PITTSBURGH -- There will either be the first team to win three straight NCAA Division I men's hockey titles or a team will win its first title.
The Frozen Four begins on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena when St. Cloud State plays Minnesota State University-Mankato and Minnesota Duluth plays the University of Massachusetts in the national semifinals (ESPN2). The championship game will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
Huskies vs. Mavericks
This rivalry goes back to the Division II/III era for both programs. The teams played against one another for the first time in the 1969-70 and were rivals in the NCHA before St. Cloud State made the jump to Division I in 1987.
The Huskies were actually the Mavericks' first opponent in program history on Jan. 16, 1970, an 8-2 win for SCSU.
Minnesota State moved to Division I in 1996 and the teams played one another regularly as members of the WCHA from 1999-2013. After the 2012-13 season, SCSU moved to the NCHC and MSU stayed in the WCHA. The Mavericks have been a powerhouse in the conference since, winning six WCHA regular season titles and two WCHA playoff titles.
Since joining the NCHC, St. Cloud State has won three conference regular season titles, one NCHC Frozen Faceoff title and played in four other conference tournament championship games.
The Mavericks are making their first trip to the Frozen Four, while the Huskies are making their second trip to the Frozen Four (2013, Pittsburgh). Whichever team wins will be playing in their first Division I championship game.
In all other sports, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato compete at the Division II level and in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
St. Cloud State will be playing both games in the Frozen Four without senior wing Easton Brodzinski, who has led the team in goals each of the last two seasons. Brodzinski suffered a broken femur in the Northeast Regional championship game against Boston College. The Huskies will play a game without Brodzinski, who has played in 140 consecutive games, for the first time since Oct. 13, 2017, when he was a healthy scratch against Alaska.
Huskies goalie David Hrenak was the MVP of the Northeast Regional and has played in 113 career games, the second-most in the program's Division I era. With a win against the Mavericks, he would move into a tie for first in career wins for the program (Brian Leitza, 66, 1994-98).
Mavericks goalie Dryden McKay is a top three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given annually to the top player in college hockey. McKay leads the nation in winning percentage (.875, 21-3-0) and shutouts (10) this season.
REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME STORIES:
- SCSU has big 2nd period, beats Boston College 4-1 to advance to Frozen Four
- 'We're going to Pittsburgh!': Minnesota State beats Minnesota to earn first trip to Frozen Four
Bulldogs vs. Minutemen
Four Massachusetts players have been ruled out of the Frozen Four due to COVID-19 contact tracing. That news broke Tuesday morning and there are some key players involved. The four players are forward Carson Gicewicz and Jerry Harding, backup goalie Henry Graham and goalie Filip Lindberg.
The Minutemen have 12 players back from the 2019 championship game team, including goalies Matt Murray and Lindberg. Murray started 13 of the first 15 games for UMass this season. But Lindberg, a seventh-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild, has started each of the last 12 games and is 9-0-3 with a 0.98 goals-against average and .959 save percentage and leads the country in the last two statistics. Gicewicz, who had a hat trick in the East Regional championship game, leads UMass in goals with 17.
This will be a rematch from the 2019 national championship game. UMD beat UMass 3-0 in Buffalo, N.Y., when the Minutemen had Hobey Baker Award winner Cale Makar on defense. Makar would go from the championship game to playing for the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL playoffs and was named the winner of the Calder Trophy for being the NHL Rookie of the Year.
Much has changed for the Bulldogs since then. Most of their eligible key players returned for the 2019-20 season to try to win a third straight NCAA title. But the coronavirus ended that dream for several players with eligibility remaining, including 2020 Hobey Baker Award winner Scott Perunovich (signed with St. Louis Blues), defenseman Dylan Samberg (Winnipeg Jets) and Justin Richards (New York Rangers).
The Bulldogs also lost defensemen Nick Woff and Jarod Hilderman, forward Jade Miller and starting goalie Hunter Shepard to graduation.
Shepard played an NCAA record 105 consecutive games. Who will start in goal in this national semifinals is not a clear-cut choice. Sophomore Ryan Fanti has started 20 games, including both of the Bulldogs' games at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. But freshman Zach Stejskal started in UMD's epic five-overtime win over North Dakota in the Midwest Regional championship game. Stejskal stopped 57 of the 59 shots he faced before he had to leave the game in the fourth overtime due to cramping. Fanti came on in relief and picked up the win.
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