After months of grinding, College Hockey as a whole has finally reached the NCAA playoffs. Fifteen of the best teams in the country (plus an Atlantic Hockey representative) will all be battling to become a national champion. They’ve been grinding since the beginning of October and it’s all come down to less than a handful of games, even for those that go all the way. It’ll only take two wins to take four of these teams to Boston.
(1) Michigan vs (4) AICThe number one overall seed in the tournament, Michigan, will be taking on American International. The Wolverines have been the apple of the media’s eye for the better part of six months. With a skilled roster FULL of NHL talent, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get the draw. They were beat out by Minnesota for the Big 10 regular season title before coming back to beat that same Gophers squad in the conference tournament. This team is young, but they’re the real deal.
If there’s one person on the planet who is confident that AIC is winning this game, I haven’t met them yet. With that being said, AIC has played spoiler as a massive underdog before. In 2019, they came into the tournament as the 16-seed and upset a #1 ranked St Cloud team in the first round. They’ll be looking to recapture some of that same magic this time around. Even if they do win (which they won’t) I don’t see them making it to Boston.Prediction: Michigan lives up to the hype in the first game, humbling a hot AIC squad
(2) Quinnipiac vs (3) St Cloud State
The Quinnipiac Bobcats have been a mystery all year long. Despite their mediocre record against ranked opponents, they’ve amassed quite the reputation as being one of the nation’s top teams. A lot of that clout can be attributed to their stellar goaltender, Yaniv Perets. As a freshman, he’s got the second best save percentage in all of College Hockey. The question will be whether or not he can produce those kinds of numbers when the level of competition he’s facing ramps up.You may have forgotten, but St Cloud State was fighting for a #1 ranking in the early stages of the season. They came into the year with one goal in mind, avenging an embarrassing loss in the championship game last season. With eight seniors and four graduate students, this team is more than experienced and has plenty of size. They’ve stumbled and faltered as of late, but don’t let that fool you…they can compete with anybody.
Prediction: St Cloud State upsets an overrated Quinnipiac team
(1) Denver vs (4) UMass Lowell
A month ago, it would not have surprised anyone outside of Mankato to see Denver as the top-ranked team in the nation. They have four players with 40+ points on the season. That includes the superstar, mister assist himself, Bobby Brink. At 55 points (41 being apples), this kid leads the nation, six points ahead of second place. While there is plenty of scoring power for the Pioneers, their Achilles heel could be Magnus Chrona between the pipes. The Swedish junior has just a .908 save percentage this season and has shown that he can be exposed.
UMass Lowell has been flying under the radar for the entire season. They’re highest scoring player is tied at 91 in the nation. They don’t have many statement wins, but they’re consistent. Owen Savory, the Canadian Senior with a .927 save percentage will have to weather the storm that is Denver if the Riverhawks have any chance of pulling off the upset here. He’s allowed four or more goals just four times this season. If they can keep Denver to three, the game MIGHT be close.Prediction: Denver wins and it’s out of reach before the second period is over.
(2) Minnesota-Duluth vs (3) Michigan Tech
The Bulldogs and their fans were nervous about having a .500 record a couple of weeks ago. Since then, they’ve swept St. Cloud State and beaten- both Western Michigan and Denver. All that paved their way to winning the NCHC conference tournament championship. Over those four games, Ryan Fanti has allowed just 1.2 GAA and boasted a .958 save percentage. Some people are saying that’s good. If UMD wants to make it to a fifth consecutive Frozen Four, he’ll have to be the centerpiece a little longer.
Michigan Tech is better than people give them credit for. At one point in February, they were toying with a top-ten pairwise ranking. Their loss to Bemidji State in the CCHA semi-final game is the biggest reason why a lot of people are souring on the Huskies. Junior tendy Blake Pietila is not to be overlooked. UMD has had trouble finding the back of the net this season, and Pietila is certainly capable of giving them some more fits if he’s playing his best and gets some defensive help.
