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Preview: NCAA Frozen Four

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers
Oilers prospect Taylor Chorney and the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux will face

Boston College today.
Anyone who has played in a Frozen Four can offer their unique perspective on what it was like to play in college hockey's biggest event.

"It's the main stage – the peak in college," said the Toronto Maple Leafs' Jason Blake about playing in the Frozen Four and winning a national championship with North Dakota in 1997. "The greatest moment in college sports on the ice. It was the best experience in my hockey career so far."

"The big thing is preparation," said Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Alberts, who played in the 2004 Frozen Four as a senior at Boston College. "Know your opponent and your strengths going in (and) play to those strengths. The biggest thing is controlling the emotion your opponent brings at this level."

"Both my years (at Michigan), we played in the Frozen Four," said Montreal's Mike Komisarek, whose Wolverines came up short of a 10th championship in '01 and '02. "So having another chance for them to win a national championship is sweet."

Next weekend, there will be three hockey games and a whole lot of energy and emotions unleashed by Boston College, North Dakota, Michigan and Notre Dame at college hockey's 2008 main stage: The Frozen Four, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Here's how the final four teams on the 2008 frozen sheet match up for next Thursday's semifinal games, quotes from each head coach, and an comment and final prediction.

The winners play for the national championship at 7 p.m. ET, on April 12. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Semifinals, April 10

Boston College (23-11-8) vs. North Dakota (26-15-4), 4 p.m. MDT

BC's last Frozen Four appearance was last season, losing the 2007 national championship game to Michigan State, 3-1.

How BC got to the Frozen Four: In the Northeast Regional, the Eagles took out Minnesota, 5-2, and Miami, 4-3 in OT. (Miami had defeated Air Force, 3-2 in OT.)

BC Coach Jerry York:
"For us to go through the types of teams to get here, I'm really proud of them. We've had a good stretch here over the last decade. We caught fire in a bottle (Sunday night against Miami) with the three quick rapid-fire goals (in two minutes). I think this is the best team I've had. We share the puck very well, manage the puck and make good decisions. That's part of being a good team." comment: BC's top four forwards have put up 196 points, led by the dynamic Nathan Gerbe (30-30-60); all four lines bring it at both ends of the ice. Freshman Joe Whitney was named the Northeast Regional Most Outstanding Player last weekend with his acrobatic winning goal in overtime. Captain Mike Brennan anchors a solid blue line corps. Freshman goaltender Mike Muse has played every minute. As Minnesota coach Don Lucia assessed last weekend, "They really go to the blue paint. They bat pucks out of the air and swarm that blue paint."

Oilers prospect Chris Vande Velde had a breakout sophomore season with 32 points in 42 games for the Fighting Sioux.
North Dakota's last Frozen Four appearance  was last season, losing the semifinal, 6-4, to Boston College.

How North Dakota got to the Frozen Four: In the Midwest Regional, the Fighting Sioux took down Princeton, 5-1, and then ousted host Wisconsin, 3-2 in OT. (Wisconsin had beaten Denver, 6-2).

North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol: "BC is a very respected but now a heated rival. Our team takes pride in playing the game straight up. I think we're a fun team to watch. The preparation of the team – we've felt good about that every year. I don't think we'll do things different from the past three years. We have tremendous team leadership and have been very consistent in our work ethic. They understand what its takes to get it done." comment:  A very heated post-season rivalry, indeed, with three straight exit signs put on North Dakota's season by BC. They also alternated national championships, in 2000 and '01. No team in college hockey plays a more exciting style than North Dakota. The Sioux are led up front by T.J. Oshie, Ryan Duncan and Chris Vande Velde; their up-tempo style begins with the best defensive complement in the country in Chay Genoway, Taylor Chorney, Joe Finley and Robbie Bina. Senior goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux saw almost 90 shots last weekend in both regional games. The Sioux punched a return ticket with Andrew Kozek's OT goal against the Badgers.

Michigan (33-5-4) vs. Notre Dame (26-15-4), 7 p.m. MDT

Michigan's last Frozen Four appearance was 2003, losing the semifinal to eventual national champion Minnesota, 3-2 in OT.  

How Michigan got to the Frozen Four:
In the East Regional, the Wolverines rolled over Niagara, 5-1, and then blanked Clarkson, 2-0. (Clarkson had beat St. Cloud, 2-1.)

