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Notre Dame the underdog at Frozen Four starting Thursday at UC

Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork (10) is congratulated by the bench as he leads his team on ice after scoring a goal during the second period of an NCAA regional men’s college hockey tournament game against Minnesota, Saturday, March 25, 2017 in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm) ORG XMIT: NHMS

The season started with 60 NCAA men’s hockey teams hopeful to raise the national-championship trophy. Six months later, only four remain.

Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Harvard and Notre Dame will compete in the Frozen Four on Thursday and Saturday at the United Center.

Denver (31-7-4)

Denver is looking to redeem itself after falling to North Dakota in the semifinals last season.

Denver’s depth separates it from its competitors.

Senior captain Will Butcher, one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, leads Denver, which is fighting for its eighth national championship in school history. Butcher is tied for second in the nation in scoring by a defensemen with 36 points. He has blocked 76 shots in 41 games this season.

On the offensive end, the Pioneers rely on sophomore Troy Terry, who has scored 22 goals,  the most of any other Frozen Four participant. Henrik Borgstrom, who has had a breakout freshman season, recorded a team-high 42 points.

Minnesota-Duluth (27-6-7)

This is Minnesota-Duluth’s first Frozen Four appearance since winning the tournament in 2011. Minnesota-Duluth caught fire down the stretch, winning seven consecutive games heading into the postseason.

The Bulldogs are led by senior captain Dominic Toninato, who has 16 goals and 10 assists. His linemate Alex Iafallo paces the team with 19 goals and 30 assists.

First-year goaltender Hunter Miska, who recorded 26 of the Bulldogs’ 27 wins, is one of the best freshman goalies in the country with a save percentage of .919.

Harvard (28-5-2)

Harvard is making its first Frozen Four appearance in more than two decades. On a 16-game winning streak, the Crimson have the most momentum heading into the United Center.

Harvard is led by a dynamic group of seniors, who have more goals (78) and points (191) collectively than any other Division I class.

The Crimson also have the nation’s best scoring offense, averaging 4.14 goals. Senior Tyler Moy leads with 21 goals and 44 points. Seniors Alexander Kerfoot and Sean Malone added 44 and 42 points, respectively.

Notre Dame (23-11-5)

Notre Dame, which hasn’t made a Frozen Four appearance in six years, is the underdog in this year’s tournament.

Junior Anders Bjork said that  his team has no problem playing with desperation but would rather set the tone early rather than getting stuck playing catch up.

With 21 goals and 31 points, Bjork is the key to the Irish’s success.

From the blue line, junior Jordan Gross is one of the team’s most versatile players, and is ranked ninth in the nation for scoring by a defensemen.

The schedule

Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth play at 5 p.m. Thursday. Denver and Notre Dame square off at 8:30 p.m. The title is at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Follow me on Twitter @MadKenney.

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