The 2022 Frozen Four is finally here and is set to go down in Boston, Ma. Four of the best-attacking teams in the country, statistically, will go head-to-head for the chance of a lifetime on Saturday and win a national title.
Thursday, April 7, will start the proceedings with the semi-finals. We get two intriguing matchups with the #1 overall seed Michigan, taking on the #4 seed Denver. While on the other side of the bracket we will see an all-Minnesota affair as the Minnesota St Mavericks will look for bragging rights against the mighty Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Let’s see how every team got to this point and a prediction of who will play for the national title on April 9 in front of a raucous TD Garden.
Michigan vs Denver (5:00 PM, ESPN2)
How they got here –
- Michigan is 31-9-1 with only one loss outside of league play (Michigan Tech) and are the favorites in the Frozen Four,
- The Maize & Blue won the Big 10 postseason title, a HUGE accomplishment for the boys, as it was the first time since 2016 that Michigan captured the Big 10 title.
- In the National Tournament, the Wolverines are slatted as the #1 overall seed and after defeating AIC 5-3 & Quinnipiac 7-4 in the Allentown Regionals, Michigan is looking for their NCAA record 10th National Title.
- Denver is season 29-9-1 on the season and got here with a sour taste in their mouths. The Pioneers lost to rivals Minnesota Duluth in the semi-finals of the NCHC tournament but were still good enough to be given the #4 overall seed in the tournament.
- On their road to the Frozen Four, the Pioneers had a scare in the regional semi-finals, getting a win in OT against UMass Lowell. They were given the opportunity at redemption against Duluth in the finals, which they won 2-1 to end the Bulldogs’ season.
Players to watch –
- Coach Mel Person has assembled one of the most talented teams of all time, as Michigan have 13 drafted players on its roster, including seven drafted in the first round.
- The Wolverines are led by their version of the famous Michigan “Fab Five”. Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Luke Hughes, and Kent Johnson all were selected in the top five of last year’s NHL draft with Power & Beniers going one-two. While Brandon Brisson (21G, 21A), a first-round pick in 2020, lead the team in game-winning goals with six, second-best in the nation.
- Hughes (17G, 22A), the youngest player in College Hockey as a Freshman, lead all defensemen in goals (17) and points (39) in 40 games. Hughes was named co-freshman of the year in the Big Ten while also being a top 10 finalist for the Hobby Baker.
- Beniers (20G, 23A) alongside Brisson, represented the US at the Olympics and were two of the best players for the team at the tournament. Also, a top 10 finalist for the Hobby Baker, Beniers has emerged as one of the best 200-foot players in all of college and after the tournament will most likely join the Seattle Kraken for the rest of their 2021 season.
- Also at the Olympics were Powers & Johnson, except they represented Canada. Powers, who missed missing eight games, was still a point a game player as the #1 defenseman on the blue line while Johnson (8G, 29A) lead the team in assists upfront while missing nine.
- Goalie Eric Portillo, a 6’6 sophomore from Sweden, has been key in net for Michigan. Portillo has played ALL 40 games, winning 31 of them, while also being ranked 12th in GAA (2.12) & 10th in SV% (.926).
- Denver had four players reach the 40-point mark, Bobby Brink (14G, 42A), Cole Guttman (19G, 26A), Carter Savoie (22G, 22A) & Brett Stapley (16G, 25A), tied for 1st in the nation. One of those players is, who
- Brink is different than the other three as he led all of College Hockey in scoring with 56 points in only 39 games.
- Brink is also a Hat Trick finalist for the Hobby Baker and would be the first Pioneer to take home the award since Will Butcher in 2017.
- Savoie has been Denver’s deadliest goal scorer this year putting the puck in the net 22 times, and if you give Denver a PP, forget about it. The sophomore goal scorer FEASTED on the PP, scoring 11 goals with the extra man, good for third in the country.
- Guttman & Stapley are also no slouches when it comes to the offensive zone, combining for 86 points between the two, on the county’s #1 scoring offense (4.28 GF/GP).
