Boston College and North Dakota will take the ice on April 5 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2). The winner of this game will face the winner of the Maine-Michigan State matchup in the NCAA Tournament final on Saturday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).
Northeast Regional Champion
Location: Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Record: 28-11-1 (18-8-1 Hockey East, second)
Qualified: Hockey East tournament champion
NCAA championships: Two (1949, 2001)
NCAA appearances: 27 (most recent, 2006)
Frozen Four appearances: 20th (most recent, 2006)
Head coach: Jerry York
Key players: Brian Boyle, D/F, Sr. (40 GP, 18-33-51, 7 PPG); Benn Ferriero, F, So. (40 GP, 23-23-46); Nathan Gerbe, F, So. (39 GP, 23-20-43, 8 PPG, 4 SHG, 6 GWG); Cory Schneider, G, Jr. (28-11-1, 2.10, .927 sv. pct.)
What you need to know: Boston College has 12 consecutive victories, the longest current stretch in the nation and the program's longest winning streak under Jerry York. BC has outscored its opponents 55-19 over that stretch. Since 1997-98, the Eagles have a 48-14 record in postseason games, the best such mark in the country.
Gamebreaker: As first reported by the fine folks at Inside College Hockey, Brian Boyle is a defenseman -- and a darn good one. The 6-foot-7 center-turned-blueliner has tremendous offensive skills. So after he breaks up a play, he can heave it up ice to one of the Eagles' speedy forwards as quickly as anyone. He feels right at home wandering close to the net on the offensive end as evidenced by his goal from the low right circle against St. Lawrence in BC's first NCAA Tournament win in Manchester. As a former centerman -- way back about four weeks ago -- he still takes faceoffs, too. And, while he isn't immune to getting burnt, he made up some ground to break up a Nate Davis scoring opportunity in BC's victory over Miami in the Northeast Regional final.
Achilles' heel: It's tough to find a flaw in a team that has outscored its opponents by nearly three goals per clip over the last dozen games. The Eagles were challenged early against Miami, but Cory Schneider remained on target, allowing the team to refocus and take charge in the second period. The RedHawks said after the game they were trying to use their strong team defense to offset the play of BC's forwards, who sometimes lean towards individual play. That strategy didn't exactly last long, but maybe they've found a blueprint.
Overachiever: The biggest reason Jerry York has been able to keep Boyle on defense is the play of freshman Ben Smith, who has done a very good job centering the top line in his absence. In the six postseason games since the switch, Smith has three goals and five assists -- he had eight points in his first 32 games this season -- while the play of linemates Nathan Gerbe and Brock Bradford has hardly slipped.
Secret weapon: Boston College's second line barely gets a smidge of the praise the first line receives, but it's every bit as potent. Joe Rooney took over the second period against Miami and ultimately changed the pace of the game in the Eagles' favor, and Benn Ferriero was just as good as any forward BC had all weekend, if not the best one. He is the Eagles' second-highest scorer and the highest-scoring forward (you heard about Boyle, right?). Ferriero is an absolute sniper, particularly deadly from the point. He very well might be the best player in the country who no one talks about.
Speed: No one plays a faster game in Hockey East than Nathan Gerbe, but the important thing is that Gerbe is always under control when flying around the ice. He seems to know what he is about to do before he does it, which is every bit as important.
Skill: When the games grow increasingly more important and everyone's knuckles look a little whiter, Schneider just gets better. In his last four NCAA regional games, the Eagles netminder has allowed a grand total of one goal. He stopped 37 shots in BC's 2-1 loss to Wisconsin in last year's national championship, and he made 36 saves in a 6-5 Frozen Four victory over the Fighting Sioux two days before that. In his last 10 starts prior to this year's Frozen Four, Schneider has a 1.20 goals against average to go along with a .960 save percentage.
Grit: Mike Brennan is the best defensive defenseman the Eagles have, and his awareness on the ice has helped Boyle make the transition to the blue line. Boyle attributes his success to the fact that Brennan has been like an extra coach for him. Brennan delivers solid hits, focuses on his assignment, breaks up scoring chances and fights for pucks in the corners.
NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING SIOUX
West Regional Champion
Location: Grand Forks, N.D.
