Road to the Frozen Four: Results, top storylines, players to

Road to the Frozen Four: Results, top storylines, players to

The NCAA men’s hockey tournament is here, with a 16-team field battling through the regionals for a berth in the Frozen Four, to be held April 7 and 9 at TD Garden in Boston.

The four top seeds are Michigan (No. 1 in the Allentown, Pennsylvania region), Minnesota State (Albany, New York), Denver (Loveland, Colorado) and Western Michigan (Worcester, Massachusetts).

Regional play begins March 24 and 25, with regional finals scheduled for March 26 and 27. All games will be broadcast on ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPNews and will be available for streaming on the ESPN app.

To get you ready for all the action, we’ve got the full schedule of games, a roundtable with college hockey analysts Dave Starman and Sean Ritchlin sharing their insight on the biggest storylines, matchups and players, and a look at all 16 teams in the field.

Jump to: Roundtable | Teams at a glance

Schedule/results

All times Eastern; all games also available on ESPN app

Albany (N.Y.) regional

March 24
No. 1 Minnesota State 4, No. 4 Harvard 3
No. 3 Notre Dame 2, No. 2 North Dakota 1 (OT)

March 26
Minnesota State vs. Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU

Loveland (Colo.) regional

March 24
No. 2 Minnesota Duluth 3, No. 3 Michigan Tech 0
No. 1 Denver 3, No. 4 UMass Lowell 2

March 26
Minnesota Duluth vs. Denver, 4 p.m., ESPNU

Allentown (Penn.) regional

March 25
No. 1 Michigan 5, No. 4 American International 3
No. 2 Quinnipiac 5, No. 3 St. Cloud State 4

March 27
Michigan vs. Quinnipiac, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

Worcester (Mass.) regional

March 25
No. 1 Western Michigan 2, No. 4 Northeastern 1 (OT)
No. 2 Minnesota 4, No. 3 UMass 3 (OT)

March 27
Western Michigan vs. Minnesota, 4 p.m., ESPN2

Frozen Four at TD Garden, Boston

April 7
National semifinals, 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., ESPN2

April 9
National championship game, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Roundtable

What are the biggest storylines entering the tournament?

Dave Starman: The NCHC has five teams in the field, all are in the top nine in the PairWise rankings. That league has been a beast this year and in the second half of the season, no teams have played a tougher strength of schedule than those teams. That being said, Minnesota is loaded, Michigan is loaded, and the question is who has the better team. I think it is Minnesota; the most-skilled teams usually never win this thing. UMass is coming out of a weaker Hockey East than usual. I think they will rise to the challenge, but they are little thin in some key areas. And the amount of quality defensemen in this tournament is impressive.

Sean Ritchlin: The West has been dominating all year. With the NCHC getting five teams, the Big Ten getting three and the CCHA two, it looks like a year when the Frozen Four winner comes from the West. Could this be the year the Big Ten breaks through and wins a title? Michigan and Minnesota are fun to watch, but those teams are younger and many of the players will be playing in the NCAA tourney for the first time.

What players are you most looking forward to watching?

Starman: If North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson gets healthy, he’s one to watch for sure. Owen Power of Michigan is unreal, but Sanderson is just as good and his game climbed this season.

The Michigan quartet of Kent Johnson, Power, Matty Beniers and Mackie Samoskevich is always fun to watch. So is Ben Meyers of Minnesota. For goaltenders, Quinnipiac freshman Yaniv Perets has been impressive and Dryden McKay of Minnesota State is a great story.

With a veteran group led by goalie Dryden McKay, Minnesota State could be poised for its first national title. Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

Ritchlin: Luke Hughes has really developed into a dominant force for Michigan as a freshman. Having Power go to the Olympics gave him an opportunity to be the No. 1 guy and he never looked back. He has elite deception and the ability to create offense from anywhere on the ice. The Gophers have as good a defensive six as anyone in the country: Jackson LaCombe and Brock Faber headline the crew.

Minnesota Duluth’s Noah Cates is a great senior leader and Denver’s Bobby Brink has piled up a ton of assists. Western Michigan’s Ethen Frank can pile pucks in the net and the Broncos will need him to get his confidence early.

Bobby Trivigno of UMass plays the game the right way and provides that combination of leadership and skill teams need to win a tourney. If the Minutemen are going to go back-to-back, he has to be the best player in the tourney.

At Minnesota State, Julian Napravnik and Nathan Smith have been in the tourney several times and bring leadership and confidence. This is a team built to win a title, with an older, more experienced crew and possibly the best goalie in the country in Dryden McKay.

What first-round game and/or second-round matchup is the most intriguing?

Starman: An interesting matchup to me is St. Cloud’s offense against Quinnipiac’s defense. Quinnipiac plays defense really well. They defend hard, they get in position, they take away the middle very well, they pack it in when they have to. Now don’t get fooled by St. Cloud’s record, they play in the NCHC, where basically you’re playing a top-15 team every week. They can fly, they go three lines deep, they’ve got four defensemen who can go. It will be interesting to see if Quinnipiac can slow down what has become a very good possession, high-flying, free-wheeling offense that plays with no fear in St. Cloud.

