The Frozen Four

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The Frozen Four is the name given to the semi-finals and finals of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship.

The tournament features 16 teams; six automatic qualifiers and ten at-large bids, selected from the 59 Division I member institutions.  The champions from each of the nation’s six Division I conferences [Atlantic Hockey, Big Ten, ECAC, Hockey East, NCHC, WCHA] are automatically included and the at-large teams are selected by the Championship Committee, comprised of six well-respected coaches and administrators from Division I schools.  The tournament field is announced on or around March 20, the regionals are played later that week and the Frozen Four commences two weeks after the regionals.  The format is single elimination, with teams split into four regions of four teams each.   Seeding is determined by the Committee, with the four Number One seeds being placed as close to their home site as possible.  The team serving as host of a regional is placed within that regional and conference matchups are avoided, whenever possible, in the first round.  The tourney begins with the top seed playing the Number Four seed in each region, while Number Two is pitted against Number Three.  The winners square off to determine that region’s champion, who earns a spot in the semi-finals, played at a single site over three days.  The Championship Committee seeks to ensure “competitive equity, financial success and likelihood of a playoff type atmosphere at each regional site.”

The NCAA Division I hockey tournament was first played in 1948, with the University of Michigan downing Dartmouth College, 8-4, at the Broadmoor Ice Palace—host of eleven championships, most in history– in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  From 1948 to 1976, the field was comprised of four teams.  In 1981, it expanded to eight teams and seven years later grew to 12.  The tournament settled on its current 16-team format in 2003.  Michigan has won the most titles [9], claiming six of the first nine tournaments played while North Dakota has earned eight titles.  Michigan and Boston College lead all schools with 24 Frozen Four appearances each, while Boston University is next with 22.  Vic Heyliger coached the most championships, leading the Michigan Wolverines to six crowns between 1948 and 1956.  At the conclusion of the championship game, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player is announced.  BU has had more MOP winners [8] than any other school and 26 goaltenders have won the award, nearly twice as many as any other position.  Two players have been named MOP twice, Lou Angotti [Michigan Tech] and Marc Behrend [Wisconsin].  The Frozen Four also names an All-Tournament Team, which has included NHL stars Tony Esposito [Michigan Tech, 1965], Ken Dryden [Cornell, 1967, ’68, ‘69] and Chris Chelios [Wisconsin, 1983].

The Frozen Four is the culmination of the NCAA tournament and is more than just the games—it’s a weekend-long celebration of college hockey.  On Friday—the day between games—the NCAA announces its highest honors, including the All-American team, Hockey Humanitarian Award and the sport’s top trophy, the Hobey Baker Award–the Heisman of Hockey [Daily Dose, January 25].   The award, named after former Princeton forward and World War I hero Hobey Baker, has been given annually since 1981 to college hockey’s top player.  Two freshman have won the Hobey Baker Award, including BU’s Jack Eichel, who won it before the Buffalos Sabres made him the second overall pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.  The Frozen Four name is a nod to the NCAA Division I basketball tournament’s Final Four, first named in 1975 by Cleveland Plain Dealer sportswriter Ed Chay, who stated that the Marquette basketball squadron was “one of the final four” during the previous year’s tournament.  The NCAA pioneered the term and later trademarked it.  Hockey began using Frozen Four in 1999.  ESPN has television rights and broadcasts every game of the tournament, beginning with regionals, on their family of networks throughout the U.S. and Canada.  Westwood One owns exclusive radio rights and airs both the semi-finals and championship games in their entirety.  In 2015, over 36,000 fans filled the TD Center in Boston for the NCAA title game between Providence College and Boston University.

On this date in 2013, the Yale Bulldogs beat the Bobcats of Quinnipiac College—their biggest rival,  4-0, in Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center to win NCAA hockey championship.  It was the first national hockey championship for Yale, which is the oldest ice hockey program in the United States, dating back to 1893.