Prediction: Bulldogs win, but it’s closer than I’d like to admit
Albany, New York
(1) Minnesota State vs (4) Harvard
The Mavericks have been the best and most consistent team in the nation for the entire year. They started it off by beating the reigning national champions and haven’t let their foot off the gas since. There were a couple of speed bumps along the way and some nervous games at the end, but their record speaks for itself. With one of the most prolific goaltenders in College Hockey history between the pipes in Dryden McKay they’ve got a good chance anywhere. Not only that, but with two of the top three scorers in the nation (Smith and Napravnik) they can score too.
Harvard was up and down all year long. They made the USCHO rankings a couple times and then fell off after some bad losses. There is no doubt that they’re hot right now and that’s what matters. Winning the ECAC earned them a bid into the tournament, knocking out Ohio State. Their Minnesotan captain, Casey Dornbach has his team humming. Minnesota State might have their hands full with this game, lets hope they can win in regulation this time around.
Prediction: Minnesota State wins by 2
(2) North Dakota vs (3) Notre Dame
North Dakota was co-champion of NCHC regular season and shares the rights to the Penrose Cup. They might as well just name it the “North Dakota trophy of regular season excellence” at this point. They will be entering the playoffs without Jake Sanderson, yet again. The stellar defenseman has been plagued by bad luck all season long. From World Juniors getting cancelled to Covid ruining his Olympic experience all paired with a string of injuries keeping him off the ice. The
Sioux Fighting Hawks will have to rely on their other members to pick up the slack in his absence.
Notre Dame might be the most dangerous “underdog” in the entire tournament. Not many people can say that they beat Michigan in College Hockey this year. The Fighting Irish have done it FOUR TIMES. They play in the Big Ten so consistency is missing, but when they’re on…they’re on. With the seventh ranked goaltender and a good, defensive scheme, Notre Dame has a blueprint to win. They just need to execute. Whoever wins the neutral zone battle, will win this game.
Prediction: Notre Dame takes advantage of a depleted North Dakota by 1
(1) Western Michigan vs (4) Northeastern
Western Michigan has earned a number one seed in the national tournament for the first time in program history. They’ve been a thorn in the side of all NCHC teams for a long time and they’re finally getting national recognition. In fact, they’ve been so intimidating this year that Michigan backed out of playing them to avoid an almost certain loss. For what it’s worth, that missed game was the difference between Mankato keeping the top seed and getting bumped. Western’s strength has been playing at home, in front of the Lawson Lunatics for a long time. Now we’ll get to see if they can do it at a “Neutral site”.
Northeastern made the tournament by the skin of their teeth. If Bemidji had won the CCHA conference tournament, these Huskies would be on the outside looking in. Fortunately for them, that was not the case. Devon Levi has been nothing but stellar for six months. He earned a spot on team Canada’s roster for the Olympics and he’s kept the Huskies in more games than anyone else on the roster. It’s hard to say how good the shots he’s been seeing have been with Hockey East in a slump this year, but the numbers don’t lie. He’s got the best save percentage in all of College Hockey. If he falters, the Huskies might be in trouble.
Prediction: Broncos edge Northeastern, but need a lot of shots to do it.
(2) Minnesota vs (3) UMass
This might be the biggest test of them all for the favorites. Minnesota dropped from a one-seed to a two-seed after their loss to Michigan in their conference championship game. With that, their first round matchup got significantly harder. Justen Close has been nothing but stellar in replacement of Jack LaFontaine the second half of the season. He’s tied for eighth in the nation with a .928 save percentage which is more than anyone was expecting after he got the nod. The Gophers potent offense is not to be overlooked either. Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies have been regulars on the score sheet and highlight reels for the maroon and gold. They’ll look to strike early and often to take the home crowd out of the game.
After winning a national title last year, UMass has not lived up to expectations set by their fanbase. Let me remind you that their fanbase is a bunch of spoiled Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots fans as well. They’re used to teams dominating and getting to brag about it. That’s not UMass hockey. They’re grinders. They’re pesky and dangerous with Bobby Trevigno scoring insane goals left and right. If the Gophers can bottle him up, the Minutemen might be in trouble.
Prediction: Gophers silence the crowd with 4 goals
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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.
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