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Minnesota, North Dakota, BC and Union vie for NCAA title at Frozen Four

BC's Thatcher Demko was named the top amateur goalie by the NHL's Central Scouting. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI) BC's Thatcher Demko was named the top undrafted North American goalie by the NHL's Central Scouting. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

By Michael Blinn

The road to this year's national championship has delivered two distinctly different matchups headed for the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. On one side of the bracket, a longtime power is going head to head with a rising force while the other side features one of college hockey's most storied rivalries adding another chapter to its growing volume.

To say that North Dakota and Minnesota are familiar with one another is like saying the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are just friendly acquaintances. The two schools have met on the ice 283 times, the NCAA's third highest total, and up until this season they were Western Collegiate Hockey Association combatants before Minnesota joined the newly formed Big 10 while North Dakota, the last at-large bid to make it into this year's tourney, jumped over to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in its first season.

Despite their new homes, don't expect any of the heat to come off the hostility between the teams. The two schools have long been among the best in the collegiate game and perennial national championship contenders. Some of the biggest names in hockey history have graced their respective ranks, including Herb Brooks and Neal Broten (Minnesota) as well Ed Belfour (North Dakota) and Dean Blais (both), while many current NHLers such as Thomas Vanek (Minnesota) and Zach Parise (North Dakota) have played a part in the teams' histories.

It's safe to say that the tension between these rival squads runs deep. So when North Dakota (it has yet to replace the team nickname Fighting Sioux, which was dropped under pressure from the NCAA and state voters two years ago) and the Golden Gophers renew their on-ice competition for the first time in more than a year (Thurs. April 10, 8:30 p.m EDT, ESPN2), expect plenty of fireworks and skill. The teams will ice 28 drafted NHL prospects between them, including a pair of 2012 first-round picks in Gophers defenseman Brady Skjei (New York Rangers, 28th) and NoDak's blueliner Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues, 25th). Minnesota boasts top-10 rankings in team offense and defense, while North Dakota is one of the hottest squads in college hockey, and the seventh No. 4 seed to make it to the Frozen Four in the last seven years.

Pick: Minnesota 4, North Dakota 2

Tale of the Tape
TEAMMinnesota GophersNorth Dakota
Record (League)27-6-6 (14-3-3 B10)25-13-3 (15-9-0 NCHC)
 National Titles (Frozen Four appearances) 5 (20)7 (19)
Offense / Defense 3.51 goals/game (6th) / 2.00 goals/game (2nd)3.07 goals/game (18th) / 2.44 goals/game (16th)
 Special Teams 20.24% PP (16th) / 82.9% PK (25th)19.39% PP (31st) / 83.3% PK (21st)
LeadersKyle Rau - 39GP-14G-23A-37Pts

Sam Warning - 37GP-12G-20A-32Pts

Mike Reilly - 39GP-9G-23A-32Pts

Travis Boyd - 39GP-9G-22A-31Pts

Justin Kloos - 39GP-15G-15A-30PtsAdam Wilcox - 36GP, 25-5-6, 1.89 GAA, .934Sv%

Rocco Grimaldi - 41GP-17G-22A-39Pts

Michael Parks - 41GP-12G-18A-30Pts

Mark MacMillan - 37GP-10G-16A-26Pts

Drake Caggiula - 41GP-11G-13A-24Pts

Jordan Schmaltz - 40Gp-6G-17A-23PtsZan Gothberg - 32GP, 20-9-3, 1.99 GAA, .926Sv%