Ritchlin: UMass, the defending champs, against Minnesota is a great test for both teams. The Gophers are very deep and play a solid 200-foot game. UMass has continued to improve all season and appears healthy and ready to make a run for a third straight Frozen Four. For a second-round game, the buzz would be huge for a Minnesota Duluth-Denver game in Loveland. If that happens, it should be a classic.

What teams do you think have a shot at winning it all?

Starman: My mentor, John Davidson, always said don’t make predictions, they just piss coaches off that you have to work with. I will say that I think there are seven teams that could win it and that Denver is absolutely loaded and, to me, is the best team heading into this. They have that combination of enough good players and depth, and are playing with a style that can give opponents fits. There’s no ego in that group.

Ritchlin: This tournament is wide open with so many unknowns. There are probably 10 teams that have a shot to win it, but I’ll narrow it a bit to the four No. 1 seeds — Michigan, Minnesota State, Western Michigan and Denver — plus Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota.

Teams at a glance

UMass is back in the NCAA tournament and is looking to become back-to-back national champions Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

Michigan (29-9-1)

How did they get here: Big Ten champ
Seed: No. 1 in Allentown

With a roster that includes four of the top five picks in the 2021 NHL draft, the Wolverines lead the nation in star power. As a result, they’ve had players miss time to play in the Olympics and the World Juniors but still finished second in the Big Ten behind Minnesota, then avenged four regular-season losses to Notre Dame by beating the Irish in the tournament semifinals and topping the Gophers in the title game.

This is Michigan’s 39th NCAA appearance, tied with Minnesota for the most of all time. The Wolverines have been to the Frozen Four 25 times and won nine national championships, the last coming in 1998.

Quinnipiac (31-6-3)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 2 in Allentown

Quinnipiac’s ability to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard is almost hard to grasp, but the Bobcats also are great at putting the puck on net. (They outshot Harvard 49-17 in the loss to Harvard in the ECAC final.) The Bobcats have allowed just 42 goals in 40 games, with freshman Yaniv Perets posting a 0.97 GAA and 11 shutouts in 28 games.

This is Quinnipiac’s eighth NCAA appearance and seventh in the last nine tournaments. The Bobcats have made the Frozen Four twice; they were national runners-up in 2013 and 2016.

St. Cloud State (18-14-4)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 3 in Allentown

St. Cloud has just four regulation wins in its last 16 games, including a sweep at the hands of Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC quarterfinals. Even so, the defending national runner-up cannot be taken lightly given the competition level in the NCHC and the team’s experience in big games. Plus, the Huskies have the best power play in the country (.315 success rate).

This is St. Cloud State’s 15th NCAA appearance since 2000. The Huskies have made the Frozen Four twice (2013, 2021).

AIC (22-12-3)

How did they get here: Atlantic champ
Seed: No. 4 in Allentown

AIC is back in the NCAA field after steamrolling Air Force 7-0 in the Atlantic championship game. The Yellow Jackets started the season 3-9, but have been on a tear since then and are averaging 5.4 goals in their last five games.

This is AIC’s third straight NCAA appearance. Although the Yellow Jackets have been the No. 16 overall seed each time, they pulled off a huge upset by beating St. Cloud State 2-1 in 2019.

Minnesota State (35-5-0)

How did they get here: CCHA champ
Seed: No. 1 in Albany

The Mavericks capped a dominant season by beating Bemidji State to win the CCHA tournament Saturday night. They lead the nation in goal differential by a mile, averaging nearly three goals a game more than their opponents, as they’re No. 1 in goals scored (165) and second in goals allowed (51).

Minnesota State has made four straight NCAA tournaments and seven of the last nine. The Mavericks made the Frozen Four for the first time last year, losing to St. Cloud State in the semifinals.

North Dakota (24-13-1)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 2 in Albany

North Dakota had won nine of 10 before losing to Western Michigan in the NCHC semifinals and swept weekend series from both Western Michigan and Minnesota Duluth in February. The big issue with North Dakota is health, particularly for Jake Sanderson, who is one of the best defensemen in the country but whose status is unclear. Even so, the Fighting Hawks were 11-3 without Sanderson this season.

This is North Dakota’s 34th NCAA appearance; the Fighting Hawks have missed out only three times since 1997. North Dakota has been in the Frozen Four 22 times and won eight national championships, most recently in 2016.

Notre Dame (27-11-0)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 3 in Albany

The Irish lost to Michigan in the Big Ten semis, but had won 13 of 16 in the second half of the regular season, including eight of their last nine, a stretch that included a win over Minnesota and a weekend sweep of Michigan. Notre Dame is a balanced team, ranking 11th in goals scored per game and sixth in goals against average.

