After six glorious months of college hockey play, the 2022 Frozen Four is finally here. The field visiting Boston this year includes the Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota State Mavericks, Denver Pioneers, and Minnesota Golden Gophers. While only one of these four teams can say they were in this position last year, none of them are a big surprise. Each of these squads were inside the top six of the national Pairwise rankings to close out the season and three of them held 1-seeds in their regional tournaments.To say that this Frozen Four has some powerhouse potential would be an understatement. ELEVEN of the players in this tournament are in the top 20 players for points on season. All three of the nation’s Hobey Baker award finalists are still playing as well. While Denver’s Bobby Brink holds the #1 spot, Minnesota State’s Nathan Smith is only a few behind and he was gone for a few weeks at the Olympics. Michigan has put up the most points this far into the tournament, but they’ve also had the most favorable schedule. Then, there’s Minnesota. The Gophers top scorer (Ben Meyers) is lower than any of the other players on this list, but when you watch his game, you’d never expect it.
Below is how each of these teams got here:Regional Play – Opening Round
Where to Watch: ESPN Hates HockeyDespite the fact that everyone at ESPN (and all other national media sources) has an insane love for the Beanpot championship game, this is the single biggest stage for College Hockey every year. As the self-proclaimed “Home to Hockey” ESPN has to be making this a priority, right? Wrong.
After having both of the NATIONAL SEMIFINAL games listed and originally slated for ESPN2, the idiots at ESPN have decided to push the Minnesota vs Minnesota State game to their ESPNU channel. What will they be putting in it’s place? One of the ONE HUNDRED SIXTY TWO baseball games between the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves. We’re not talking a Yankees/Red Sox Game. We’re not even talking a Dodgers/Astros game. They’re putting on a team from Ohio against the Braves. Everyone in baseball mismanaged their offseason to extents rarely seen in professional sports and now amateur athletes have to pay the price for it? Disgusting.
People who are saying “It’s no big deal” have no idea what they’re talking about. The number of people and/or restaurants that have access to ESPNU is a FRACTION of those with access to ESPN2. It cuts out a large portion of the potential audience and people who want to watch. For a network that’s paid so much to bring hockey back to their platform, I thought that they’d be semi-interested in growing the game. After years of nothing but home runs and slam dunks on the top-ten, I blame myself for not knowing better. That’s on me.
April 7th – 4:00 PM – ESPN 2 – Feat. The Frozen Four
Michigan (31-9-1) vs Denver (29-9-1)
Believe it or not, neither of these teams played a game in the NCAA tournament last year. Denver missed the cut which led to a lot of controversy and discussion surrounding automatic bids. Michigan, on the other hand, made the tournament but was forced to forfeit due to Covid protocols. This year is a completely different story for both squads. Each was dominant in their own right, and they’ll look to impose that will on one another.
DenverDespite the fact that Michigan gets all the accolades for being the high-powered offensive team, Denver is the only team in the nation with three players in the top ten for scoring. Brink, Guttman, and Savoie have carried the Pioneers through some tough games. They’ve also blown out other teams this year. After watching them play in person, these boys deserve just as much attention as anyone. And let me tell you one thing…if the ladies had any idea how much of a man-rocket Guttman was, he’d be getting it too.
I have something to admit, and it’s not easy for me to do after how I’ve acted all year. The Michigan Wolverines are a REALLY good hockey team. That should be obvious with more than a fistful of first round NHL draft picks on the roster. I’ve been rooting against them all year long and it’s been difficult to find things to pick apart. Nothing would make me happier than to see this Goliath go down, but it will not be an easy task.
For being on the most nationally covered team in the country, Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson sure know how to fly under the radar. These two are DANGEROUS with the puck on their stick and know how to make big plays happen. Throw Luke Hughes into the mix and you’ve got your hands full. This squad can certainly go toe-to-toe with the big names of Denver as long as they’re able to break the puck out and hold the zone.
