Boston College vs. Union
eastern conference early semifinal, the Boston College Eagles put their top end scoring up against Union's puck possession strategy. This game comes down to one central question: can Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold take over this game and victimize the Union defense and goaltender Colin Stevens. That won't be an easy task.
Stevens has an awesome goals against average of 1.93, not to mention a veteran corps of defenders in front of him. Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere aren't exactly huge bodies that clog up shooting lanes, but they have a particular set of skills that might just slow down Gaudreau, Hayes, and Arnold: offense.
Bodie averages almost a full point per game, and Gostisbehere has 29 points in forty games. With that type of skill, you can be sure that Union will clear their own defensive zone with premise and elan and other fancy words. Based on their blogger-calculated possession numbers, we know that Union controls the puck well. Don't expect BC to plant themselves in the offensive zone all game.
If Union can play the game they want, which is to control the puck and neutralize BC's top line with their depth, they stand a very good chance of winning this game. Puck control translates into offensive zone time, and BC's Thatcher Demko is the weakest goaltender still standing.
BC hasn't exactly shot the lights out against teams with decent depth. They struggled terribly against Notre Dame towards the end of the season. Union has ten skaters with 20 points or more, meaning their second line is nearly as strong as their first, and their third line is pretty good too. BC also has quality second and third lines, but the first line eats up a ton of ice time and could get tired towards the end of the game while the Union skaters stay fresh.
In the end, I see Union eking this one out 3-2 in regulation, but it's going to get exciting in the last minute of the game with Demko on the bench and Gaudreau, Hayes, and Arnold pressing.
Minnesota vs. UND
North Dakota has fourteen NHL draft picks on their roster. While they might be the weakest overall team in this tournament, they are not talent-deprived. Their star forward is Rocco Grimaldi, followed closely by Michael Parks. After that, their scoring spreads out through the rest of the lineup.
In that regard, they are built very similarly to our Golden Gophers. Kyle Rau clearly leads Minnesota's scoring, followed by Sam Warning and Mike Reilly. After that, the scoring spreads out.
The difference between Minnesota and North Dakota on offense is this: Minnesota is simply better at scoring; almost a half-goal per game better. The Gophers scoring depth is just a little deeper.
North Dakota has a high quality goaltender in Zane Gothberg. His GAA is 1.99, and he stops almost 93% of the shots he faces.
In that regard, UND reminds me of our Golden Gophers. Adam Wilcox is possibly the best goaltender in the country. Depending on how the weekend goes, there might be a lot of people saying that he should have won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
The difference between Minnesota and North Dakota between the pipes is this: Minnesota has a better goaltender. Gothberg's numbers are good, but North Dakota did not consistently play against the cream of the college hockey crop this year.
As a team, Minnesota is better at keeping the puck out of the net; almost a half-goal per game better.
I can't honestly tell you that UND is bad team. They're not. They had another fantastic second half of a season and vaulted themselves into the NCAA tournament, albeit by the skin of their teeth. Here's the thing about UND, I don't think they were the best team to come out of the NCHC this year. I think St. Cloud State was better.
The Golden Gophers proved that they are nearly unstoppable against that same SCSU team. If Minnesota plays with that same calm intensity tonight, I don't think North Dakota stands a chance.
This game will be played evenly, and I don't think it will feature the checking fireworks that were a sure-thing in the previous 300+ games between these two teams, but Minnesota will lead comfortably most of the way. This one ends 4-1 in favor of Minnesota.
Your Frozen Four final: Minnesota vs. Union.