On Thursday, April 7, the puck will drop in Boston’s TD Garden to kick off the 2022 Frozen Four of the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. The first game will see the University of Michigan take on the University of Denver at 5 p.m., followed by Minnesota State University, Mankato taking on the University of Minnesota at 8:30 p.m. The winner of both games will play on Saturday, April 9 in the National Championship game.
Denver found their way into the Frozen Four by beating UMass Lowell in the first round and avenging their NCHC semifinals loss to Minnesota-Duluth to punch their ticket to Boston. In doing so, they ended Duluth’s four-year streak of making it to the Frozen Four. Denver comes in with a 29-9-1 record overall and has been a top team in the nation for the whole season, sitting fourth in the pairwise rankings.
Offensively, Denver is led by the nation’s leading scorer and Hobey Baker finalist, third-year forward Bobby Brink. In 39 games played, Brink totaled 56 points. Denver as a team scored the second-most goals in the nation and was the only team in the country to have four players over 40 points. Along with Brink, Fourth-year forward Brett Stapley, second-year forward Carter Savoie and fourth-year forward Cole Guttman all scored over the 40-mark. This well-rounded Denver team has what it takes to win it all.
Facing Denver is arguably the most talented team in college hockey history, the University of Michigan Wolverines. Second-year defenseman Owen Power went first overall in last year’s NHL draft, second-year forward Matty Beniers went second, first-year defenseman Luke Hughes went fourth, second-year forward Kent Johnson went fifth and first-year forward Mackie Samoskevich went twenty-fourth. Four of the top five picks in the NHL draft play for Michigan. No team has ever had that many elite-level prospects at one time.
Michigan has 13 NHL-drafted players on a deep squad that has a 31-9-1 record. They rank No. 1 in the pairwise, won the BIG10 tournament and convincingly dispatched American International College and Quinnipiac University in their regionals en route to Boston. Since postseason play has begun, Michigan has outscored their opponents 30-12 in six games. They’re not a team to bet against, but if they do fall short, they will lose multiple key players to the NHL once this season is over, so it’s now or never for the Wolverines.
The team with the best record in the country at 37-5 is Minnesota State. After reaching the final four for the first time in the school’s history last year, the Mavericks are back again. Finally shedding their choker label, they are now well respected and legitimate title contenders. Led by fourth-year goalie Dryden McKay, the Hobey Baker finalist shut down the opposition, and as a team they boasted the second-best defense in the country, only allowing 54 goals in 42 games for a 1.3 goals-against average.
In addition to that stingy defense, Minnesota State also scored the most goals in the country with 172. Although many will chalk it up to simply playing in an easier conference than the other Frozen Four teams, Minnesota State only lost two of their 16 out-of-conference games all year and beat a battle-tested Notre Dame team to get into the Frozen Four. Offensively, they are led by third-year forward Nathan Smith, who is second in the nation in scoring with 50 points. Could this be the year Minnesota State finally proves a lot of critics wrong?
Staring them in the face are their in-state rivals, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. The sleeping giant has finally awoken, making the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014. Boasting a nation high 14 NHL-drafted players, the Gophers are loaded. With a 26-12 record, the Gopher’s resume doesn’t stand out compared to their peers in the Frozen Four, but they have won 11 of their last 12 games, with the lone loss coming to Michigan in the BIG10 title game by one goal.
The Gophers are led offensively by Hobey Baker finalist, third-year forward Ben Meyers. Meyers was a surprise to be in the final three for the award but has nonetheless been Minnesota’s best scorer with a team-high 17 goals and 41 points. First-year forward Matthew Knies is also an emerging star. In his first year of college hockey, he scored 32 points in 32 games. The Gophers are probably the biggest underdog here, but more than capable of winning it all.
For my prediction, I am going to pick Minnesota State to win their school’s first-ever National Championship, going against the University of Michigan in the final.