This is Notre Dame’s sixth consecutive NCAA appearance and 13th overall. The Irish have made the Frozen Four four times (2008, 2011, 2017, 2018).

Harvard (21-10-3)

How did they get here: ECAC champ
Seed: No. 4 in Albany

Harvard is on quite a run. The Crimson scored three goals with an extra attacker in the last 3:42 of regulation in a 4-3 overtime win against RPI in the ECAC quarterfinals, then beat Quinnipiac in OT in the title game despite being outshot 49-17. It’s all part of a 13-3-1 spurt and an improbable NCAA appearance. Harvard must be taken seriously, though, as it is just outside the top 10 nationally in both scoring offense and defense.

This is Harvard’s 26th NCAA appearance, and its fifth in six opportunities. (The Ivy League didn’t play hockey in 2021.) The Crimson have been to the Frozen Four 13 times and won one national championship (1989).

Western Michigan (25-11-1)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 1 in Worcester

After a February skid, the high-scoring Broncos were rolling with 21 goals over five straight wins before getting blanked by Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC title game. For the season, Western Michigan is fourth in the country with 3.7 goals per game, with Ethen Frank (26) leading the way.

This is Western Michigan’s seventh NCAA appearance and its first since 2017. The Broncos are seeking their first NCAA tournament win.

Minnesota (24-12-0)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 2 in Worcester

The Gophers rode an undefeated February to the Big Ten regular-season title before falling to Michigan 4-3 in the championship game. Minnesota ranks in the top 10 nationally in both goals per game (3.6) and goals allowed per game (2.3).

This is Minnesota’s 39th NCAA tournament appearance, tied with Michigan for the most of all time. The Gophers have been to the Frozen Four 21 times and won five national championships, the last coming in 2003.

UMass (22-12-2)

How did they get here: Hockey East champ
Seed: No. 3 in Worcester

The defending national champs successfully defended their Hockey East crown by beating UConn 2-1 in overtime in the title game. Conference player of the year Bobby Trivigno, fourth nationally with 48 points, had three goals and two assists in three tournament games. The Minutemen have converted nine of their last 18 power-play chances.

This is the fourth NCAA appearance for UMass and its third in a row. The Minutemen have been to the last two Frozen Fours, winning the title last year and finishing as national runner-up in 2019. (The 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic.)

Northeastern (25-12-1)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 4 in Worcester

Northeastern came on strong late in the season to claim the Hockey East regular-season crown before losing to UConn in the tournament semifinals. Goalie Devon Levi, whose 1.52 GAA is third in the nation, makes the Huskies dangerous.

This is Northeastern’s eighth NCAA appearance and its third in four tournaments. The Huskies are looking to move past the first round for the first time since 1982, when they made their lone Frozen Four appearance, losing in the semifinals.

Denver (27-9-1)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 1 in Loveland

The best team in the best league, Denver won the regular-season title in the NCHC, which has five of the top 10 teams in the PairWise rankings, before losing to Minnesota Duluth in the conference semifinals. The Pioneers have scored five or more goals 20 times this season and are No. 1 in goals per game (4.38). Junior Bobby Brink is the nation’s leading scorer (14 goals, 41 assists).

This is Denver’s 31st NCAA appearance; the Pioneers had a streak of 12 straight appearances snapped last year. They have been to the Frozen Four 16 times, winning eight national championships, most recently in 2017.

Minnesota Duluth (21-15-4)

How did they get here: NCHC champ
Seed: No. 2 in Loveland

It looks like somebody may have woken a sleeping dog. After going 6-9-3 in the second half of the regular season, the Bulldogs blitzed through the NCHC tournament as Ryan Fanti turned in back-to-back shutouts over top seed Denver and No. 3 Western Michigan this past weekend at the Xcel Center.

Minnesota Duluth, which has made it to the last four Frozen Fours, is making its seventh consecutive NCAA appearance and 15th overall. The Bulldogs have won three national championships, including back-to-back titles in 2018 and ’19.

Michigan Tech (21-12-3)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 3 in Loveland

Michigan Tech was rolling in the second half of the season, winning 11 of 12 before dropping a pair of one-goal games to top-ranked Minnesota State. After beating Ferris State in the CCHA quarterfinals, the Huskies were upset by Bemidji State 5-2 in the semis. Tech is fourth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 2.0 goals per game.

This is Michigan Tech’s fourth NCAA appearance since 2015 and 14th overall, with 10 coming from 1956-1981.

UMass Lowell (21-10-3)

How did they get here: At-large berth
Seed: No. 4 in Loveland

A physical, defensive-minded team (2.09 goals allowed per game, fifth in the country), the River Hawks scored seven goals in the Hockey East quarterfinals against Merrimack before losing to UMass in the semis.

This is UMass Lowell’s ninth NCAA appearance and its first since 2017. The River Hawks have lost in the first round only once (1988), but have made the Frozen Four only once, losing in the semifinals in 2013.

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