PITTSBURGH, PA -- There are a few reasons the Yale Bulldogs are considered underdogs in the 2013 Frozen Four.
First of all, the squad is facing off against the UMass Lowell River Hawks - ranked No. 1 in their region - in today's semi-final. The River Hawks are unbeaten in their last seven outings, won the Hockey East Tournament and are led by freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The netminder has been rock solid all year, posting a .953 save percentage, a 1.31 GAA and six shutouts through 23 games.
Secondly, this is Yale's first tournament appearance in 61 years and while they boast a 20-12-3 record, going over six decades without a Frozen Four appearance despite making the NCAA Tournament four times in the last five years dampens your chances of being labelled anything but an underdog. After all, if you couldn't get over the hurdle all of those years, who would expect you to make it very far when you've cleared once in 61 years?
Thirdly, Yale hasn't had a ton of success when facing UMass Lowell in the past. The River Hawks have won eight of the last 11 meetings between the two teams, including their last game in 1999 which saw UMass Lowell edge Yale 2-1 at Ingalls Rink.
But those factors mean nothing to the boys sitting on the Yale bench.
"I personally don't see us as underdogs," Calgary product Colin Dueck stated on Wednesday. "I think people might choose different teams for different reasons, but I think we're very confident coming in we've played some pretty good teams in Grand Rapids, and we came out of that.
"So like I said, we're riding some confidence, and we're just going to do what we do. We're going to play our game and worry about us."
Head coach Keith Allain shares the senior defenceman's conviction.
"I think any team here can win it and I like our chances."
Yale has good reason to have a bit of swagger to their step right now. The Bulldogs dispatched Frozen Four favourites Minnesota and North Dakota in the opening two rounds, outscoring their opponents 7-3 and outshooting them 64-53. Those two opponents? Not only did they combine for 12 national championships and 39 Frozen Four appearances, they also possessed some of the nation's most lethal offensive corps.
"I think we've beaten some really good teams this year, and we've lost to some good teams," forward Andrew Miller said on Wednesday. "But the Frozen Four, obviously that shows that you're a good team so you can't take anybody lightly."
Yale's well-rounded offence has played a big part in their success this year. They truly define the term scoring by committee; the seniors have accounted for 34 goals, the juniors have netted 33, the sophomores have recorded 19 while the freshman class have chipped in with 13.
Calgary Flames prospect Kenny Agostino led the way for the Bulldogs with 17 goals and 40 points in 35 games. The junior, who is considered an All-American candidate, was 14th in the nation with a 1.14 points-per-game average. He scored two goals in opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament, which is tied for the team lead in the tournament thus far.
"Kenny's a great left winger, incredibly skilled, a great shot and great passer," Miller said of his teammate. "He works so hard day in and day out, and he's so excited to be at the rink. There is a great quality about him, his personality and his work ethic. "
In addition to their success as a team this year, several individuals have been honoured for their performance in 2012-13. Three players were named to the All-ECAC Team (First-Team: Miller, Second-Team: Agostino, Rookie: Ryan Obuchowski), four were named to the All-Ivy Team (First-Team: Miller, Second-Team: Antoine Laganiere; Agostino, H.M: Tommy Fallen), Agostino landed on the All-New England Team and three skaters earned NCAA West Regional All-Tournament honours (MVP: Jesse Root, Forward: Agostino, Defence: Gus Young).
Today's semi-final between Yale and UMass Lowell takes place at 2:30 PM MT and is broadcast on ESPN2 and Dial Global Radio.