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Frozen Four preview: Who's in, players to watch and more

The Frozen Four kicks off in Buffalo on Thursday. Here's what to look for.

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

The Frozen Four begins tonight at KeyBank Center with Providence's matchup against Minnesota Duluth at 5 p.m., followed by Denver taking on UMass at 8:30. 

The winners will meet for the championship on Saturday at 8. 

Coming down for the games? Make sure to read up on this weekend's festivities here, and keep scrolling for info on the four teams left standing.

 

Denver

Road to Buffalo: The Pioneers are in the Frozen Four for the third time in four seasons, and they've done it without allowing a goal through two contests in the NCAA Tournament. 

Denver opened regional play with a 2-0 victory over Ohio State, then advanced to Buffalo with a 3-0 win over American International. Goaltender Filip Larsson was named the regional MVP for his back-to-back shutouts, which required a combined 50 saves. 

The Pioneers enter the Frozen Four with a 24-11-5 record, the program's 18th straight season with 20 or more wins. Only three other schools have accomplished that feat in NCAA history.

Player to watch: This could easily be Larsson, who ranked third in the NCAA with a .935 save percentage in 21 games as a freshman this season. Since we already touched on him, we'll give the nod to defenseman Ian Mitchell, a second-round pick by the Blackhawks in 2017.

Mitchell tallied 27 points (6+21) in 38 games as a sophomore, earning NCHC Second Team All-Star honors. He was an alternate captain for Team Canada at World Juniors, where he tallied three points (1+2) in five games.  

NHL prospects:

Ian Mitchell (Chicago) - second round, 2017
Slava Demin (Vegas) - fourth round, 2018
Emilio Pettersen (Calgary) - sixth round, 2018
Filip Larsson (Detroit) - sixth round, 2016
Cole Guttman (Tampa Bay) - sixth round, 2017
Brett Stapley (Montreal) - seventh round, 2018

 

Massachusetts 

Road to Buffalo: This is the first Frozen Four appearance in program history for the Minutemen, who also shut out their opponents in regional play. UMass, the top seed in its region, earned convincing 4-0 victories over Harvard and Notre Dame on its way to Buffalo. 

Freshman goalie Filip Lindberg made a combined 30 saves in the two tournament victories, bringing his postseason save percentage to .968 save percentage in five appearances (four starts).

UMass went 30-9 this season, earning its first No. 1 national ranking in program history on Dec. 3 and remaining in the top five ever since. The Minutemen rank second in the nation on the power play (28.2 percent) and fourth on the penalty kill (87.5 percent). 

Player to watch: This should be a big week for sophomore defenseman and Minutemen captain Cale Makar. After playing Denver tonight, he'll be on hand as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award ceremony at Harborcenter on Friday. 

After the tournament - and this should provide a hint towards the type of player we're dealing with - he's expected to sign with the Colorado Avalanche and could step right into the lineup for their playoff series against Calgary. 

Makar, the fourth overall pick by the Avalanche in 2017, was a unanimous selection for Hockey East Player of the Year. He ranks seventh in the nation in points per game (1.23) and third in points by a defenseman (69).

NHL Prospects:
Cale Makar (Colorado) - first round, 2017
Mario Ferraro (San Jose) - second round, 2017
John Leonard (San Jose) - sixth round, 2018

 

Minnesota Duluth

Road to Buffalo: The Bulldogs advanced to their third straight Frozen Four with an overtime victory over Bowling Green to open regional play followed by a 3-1 win over top-seeded Quinnipiac. They won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament with a double-overtime win over St. Cloud State

The defending national champions has now won six straight games, sporting a record of 27-11-2. They're looking to become the first back-to-back champions since Denver won titles in 2004 and 2005.

Minnesota Duluth boasts a roster that includes 14 players with Frozen Four experience. Senior captain Parker MacKay, right wing Bill Exell, left wing Riley Tufte and defenseman Nick Wolff will become the first players in program history to play in three Frozen Fours.

Player to watch: Goaltender Hunter Shepard was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team last year after allowing one goal on 20 shots in the Bulldogs' 2-1 championship win over Notre Dame. He's put together an outstanding junior campaign, ranking third in the nation in shutouts (6) and fifth in goals-against average (1.82).

Shepard was named NCHC Goalie of the Year and has been chosen as one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award, which will be awarded to the nation's top goaltender at Harborcenter on Friday. He's made 79 straight starts for the Bulldogs, a program record.

NHL Prospects: 

Riley Tufte (Dallas) - first round, 2016
Dylan Samberg (Winnipeg) - second round, 2017
Scott Perunovich (St. Louis) - second round, 2018
Mikey Anderson (Los Angeles) - fourth round, 2017
Noah Cates (Philadelphia) - fifth round, 2017
Cole Koepke (Tampa Bay) - sixth round, 2018
Nick Swaney (Minnesota) - seventh round, 2017

 

Providence

Road to Buffalo: The Friars erased a 3-0, first-period deficit with six unanswered goals in a victory over Minnesota State to open regional play, then earned a 4-0 win over Cornell to advance to their first Frozen Four since 2015.

Senior goalie Hayden Hawkey made 19 saves in the latter game for his NCAA-leading eighth shutout of the season. 

Since that 3-0 deficit, the Friars have scored 10 unanswered goals over their last 108:52. They went 5-for-9 on the power play and 6-for-6 on the penalty kill during regional play.

Player to watch: Junior defenseman Jacob Bryson (fourth round, 2017) is the lone Sabres prospect in this year's Frozen Four. He's coming off a campaign in which he scored 27 points (4+23) in 41 games and was a Second Team Hockey East All-Star.

Bryson is an agile, puck-moving defenseman who can make an impact on both ends of the ice. Providence coach Nate Leaman said Wednesday: "Any game he goes into, he has the potential to be the best player on the ice."

Read more on Bryson in our feature story from Wednesday. 

NHL Prospects:
Jay O'Brien (Philadelphia) - first round, 2018
Kasper Bjorkqvist (Pittsburgh) - second round, 2016
Ben Mirageas (NY Islanders) - third round, 2017
Brandon Duhaime (Minnesota) - fourth round, 2016
Jacob Bryson (Buffalo) - fourth round, 2017
Michael Callahan (Arizona) - fifth round, 2018
Jack Dugan (Vegas) - fifth round, 2017
Hayden Hawkey (Edmonton) - sixth round, 2014
Vincent Desharnais (Edmonton) - seventh round, 2016

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