Fellow Coaches Mixed on Which Team Will Win National Title
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
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This Frozen Four is wide open.
Don’t believe it? Just ask coaches around the country.
In an informal, anonymous poll last week, which consisted of emails from 15 coaches, all four teams were picked to win the national title: BC (5), Minnesota (4), Union (4) and North Dakota (2).
Boston College vs. Union
It’s practically the definition of a contrast in styles. Boston College’s high-octane offense against Union’s shutdown defense. You know the cliches.
"In my mind, it's the team that probably has the most dynamic and best forward group (BC) against the team with the most dynamic and best defensive group (Union) in the nation. That makes it intriguing,” said one ECAC coach.
He continued, ”Everybody is going to break down Union's D vs. BC's forwards, but I think it will be the other way around.
“BC's forwards are going to create and probably put some points on the board. Gostisbehere and the Union defense will transition the puck and do their thing. The question is whether the Union forwards can dictate the pace and tempo against BC's defense, and make them spend an inordinate amount of time in their zone. ... Union moves the puck out of the zone real well with their D, not that BC doesn’t."
One coach whose team lost to BC this season sees the Eagles forwards, particularly the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes, carrying the Eagles to a national title.
“Who is going to beat them?” he asked. “Other than Notre Dame, no one has been able to stop those guys since they were put together. Look at what they did to Denver, and that’s another really good team.”
Union and BC are two teams that made up the top three of the Pairwise for much of the latter half of the season.
"Union does a really good job of not giving up odd-man rushes,” the ECAC coach said. “They have three back a lot of the game. Their D rushes it, but they do well to get back and (the forwards) cover for them well. If they can do that, then Gaudreau and those guys are going to have to score the harder way and earn their chances."
Minnesota vs. North Dakota
Minnesota and North Dakota will meet for the 284th time on Thursday in the semifinals.
“This rivalry is heated and the teams, despite not being in the same league, they know each other so well,” said one Hockey East coach. “I think Minnesota is just so deep, they make it to the national title game. I like Union for the same reason. The rivalry is so heated, don’t be surprised to see special teams be a factor either.”
Added a Hockey East rival coach, “North Dakota is going to play a way that Minnesota isn’t going to want to, and I think if they can dictate that style, they win the game. I think that they’re going to be able to frustrate Minnesota. The teams that have over the year are all similar to North Dakota in terms of how they play the game.”
But this Minnesota team, systemically, is a bit different than what we’ve become accustomed to. Minnesota’s leading scorer, Kyle Rau, is averaging less than a point-per-game average. The Gophers roll four lines with ease, he antonym to Boston College, which relies heavily on Gaudreau, Hayes and Arnold.
"Their best players play really hard,” said an ECAC coach. “When your best players are natural competitors, that starts moving up and down throughout the lineup. In Minnesota's case, maybe the best players were considered prototypical skill guys in the past. Now they're guys like Rau that are competitive workhorses.”
Who gets the hats?
As for who will win the national championship, here is a thought from four different coaches, and why they made their picks.
On Minnesota: “They’re the deepest and most balanced team in the country. They’re deep up front, they’re deep on D, and they have a great goalie. Union is deep, but more on D than up front. North Dakota has some good forwards and BC relies too much on one line to make it through, in my opinion.”
On North Dakota: “I know it’s probably not the popular pick, but I like the way they fight. They’re a hard-working team and they have a lot of deceptive depth. I also think they have really good special teams, which most times separates teams that are similar.”
On Union: “I think Union gets Minnesota in the national title game and their defense is just going to be too much for Minnesota. They’ll frustrate them. They’ll do the same to BC. Their defense and goaltending is the best in the country right now, and that’s what wins you championships.”
On Boston College: “Despite that most of their offense comes from the one big line, I’m not sure anyone can stop the one big line. They've faced some good defenses over the course of their run, and I know Union has good D and a good goalie. But so did Lowell, right? (Connor) Hellebuyck might be the best, and they sent his team home. So I don’t think anyone stops BC.”