Sunday, 6 April 2008

And Then There Were Four

The NCAA Frozen Four Men's Hockey Championship takes place this coming weekend in Denver, Colorado at the Pepsi Center, and will have some of the best collegiate-level players on Earth showing off their skills for NHL scouts while they make a drive for hockey supremacy. In recent NHL drafts, there has been an increasing amount of players who have been selected by teams - a reflection of the high level of skill possessed by the players as well as a reflection of the collegiate game itself. Guys like Paul Kariya, Jonathan Toews, Matt Carle, Kyle Okposo, Phil Kessel, Ryan Miller, Mike Komisarek and Chris Higgins have all come to the NHL via the NCAA. The Frozen Four finalists this year look to add to the impressive list of NHL talent that graduated from the collegiate ranks.

From the East Regional tournament came the Michigan Wolverines with a season record of 32-5-4. The Wolverines defeated Clarkson 2-0 on March 29 to advance to Denver. The CCHA champions are ranked #1 out of the four remaining teams, and will play the fourth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Thursday, April 10. Senior forward Kevin Porter led the Wolverines in scoring this season with 33 goals and 62 points. His 15 powerplay goals were also tops on the Wolverines, making him a scoring threat whenever he's on the ice.

Secondary scoring is provided by senior forward Chad Kolarik, and freshman forwards Max Pacioretty and Aaron Palushaj. Defensively, the Wolverines are led by junior Mark Mitera and freshman Chad Langlais. Junior Billy Sauer went 30-4-3 in between the pipes for Michigan while recording a 1.89 GAA and four shutouts.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish gained a berth in the Frozen Four in Denver by winning the West Regional tournament with a 3-1 victory over the Michigan State Spartans. They have a record of 26-15-4 on the season thus far, and will square off against the Michigan Wolverines at the Pepsi Center on April 10. Led by junior centreman Eric Condra's 38-point season, the Irish have a balanced attack.

Sophomore winger Ryan Thang led the Irish with 17 goals, and the Irish had four more players in double-digits for goals. Thang and senior winger Mark Van Guilder led the team in powerplay goals with seven apiece. Sophomore Kyle Dawson led the charge from the defensive group with 25 points on the season. Junior goaltender Jordan Pearce goes into the Frozen Four sporting a record of 22-14-4 with a 1.95 GAA and two shutouts.

The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux qualified for the Frozen Four by defeating the Wisconsin Badgers 3-2 in overtime to secure the Midwest Regional title. The Sioux come into the Frozen Four with a record of 28-10-4, and will play Boston College on April 10. The Sioux are led by junior forward TJ Oshie with 18 goals and 45 points, but have three players who tied for the goal-scoring lead with 18 - Oshie, and junior forwards Ryan Duncan and Andrew Kozek.

Sophomore defenceman Chay Genoway and senior defenceman Robbie Bina lead the way on the blueline with 29 and 25 points respectively, good for fourth and fifth in team scoring. Senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux comes into the Frozen Four with a record of 27-10-4 while sporting a 1.64 GAA with six shutouts.

The Boston College Eagles qualified for the Frozen Four by defeating the University of Miami in Ohio 4-3 in overtime to secure the Northeast Regional title. The Eagles sport a record of 23-11-8, and take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux in the Frozen Four semi-final on April 10. Junior forward Nathan Gerbe leads the Eagles in goals with 30, and in points with 60. The Eagles sport a formidable offensive attack, having 13 players with points in double-digits, and six with 30 or more points.

Sophomore forward Ben Smith leads the team in powerplay goals with 10, but there are 12 players who have a powerplay goal on the team. Defensively, sophomore Carl Sneep leads the way with 14 points, while junior defenceman Anthony Aiello has 13 points. Freshman goaltender John Muse is the only goalie to have played for the Eagles this season, posting that 23-11-8 record while sporting a 2.26 GAA and three shutouts.

The NCAA Frozen Four Skill Competition also goes this upcoming weekend on April 11. It will be played in an East vs. West format, and features six male position players, six female position players, as well as two male goalies and two female goalies, on each side. The only qualifications in terms of eligibility for the Frozen Four Skills Competition are that all players must have exhausted their collegiate eligibility and be nominated by their head coach. The events the players will compete in are puck control relay, fastest skater, hardest shot, rapid fire shooting and penalty shot. Each competitor will also receive a complete set of equipment and a full uniform from Nike Bauer Hockey.

An alternate list has been established in the event that players have to withdraw from the competition due to other commitments, such as their team's participation in the Men's Frozen Four.

The six male skaters on the East squad include Luke Flicek of Army, Michael Brennan of Boston College, Pete MacArthur of Boston University, Jesse Winchester of Colgate, Jon Rheault of Providence, and Jake Morissette of RPI. The goaltenders selected are Kevin Regan of New Hampshire and David Leggio from Clarkson.

The West team is led by Kevin Porter of Michigan, Jimmy Kilpatrick of Colorado College, Andrew Thomas of Denver, Bryan Lerg of Michigan State, Tommy Goebel of Ohio State, and Mike Forgie of Wayne State in Michigan. The West goaltenders will be Kyle Jones of St. Norbert and Peter Mannino of Denver.

The six female skaters who make up the East team are Hayley Moore of Brown, Jaclyn Hawkins of Connecticut, Martine Garland of New Hampshire, Jennifer Hitchcock of New Hampshire, Marykate Oakley of Princeton, and Sabrina Harbec of St. Lawrence. The goalies will be Sarah Perry of Sacred Heart and Meghan Guckian of St. Lawrence.

The West female skaters are Tessa Bonhomme of Ohio State, Courtney DeHoey of Lake Forest, Karine Demeule of Minnesota-Duluth, Bobbi Ross of Minnesota, Shannon Moulson of Niagara, and Laura Fast of St. Cloud State. The goaltenders competing are Laura Hosier of Mercyhurst and Britni Kehler of Minnesota State-Mankato.

The Hobey Baker Award will also be awarded that night. The three male finalists are junior Boston College forward Nathan Gerbe, senior Miami University forward Ryan Jones, and senior Michigan forward Kevin Porter. All three are extremely deserving finalists as all showed the passion for the game necessary to become a star in the professional ranks.

With everything going on in the world of hockey this week, I'll have more updates coming up. The IIHF Sledge Hockey World Championships and Women's World Hockey Championships will be updated, as well as the NHL Playoff picture, the AHL Calder Cup Championships, and a new contest! Stay tuned!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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