A great weekend of NCAA tournament came to a close Sunday night with the Frozen Four field finalized. After 12 exciting games, Union, Boston College, Minnesota and North Dakota are all that remain. Three No. 1 seeds and one of the strongest No. 4s in recent memory.
The stage is set for an absolutely terrific show in Philadelphia in a few weeks with one of the strongest Frozen Four fields in recent memory. It’s also a final weekend rife with storylines like historic rivals Minnesota and North Dakota, having not played in the regular season in the first year of realignment, will meet on the largest stage the college game has to offer. On the other side, two of the highest scoring teams in the country will go head-to-head as Union and Boston College have explosive lineups.
The weekend also represented the end for a lot of great college hockey players. Some will graduate, others will leave school early for pro contracts, but there’s no question that each team and each player offered college hockey fans yet another fantastic showcase for what makes this segment of hockey so darn fun.
Coming up after the jump, a quick look at the highlights from regional weekend, recapping Johnny Gaudreau’s virtuoso performance in Worcester, one last look at top college UFA Christian Folin and more.
Since you can read plenty of solid recaps around the internet, I just wanted to touch on some highlights…
The nature of the regional portion of the college hockey national tournament makes it difficult for the best teams to always make it to the end of the season. To me, it was abundantly clear that Minnesota, Boston College and Union were the three best teams in the country. All of them will be in Philadelphia.
North Dakota was a No. 4 seed, but in name only. UND’s early-season slump nearly cost them a spot in the tournament. Losing to Miami in the NCHC tournament semifinal put their tournament hopes in grave peril. However, by winning the consolation game the following day and getting help from Wisconsin beating Ohio State preventing the Buckeyes from earning an auto-bid, North Dakota made the tournament.
In one of college hockey’s great dramatic twists, North Dakota scored a late go-ahead goal and added two empty-netters against Wisconsin to knock the Big Ten champs out of the tournament. UND then got outplayed almost the entire game against Ferris State before scoring the game-winner early in the second overtime period.
The one thing you can always say about North Dakota is that they’ll fight tooth and nail for every inch. They did enough to win and set up a highly anticipated matchup with archrival Minnesota, after going through the whole season without a meeting between these two heated foes. That should be an absolutely thrilling nightcap for the Frozen Four.
Aside from both North Dakota games, St. Cloud State-Notre Dame was a fantastic contest in which SCSU showed that sometimes its not about the number of chances you get, but the ones you bury. They were badly out-shot all game and managed to get past a Notre Dame club that probably felt they deserve to win after carrying play. Ryan Faragher made a game-saving stop on Vince Hinostroza in overtime for the Huskies and Nic Dowd’s rocket to win it was an incredible exclamation point on one of the weekend’s best games.
The other game that really grabbed my attention was UMass-Lowell vs. Boston College. It was a great punch, counter-punch type game that was physical, fast and just overall very fun to watch.
I thought the River Hawks were the only team that was going to be capable of slowing down BC’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes. They held that line in check for a lot of the game, but the trio managed a pair of goals anyway.
That line accounted for eight of BC’s 10 goals this weekend, but the two biggest tallies came off the sticks of freshmen Ryan Fitzgerald and Ian McCoshen. The Eagles needed other players to step up to take the pressure off of that top line and Fitzgerald’s game-tying goal less than a minute after UMass-Lowell took the lead was a huge one. McCoshen stepping into the play for the game-winner was a well-placed shot in a high-pressure situation.
The four goals BC scored represented just the second time this season that UMass-Lowell sophomore goalie allowed more than three all year. The Eagles earned that trip to Philadelphia as UMass-Lowell was more than up to the task to make it a tough road.
It was a great weekend for college hockey with so many fun games to watch. All but two games aired live on either ESPNU or ESPN2 and attendance appeared to be up this year compared to more recent regionals, so that was good to see as well.
Play of the Tournament
The play of the entire weekend as far as I’m concerned was the remarkable defensive effort by Shayne Gostisbehere to keep Providence from scoring into an open net. Gostisbehere said he played goalie in youth hockey briefly and played some in ball hockey last year as he told College Hockey News and you can see why. CJ Fogler with the video here:
That’s four saves the defenseman made with goalie Colin Stevens sprawled out. Those are the kinds of plays that help teams win championships.
