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  • College champ will be saved by masked man Print
    Futures Watch
    Written by Steve Wozniak   
    Wednesday, 04 April 2012 12:46

    For all the offensive firepower that two teams will bring to the Frozen Four, all four teams will be rising or falling on the strength of their netminders.

    altOn one side are two titans of college hockey, with a combined nine national championships and 41 previous trips to the Frozen Four. On the other are two teams making just their second tournament appearances and their first in the Frozen Four.

    College hockey’s biggest dance kicks off Thursday with a matinee between upstarts Union and Ferris State before powerhouses Minnesota and top-ranked Boston College face off in the primetime thriller. It may just be the way the brackets shook out, but this year’s NCAA semifinals give us two games that seem like polar opposites in almost every way.

    There is the hardware … or lack thereof for Union and Ferris State. Ferris State never made it this far, even when it was playing Division II before the NCAA eliminated that classification for hockey. Union at least twice made it to the semifinals of the Division III championships in 1984-85 and 1985-86, but could never bring the trophy back home to Schenectady, N.Y. Boston College, meanwhile, has been collecting its titles since winning its first in Division I back in 1949, Minnesota since Herb Brooks first took his team to the promised land in 1974.

    There is the talent. When BC and Minnesota line up for the opening faceoff, more than half the sweaters will be inhabited by an NHL draft pick. Boston College dresses nine NHL draftees, including first-rounders Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. Minnesota has 16 pro prospects on its roster, including first-rounder Nick Bjugstad and four more second-rounders. Union and Ferris State? A grand total of zero draft picks on their roster.

    There is the style. The Golden Gophers and Eagles will each roll four talented lines that prefer to play a wide-open transition-style of game. Meanwhile, a speedy but undersized Union team will try to navigate through the trap defense that Ferris State lives, and at times dies by.

    Perhaps the one constant that unites these four teams, the one thing that gotten them all to Tampa this week for the season’s final party, is what BC coach Jerry York has called following the GAGG rule: Get a Great Goalie.

    Boston College may have the hottest goalie in the country in junior Parker Milner. After some early-season struggles, Milner was benched in November in order to give freshman Brian Billett a chance. York let his goalies know he wouldn’t use a platoon system; one of them would have to step up and play like the unquestionable starter. Milner rallied from that ultimatum to rise to fourth in the nation in goals-against average (1.70) third in save percentage (.935) and tops in winning percentage with a 27-5-0 record (.844). In his last 16 outings, Milner has not given up more than two goals in a game and posted five shutouts. IN fact, Milner blanked both Air Force and Minnesota-Duluth in the regional and is riding a shutout streak that has stretched to 134 minutes, 10 seconds.

    Minnesota’s Kent Patterson has had quite the opposite odyssey as Milner this season. The Colorado Avalanche prospect began the year by posting five shutouts in his first nine games. After that 2-0 win over North Dakota on Nov. 4, Patterson’s GAA was 1.55, his save percentage .945. Patterson looked like he might shatter many of the NCAA goaltending records set by Ryan Miller a decade ago at Michigan State. But alas, all great things must come to pass. Patterson comes into the Frozen Four now with a much more humbling 2.23 GAA and .911 save percentage – ranking 19th and 41st in those categories.

    The most consistent of the netminders among these four, though, has been Union’s Troy Grosenick. Coming into this season, Grosenick had all of 85 minutes of Division I experience, those coming as a freshman playing in the shadow of Keith Kinkaid. With the starting mantle thrust upon him this year, Grosenick has been an even bigger ace for the Dutchmen. He currently ranks second in the nation with a 1.64 GAA and .936 save percentage. Grosenick gave up more than three goals just once this season, that coming in a 4-0 loss to Yale on Nov. 12. Might as well be ancient history.

    The wildcard among the netminders may be Ferris State senior Taylor Nelson. Nelson came to Big Rapids as one of the more highly touted freshman goalies in Division I. But in his first three seasons, Nelson managed just a 14-13-7 record and never posted a GAA of less than 2.49. Even this year, Nelson’s 2.10 GAA and .923 save percentage ranked behind freshman C.J. Motte on his own team. And Nelson, more than other goalie in Tampa this week, may be more the beneficiary of his system than a clutch puckstopper. His Bulldogs have long relied on a trapping defense that focuses more on keeping shooters to the perimeter and playing a lot of dump-and-change. Ferris State wins by attrition, frustrating opponents until a misplay allows them the rare opportunity to pounce. The Bulldogs haven’t won so many 2-1 games by a stellar defensive effort; it’s more by design.

    But whether Ferris State can stop Union’s speedy attack is almost irrelevant; they also have to find a way to beat the country’s most consistently good goalie at the other end. That’s a task that even the big guns of Boston College and Minnesota will have to meet should they face Union in Saturday’s title game.

    HPT Predictions

    Semifinals

    Union 3, Ferris State 0

    Boston College 5, Minnesota 4

    Final

    Boston College 4, Union 2

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    Last Updated on Friday, 06 April 2012 14:51