Prediction: Michigan 5, Denver 3
Minnesota St vs Minnesota (8:30 PM, ESPNU)
How they got here –
- The Mavericks are the #1 ranked team in the country & the #2 overall seed, boasting a 37-5 record and are currently riding a 17-game winning streak.
- The champions from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association had a weird situation in the championship game. After scoring the would-be game-winner in OT and celebrating the win in the locker, it was discovered that the puck didn’t actually go in the net.
- Luckily for Mike Hastings’ team, they came back out onto the ice and won the game once more with a goal from Jack McNeely to secure the conference title.
- In the tournament the Mavericks have had not the easiest road to the Frozen Four, narrowly beating both Harvard 4-3 and Notre Dame only 1-0. But when you have a Hobby Baker caliber goalie, you like your chances in a “one-and-done” game.
- The Golden Gophers are the only team to make the Frozen Four as a non #1 regional seed. Minnesota really struggled for the first half of the season, but after their Olympic players returned from China, they turned it on
- Minnesota is riding into Boston on a hot streak, only losing one game in their last 12 games. That loss came at the hands of the Wolverines in the Big Ten tournament in Minnesota. But when you look at their last 12 games, they have outscored their opponents 50-20 in that span.
- In the tournament, the Gophers barely squeezed by UMass, winning in OT after forcing an extra frame after tying the game late in the third period. In the regional final, Minnesota upset Western Michigan, cruising to a 3-0 victory thanks to both special teams contributing a goal.
Players to watch –
- Minnesota St is led by the best goalie in the country in between the pipes as Dryden McKay (37-4, .934 SV%, 1.28 GAA) is one of three finalists for the Hobby Baker. McKay would be the first goalie since Ryan Millar won the award in 2001 for Michigan St; heard of him?
- Upfront the Mavs have Julian Napravnik (18G, 31A) & Nathan Smith (19G, 31A) leading the forward group in scoring. Napravnik was the Mavericks MVP in conference play as he was tied for 5th In the WCHA with 28 points in league play.
- But Smith was sensational in his own right, racking up 50 points and a 1.39 P/GP so far this season, both second-best in the country.
- Minnesota St as a team rolls into the Frozen Four with the #2 scoring offense (4.10 GF/GP) & defense (1.29 GA/GP) in the country. So, if the Mavericks can give McKay 3+ goals, it might not be so easy to match them.
- The Gophers are led by junior captain & Hobby Baker Hat Trick finalist Ben Meyers (17G, 24A) who also represented the USA at the Olympics.
- Meyers after returning from wearing the “Red, White & Blue”, put up 15 points in Minnesota’s last seven games (including the Big Ten postseason and the national tournament). Meyers is also one of the top UDFA set to sign with an NHL team once Minnesota’s season comes to an end.
- But probably the biggest story of Minnesota’s season was when goalie Jack LaFontaine signed with the Hurricanes mid-season leaving the net to back up Justin Close. Boy did Close take the bull by the horns. After being thrown into the deep end as the new starter, Close finished the year 14-4 with a 1.83 GAA & a .929 SV%, both top 10 in the nation.
- He was not the only big surprise of the season, because 2021 second-round pick of the Maple Leafs, Matthew Knies (14G, 18A), a freshman, played a huge role in playing alongside Meyers on the first line. So much so that Toronto might be interested in signing Knies for a potential playoff run.
Prediction: Minnesota St 3, Minnesota 1
The 2022 Frozen Four has two sectional semi-finals set to go down today in front of an amazing Boston crowd. All four team’s sets of fans will also be out in full force to cheer on their schools for a chance at playing for a national title Saturday, April 9th.
Will we get a Big Ten title rematch in the national title game between Michigan & Minnesota? Could we get a matchup between the top two teams in the country with #1 Minnesota St against #2 Michigan?
A lot of storylines are set to go head-to-head in the Frozen Four but only one team will be lifting a national title on Saturday. Tune in to ESPN2 & ESPNU today for the semi-final games while the national title game will take place on ESPN2 at 8:00 PM.