Eleven years removed from its last Frozen Four, the men’s hockey championship returns to TD Garden on Thursday with four teams vying for the ultimate prize. Boston University, North Dakota, Providence and Nebraska-Omaha are all 120 minutes from hoisting the championship trophy. 

“The biggest thing we’ve told the guys is every time someone pats you on the back or every time someone compliments you, all I want you to think about is there’s two games left,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “The job’s not done and that’s the frame of mind we have to have is that this is a business trip just like every other weekend of hockey and we have to have our focus and we have to have our edge.” 

East vs. West. Hockey East Conference vs. National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Newcomers vs. storied programs. However one chooses to look at this year’s Frozen Four field, there are plenty of intriguing story lines. 

The two sides of the bracket couldn’t have played out any differently. On one side: chalk. North Dakota — the overall No. 2 seed in the tournament — and Boston University — the overall No. 3 seed — advanced to the Frozen Four as the top seeds in their respective regions. BU made its fans sweat a bit, needing overtime to get by Yale and a late goal by Evan Rodrigues to overcome Minnesota-Duluth in the regional final.

No such drama for North Dakota. Despite limping into the NCAA tournament with back-to-back losses in the NCHC tournament, UND (29-9-3) posted consecutive 4-1 victories over Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State to advance to the Frozen Four. 

UND is the only team in the field that was among the final four teams last season. Its season ended in the semifinals a year ago Minnesota scored with 0.6 seconds left in regulation to break a 1-1 tie. UND coach Dave Hakstol said his team isn’t using that as motivation. 

“We’re going (to Boston) to win a game,” Hakstol said. “You can make whatever you want of that. You can make it up, spin it anyway you want. It has no affect. I’ve long said the effect of last season took place probably in the first week or month of our summer. That’s where it generates that additional work ethic. If you want to make it up, make it up, but it’s not there.” 

BU (27-7-5) and UND have storied histories, combining for 12 national titles, 43 Frozen Fours and 63 NCAA tournament appearances. The Terriers’ last title came in 2009, while UND hasn’t won since 2000. 

Thursday’s semifinal clash will also be a battle between Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalists. BU forward Jack Eichel and UND goaltender Zane McIntyre are up for the award, honoring the top athlete in men’s college hockey. 

Eichel, who is considered by many as a top-two pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, is the first freshman up for the award in 12 years. He leads the nation in scoring with 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) and was named the Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and was a First-Team Hockey East and an All-Rookie Team selection. 

McIntyre leads the nation with 29 wins in 41 appearances and sports a 2.00 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. He is UND’s all-time leader in career GAA and save percentage. McIntyre’s accolades include being named First-Team NCHC and Goalie of the Year.

The teams last met on Nov. 23, 2013, a 3-3 tie at Agganis Arena, a three-mile drive to tonight’s venue. 

“We’re going into Boston, we’re going to play in front of a very pro-BU crowd, but we’ve been in those situations before,” Hakstol said. “This is playoff hockey and that’s the game, that’s the excitement of the game. Someone’s going to have that home-ice advantage. We’ll have our fair share of fans there, but I’m sure of the 18,000 in the building, just by nature of who has access to those tickets, they’ll probably have 90 percent of the people in the stands.”

While the right side of the bracket went the way the selection committee believed it would, the left side of the bracket was chaos from the beginning, resulting in two teams with limited-to-no Frozen Four experience emerging. The top seeds from the Midwest and East Regions bowed out in the first round. Minnesota State-Mankato — the overall No. 1 seed — fell to Rochester Institute of Technology and Miami (Ohio) fell to Providence, which was playing 35 miles from campus.

The Friars (24-13-2) made good on their home-ice advantage, punching a ticket to the Frozen Four for the first time in 30 years with a 4-1 victory over Denver in the regional final. They’ll get another NCHC team as a result, as Nebraska-Omaha shut out RIT, 4-0, to advance to its first Frozen Four in program history. 

“It’s something special,” Providence goaltender Jon Gillies said. “It’s an honor to be a part of it and to be able to share it with the community and everybody that supports us from the ground up since I got here freshman year and beyond. The school’s been waiting a long time for something like this to happen so we definitely were honored to be in this position and have this opportunity, but we know we want to take it one step further and not only bring a Frozen Four berth back to campus, we want to bring a national championship as well.” 

Among the four teams in the field, Providence’s defense ranks the stingiest at 2.05 goals per game. A lot of that has to do with Gillies, a three-year starter. His 2.01 GAA ranks best among Hockey East goalies and 13th in the country, while his .929 save percentage ranks tied for ninth. The Friars have allowed fewer than three goals 28 times this season. 

Like Providence, the Mavericks (20-12-6) have a solid goaltender in Ryan Massa, who has kept his team afloat down the stretch as they sewed up their offensive production. Massa leads the nation with a .939 save percentage. 

Even with Massa’s production, the Mavericks stumbled to a 2-6-3 record entering the NCAA tournament, but found its footing with back-to-back four-goal games in the regional. UNO hadn’t done that since Nov. 7-8 against Ohio State. 

The good news for the Mavericks is they face off against an East opponent for the third time in as many games. UNO dominated teams from the Eastern Time Zone this season, going 10-3-1. 

The four remaining teams have combined to play 157 games over 28 weeks. They all eagerly await games 158-160. 

“They’re excited to get playing,” Leaman said. “They’re excited for this moment coming up and I think they’re feeling pretty good about themselves right now.” 


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