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Frozen Four Bound

by "Hockey Pat" McGrath / Florida Panthers

The finals of the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Hockey Championships, better known as the “Frozen Four,” begin April 10 in Philadelphia. The event might want to rechristen itself as the “Florida Four” as four highly-acclaimed Panthers prospects have taken the Tournament by storm and led their teams through the qualifying round.

The Panthers quartet includes the University of North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi (2nd round, 2011), whose hat-trick against Wisconsin on Friday helped earn him MVP honors in the Midwest Regional. Grimaldi will be joined by fellow 2011 Panthers draft pick, Kyle Rau (3rd round, 2011), who scored a goal on Sunday evening to help his Minnesota Golden Gophers advance.

They will be joined in the city of brotherly love by two of Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon’s more recent selections, defensive teammates Michael Matheson (1st round, 2012) and Ian McCoshen (2nd round, 2013) of the Boston College Eagles. McCoshen netted the game-winning goal in the third period Sunday against Massachusetts-Lowell to help the Eagles punch their ticket.

With the exception of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (with 5), no NHL team will be better represented in Philadelphia than the Panthers. Given the illustrious careers many recent NCAA alums have gone on to have in the NHL this bodes extremely well for the future of the club and the blueprint Tallon has put in place to help identify and acquire young talent and build a core of widely acclaimed prospects.

Tallon took over the Panthers prior to the 2010 draft and is responsible for drafting each of the Panthers prospects competing in Philadelphia along with current Panthers stars including Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdeau. Tallon was previously General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, where he was responsible for drafting the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in addition to players he subsequently acquired for the Panthers, including Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri and Dylan Olsen.

The Frozen Four begins with BC taking on Union College and UND taking on Minnesota in their respective semifinals Thursday. A championship matchup between BC and Minnesota could cause some friendly jawing in the Florida Panthers locker room as Bjugstad is a Minnesota alum, while Hayes played his college hockey at Boston College. Hayes has extra reason to cheer for his hometown squad as his younger brother Kevin is a star for this year’s Eagles. The younger Hayes, a senior on BC’s top line, has seven points in two tournament games (3-4-7).

McCoshen and Matheson have been a huge part of Boston College’s on ice success this season. Sunday’s game was no different as Matheson recorded an assist on BC’s first goal while McCoshen broke a 3-3 tie with his winner midway through the third period. And it is no surprise that Matheson and McCoshen were the defensive pairing on the ice for the Eagles as time expired. Matheson was named to the Northeastern Regional All-Tournament team for his efforts over the weekend.

Rau and the Golden Gophers punched their ticket on Sunday night with their 4-0 victory over St. Cloud State. Rau recorded a power play goal in the win, giving the center three points (2-1-3) through the tournament’s first two games.

Grimaldi and the University of North Dakota were idle yesterday as the team already advanced to the Frozen Four on Saturday in a thrilling 2-1 double overtime victory over Ferris State.

The Frozen Four will be a perfect opportunity for Panthers fans to catch a glimpse of the team’s bright future as the group of talented players will be battling it out on college hockey’s biggest stage.

Who will emerge victorious? Will it be Matheson, McCoshen and the Eagles? Rau and the Golden Gophers? Or Grimaldi and UND? Regardless of the outcome, Panthers fans have reason to celebrate.

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