Since the conference’s genesis in 2014, no Big Ten hockey team has won the national title.
But that fact seems poised to change this year, as three of the four teams that populate the Frozen Four in Saint Paul, Minn. hail from the Big Ten.
No. 2 Notre Dame, who stands as the lone conference champion of the quartet, will face off against Michigan. With a 5-1 routing of Denver, No. 4 Ohio State is set to battle Minnesota-Duluth in the other semifinal matchup.
With No. 1 seeds St. Cloud State and Cornell eliminated, both of the semifinal matchups feature a clear David-and-Goliath complex. The Wolverines and Fighting Irish split their two regular season series, and the Bulldogs fell to Denver in the NCHC finals, the same team the Buckeyes stomped over in the quarterfinal.
The Daily breaks down the four teams contending in the Frozen Four vying for a National Championship:
Minnesota-Duluth (13-11-0 NCHC, 23-16-3 overall)
Perhaps the most battle-tested team with the highest strength of schedule in the pack, according to the 2017-18 KRACH Rating, the Bulldogs could give the Buckeyes a run for their money.
With a 23.9-percent conversion rate on the power play — which stands as the paramount of the four — and the second-best defense according to USCHO, Minnesota-Duluth purports a dual-threat front that could take advantage of timely situations.
Defenseman Scott Perunovich — the CHN Rookie of the Year — and forward Peter Krieger headline the attack with 36 and 30 points, respectively. Perunovich tallied 15 of those points on the power play.
The second-to-last time the Bulldogs played in Saint Paul on March 16 in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, they were dominated on the power play by Denver. But with wins over St. Cloud State and Air Force in the Tournament, they seem to have found the answer to the issue that plagued them late in the season.
Ohio State (14-8-2 Big Ten, 26-9-5 overall)
The Buckeyes strolled to the Frozen Four with victories over Princeton and Denver. Arguably the best team in the Big Ten, Ohio State boasts the best defense of the group with 2.08 goals allowed per game and the best penalty kill at 89.29 percent.
But the Buckeyes’ resolute defensive line isn’t the tip of the iceberg.
Forwards Tanner Laczynski, Mason Jobst and Matthew Weis combine for 126 total points, which easily stands as one of the scarier top-lines in the nation. And with 60 total goals scored in the third period alone this season, Ohio State is the outright best closing team of the four.
The Buckeyes have notched wins over every member of the final quartet, save Minnesota-Duluth, but have also lost to Notre Dame four times, the most recent being in the Big Ten Championship.
Michigan (11-10-3, 22-14-3)
The Wolverines have been underdogs this whole tournament. With tough wins over Northeastern and Boston, Michigan has proven its ability to provide offensive output in dire straits.
And with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense, the Wolverines’ grit has certainly propelled them to their first Frozen Four berth since 2011, when they lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the final.
Forwards Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone are the undisputed leaders of the offense with 86 total points. The junior and senior, respectively, combined for three tallies in the first two rounds of the tournament.
Perhaps Michigan’s greatest strength, though, is its newfound versatile streamline from the crease all the way up to the attacking zone.
Sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne’s mental fortitude paired with a .910 save percentage has been consistent and reliable. And freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes’ 28 points, supplemented by junior Joseph Cecconi’s veteran stalwart efforts on the blueline, serve as a multipurpose feeder to the productive attacking arm.
While the Wolverines have found success this season against Notre Dame — sweeping them in a weekend series when they were the top team in the land — they have experienced quite the opposite against Ohio State. The Buckeyes have defeated Michigan five times in five matchups.
Notre Dame (17-6-1, 27-9-2)
Riding the wave of a victory in the Big Ten Tournament Championship, the Fighting Irish squeaked by Michigan Tech and Providence in their Regional matchups.
But with the worst offense of the four teams, it’s not surprising that Notre Dame is winning by close margins. Forwards Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie stand as the bannermen, amassing 78 total points.
Where the Fighting Irish make up for their lack of offensive prowess is in their vigorous defense. Their 2.16 goals-allowed per game stands as the ninth-best in the country — behind Ohio State’s 2.08 — and their 88.89-percent penalty kill prove that they can stop the best.
And if Notre Dame’s opponents do find their way past the back line, they have Cale Morris to worry about. With the best save percentage in the country at .945, getting anything past Morris is a feat.
As the regular and postseason Big Ten champion, the Fighting Irish are the best team in the Frozen Four on paper. Time will tell if they can prove it.