The culmination of the college hockey season has arrived. The “Frozen Four” is set to take place in Boston this weekend with the semifinal match-ups taking place tomorrow and the National Championship game on Saturday. While there are those who are understandably upset that there are somehow no New England teams to play in Boston, it truly is the best of the best at the end this year. Three No. 1 seeds advanced from their regional and the one outlier – Minnesota – was a No. 2 seed who had been a top-four ranked team for much of the second half of the season and arguably should have been a No. 1 seed. The four teams remaining were also the top four scoring offenses in college hockey this season. On top of that, all three Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick Finalists are also still alive. Anyone could seize the title in what should be a great finale to the NCAA season.
Michigan vs. Denver, 5:00pm ET
Minnesota State vs. Minnesota, 8:30pm ET
National Championship Game, 8:00pm ET
No. 1 Minnesota State
Accomplishments: NCAA Regular Season Champs, CCHA Tournament Champs, CCHA Regular Season Champs
NHL Prospects: F Nathan Smith (ARI), D Benton Maass (WSH)
Notable Undrafted Free Agents: G Dryden McKay, F Julian Napravnik, D Akito Hirose
The Mavericks have basically been the wire-to-wire top team in the nation this season. Under head coach Mike Hastings, Minnesota State has made it to six of the past eight NCAA Tournaments but had struggled to advance past the first round, with many citing their strength of schedule as inflating their national ranking. That changed last season when the Mavericks made a run to the Frozen Four. This season, armed with a stronger non-conference schedule, Mankato was still No. 1 for the vast majority of the season and could finally be ready to take the title. While they aren’t as flashy on paper as the other remaining competitors and their prospect-laden lineups, Minnesota State had the best goal differential in the league this season, was second in defense, and tied with Michigan for second in power play efficiency. Veteran goaltender McKay was top five in the country in save percentage and goals against average and forwards Smith and Napravnik were both top five in points per game. Don’t underestimate the Mavericks.
No. 2 Michigan
Accomplishments: Big Ten Tournament Champs
NHL Prospects: D Owen Power (BUF), F Matty Beniers (SEA), D Luke Hughes (NJD), F Kent Johnson (CLB), F Mackie Samoskevich (FLA), F Brendan Brisson (VGK), F Johnny Beecher (BOS), F Thomas Bordeleau (SJS), G Erik Portillo (BUF), D Ethan Edwards (NJD), F Dylan Duke (TBL), D Jacob Truscott (VAN), F Eric Ciccolini (NYR)
Notable Undrafted Free Agents: D Nick Blankenburg
The Wolverines entered this season as the championship favorites and have retained that title throughout, now heading into the Frozen Four. It is difficult to recall a more star-studded NCAA squad than the current Michigan roster, which includes a whopping seven first-round picks. Beniers has enjoyed one of the best all-around seasons of anyone in college hockey this season, while Johnson and Power both rank in the top five in assists per game. Yet, those three 2020-21 holdover who received so much draft hype last year are only the tip of the iceberg. Michigan can score with nearly anyone on the ice and Portillo can hold his own in net. They will be difficult to beat.
No. 3 Denver
Accomplishments: NCHC Regular Season Champs
NHL Prospects: F Bobby Brink (PHI), D Antti Tuomisto (DET), D Shai Buium (DET), D Sean Behrens (COL), F Carter Mazur (DET), D Michael Benning (FLA), F Carter Savoie (EDM), G Magnus Chrona (SJS), F Cole Guttman (TBL), F Brett Stapley (MTL), F McKade Webster (TBL), F Massimo Rizzo (CAR)
Notable 2022 NHL Draft Prospect: F Jack Devine
There is no question that the Pioneers are on the brink of greatness. Hobey Baker favorite Brink has been the most dynamic scorer in the nation this season, ranked first in points and assists per game by a significant margin. That’s not all that Denver has to offer though. Savoie is one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the NCAA, especially on the power play. Guttman is masterful at the face-off dot and a well-rounded weapon. The blue line is deep in NHL prospect talent. If the Pioneers have one weakness at this stage of the tournament, it could be starting goaltender Chrona, who simply hasn’t performed to the same level as his remaining counterparts. Yet, if any team can win in a high-scoring shootout with Michigan, it would be Denver.
No. 5 Minnesota
Accomplishments: Big Ten Regular Season Champs
NHL Prospects: F Chaz Lucius (WPG), D Ryan Johnson (BUF), D Jackson LaCombe (ANA), D Brock Faber (LAK), F Matthew Knies (TOR), F Tristan Broz (PIT), F Blake McLaughlin (ANA), F Aaron Huglen (BUF), D Jack Perbix (ANA), F Rhett Pitlick (MTL), D Mike Koster (TOR), D Ben Brinkman (DAL), F Bryce Brodzinski (PHI), F Sammy Walker (TBL)
Notable Undrafted Free Agents: F Ben Meyers
Led by top free agent and Hobey Baker finalist Meyers, the Gophers actually have more NHL Draft prospects than Michigan or Denver. Meyers is sixth in the NCAA in points per game as he leads a Minnesota team that has found ways to win at every turn this season, including splitting the regular season series with Michigan. McLaughlin, Knies, and LaCombe have all had terrific seasons as well, and when healthy Lucius has been dangerous. Goaltender Justen Close has performed admirably since taking over for Jack LaFontaine (CAR) mid-season and is not the weakness that many expected him to be. The Gophers are a real threat to knock off Minnesota State on Thursday.
Agree. Go BLUE!
Keep the Michigan Beanpot Matty Beniers as far away from Seattle’s roster as long as you can. Any spots available on the WC roster for USA?