At that point in the game, it kept Union ahead 1-0 and sucked some life out of Providence. Gostisbehere is a great puck-mover, but he does not get enough credit for his ability in his own zone. His defensive awareness is a big key to his D-zone success. It showed there.
Johnny’s Big Weekend
Johnny Gaudreau, you are ridiculous. Eight points in two games in the regionals this weekend including a six-point effort against his former junior coach and current Denver bench boss Jim Montgomery.
After Boston College’s 6-2 thrashing of the Pioneers in which Gaudreau had a hat trick and three assists, Montgomery was asked what his team is going to need going forward. “John Gaudreau,” he said. Gaudreau put up 72 points in 60 games for Montgomery’s Dubuque Fighting Saints en route to the Clark Cup title, so he knows.
Now a junior, Gaudreau has surpassed his USHL point total from three years ago, only this time he needed just 39 games to do it. The dynamic forward now has 77 points while leading the country with 35 goals and 42 assists as well. There are only two games in which he did not get on the scoresheet. He also has 21 multi-point games. The Hobey Baker was locked up a long time ago. Everything else is just a bonus.
Gaudreau has potentially two more games to keep adding to his total. His 77 points are already the most in the last decade of college hockey. He’s five points shy of the 82 Peter Sejna scored in 2002-03 for Colorado College en route to the Hobey Baker. That same year Chris Kunitz, now of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the of Ferris State, had 79 points.
Considering no one will touch the records of bygone eras of college hockey (the 1970s through early 1990s were very goal friendly), what Gaudreau is doing is mind-boggling. Last year’s leading scorer was Rylan Schwartz with 53 points, the year before that it was Spencer Abbott with 62 and Andy Miele had 71 the year before that. Gaudreau’s blowing every one of those out of the water now.
By the way, the second leading scorer in the country this year is Gaudreau’s linemate, Kevin Hayes, who has 63 points. So he’s doing pretty well too, eh?
Though this didn’t end up as a goal or assist, this was among the better Gaudreau moments from the regionals. Just goes to show he’ll do anything to score. GIF via @cjzero.
With all the praise Gaudreau has gotten, it’s easy to forget about his linemates, but Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold are also having remarkable seasons. In the years I’ve been following or covering college hockey, I’ve never seen a trio dominate quite like they have.
Over the weekend, Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes had eight of the 10 goals Boston College scored.
When you combine the point totals of all three (Arnold has 52), you come up with 192 points. Not all of those have come together as they weren’t together as a line all season, but when you have a group like that, no team can touch them.
As I noted above, I thought UMass-Lowell would be the only team with the personnel and system to contain them and they couldn’t stop BC’s trio from scoring twice, despite the fact they played them tough most of the game.
We may never see anything quite like this in a long time. Now we get to see how they fare on college hockey’s biggest stage. Should be fun.
Christian Folin on the Clock
With UMass-Lowell’s season now complete, NHL teams will be lining up to sign top college free agent Christian Folin. The 23-year-old sophomore from Gothenburg, Sweden is garnering a lot of interest. It won’t be the level that Danny DeKeyser got last year, because some teams don’t have contracts to spare, but it will be close.
Folin has not yet confirmed that he’ll even be coming out of school, but it’s hard to see him staying.
Reports have pegged around 20 or more teams vying for the 6-3, 210-pound defenseman. I wrote at length about Folin over at CBSSports.com, but I figured I’d expand a little bit here.
For Folin, time is of the essence if he wants to get into a game this year to burn a year off his entry-level contract. All he needs to do is play in one NHL game before the end of the season and he’ll be a restricted free agent by the end of next season.
For teams interested in Folin, this is not necessarily the most desirable situation, but it’s the cost of doing business. Since every team can offer the same amount of money, teams willing to allow Folin to get into a game to burn that first year with minimal work, give themselves a bargaining chip at the negotiating table.
It’s not just about burning a year for Folin, however. He needs to go somewhere that is a good fit for him. By all accounts, Folin is ready for an NHL job now. He probably isn’t ready to carry a heavy workload yet, but getting some quick NHL experience this year to get a taste and developing over next year should allow him to continue making positive steps in his development.
I’ve seen reports that scouts are projecting Folin to be a No. 4 or No. 5 defenseman. That’s probably his ceiling, but a No. 4 is about 18-20 minutes a night against quality competition. So that’s why there is a long line.
