Semifinals set for April 8; Championship game on April 10 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The NCAA Men’s Frozen Four begins on Thursday (April 8) at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., with Minnesota State University taking on St. Cloud State University at 5 p.m. ET, followed by two-time defending NCAA champion University of Minnesota Duluth facing University of Massachusetts at 9 p.m. Both games will be aired live on ESPN 2.
Three players with ties to Illinois will be competing for the national title: Dryden McKay (Downers Grove) of Minnesota State, Kevin Fitzgerald (Hinsdale) of St. Cloud State and Josh Lopina (Minooka) of Massachusetts.
JUNIOR LEAGUE TIES
Among those competing in this year’s Frozen Four, 77 have roots in USA Hockey junior hockey leagues. Of those, 68 spent time in the United States Hockey League, the only Tier I junior league in the United States, and 38 skated in the Tier II North American Hockey League.
The 68 players with USHL ties are led by 10 Clark Cup champions and four USHL award winners. Of the Clark Cup champions, two players have captured the title twice — Walker Duehr (Minnesota State University) with Tri-City in 2016 and Chicago in 2017, and Matthew Kessel (University of Massachusetts) with Fargo in 2018 and Sioux Falls in 2019. Among the USHL award winners, the most recent recipient was Tri-City’s Zac Jones (University of Massachusetts), who was named the 2019 USHL Rookie of the Year.
The 38 players with NAHL ties features three players with a NAHL Robertson Cup under their belt, including Todd Burgess (Minnesota State University/Fairbanks), Jaxon Castor (St. Cloud State University/Shreveport) and Reggie Lutz (University of Minnesota Duluth/Fairbanks). Additionally, two players have received NAHL postseason awards. Burgess was named to the 2016 All-NAHL Team as well as the 2016 MVP and Forward of the Year, while George Mika (University of Massachusetts/Amarillo) was named to the 2017 All-NAHL team and named the 2017 Forward of the Year.
USA HOCKEY EXPERIENCE
Two players who played at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program are competing in the 2021 Men’s Frozen Four, including Blake Biondi (University of Minnesota Duluth) and Connor Kelley (University of Minnesota Duluth).
Among the 82 American-born players competing in this year’s Frozen Four are 37 who have skated in at least one USA Hockey Player Development Camp and five players who have played in the BioSteel All-American Game. USA Hockey’s Player Development Camps are held annually in June and July to provide week-long training sessions. The BioSteel All-American Game is an annual event that provides the best U.S. players eligible for the NHL Draft the opportunity to showcase their skills on a national stage.
A total of 18 players have represented the United States in international competition, including Noah Cates (University of Minnesota Duluth) and Zac Jones (University of Massachusetts) who have competed on the U.S. National Junior Team at previous IIHF World Junior Championships. Cates, who competed at the 2019 World Junior Championship, helped Team USA capture a silver medal, while Jones played for the U.S. at the 2020 World Junior Championship.
Noah Cates helped the U.S. to a silver medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Kevin Light/Getty Images)
In addition, a combined 15 players have skated for a U.S. select team in international competition including the World Junior A Challenge (U.S. Junior Select Team), Hlinka Gretzky Cup (U.S. Under-18 Select Team) and Under-17 Five Nations Tournament (U.S. Under-17 Select Team). Collectively, those 15 players have helped the U.S. win five championships as well as eight runner-up finishes.
Collectively, 19 states will be represented by players in the Frozen Four, including Alaska (2), Arizona (2), California (1), Colorado (3), Florida (3), Illinois (3), Iowa (1), Maine (1), Massachusetts (3), Michigan (6), Minnesota (43), Missouri (1), New Jersey (3), New York (4), North Dakota (1), Ohio (1), South Dakota (1), Virginia (2) and Wisconsin (1).
FROZEN FOUR STAFF NOTES
All four coaching staffs in the Frozen Four include head coaches who have served on a U.S. national team staff. Scott Sandelin (University of Minnesota Duluth) was the head coach for the 2005 and 2020 U.S. National Junior Team and also served as assistant coach alongside head coach Mike Hastings (Minnesota State University) in guiding the 2019 U.S. National Junior Team to a silver medal at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Greg Carvel (University of Massachusetts) served as an assistant coach for the 2015 U.S. Men’s National Team that competed in the Czech Republic at the IIHF Men’s World Championship, helping guide the U.S. team to a bronze finish. Serving as head coach of Team USA at the 2012 World Junior A Challenge, Brett Larson (St. Cloud State University) guided the squad to the tournament title in Nova Scotia. Larson also served as assistant coach of the U.S. National Junior Team at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, alongside Sandelin.