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NCAA Frozen Four: Championship Game Preview

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (25-10-6) vs. Michigan Wolverines (29-10-4)
Time: 6 P.M. CDT
Location: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
TV: ESPN HD and ESPN3.com. Gary Thorne and Clay Matvick have the call.

Like the basketball tournament last weekend, few people had Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan reaching the final in their brackets. Both teams have made their case for being the national champion by taking down favorites Yale and North Dakota and are certainly worthy of winning the Frozen Four. It does make things interesting though given that neither team feels as if they are the favorite tonight. The Bulldogs are playing 150 miles away from their home and have the benefit of being Minnesota’s team, but the Wolverines showed on Thursday that they are able to deflate a “home crowd” after beating North Dakota.

On the ice, both teams need to play better than Thursday if they want to win. Minnesota Duluth got off to a shaky start, giving up a goal to Notre Dame on their first shot, and had to withstand a bombardment by the Irish in the third period, being out-shot 15-2. Michigan was out-shot 40-20 by North Dakota in their game Thursday night and heavily relied on goalie Shawn Hunwick.

The Wolvcrines have history on their side, with nine titles to the Bulldogs’ zero, and won two titles since Minnesota Duluth’s last title game appearance in 1984 (the Bulldogs lost to Bowling Green 5-4 in 4 overtimes) but haven’t reached a final since 1998. So this is a new position for every player involved.

What this game comes down to: Minnesota-Duluth’s powerplay v. Michigan’s defense
These have been the two calling cards of each team. The Bulldogs are a remarkable 34.7% in the NCAA Tournament and have used special teams to win each of their three games. Michigan on the other hand has eschewed their offense (having scored four or more goals in twenty-two games) for defense as the Wolverines have given up one goal in the last eight periods. Hunwick, a 5’7” former walk-on (he would have been the third-string goalie if Jack Campbell didn’t bolt to the OHL at the last minute) is one of the great stories of the tournament. He has helped lead Michigan this far, but can he stop the potent Duluth power play featuring Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly, Justin Fontaine, J.T. Brown and Justin Faulk?

Whichever team wins this battle should win the game although other factors like Michigan’s top line of Carl Hagelin, Louie Capourusso and Chris Brown (held goalless against North Dakota) against Reiter and the first goal (Michigan is 22-1-3 when scoring first) can also play a role.

By the numbers:


Minnesota Duluth

NCAA Titles: 0
Frozen Four Appearances: 4
NHL Draft Picks: 4
Leading Goal Scorer: Mike Connolly (28)
Leading Point Total: Jack Connolly (59)
Record when scoring 3+ power play goals: 6-0-0
Record in one-goal games: 9-5-0
Record when being outshot by an opponent: 5-3-1
Number of 30 point players: 6

Michigan

NCAA Titles: 9
Frozen Four Appearances: 24
NHL Draft Picks: 13
Leading Goal Scorer: Carl Hagelin (18)
Leading Point Total: Hagelin 49
Record when scoring first: 22-1-3
Record when being outshot by an opponent: 9-3-1
12-1 in last 13 games

All-time series
MIchigan leads Minnesota Duluth 24-10-6 (15-8-5 in WCHA – the Wolverines were members until 1981)
Last Meeting: Oct. 13th 2001 (UMD won 3-2)

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.