Boston College hasn’t won a national title in four years. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a long time. But if BC flies home empty-handed from the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla. this weekend, it will be the first time since 2007 that one of Jerry York’s senior classes will graduate without a championship ring. Quinnipiac, North Dakota and Denver aren’t particularly worried about BC’s senior class’ legacy because they want that ring as badly as anyone could want anything. Single-elimination hockey produces maximum desperation. These four teams are all roughly equal and that, combined with such desperation, will make for an awesome product on Thursday and Saturday. Three of these teams, though, will remember this weekend in Florida as anything but awesome, and the prospect of such despair and emptiness will make every blocked shot and battle in the corner non-negotiable.
Because hockey is so random, a team’s record is not as indicative of team quality or predictive of its future success as puck possession is. The percentage of shots that a team attempts during its games while at even strength—which discounts special teams—is the best proxy for puck possession. The abbreviated version of this stat is Corsi For. That’s not to say strength on the power play isn’t important. And, in a single, tightly contested matchup, teams often need their offensive gamebreakers to make something happen. Finally, there is goaltending, hockey’s great equalizer. We preview each of the Frozen Four participants through the lens of these four elements.
Quinnipiac (31-3-7, 16-1-2 Eastern Collegiate Athletic, + 81 goal differential, beat UMass Lowell 4-1 in East Regional Final, will play BC in National Semifinal today at 5 p.m.)
Possession: BC’s semifinal opponent is a top-five Corsi For club in the nation, checking in at 56.3 percent. This is the second straight year that Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold’s seasoned outfit posted a mark above 56 percent.
Gamebreakers: Junior Sam Anas was sixth in the country in goals with 24, tying Hobey Baker finalist Jimmy Vesey of Harvard. Per multiple reports, Anas was banged up during the East regional but still managed to pick up a point against RIT and Lowell. Senior Travis St. Denis had 46 points on the year, also tied with Vesey as well as BC junior Ryan Fitzgerald.
Goaltending: Senior Michael Garteig has started at least 35 games each of the last three seasons and improved every year. He has a .926 save percentage this year.
Power-Play Prowess: BC’s possibly fatal flaw is its propensity for penalties. If the Eagles lose it may very well be because a stupid penalty finally burns them. That could happen on Thursday. Quinnipiac scores on the power play 27.4 percent of the time, good for fourth in Division I.
North Dakota (32-6-4, 19-4-1-1 National Collegiate Hockey +75 goal differential, beat Michigan 5-2 in Midwest Regional Final)
Possession: The newly dubbed Fighting Hawks slightly edge out Quinnipiac as the best possession team in the Frozen Four with a Corsi For of 56.8 percent. In this realm, new head coach Brad Berry has been an upgrade over former coach (and current Philadelphia Flyers boss) Dave Hakstol, as this year’s mark is a 5 percent improvement over last year’s.
Gamebreakers: Vancouver Canucks first-round draft pick and freshman Brock Boeser’s 54 points were good for fifth in the country. His linemates, senior Drake Caggiula and sophomore Nick Schmaltz, are equally dangerous. The two combined for 100 points this year.
Goaltending: After playing just two games last year, sophomore Cam Johnson came on this year and posted an elite .934 save percentage in 32 games.
Power Play Prowess: North Dakota converts on just less than one-fifth of its man-advantages, going into Thursday with a 19.5 percent success rate.
Denver (25-9-7, 17-5-2 National Collegiate Hockey, +40 goal differential, beat Ferris State 6-3 in West Regional Final)
Possession: The Pioneers were the 12th-best possession squad in Division I this year with a 53.8 Corsi For.
Gamebreakers: Boston Bruins prospect Danton Heinen was a top-10 scorer in college hockey, and it’s easy to picture why after reflecting on his performance during Denver’s 4-3 loss to BC in October. Heinen touched up BC for a goal and an assist and was easily the best skater on the ice the entire game. Defenseman Will Butcher adds some flair from the back end, too. He was the fourth-highest-scoring defenseman in the nation.
Goaltending: Sophomore Tanner Jaillet is the least-pedigreed netminder in this year’s Frozen Four. In only 30 games this season, he’s racked up a .923 save percentage.
Power Play Prowess: Denver has the least lethal power play out of the four remaining squads, but not by much, scoring at a 19 percent clip.
BC (28-7-5, 15-2-5 Hockey East, +75 goal differential, beat Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in Northeast Regional Final)
Possession: With a 52.3 Corsi For, BC controls the run of play the least of the four semifinalists. BC’s goal differential, however, is comparable to North Dakota’s and Quinnipiac’s because BC has the best overall shooting and save percentages of all four teams. There have been plenty of games this season where, when the Eagles have roughly tied or lost possession, they still won because they have better finishers and a better goalie than the opposition. We’ll see if that persists against the best of the best.
Gamebreakers: Fitzgerald has 46 points, and Colin White, Zach Sanford, and Austin Cangelosi are all in the top 50 in scoring nationally. As BU found out in the Beanpot final, though, Alex Tuch and his tranquilizer of a wrist shot only need a few seconds and a couple feet to change a game, so his number may be circled on the whiteboard in Quinnipiac’s locker, as well. Also, White’s ability to create both smooth and greasy goals could be big in a tight spot.
Goaltending: Junior Thatcher Demko is the only goalie still up for the Hobey Baker for good reason. You don’t need to know his .936 save percentage to know how much of a monster he is. He’s transcendent and BC’s biggest advantage in Tampa. If the Eagles win it all, Demko likely will be reasons one, two, and three.
Power Play Prowess: BC features a dangerous power play, converting at 21.5 percent, good for ninth-best in the country.
All of this information could be irrelevant by midnight on Sunday—or even 8 p.m. tonight. A few pucks might go off a skate or an arm, and a referee might have a bad night, and the team that deserved to win it all might go home with a lifetime of regret. Yet in ride-or-die, single-elimination hockey, “deserve” ain’t got nothing to do with it. All these teams are so evenly matched that any one of them could claim to be the best despite what happens at Amalie Arena. The Frozen Four might not determine who the best team is, but it does crown a champion, and everyone wants that ring. Trophies are nice. Diamonds are forever.
Featured Image by Savanna Kiefer / Heights Editor