Two schools which are no strangers to success and two programs new to the national stage comprise the field for the 2012 Frozen Four, set to kick off Thursday afternoon at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
In the late semifinal, a marquee matchup finds the Boston College Eagles squaring off against the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.
Boston College (31-10-1) Head Coach: Jerry York (444-222-60); Captain: Tommy Cross
For BC, the Frozen Four is old hat, thanks to the consistent plan for success implemented by York, now in his 18th season on The Heights. This will be the school's eighth trip to college hockey's final weekend since 2000 and their third in five seasons. The last two berths -- 2008 and 2010 -- resulted in national titles, and it may be expected again from this year's journey.
Boston College enters the semifinals with a whole host of honors trailing behind it: Beanpot champion, Hockey East regular-season and playoff champion, and riding a 17-game win streak. It arrives on the Gulf Coast fresh from dispatching Air Force and defending-champion Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional final.
Freshman goaltender Parker Milner has yet to allow a goal to this point, having blanked the Falcons and Bulldogs, respectively. Fellow first-year player Johnny Gaudreau is turning into a bona-fide threat, armed with 20 goals, as well as Hockey East most valuable player honors. New York Rangers prospect and junior forward Chris Kreider leads the way with 23 scores and 44 points.
The Eagles previously won it all in 1949 and 2001.
Minnesota (28-13-1) Don Lucia (317-171-54); Captain: Taylor Matson
The Gophers are seeking their first championship game appearance since winning the second of back-to-back titles in 2003. Their quest may be buoyed by sending home their WCHA rivals, North Dakota, in the West Regional final -- sweet revenge for sure after the Sioux prevented them from appearing in the conference title contest. Minnesota had an easier time against Boston University in the tourney opener, winning by a tournament-high margin of four goals in a 7-3 triumph.
Minnesota is out to recapture the glory of its past -- both distant and recent. Despite winning twice last decade, the storied program hasn't made the Frozen Four since 2005, when it lost to eventual runner-up UND, and this year marks the first time since 2008 it has even graced the 16-team NCAA bracket.
Sophomore Nick Bjugstad leads a whopping six players in double figures with 25 goals, while fellow second-year man Erik Haula leads the team with 48 points. Senior netminder Kent Patterson has been in goal for all 28 wins thus far and carries a 2.23 goals-against average.
The terror of the Twin Cities took home the title in 1974, 1976, and 1979 under the legendary Herb Brooks, and Lucia was at the helm for the 2002-03 victories.
Union (26-7-7) Rick Bennett (26-7-7); Captain: Nolan Julseth-White
Ferris State (25-11-5) Bob Daniels (333-361-79); Captains: Tommy Hill, Chad Billins
A pair of newcomers to the slippery dance, the Dutchmen and Bulldogs have both surfed waves of unprecedented success to arrive on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Like BC, Union pulled off the rare double, finishing atop the ECAC in both the regular season and postseason. Ferris State, on the other hand, finished first in the CCHA for the regular season and battled BC atop the national rankings, but fell to Bowling Green in a best-of-three quarterfinal series.
The Dutchmen brushed off Michigan State and UMass-Lowell with a pair of two- goal decisions to take the East Regional, while the Bulldogs dispatched perennial power Denver and slipped by Cornell in the Midwest to reach the terminal weekend.
Daniels, the CCHA coach of the year, leads a crop of talented forwards -- senior center Jordie Johnston (20G, 16A) chief among them -- for the most explosive offense since the 2002-03 squad featured three 20-goal scorers including current Pittsburgh Penguin Chris Kunitz. Ferris State spent a good part of the middle portion of the season atop the national rankings before being overtaken by Boston College late in the year.
The Dutchmen are led by a player (Julseth-White) who has yet to score a goal in 99 collegiate appearances over four years. No matter, since junior forward Jeremy Welsh has netted a team-high 27 goals, while Daniel Carr (19) and Wayne Simpson (18) provided additional scoring punch.
Backing that up is sophomore puck-stopper Troy Grosenick, who has yielded but three goals in the tourney to aid his school in attaining their first semifinals as a Division I program, and first since 1985, when they competed in Division III. Along with freshman Colin Stevens, the tandem recorded the lowest combined goals-against in the country at 1.80.
Ferris State's last line of defense is Taylor Nelson, who, if not for Milner, would be regarded as the best netminder in the tournament. He allowed just two goals en route to the Midwest Regional crown, part of a season in which his GAA was lowered to 2.10 and save percentage raised to .923.