticket to the Frozen Four.

UMass-Lowell players to watch include sophomore forward Scott Wilson, who is tied with junior forward Joseph Pendenza for the team lead in points with 37 each. Wilson, a Penguins draft pick, had 16 goals and 21 assists while Pendenza had 14 goals and 23 assists. Another leader is senior forward and captain Riley Wetmore with 15 goals, 11 assists for 26 points. Freshmen goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was the Northeast Regional MVP with a 1.30 goals-against-average.

HUSKIES HAPPENINGS: St Cloud State went 25-15-1 under head coach Bob Motzko. The Huskies downed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 5-1 in the Midwest Regional semifinal, and then grounded the University of Miami (OH) Red Hawks 4-1 to get ready to head to the Frozen Four.

St Cloud State players to watch include senior forward Drew Le Blanc who led the team with 50 points on 13 goals and 37 assists. Junior forward Nic Dowd was second with 38 points on 14 goals and 24 assists. Sophomore goaltender Ryan Faragher went 24-14-1 with a 2.23 GAA. Freshman forward Joseph Benik was named the NCAA Midwest Regional MVP.

BOBCATS BULLETINS: Quinnipiac went 29-7-5 under head coach Rand Pecknold. The Bobcats clipped the Canisius Golden Griffins 4-3 in the East Regional semifinal and then defeated Union 5-1 to claim a spot in the Frozen Four.

Quinnipiac players to watch include senior forward Jeremy Langlois and sophomore forward Matthew Peca, who are tied for the team lead in points, with 30 each. Langlois had 12 goals and 18 assists, while Peca had 15 goals, 15 assists. Senior goaltender Eric Hartzell went 29-6-5 with a 1.55 GAA. Peca was also named the NCAA East Regional MVP.

CITY OF CHAMPIONS PREDICTION: I see UMass-Lowell and St Cloud State advancing to the title game on Saturday, and it will be the River Hawks who bring home their first national championship.

Topics: CONSOL Energy Center, NCAA Frozen Four, Pittsburgh Penguins

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