Final Five preview capsules

Thanks to Zack Friedli of Minnesota Hockey Hub for compiling the stats appearing below.

No. 1 Minnesota Gophers (26-12-1)

Last weekend: Swept Alaska-Anchorage at Mariucci Arena (2-1, 7-3)

Head coach: Don Lucia

Key players: Erik Haula, F, So. (44 points, 25 assists); Nick Bjugstad, F, So. (40, 24 goals); Kyle Rau, F, Fr. (36, 20 assists); Nate Schmidt, D, So. (36, 33 assists); Mark Alt, D, So. (22, 17 assists); Kent Patterson, G, Sr. (26-12-1 record, 2.12 gaa, ,914 saves)

How the Gophers win the Final Five: After winning the MacNaughton Trophy, the Gophers come in as the favorites with the confidence to match. This team will not wilt if it falls behind as past squads have. The offensive firepower and solid goaltending should be enough.

How the Gophers lose: Minnesota’s defense must keep the front of the net clear for Patterson, especially against Duluth, which has plenty of players who can bury the puck.

No. 2 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (24-8-6)

Last weekend: Swept Minnesota State at Amsoil Arena (4-2, 3-2)

Head coach: Scott Sandelin

Key players: Jack Connolly, F, Sr. (56, 38 assists); Travis Oleksuk, F, Sr. (50, 29 assists); J.T. Brown, F. So. (46, 23 goals); Brady Lamb, D, Sr. (29, 20 assists); Wade Bergman, D, Jr. (18, 15 assists); Kenny Reiter, G, Sr. (22-7-6, 2.39, .912)

How the Bulldogs win the Final Five: Players besides Connolly, Oleksuk and Brown need to score. Reiter plays up to his potential.

How the Bulldogs lose: A poor showing on the penalty kill; Role players who may not be able to step it up on offense at tournament time.

No. 3 Denver Pioneers (23-12-4)

Last weekend: Won best-of-three series against Wisconsin at Magness Arena (0-1, 3-1, 3-2)

Head coach: George Gwozdecky

Key players: Drew Shore, F, Jr. (50, 29 assists); Jason Zucker, F, So. (44, 24 assists); Nick Shore, F, So. (39, 26 assists); Joey LaLeggia, D, Fr. (37, 26 assists); John Lee, D, Sr. 14, 11 assists); Juho Olkinuora, G, Fr. (8-7-3, 2.08, .928); Sam Brittain, G, So. (7-3-0, 2.44, .925)

How the Pioneers win title: Denver returns to near full strength on offense with forward Beau Bennett back, even in a limited role. The Pioneers were a much more potent team with him in the lineup earlier this season.

How the Pioneers lose: The penalty-prone Pioneers get burned when its penalty kill falters.

No. 4 North Dakota (22-12-3)

Last weekend: Swept Bemidji State at Engelstad Arena (4-1, 4-3)

Head coach: Dave Hakstol

Key players: Brock Nelson, F, So. (40, 23 goals); Danny Kristo, F, Jr. (40, 23 assists); Corban Knight, F, Jr. (35, 22 assists); Ben Blood, D, Sr. (18, 15 assists); Brad Eidsness, G, Sr. (8-3-1, 2.18, .920); Aaron Dell, G, Jr., (14-9-2, 2.79, .896)

How the Sioux win third title in a row: The top players deliver big-time goals and the goaltending holds up.

How the Sioux lose: With only 17 skaters available, they could wear down by the third game in as many nights.

No. 5 St. Cloud State Huskies (17-16-5)

Last weekend: Swept Nebraska-Omaha at National Hockey Center (4-0, 3-1)

Head coach: Bob Motzko

Key players: Ben Hanowski, F, Jr. (42, 22 goals); Jared Festler, F, Sr. (34, 19 assists); Travis Novak, F, Sr. (25, 13 assists); Nick Jensen, D, So. (32, 26 assists); Andrew Prochno, D, Fr. (28, 23 assists); Mike Lee, G, Jr. (8-5-2, 2.24, .930)

How the Huskies win the title: Lee keeps up his hot play.

How the Huskies lose: A poor offensive performance will not get them past North Dakota and then Minnesota.

No. 6 Michigan Tech Huskies (16-18-4)

Last weekend: Swept Colorado College at World Arena (3-1, 4-3 OT)

Head coach: Mel Pearson

Key players: Brett Olson, F, Sr. (30, 20 assists); David Johnstone, F, Fr. (29, 18 assists); Jordan Baker, F, Sr. (27, 17 assists); Steven Seigo, D, Jr. (22, 17 assists); Josh Robinson, G, Sr. (15-13-4, 2.83, .908)

How the Huskies win the title: Michigan Tech is the underdog of the tournament, but has confidence headed into the Final Five with good goaltending from Robinson and dynamite play from Johnstone, who Pearson had expected to lead the team in scoring this season. MTU must bury its chances and play strong defense in the slot.

How the Huskies lose: MTU plays best when ahead, judging from the CC playoff series, and could struggle in a run-and-gun affair.

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About paisleyhockey
I am the college hockey writer for the Colorado Springs Gazette focusing on the Atlantic Hockey Association, National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

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