The road to the Frozen Four is always a tricky one, even as a top seed. But it usually doesn’t involve matching up against the defending national champions as early as the second round.
However, for the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team to continue moving forward in its improbable season, it must do exactly that.
A day after taking down red-hot Princeton, No. 1 Ohio State (25-9-5) takes on No. 2 Denver (23-9-8) for a chance at the program’s second-ever Frozen Four appearance.
The Pioneers enter the matchup as winners of five straight games, which includes a victory in the NCHC championship over then-No. 1 St. Cloud State and a 5-1 win over third-seeded Penn State in the first round of the NCAA men’s hockey tournament.
As a team, Denver ranks seventh in team offense and third in team defense while posting a top-12 power play and penalty kill, making it one of the most well-rounded teams in the tournament.
In the 5-1 dismantling of the Nittany Lions, Denver jumped up to a 4-0 lead while outshooting Penn State 31-17 after two periods. The Pioneers received goals from both their star forwards: sophomore Henrik Borgstrom and junior Troy Terry.
Borgstrom and Terry are both highly-touted NHL prospects who rank in the top 10 in the nation in scoring. Borgstrom, the first-round pick for the Florida Panthers, is more of the goal scorer with 23 goals and 29 assists on the season. Terry, the fifth-round Anaheim Ducks pick, has only 14 goals, but his 33 assists are good for third in the nation.
On the defensive side, Denver has given up two goals or less in each of the last six games, largely due to the strong play of senior goalie Tanner Jaillet. Jaillet ranks fifth with a 1.83 goals against average and seventh with a .930 save percentage. The goaltender comes into the game having stopped 54 of 56 shots in his last two games, both of which have come against top-15 opponents.
Both Denver and Ohio State are ranked highly in every major statistic, but where Denver holds an advantage is in high-end talent with Ohio State’s Tanner Laczynski and Mason Jobst not quite at the level of Borgstrom and Terry.
Ohio State showed why it was the top seed with a dominating 4-2 win against No. 4 Princeton in the opening round where the Tigers scored both goals in the final 26 seconds when the result was already in the balance.
Princeton also offered two of the best players in college hockey with junior forwards Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner, but the Buckeyes shut them both down on the way to victory.
This may be another matchup that comes down to special teams, with Denver and Ohio State committing some of the fewest penalties in the NCAA. If one of the teams can take advantage of its few opportunities, it should make all the difference when it comes to two opponents who are relatively even on paper.
Puck drop for the matchup between Ohio State and Denver is set for 6:30 pm on Sunday at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.