I'd like to begin this week's column on a bit of a somber note. Last Sunday, former Yale women's hockey player Mandi Schwartz lost her battle with acute myeloid leukemia. In a story that captivated the hockey world and prompted a nation-wide effort to find a bone-marrow donor, the 23-year-old Wilcox died in the company of her family and fiancé.

Remembered for her positive and pleasant attitude along with her undying love for hockey, Schwartz leaves behind her parents and two brothers, who play at Colorado College. It is never easy losing a family member or loved one and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Schwartz family during this extremely difficult time.

Since Mother Nature is refusing to let my Jeff Gordon jacket take its healthy dose of Hyber Nol, I find it only fitting to write this week's column about one of my favorite weekends of the sports year. That's right people, I'm talking about the Frozen Four. This year it only seems fitting that its host city is St. Paul, Minn., a state with one of the richest hockey traditions in the country.

I have always been a bigger fan of college sports than the professional ranks. I just think that college game is very exciting and the constant threat of an upset by an underdog leaves every game up in the air.

Most important, I think that college athletes best display the concept of "team" and play for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the back.

If you are wondering what game to watch this weekend, I highly suggest tuning to ESPN. You'll see that the future is bright for the NHL with all of the talented young gunners in the college ranks.

For the first time since 2005, the Frozen Four features four Mid-western teams: Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Notre Dame, and last—but certainly not least—Michigan. All four teams were tested in their regional games and deserve to be playing for the right to be named the king of college hockey.

Each has the components of a championship-caliber team: strong coaching, senior leadership, solid defense and great goaltending. Yet what often determines the national champion are the little things like the one-on-one battles in the corners, blocking shots, and getting a little puck luck along the way.

Thus without further ado, I shall provide a brief description of the teams, followed by my predictions.

Michigan: The maize and blue are no strangers to the Frozen Four, with this year's appearance marking the school's 24th time playing in early April, an NCAA record. However, this year's team is very different from past Red Berenson squads. Without a single 20-goal-scorer and needing to win its league championship in order to dance, the team leaned on the shoulders of its eight seniors.

This class, led by NHL prospects Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin, Matt Rust and Scooter Vaughn, all decided to put "the show" on hold and return to school in hope of making a deep playoff run, with the bitter taste of an early exit from last year's tournament providing the fuel. This team has a solid defensive core, is battle-tested, and seems to be streaking at the right time.

Minnesota-Duluth: The bulldogs defeated two ECAC teams in Union and Yale en route to claiming the East Regional. Although they flew under the national and personal radar, after watching them last weekend, it is hard not to like these guys.

They have nasty unis (that's uniforms in laymen's terms), very strong special teams, and one of the nation's best first lines comprised of Justin Fontaine, Mike Connolly and Jack "even though we have the same last name, Mike is not my brother" Connolly. Each member of this top line has incredible speed, and each has surpassed the 50-point mark this season, an impressive feat to say the least.

Another aspect that makes this team so dangerous is the fine play from their goalie, Kenny Reiter. If his name does not jump out at you, his bright yellow pads certainly will. Goaltending is so important, especially in the playoffs, and Minnesota-Duluth seems to have that covered. What might also play a key part in the Bulldogs' run this weekend is that the games are right in their backyard; nothing like winning a national title in front of the home crowd, and I'm sure that's on all of the player's minds.

North Dakota: The Fighting Sioux not only have the best mascot in this year's Frozen Four but Dave Hakstol's team is also the deepest and most talented. I mean this team is just flat out scary. Like past champions, they play with a fast-tempo style of play that incorporates a suffocating forecheck, deadly power play, and terrific team defense.

All of this was on display last weekend as they completely crushed their opponents, outscoring them by a whopping 12-1 margin. Very similar to Minnesota-Duluth, this team has the lethal combination of an electric first line (also known as the Pony Express line), led by Hobey Baker finalist and Zach Parise-esque Matt Frattin, along with a rock solid and all-WCHA goaltender Aaron Dell. Both of these players act as bookends for the squad and their success has trickled down to each player.

Notre Dame: Within the last six years Notre Dame has gone from not-even-on-the-map in D-I hockey to a perennial powerhouse. The majority of this is due to the salty dog that is head coach Jeff Jackson. The former Lake Superior State coach—where he won two national titles in the '90s—is a legend among college coaches.

His teams have always been characterized by their stifling defense and hardworking offense. Under Jackson's helm Notre Dame has reached the Frozen Four for the second time in four years. The group is headlined by the extraordinary play of the 12 freshmen on the squad.

The fact that Jackson, or any coach for that matter, would play 12 freshmen in the playoffs shows not only the talent among the players, but also the trust that the coach has in his players' and their ability to buy into his system of play.

In past years Notre Dame was expected to win the national championship but was unable to do so; however, this year it seemed to have gone into the tournament under the radar, and they may actually have the best chance of winning it.


Minnesota-Duluth vs. Notre Dame: In a game that features two hot goalies in Kenny Reiter and Mike Johnson, I'm going to go with the home-state Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Their power play is clicking at the right time and I think that top line is just too good. Notre Dame relies too heavily on that large freshman group, which may prove to come back and bite them in the butt. Bulldogs 5 - Fighting Irish 3.

Michigan vs. North Dakota: Both squads have the critical element of senior leadership, and while it pains me to say it, due to my two buddies who play for Michigan, I'm siding with North Dakota on this one. They have too much speed, depth, and firepower, while also holding an advantage in goal tending which will prove to be decisive. Fighting Sioux 4 - Wolverines 1.

Championship Game: This game, with North Dakota holding the slight edge in the regular season series 2-1, has the potential to be an epic battle and one that I would absolutely not want to miss.

You've got two of the best first lines in the nation matching off, hard hitting defenses, and outstanding goal tending. I guarantee that it is more exciting than that action-packed shooting gallery that was the NCAA D-I basketball national championship. Wait, what? In a double-overtime blood bath, North Dakota 3 - Minnesota-Duluth 2.

Jam of the Week: This is a new addition to my column, thanks to an idea that was given to me by an astute colleague of mine. I love all types of music, but my closest friends know that I'm a sucker for songs with a catchy beat. That being said, this week's jam is a no-brainer really.

It's titled "Don't Turn Off the Lights Now," by NKOTBSB. I know what you're thinking, and the answer is yes. It is a collaborative effort between two powerhouse boy bands: New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys. It's almost too good, in my opinion. Regardless you can thank me later, ladies.