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Comparing the 4 teams playing this weekend at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Denver, North Dakota, Western Michigan and Minnesota Duluth will vie for the conference tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament this weekend at Xcel Energy Center.

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2022 NCHC Frozen Faceoff logo
COURTESY OF NCHC

ST. PAUL — Four of the top nine teams in the PairWise Rankings will be vying for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship this weekend at Xcel Energy Center. The PairWise try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA Division I committee to pick the 16-team national tournament field.

The tournament champions from the six Division I conferences will each receive automatic bids to the national tournament. All four teams from the NCHC — Denver, North Dakota, Western Michigan and Minnesota Duluth — are locks to make the national tournament no matter what happens this weekend.

In the semifinals Friday, top-seeded Denver (27-8-1) plays fifth-seeded UMD (19-15-4) at 4:07 p.m. and second-seeded North Dakota (24-12-1) plays third-seeded Western Michigan (24-10-1) at 7:37 p.m. The championship game will be played at 7:38 p.m. Saturday. All games will be on CBS Sports Network.

Here's a capsule look at the four teams going into the Frozen Faceoff:

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Minnesota Duluth forward Dominic James (17) watches as Denver goalie Magnus Chrona (30) stops a shot in an NCHC game on Dec. 11, 2021, at Amsoil Arena. Chrona, a junior from Skellefteå, Sweden, has received All-NCHC honorable mention status this season and is 24-7-1 with a 2.24 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and five shutouts.
Clint Austin / The Rink Live

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Denver Pioneers

Head coach: David Carle (82-42-13, fourth season).

NCHC quarterfinals: Swept Miami, 5-2 and 5-1.

Top five scorers: Junior forward Bobby Brink (14 goals, 41 assists, 55 points), Sr. C Cole Guttman (18-25—43), So. W Carter Savoie (20-22—42), Sr. C Brett Stapley (15-25—40), Fr. F Carter Mazur (14-21—35).

Starting goalie: Jr. Magnus Chrona, 24-7-1, 2.24 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and 5 shutouts.

Special teams: Power play (25.7%, 5th nationally), Penalty kill (78.3%, 41st).

Scoring offense: 4.5 goals-per-game (1st).

Scoring defense: 2.4 gpg (tied for 13th).

Faceoff winning percentage: 55.2% (4th).

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All-NCHC: Brink (1st team), Savoie (2nd team), So. D Mike Benning (2nd team), Guttman (honorable mention), Chrona (honorable mention).

All-NCHC Rookie Team: Mazur, F Massimo Rizzo, D Sean Behrens, D Shai Buium.

Coach quote: "I think getting back to a normal summer and a normal fall was mentally important, to be able to have a normal training camp and hit the ground running. I think our leadership group has done an incredible job of bringing the youth along and making them feel included from Day 1." — Carle on rebounding from going 10-13-1 in 2020-21.

Ryan Barrow quote: "I think our depth is pretty special. You look at a guy like Brett Stapley is centering our third line and he has over 40 points."

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Minnesota Duluth goalie Ryan Fanti (39) blocks a shot by St. Cloud State forward Kevin Fitzgerald (28) during the second period Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Fanti was named to the All-NCHC First Team and is 17-11-4 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and four shutouts.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head coach: Scott Sandelin (268-239-67, 22nd season).

NCHC quarterfinals: Swept at St. Cloud State, 5-2 and 4-3, OT.

Top five scorers: So. F Blake Biondi (16-11—27), 5th-year F Kobe Roth (13-12—25), Jr. F Quinn Olson (6-19—25), Sr. F Noah Cates (11-13—25), 5th-year F Koby Bender (7-17—24).

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Starting goalie: Jr. Ryan Fanti (17-11-4, 1.99 GAA, .921 save percentage, 4 shutouts).

Special teams: Power play (18.3%, 33rd), Penalty kill (83.1%, tied for 18th).

Scoring offense: 2.6 gpg (tied for 34th).

Scoring defense: 2.4 gpg (tied for 13th).

Faceoff winning percentage: 45.5%, 56th.

