NCAA Tournament in Full Swing


The road to the Frozen Four continues for many teams. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Yes, the Cinderella story out of Jersey City of St Peter’s University and Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final ride are grabbing the headlines, but 16 men’s hockey teams started their run to the National Championship last weekend, leading to great drama and a star-studded Frozen Four starting on April 7.

The number one overall seed is the Michigan Wolverines, packed full of NHL prospects such as Owen Power (Buffalo) and Luke Hughes (New Jersey) on the back line and Matty Beniers (Seattle) and local product Mackie Samoskevich (Florida) up front. They got things started against American International College out of Worcester, Massachusetts, taking care of business by a score of 5-3. Vegas prospect Brendon Brisson led the way with one goal and two assists. They moved on to face the Quinnipiac Bobcats, who garnered a 5-4 victory over St. Cloud State to set up a matchup between the one and two seeds in the Allentown regional. That game was tight throughout: a Michigan goal 33 seconds in made it 1-0, but it stayed like that for a long time until Jimmy Lambert made it 2-0 late in the first. Michigan powered forward to a 4-1 lead until the Bobcats dominated the third period. They popped in two to make it a 4-3 game, but the Wolverines pulled it out with two empty-netters to make it 7-3. 

They will face the Denver Pioneers in the Frozen Four next weekend, who persevered through two one-goal games to get to their 18th semifinal. The Pioneers were able to avenge a heartbreaking defeat in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) semifinals against Minnesota Duluth with a 2-1 victory on Saturday. Bobby Brink leads the way for them offensively. The Flyers prospect notched 56 points in 39 games this season. Their captain Cole Guttman, a Tampa Bay sixth round pick, was the team’s 2021 offensive player of the year and followed it up with a 19-goal campaign in his senior year. Swedish junior goaltender Magnus Chrona provides one of the best backstops in the nation, with 26 wins in 35 starts, posting a 2.16 goals against average. 

On the other side, Minnesota State University, Mankato represents the Albany region after a 1-0 tussle with Notre Dame. Mankato has risen to prominence in the last 10 seasons under head coach Mike Hastings. They are in their second consecutive Frozen Four and their seventh NCAA Tournament since 2013. They only have two players with NHL ties, junior Nathan Smith, who just got traded from Winnipeg to Arizona at the deadline, and senior Benton Maass, who was a late round pick of the Washington Capitals. They went 13-1 last year but were picked off by St. Cloud in the semifinal matchup. Now, they go head-to-head with the ultimate goliath in college hockey.

Sure, Mankato has had a better season than the University of Minnesota this year. And yes, the Golden Gophers have gone eight seasons without making it to the Final Four. But like the Yankees or the Cowboys, the Gophers are the cream of the crop in collegiate hockey, especially to the smaller schools. The Gophers took down defending champion University of Massachusetts and Western Michigan University to get to this point as the only non-one seed in the Frozen Four. Former St. Cloud and Team USA coach Bob Motzko is in his fourth season at the helm and has finally led the Gophers back, looking for their first National Championship since 2003. They have many potential NHL-ers with Winnipeg first rounder Chaz Lucius, future Maple Leafs blueliner Matthew Knies and U.S. Olympian and World Junior gold medalist Brock Faber of the LA Kings. 

The tournament is on a fast track for a Mankato versus Michigan final matchup. They have been the two best teams all season long, and it would be a great matchup with the Wolverines coming out on top. They’ve built as much of a superteam as one can in college hockey and will reap the benefits in two week’s time.