Michigan coach Red Berenson: "We had 12 freshmen come in (and only three seniors), and didn't know what to expect with that. But Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter came back for their senior year to make a difference – and they have done that. And Mark Mitera has been our leader on defense. This is one of the tightest teams I've had at Michigan. Can't shut down one line with eight double-digit scorers. Five of the last six games, (Billy) Sauer has given up one or no goals. We're playing our best hockey of the season right now." comment: Michigan is playing their best hockey in a few years. Only BC comes close to Michigan's top three of Porter, Kolarik, and freshman Aaron Palushaj, who combined for 157 points. Porter leads the country with 33-29-62; he likely will win the Hobey Baker Award next Friday. He had five goals and an assist last weekend in Michigan's two regional wins; Kolarik had four assists against Niagara. Add a solid defense and Sauer's three years of postseason experience in goal as a 20-year-old junior, and it all adds up to a Wolverine A-game. 

Goaltender Jordan Pearce and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be
making their first ever appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four. 
Notre Dame is making its first appearance in the Frozen Four.

How Notre Dame got to the Frozen Four:
In the West Regional, the Fighting Irish demolished heavily favored New Hampshire, 7-3, and then crushed the repeat hopes of defending national champion Michigan State, 3-1. (The Spartans had defeated Colorado College, 3-1.)

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson: “Obviously, we are thrilled. This was a step forward from last year. It's part of the process of building a great program. I'm extremely proud of the kids for what they handled. There was a lot of adversity in the second half of the season. They still stayed strong as a group, and it gives us the opportunity to continue our season and play in the Frozen Four for the first time in Notre Dame history.” comment: No team had a tougher route to the Frozen Four than the Fighting Irish. How they won is even more impressive: Three unanswered third-period goals to give heavily favored New Hampshire the gate, and then a disciplined win over Michigan State. While BC, North Dakota and Michigan have the big names, Jackson just keeps getting big games from his team, beginning with Mark Van Guilder and Ben Ryan last weekend, and Erik Condra and Ryan Thang all season. A young defense is headed by Kyle Lawson and Ian Cole, Jordan Pearce has been solid in goal, besting the best goaltending complement in any regional last weekend. prediction:
North Dakota over BC and Michigan over Notre Dame.

In the final: Michigan over North Dakota.

Top 10 2008 Frozen Four facts: Jeff Jackson won titles at Lake Superior State in 1992 and '94; Red Berenson at Michigan in '96 and '98; Jerry York in '84 with Bowling Green, and '01 with BC. … North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol came closest to his first title in '05 – his rookie year – losing to Denver in the championship game, 4-1. … BC has played in eight of the last 11 Frozen Fours. … The last CCHA matchup in a semifinal was 1992, with Michigan State facing Lake Superior State. … Michigan swept the season series with Notre Dame, 3-2, and 5-1. … BC-North Dakota skated to a 0-0 tie in October. …  If BC makes the final, the Eagles would join Lake Superior State and Minnesota as the only teams to play in three consecutive title games. … Michigan has the most NCAA championships, with nine. North Dakota is second with seven (tied with Denver); BC has two. Michigan also has the most Frozen Four appearances (22), the most consecutive Frozen Four appearances (10), and the most Frozen Four wins (24). … Denver is the host team for the Frozen Four.

On Campus Clips – Senior goaltender Kevin Regan of the University of New Hampshire was named the 56th recipient of the Walter Brown Award, presented annually to the best American-born college hockey player in New England. … Kevin Porter's four goals in Michigan's 5-1 win against Niagara last weekend was an NCAA record for most goals in a regional. … Porter was named College Hockey News' 2007-08 Player of the Year. … BC coach Jerry York earned his 800th career win last Saturday in the Eagles' 5-2 win against Minnesota in the Northeast Regional semifinal. York is the leading active coach in wins, and second to former Michigan State bench boss Ron Mason's 924 all-time wins. Top 10

1)    Michigan  (33-5-4)
2)    North Dakota  (28-10-4)
3)    Boston College  (23-11-8)
4)    Notre Dame  (26-15-4)
5)    Miami (33-8-1)
6)    Michigan State (25-12-5)
7)    Wisconsin (16-16-7)
8)    Denver  (26-14-1)
9)    Clarkson  (22-13-4)
10)  Colorado College (28-12-1)

Author: Bob Snow | Correspondent

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