Record: 24-13-5 (13-10-5 WCHA, third)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA championships: Seven (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000)
NCAA appearances: 22 (most recent, 2006)
Frozen Four appearances: 17 (most recent, 2006)
Head coach: Dave Hakstol
Key players: Ryan Duncan, F, So. (42 GP, 31-26-57, 17 PPG, 6 GWG); T.J. Oshie, F, So. (42 GP, 16-33-49); Jonathan Toews, F, So. (33 GP, 17-28-45); Philippe Lamoureux, G, Jr. (21-11-4, 2.37 GAA, .913 sv. pct.)
What you need to know: North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol joins Boston University's Jack Parker as the only bench bosses to make Frozen Four appearances in each of their first three seasons -- Parker actually did it in every one of his first five campaigns with the Terriers. The list of coaches who've taken teams to three Frozen Fours in their first four years of coaching? Hakstol, Parker, Herb Brooks (Minnesota, 1974-76), Gino Gasparini (North Dakota, 1979-81), Jeff Jackson (Lake Superior State, 1992-94), and Snooks Kelley (Boston College, 1948-50).
Gamebreaker: Since returning from the IIHF World Junior Championship (where he helped Canada to a third-straight gold medal) in January, sophomore forward Jonathan Toews virtually has scored at will. He's scored 13 of his 17 goals and 19 of his 28 assists since Jan. 12, a 20-game stretch during which the Fighting Sioux just happened to post a 14-2-4 mark.
Toews is the complete package offensively -- a smooth-skating, playmaking pivot with terrific hands, great vision, and a dangerous shot with pinpoint accuracy. Often forgotten, however, are his other attributes. He's a big centerman at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, solid on draws, and a fine defensive forward and one of North Dakota's top penalty-killers.
Achilles' heel: As we wrote in the North Dakota capsule previewing the West Regional, the Fighting Sioux's top line of Hobey Baker Award finalist Ryan Duncan, Toews and T.J. Oshie might be a case of putting all the eggs in one basket, but it's one damn fine basket. The sophomore forwards are North Dakota's leading scorers; beyond them, however, the offensive depth up front is pretty thin. The only other forwards with more than 20 points are senior captain Chris Porter (10-17-27) and sophomore fourth-line winger Brad Miller, who scored all but five of his 24 points prior to Jan. 26. The Sioux may be in trouble if a team can find a way to stifile the top line but that's a pretty big if.
Overachiever: At 5-foot-8, 156 pounds, junior Philippe Lamoureux looks more like a distance runner than a goaltender. But the run he's been on lately is a primary reason the Fighting Sioux are returning to the Frozen Four for the third straight year. Since getting off to a awful 4-8-0 start, a stretch that included a month-long injury hiatus and a span of one win in nine games between Oct. 14-Dec. 16, the Grand Forks native has posted a 17-3-4 record with a goals against average hovering right around 2.00 and a save percentage better than 92 percent.
Secret weapon: Is it possible a team's secret weapon could be a 6-foot-7, 252-pound defenseman with seven points in 40 games? Sophomore defenseman Joe Finley, the team's leader with a plus-minus rating of +19, can neutralize just about any forward -- for example, he flattened Minnesota's Blake Wheeler in the NCAA West Regional final. His awareness, skating and stickhandling have improved drastically from his freshman campaign.
Speed: Though North Dakota doesn't have the burners it did last year when the roster included speed merchants such as Drew Stafford, Rastislav Spirko and Travis Zajac, the Fighting Sioux haven't exactly turned into clydesdales, either. The top line of Duncan, Toews and Oshie is especially fleet of foot.
Skill: North Dakota's defensive corps is arguably the most well-rounded in the nation, as each of the team's six rearguards brings something different to the table. In addition to Finley, sophomores Taylor Chorney and Brian Lee, who comprise the Fighting Sioux's top pairing, are two of the country's top all-around defensemen. Robbie Bina, a junior, and Chay Genoway, a freshman, are smaller blueliners with a nose for offense -- Bina leads the team's defensemen in scoring with 32 points, while Genoway, who also has played a little forward, has 19 points. Then there's sophomore Zach Jones, a stay-at-home type and a virtual carbon copy of his older brother, Matt, who played for the Sioux from 2001-05 and now skates for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Grit: How's this for grit: In four seasons at North Dakota, senior forward and team captain Chris Porter has not only played in all 174 games, but has never missed a practice. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native is always ready to answer the call for the Fighting Sioux. He'll see time on both the power play and the penalty kill, and his line often draws an assignment against one of the opponent's most dangerous units.
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