The Game Script
Denver HAS TO keep themselves out of the penalty box against this Michigan team. With a PK% of just 79.6% they’ll be up against the 2nd most efficient Power Play in the nation. Everyone that’s seen Michigan highlights this season has watched the boys in maize and blue play tic-tac-toe in the offensive zone. Magnus Chrona is a fine goalie with an elite name, but with a SV% of .908, he won’t be a match for the Wolverines should they have a lot of sustained pressure.
If Denver can find a way to get past Owen Power and keep getting shots off at the rate they’ve done all year, they’ll be just fine. That’s going to require them to command the neutral zone like they did against Minnesota-Duluth in the Regional finals. Forcing Michigan to play east-west rather than north-south and taking advantage of turnovers will be the keys to victory. Pairing all of that with Carter Savoie’s ability to chirp as good as anyone in the nation could be Michigan’s toughest matchup of the year.
Prediction: Denver, the smaller team, upsets the national media (and the Wolverines) in a 1-goal game
April 7th – 7:30 PM – ESPN U – Feat. The Frozen Four
Minnesota State (37-5-0) vs Minnesota (26-12-0)
It’s quickly becoming an annual tradition for two Minnesota teams to match up in the NCAA playoffs. As the self-proclaimed (and proven) “State of Hockey” should we expect anything different? Most recently, these two teams met last year with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. The Mavericks absolutely dismantled the Gophers 4-0 in that matchup, stunning a lot of people in the college hockey world. This year, the Gophers will be looking for revenge.
The Golden Gophers have their best shot at a title since their 2014 run ended in a 2nd place finish. That’s insane to think about, given that their reigning Richter Award winning goaltender left for the pro’s in the middle of the season and they lost four players to the Olympics for a few weeks. They started the season on a bit of a roller coaster ride with what seemed like a split every weekend, but they’ve finished strong. Justen Close has been playing better between the pipes than anyone expected and the rest of the team has finally looked crisp and polished. If they can get a lead early in this game, they can put the pressure on. Plus…they put together a banger of a hype video which obviously translates to points on the ice.
Although they’re often thought of as one of the “little brothers” to Minnesota, the Mavericks have won six of the last seven meetings between these two teams. That includes their matchup in the regional final a year ago. Despite the scoring power of Minnesota State, senior goaltender Dryden McKay has been the cornerstone of the team. With TEN shutouts and a .934 SV% on the season, he’s still in the running for both the Hobey Baker and Mike Richter awards. After being snubbed and losing the Richter to Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine last year, McKay will be looking for a little revenge of his own.
The Game Script
In no world or anywhere in the multiverse do I see this as a low-scoring affair. I know, I know…I just got done talking about how great Dryden McKay is, but that doesn’t change what I see happening. Minnesota State has allowed the fewest even strength shots and goals against all year long. This Gophers squad will not be denied those opportunities and fall into that pattern. Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies are too talented and playing too high of a level to be completely contained. On the other side of the ice, Nathan Smith and Julian Napravnik fit the same mold in terms of drive and motivation. I expect each team to trade of extended durations in the offensive zone, the polar opposite of what I expect in the other Frozen Four matchup.
Either one of these teams winning is obviously great for the state. Both of them would also yield an incredible storyline. Bob Motzko leading a team to a title after his son Mack’s passing last summer would be more emotional than just about anything else. Minnesota State finally reaching the pinnacle after so many years of first round exits and heartbreaking losses would be a huge weight lifted off of that program as well. No matter what happens, it should be one hell of a game.
Prediction: Minnesota State caps off a magical season by finally making it to their first national championship game.
Bet on the College Hockey Games
If the opening rounds of regional play have you more confident in your team than ever, you can finally place wagers on it against other people. If you’re not as confident in your squad, you can always hedge your happiness and bet the other way as well! Bettor Edge has their College Hockey odds up and ready for all the games. Anything can happen during any game in amateur athletics and having a vested interest in teams you wouldn’t otherwise care about makes any game interesting. Just be responsible and remember, I’m not a financial advisor.
I’ve been hit by cars three times, which is an indication of how stubborn I am.
I write about everything across the board, but focus on Hockey and the pain that is Minnesota sports.
Argue with me on Twitter: @venividiveech