Tampa, FL – With the Frozen Four just a few short days away, let’s take a look at each of the teams competing for the 2023 NCAA Ice Hockey National Championship.
Minnesota: 28-9-1 Overall (4-3 OT). Big Ten champion. #1 overall seed. Record against Top 14 Pairwise teams: 12-6. Frozen Four Appearances: 23. Prior National Championships: 5 (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003).
How they got to Tampa? Winning the Fargo Regional, 9-2 over Canisius and 4-1 over St. Cloud State.
Key Players: Fr. F Logan Cooley (20G-37A-57P), Fr. F Jimmy Snuggerud (21-29-50), So. F Matthew Knies (21-20-41), Sr. D Jackson LaCombe (9-26-35), Jr. D Brock Faber (4-21-25), Sr. G Justen Close (25-9-1, 1.99 GAA, .928 Sv%)
Stats: G/G 4.2 (1st), GA/G 2.2 (4th), PP 26.2% (4th), PK 83.7% (12th), PIM/G 7.6 (3rd)
Why they might win it all: The Gophers have been the best team in the country nearly all season long, so they’re used to playing under pressure. Minnesota boasts the best line in college hockey in Knies-Cooley-Snuggerud, who look like a threat to score every time they hit the ice and feature two of the Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalists in Cooley and Knies. The Gophers also have one of the deepest blue line units in the country, led by captain Brock Faber (and too many other great defensemen to name). Minnesota has experience in spades, returning most of their key players from a Frozen Four run in Boston last season. 2015 was the last time the national champion hadn’t been to the Frozen Four in the prior two seasons.
KRACH Odds: 65% to beat BU, 37% to win NCAA Tournament
Boston University: 29-10-0 Overall (3-2 OT). Hockey East champion and Hockey East playoff champion. #5 overall seed. Record against Top 14 Pairwise teams: 6-4. Frozen Four Appearances: 23. Prior National Championships: 5 (1971, 1972, 1978, 1995, 2009).
How they got to Tampa? Winning the Manchester Regional, 5-1 over Western Michigan and 2-1 over Cornell.
Key Players: Fr. D Lane Hutson (15-33-48), Sr. F Matt Brown (16-30-46), Sr. F Wilmer Skoog (16-15-31), Jr. G Drew Commesso (24-7-0, 2.41 GAA, .914 Sv%)
Stats: G/G 3.9 (3rd), GA/G 2.6 (16th), PP 19.8% (29th), PK 81.1% (31st), PIM/G 10.6 (27th)
Why they might win it all: BU is back at the Frozen Four for the first time since 2015 under first-year coach Jay Pandolfo. The Terriers have one of the best players in the country in electrifying d-man Lane Hutson, who leads the nation in scoring by a blueliner with 48 points (one ahead of Michigan’s Luke Hughes). BU is on a hot streak, not having lost since a 4-3 overtime defeat to Merrimack on February 18th. BU’s best chance against a strong Minnesota team will be a solid performance from goalie Drew Commesso. The junior split time with Strauss Mann in the Olympic Games last year, and will be up for the challenge of stopping the Gophers and advancing his team to the championship game.
KRACH Odds: 35% to beat Minnesota, 14% to win NCAA Tournament
Quinnipiac: 32-4-3 Overall (0-0 OT). ECAC champion. #2 overall seed. Record against Top 14 Pairwise teams 5-1. Frozen Four Appearances: 3. Prior National Championships: 0.
How they got to Tampa? Winning the Bridgeport Regional, 5-0 over Merrimack and 4-1 over Ohio State.
Key Players: So. F Collin Graf (20-36-56), Gr. F Ethan de Jong (18-21-39), Fr. F Sam Lipkin (13-26-39), So. F Jacob Quillan (16-18-34), Gr. D Zach Metsa (8-25-33), So. G Yaniv Perets (32-4-3, 1.46 GAA, .932 Sv%)
Stats: G/G 3.9 (3rd), GA/G 1.5 (1st), PP 22.8% (15th), PK 86.1% (5th), PIM/G 6.9 (1st)
Why they might win it all: Despite trading places with #1 Minnesota in the polls and Pairwise rankings all season long, the Bobcats feel like a massive underdog heading into a semifinal clash with Michigan Thursday night. It’s hard to say just how good Quinnipiac is – their gaudy team statistics (4th in G/G with 3.9, 1st in GA/G with 1.5) were rung up against the 42nd toughest schedule in college hockey. The Bobcats played the Big Ten’s Ohio State tough in the regional final, slamming the door after an early Buckeye goal en route to a 4-1 triumph. Quinnipiac only had 9 total shots on goal in the final 40 minutes of action, showing they’re just fine with packing it in and playing a defensive game. To do that against an offensive juggernaut like Michigan, they’ll probably need an all-world effort from goalie Yaniv Perets. The two-time Mike Richter award finalist will be tested early and often by a Michigan team that has gotten better as the year went on. The Bobcats will need to stay disciplined and play their game against a high-flying (but sometimes reckless) Wolverine squad.
KRACH Odds: 52% to beat Michigan, 26% to win NCAA Tournament
Michigan: 26-11-3 (4-3 OT). Big Ten Playoff Champion. #3 overall seed. Record against Top 14 Pairwise teams: 12-7-2. Frozen Four Appearances: 26. Prior National Championships: 9 (1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1964, 1996, 1998).
How they got to Tampa? Winning the Allentown Regional, 11-1 over Colgate and 2-1 (OT) over Penn State.
Key Players: Fr. F Adam Fantilli (29-35-64), So. D Luke Hughes (10-37-47), So. F Mackie Samoskevich (20-23-43), Fr. F Gavin Brindley (12-26-38), Fr. F Rutger McGroarty (18-20-38), So. F Dylan Duke (18-14-32), Fr. D Seamus Casey (7-21-28), Jr. G Erik Portillo (25-10-2, 2.97 GAA, .909 Sv%)
Stats: G/G 4.2 (1st), GA/G 3.1 (42nd), PP 23.8% (11th), PK 77.3% (50th), PIM/G 16.6 (60th)
Why they might win it all: After a slow first half of the season, Michigan has turned it on in 2023, going 14-4-2 since the calendar hit January (including two wins over #1 Minnesota at Mariucci) to vault into the #3 overall seed. Adam Fantilli is the catalyst to this high-powered offensive juggernaut; Fantilli’s 1.83 PPG is easily first in the nation. The freshman is expected to be picked #2 overall in the upcoming NHL draft, and has a great chance of claiming the Hobey Baker this year as well. Fantilli’s supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at, either, with relative veterans Luke Hughes and Mackie Samoskevich leading the underclassmen attack for the Wolverines. Michigan’s weakness is on defense, where offensive-minded play can sometimes lead to a few too many odd-man rushes going the other way. Goaltender Erik Portillo is a big body, but has been beatable and is probably the shakiest of the four goalies at the Frozen Four. Michigan is also the third-most penalized team in college hockey this season, averaging 16.6 PIM per game. I’m going to be watching how disciplined newly-minted full-time head coach Brandon Naurato can get his team to play. If the Wolverines are cavalier with the puck and get into penalty trouble, Quinnipiac is good enough to take advantage.
KRACH Odds: 48% to beat Quinnipiac, 23% to win NCAA Tournament
Prediction: Minnesota over BU 4-1, Quinnipiac over Michigan 3-2 (OT), Minnesota over Quinnipiac 3-0.