After March Madness is over, NCAA fans will go into single-elimination tournament withdrawal. Thankfully, the Frozen Four will take place a few days after the conclusion of the 2014 men’s basketball championship.
On April 10, ESPN2 will air some of the most exciting competition collegiate sports has to offer when Minnesota takes on North Dakota and Union faces Boston College in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament, the equivalent of the Final Four.
The Frozen Four will prove to be an unforgettable tournament finish as three number one seeds still remain in competition. The matchup between Union and Boston College, both ranked as one seeds, features two teams that won their respective conferences during the regular season. Minnesota and North Dakota, meanwhile, are traditional rivals and have met nearly three hundred times in their schools’ histories. While Minnesota is a one seed, North Dakota is a four seed — the lowest available seed in the 16-team tournament.
Union is the only remaining team not to have won a NCAA men’s hockey championship, but the small Schenectady, N.Y. college has enjoyed a high degree of success the last two seasons and is steadily advancing closer to winning the coveted Championship.
Minnesota won back to back championships in 2002 and 2003 under its current Head Coach Don Lucia, but has not returned to the championship game since. It was the number one ranked team in college hockey 17 times this season, before being edged out by Union in the final poll of the year.
North Dakota last won a title in 2000 and has been a top program since then, despite losing the finals in 2001 and 2005.
Boston College under Head Coach Jerry York, however, has been the gold standard of college hockey since the turn of millennium, reaching the Frozen Four nine times since 2000 and winning the championship in 2001, 2008, 2010 and 2012. This season, it boasts a red-hot Hobey Baker award favorite in junior forward Johnny Gaudreau and a loaded roster that propelled them to a mid-season 19-game winning streak. Although they lost three of their final four games heading into the tournament, the Eagles still have players from the 2012 championship roster.
While the tournament semifinals will showcase four highly successful teams and pit two sets of hockey-crazed, geographically proximate schools against one another, these games could also be important to NHL franchises. Although the Canada’s OHL and other junior hockey leagues are the primary suppliers of young talent to the National Hockey League, but 30 percent of today’s NHL players were developed in the NCAA.
Boston College features 10 players on its roster who were selected in the NHL draft, including Kevin Hayes and Michael Matheson, first-round picks of the Blackhawks and Panthers, respectively.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has had 14 of its players selected in the NHL draft, including Brady Skjei, who the Rangers selected 28th overall in 2012.
North Dakota also boasts 14 players selected in the draft, including the Blues’ 2012 first round pick, Jordan Schmaltz.
And, finally, while Union only has one player who was selected in the NHL draft, it has a roster loaded with talent and has consistently been one of college hockey’s premier teams the past two years and finished this season ranked number one in the country.
The talent pool in this year’s finals is not only off the charts, but college hockey’s amateurism makes the sport less predictable, more passionate and more competitive. Similar to the difference between college basketball and the NBA, college hockey players seem to show more personal ties to the college team that they chose to play for, rather than the professional team that pays them millions of dollars.
When basketball is over, take a chance and check out the Frozen Four. Hockey’s growth as a sport is reflected in the responses to the exciting 2014 Sochi Olympics, the continual spike in viewership for the NHL playoffs each year and the growth of the sport among domestic and international youth. The 16 NCAA tournament participants this year have been a direct indicator of this growth, showcasing players from six countries, 31 states, the District of Columbia and six Canadian Provinces.
The sport is growing because it is exciting, and you will be hard pressed to find more exciting hockey than the Frozen Four. Sharpen your skates, tape your stick, buckle your chinstrap and get ready for the dazzling goals, big hits and amazing saves that these last three games are guaranteed to showcase.
Matt Castaldo is a junior in the College. More Than A Game appears every Tuesday.