All-NCHC: Fanti (1st team), Cates (honorable mention).

Coach quote: "Last weekend, we finally scored some goals. We've had some offensive inconsistencies. Like a lot of teams, we've had some injuries ... We've seen some really good things with our team over the year, but we haven't seen a lot of consistency, particularly from a Friday night win into a Saturday game. I think seven out of the 12 weekend (series), we got a win on Friday and lost on Saturday.

"I really liked last weekend," Sandelin said of the sweep at SCSU. "For some reason, our team felt different. Maybe because we've had a full team for the last two weeks. I don't know. I wish I had the answer. But I thought we had a lot of resolve and it just felt different."

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North Dakota forward Riese Gaber (17) moves the puck against St. Cloud State in the second period Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Gaber was named to the All-NCHC First Team in 2021-22.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head coach: Brad Berry (162-75-25, 7th season).

NCHC quarterfinals: Swept Colorado College, 2-1 and 2-1.

Top five scorers: So. F Riese Gaber (15-21—36), Fifth-year F Connor Ford (4-23—27), So. D Jake Sanderson (8-18—26), Fr. F Jake Schmaltz (8-16—24), Jr. F Ashton Calder (11-10—21).

Starting goalie: Fifth-year Zach Driscoll (22-9-1, 2.34 GAA, .908 save percentage, 2 shutouts).

Special teams: Power play (24.3%, 12th), Penalty kill (79.1%, 39th).

Scoring offense: 3.1 gpg (tied for 18th).

Scoring defense: 2.6 gpg (tied for 20th).

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Faceoff winning percentage: 55.3%, 3rd.

All-NCHC: Gaber (1st team), Sanderson (2nd team), Driscoll (2nd team), Ford (honorable mention.

All-NCHC Rookie Team: F Matteo Constantini, G Jakob Hellsten.

Coach quote: "What I really like about our team is our cohesiveness, our guys that really care about each other. We've got fifth-year seniors hanging out with freshmen. Sometimes, that's tough especially with some of these players playing with an extra year of eligibility and transfers. It really comes down to how tight your team is and what are they willing to do when adversity hits. Believe me, we've had a few days and weeks of adversity here and our guys have battled."

Mark Senden quote: "They have a fast and physical team, big bodies.They feed off the rush and their power play is pretty good. We're going to have to play disciplined and have all five guys pouring back into the house and helping out defensively." — On playing against Western Michigan.

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St. Cloud State forward Jami Krannila (13) tries to steal the puck from Western Michigan forward Ethen Frank (26) during the first period Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Frank was named to the All-NCHC First Team this season.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Western Michigan Broncos

Head coach: Pat Ferschweiler (24-10-1, 1st season).

NCHC quarterfinals: Swept Nebraska Omaha, 4-2 and 5-4, OT.

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Top five scorers: Sr. F Drew Worrad (9-33—42), Fifth-year F Ethen Frank (26-12—38), Jr. D Ronnie Attard (13-22—35), Sr. D Michael Joyaux (7-24—31), Fifth-year F Josh Passolt (8-20—28).

Starting goalie: Jr. Brandon Bussi (24-10-1, 2.61 GAA, .911 save percentage, 4 shutouts).

Special teams: Power play (25.6%, 6th), Penalty kill (81.8%, 26th).

Scoring offense: 3.8 gpg (4th).

Scoring defense: 2.6 gpg (tied for 20th).

Faceoff winning percentage: 51.0% (20th).

All-NCHC: Frank (1st team), Attard (1st team), Worrad (2nd team), Joyaux (honorable mention).

Coach quote: "When you believe in your goaltender, it allows you to play free offensively as far as attacking and knowing that every chance you give up is going to go in your net. I think our guys feel that offensive freedom. We feel free to attack and free to play some offense." — Ferschweiler on Bussi.

Passolt quote: "I think we've played pretty much the same way all year. We've got a lot of older guys that have led the way. We know how we want to play every night and we've been able to do that. I think our consistency and approach has led to success on the ice throughout the year."

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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