The final weekend of college hockey has arrived, and the Vegas Golden Knights will keep a close eye on the festivities.
Vegas draft picks Jack Dugan (Providence College) and Slava Demin (University of Denver) will be suiting up in the Frozen Four semifinals Thursday with hopes of reaching the national championship game. Recently signed Golden Knights defenseman Jimmy Schuldt is a top-three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the most outstanding player in NCAA hockey; the winner will be revealed at 3 p.m. PT Friday on NHL Network.
Providence will open the Frozen Four at 2 p.m. PT Thursday against reigning national champion Minnesota-Duluth at Buffalo's KeyBank Arena on ESPN2. Denver will take on the University of Massachusetts at 5:30 p.m. to set the stage for Saturday's national title game.
Demin and the Pioneers have put their defensive abilities on display so far in the NCAA tournament. After blanking Ohio State in a rematch of last year's Midwest Regional final, 2-0, Denver took down American International College, 3-0, to advance to the Frozen Four.
Dugan and the Friars reached the Frozen Four by defeating Minnesota State, 6-3, and Cornell 4-0, in the East Regional. Providence had a rocky road to reach the tournament as they received one of the final spots in college hockey's big dance. After losing in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament, Dugan said he and his teammates watched the conference championships with bated breath to see whether their season would continue.
"It was really disappointing to lose that because we realized we might not make the NCAA tournament," Dugan said. "We had to wait and watch to see if Northeastern would win Hockey East. That night was extremely nerve-wracking but once Northeastern won, we knew we were in."
Now that Providence has reached the Frozen Four, Dugan hopes to check off a box on his to-do list that has driven him to have such a strong freshman year.
"When I was drafted in 2017, I was asked why I wanted to go to Providence," said Dugan. "I picked Providence because I want to win a national championship. I fully believe that we can do it. We've always thought that we're a top-5 team in the nation and we've wanted to prove that all year long. We're hoping to prove that in Buffalo."
On Friday, Schuldt will be in Buffalo to attend the announcement of the 2019 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Awarded annually to the most outstanding player in NCAA hockey, the Hobey Baker is the ultimate individual prize in the sport, but Schuldt doesn't see it that way. He said that he's up for the award because of the work that his teammates did all season long to help him succeed.
"It's special because the other two guys (Cale Makar, UMass and Adam Fox, Harvard) that are up for the award are really good players," Schuldt said. "Being recognized with those two is a really cool thing. They've both made big impacts on their programs and I think I did my best to do the same thing at St. Cloud."
Whether Schuldt received the Hobey Baker or not, he's grateful to St. Cloud State for preparing him to play in the NHL immediately after his senior year came to an end.
"Playing college hockey was unreal," said Schuldt. "The speed of the game is fast, and the competition keeps getting better and better. Guys come in out of juniors and they're ready to play at a high level. That really prepares you because you have to think on your feet and be ready for anything."