PITTSBURGH, PA -- After defying the odds and silencing critics with stellar play this season, the Yale Bulldogs and Quinnipiac Bobcats will step onto collegiate hockey's grandest stage tonight as they compete for the NCAA National Championship at the Frozen Four.
The two schools, separated by a 20 minute drive, are quite familiar with each other given the proximity of their campuses and both being rooted in Connecticut. However, the rivalry aspect of tonight's championship match-up hasn't altered either team's preparation as they focus on getting ready to play the biggest game of their college careers.
"We have a game plan set up for tomorrow, and we're ready to work hard," Yale forward Antoine Laganiere said on Thursday afternoon. "So nothing changes."
Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who was key in Quinnipiac's 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State on Thursday, dubbed the rivalry factor irrelevant.
"Right now both teams are competing for a National Championship, and that's kind of what comes first. Obviously, they are our rivals, but I don't think anyone's thinking about that. They're thinking about winning a National Championship."
Heading into the tilt, Quinnipiac holds the edge when it comes to head-to-head history. In addition to being winners of all three games played against Yale this year, the Bobcats are 4-0-1 in their last five contests against the Bulldogs. In 2012-13, the Bobcats outscored the Bulldogs 13-3.
"I think it also goes out the window," Samuels-Thomas said of the 2012-13 season series. "The Yale team that we're going to face tomorrow night is completely different than the team we played earlier in the year.
"They're clicking on all cylinders at the right time, from goaltending to defence and offence. So I think our record against them doesn't matter."
Yale has also erased the previous three games from their memories.
"I think during an NCAA Tournament game, first of all, what happened in the regular season in the playoffs doesn't really matter at this point," Laganiere shrugged. "It's a whole new time. I also believe that if we can do little things like we talked about earlier and stay focused on our task and our game plan and get a lot of pucks low and get to rebounds and get some traffic in front of the goalie, we'll be successful."
Calgary Flames prospect Kenny Agostino leads Yale in scoring this season with 17 goals and 40 points. He was held off the scoresheet on Thursday but was a force to be reckoned with, grinding out UMass Lowell defenders, reeking havoc in front of the net and wiring shots on goalie Connor Hellebuyck as often as he could.
Yale will be counting on their top line, consisting of Agostino, Andrew Miller and Jesse Root, to break through Quinnipiac's top-ranked defence. The Bobcats allowed, on average, 1.62 goals-per-game this season and their defensive corps has four seniors acting as pillars on the blueline. Bobcats head coach Bob Motzko noted that his rearguards have to keep a handle on Agostino, Root and Miller if they want to be successful.
"They've got some high end players from what I watched (Thursday)," he said in his post-practice press conference on Friday. "And I have watched the Minnesota and North Dakota games they won, and I thought Agostino was great. Miller does what he does; he's really good. And Root does what he does. That's a great first line."
While he was pleased with his team's forechecking and offensive prowess on Thursday, Agostino pointed to Yale's defence-first mentality as the reason for the Bulldogs success against UMass Lowell and said that mindset won't change against Quinnipiac.
"We're really sound defensively. I think that led to a lot of offensive chances on Thursday and generated some goals.
"Quinnipiac is a great hockey team so you have to respect their offensive capabilities and their goalie. So, for us, we have to be defensively sound and get traffic, bodies in front of their goalie to score some ugly goals."
The puck drops at 5:00 PM MT and @NHLFlames will be live-tweeting the game for fans who want to keep up with Agostino and Yale at the Frozen Four.