Folin has good size and strength. His mobility and footwork are sound and make him tough to get around. He battles well enough around the walls, though I think most teams would like to see him be a bit more punishing with his frame. Folin certainly doesn’t shy away from contact and every once in a while he’s good for a big hit. His puck-moving ability is solid, but I think it’s his patience with the puck that really makes him effective. Additionally, his poise defensively and with the puck on his stick is what makes him an attractive option for the pro game. There is no panic in him, regardless of competition and he often sees teams’ top lines.
There will be a learning curve, no doubt. He’s a very late bloomer, having really only started garnering pro interest in his early 20s. He still has some learning to do, but I think he has a good feel for the game and makes a lot of sound decisions now. That will only continue to improve as he gets experience.
His frame, poise and mobility all suggest he can make an instant impact in the NHL, even if it’s a small one to start.
College UFAs almost always get over-hyped. That’s not their fault. It seems most fans don’t understand that just because every team wants to sign a player it doesn’t mean he’s going to be a star. The ability to attract a possible everyday roster player for the low price of an entry-level contract is why there’s so much interest.
Sometimes teams hit a home run and get a guy who becomes a star of their team like Martin St. Louis eventually did, though not with the team he signed with as a UFA (Sorry, Calgary). Other times, teams are getting guys that become key components of their team like Matt Read and Tyler Bozak and more recently Torey Krug and Danny DeKeyser.
If Folin hits his projection of being a No. 4 defenseman, that’s a guy that plays an important role. Even if he ends up as a No. 5, he’s still getting a semi-regular shift. If you can get that for as low a price as the ELC, it’s a no-brainer. Plus, considering the fact that Folin’s first NHL season is probably going to be a learning process, his first RFA deal should be extremely affordable as a bridge-style contract.
Teams that have been publicly connected to be pursuing Folin most aggressively are the Philadelphia Flyers,
Tampa Bay Lightning (Lightning reportedly out of the running) and Edmonton Oilers. The Washington Capitals have also reportedly expressed interest and I think the Minnesota Wild should be making a push as well after striking out on both Greg and Matt Carey.
I don’t have much inside info on this one, but I’m picking the Flyers as the favorite. Their drafted defense prospects are more long-range than Folin at this point. And it’s no secret the Flyers D corps needs some retooling, even though they’ve surged into the second half of the season. It’s a play-now situation for Folin and he actually would help their team right away, even though he wouldn’t be eligible for the playoffs.
For teams that lose out on Folin, here are some backup plan options on the UFA D market. They aren’t as surefire NHL-ready guys as Folin, but could fill out some depth for a few organizations:
David Makowski — Denver — The senior defenseman had a great season with 10 goals and 24 points. He finished with 93 points in 142 career games, but was an all-situations defenseman for the Pioneers. His puck-moving skills are sound and he has a bomb from the point. At 6-1, 205, his size is fine. One concern may be his skating, but it’s only a moderate one. Makowski would be due a one-year deal, which is a fairly low-risk investment for a team looking for defensive help. Odds are, he’d need some time in the AHL, but his puck-moving skills and smarts give him a shot at the NHL.
Shayne Taker — Notre Dame — Taker really developed into a strong defenseman in his four years at Notre Dame. His offensive game has really come the furthest along as he handles the puck and moves it much better today than he did four years ago. At 6-4, 208, he has the desired size, though I think he could tack on just a little bit more weight to ensure he can keep up a physical game with the big boys in the pros. I’ve been most impressed with the development in his skating as well. His mobility makes him more effective and he’s not at all afraid to throw his weight around. Taker was a big part of one of the best defensive teams in the country this year. At 24 years old, he’d only be eligible to sign a one-year ELC. Taker is still a bit raw, but there’s good potential left in him, too.
Mat Bodie (pictured) — Union — One of the better offensive-minded defensemen in college hockey, Bodie has been a force for Union. He has 35 points as a senior, his career best. Bodie is a terrific skater with quickness throughout the ice. He finds seams well and has a good, quick release on his shot. The big concern is his size. He’s 6-0, 165, which is not ideal obviously. The success Torey Krug is having in the NHL this year, however, may help Bodie’s cause. Krug had 37 points in his junior season with Michigan State before signing as UFA. Union made the Frozen Four, so Bodie won’t be available until after the NHL regular season concludes.
I’ll have full Frozen Four coverage over the next two weeks. Also, be sure to follow the continually-updated college free agent tracker here as more signings should be coming, particularly after Folin signs.