Coach (career record) Don Lucia, 344-182-59 (595-343-84 overall)Dave Hakstol, 235-119-37 (same)
NHL Draft PicksSeth Ambroz, CBJ (5/2011), Jake Bischoff, NYI (7/2012), Travis Boyd, WSH (6/2011), Michael Brodzinski SJS (5/2013), Taylor Cammarata, NYI (3/2013), Nate Condon, COL (7/2008), Hudson Fasching, LOS (4/2013), Justin Holl, CHI (2/2010), Christian Isackson, BUF (7/2010), Ben Marshall DET (7/2010), Kyle Rau, FLA (3/2011), Mike Reilly CBJ (4/2011), Brady Skjei, NYR (1/2012), Adam Wilcox TBL (6/2011)Gage Ausmus, SJS (5/2013), Zane Gothberg, BOS (6/2010), Rocco Grimaldi, FLA (2/2011), Luke Johnson, CHI (5/2013), Paul LaDue LOS (6/2012), Mark MacMillan, MTL (4/2010), Nick Mattson, CHI (6/2010), Wade Murphy, NSH (7/2013), Brendan O'Donnell, TBL (6/2010), Michael Parks, PHI (5/2010), Derek Rodwell, NJD (5/2009), Jordan Schmaltz, EDM (4/2011), Keaton Thompson, ANA (3/2013)

If North Dakota and Minnesota are college hockey's version of the Hatfields and McCoys, then Boston College and Union are the Febreze Brothers -- they're meeting for just the second time ever.

The two played in last year's East Regional with the Dutchmen prevailing 5-1, so the outcome is fresh in each team's memory. For the BC Eagles, who spent most of the season among the nation's top-five teams, this game (Thurs., 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2) is as much a chance at redemption as it is a shot at their fourth national title in the last seven seasons. On the other hand, Union looks to continue its ascension among the best programs in college hockey -- a quest that would be aided by the school's first top-two finish since 1986.

It won't be easy for either team to get to the next step, however. Both are among the most evenly matched in the nation -- the Dutchmen rank second in the country offensively only to B.C, and each ranks top-10 defensively. The Eagles' offense is led by junior Johnny Gaudreau, who is affectionately known as 'Johnny Hockey.' The undersized (5-8, 159-pound) Calgary Flames draft pick has notched an NCAA-best 77 points in 39 games, 14 more than the season's second-highest scorer, teammate Jimmy Hayes. Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (Flyers, 78th, 2012) is the only drafted player on the roster and one of the nation's top rearguards. He's teamed with senior Mat Bodie to form one of the most dynamic blueline tandems in all of college hockey.

Pick: Boston College 4, Union 1

Tale of the Tape
TEAMBoston College EaglesUnion Dutchmen
Record (League)28-7-4 (16-2-2 HEA)36-6-1 (18-3-1 ECAC)
National Titles (Frozen Four appearances)5 (23)0 (2)
Offense / Defense4.10 goals/game (1st) / 2.28 goals/game (8th)3.70 goals/game (2nd) / 2.05 goals/game (4th)
Special Teams24.09% PP (5th) / 90.4% PK (1st)21.60% PP (9th) / 83.0% PK (24th)
LeadersJohny Gaudreau - 39GP-35G-42A-77Pts

Kevin Hayes - 39GP-27G-36A-63Pts

Bill Arnold - 39GP-14G-38A-52A

Patrick Brown - 39GP-14G-15A-29Pts

Ryan Fiztgerald - 39GP-12G-16A-28PtsThatcher Demko - 16-4-3, 2.16 GAA, .920Sv%

Daniel Carr - 37GP-22G-26A-46Pts

Daniel Ciampini - 39GP-19G-17A-36Pts

Kevin Sullivan - 37GP-8G-27A-35Pts

Mat Bodie - 38GP-6G-29A-35Pts

Mike Vecchione - 36GP-12G-19A-31PtsColin Stevens -  26-4-2, 1.93 GAA, .932 Sv%

Coach (career record)Jerry York, 468-234-64 (935-569-98 overall)Rick Bennett, 48-21-12 (same)
NHL Draft PicksBill Arnold, COL (4/2010), Chris Calnan, CHI (3/2012), Ryan Fitzgerald, BOS (4/2013), Johnny Gaudreau, CGY (4/2011), Adam Gilmour, MIN (4/2012), Kevin Hayes, CHI (1/2010), Isaac MacLeod, SJS (5/2010), Michael Matheson, FLA (1/2012), Ian McCoshen, FLA (2/2013), Steve Santini, NJD (2/2013)Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (3/2012)
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