Welcome back Frozen Frenzy (I am trying to make this a thing)! While not the same type of crazed action as the basketball tournaments bring us, there is something special about the NCAA Hockey Tournament. Sure, it brings us the cream of the crop in the 16 teams competing. Yes, the field is stacked with NHL draft picks and players developing into NHL draft picks. But it is more than that. The margin for error is so small, there is no chance to steal a game with a buzzer beater. This tournament is about the most complete team being crowned champion.
The Frozen Frenzy rewards the teams that are consistent in each of their shifts. These teams will minimize penalties and if they do end up having to kill a penalty, they will operate in a disciplined manner and not allow their opponent to capitalize. Conversely, if they have a power play opportunity of their own, they cash in. Now that we know what it will take to win, let’s take a look at the field (Big Ten teams are in bold). I have predicted the winners of each regional match up and will also present my predictions for the Frozen Four, including the National Championship (winning teams are in bold in the prediction). As with any predictions this time of year, they are to be taken lightly and I do not recommend wagering based on any information contained in this article. Let the Frozen Frenzy begin!
Bridgeport Regional March 26-27
#1 Wisconsin vs. #4 Bemidji State
#2 UMass vs. #3 Lake Superior State
Fargo Regional March 26-27
#1 North Dakota vs. #4 American International
#2 Michigan vs. #3 Minnesota Duluth
Albany Regional March 27-28
#1 Boston College vs. #4 Notre Dame**
#2 St. Cloud State vs. #3 Boston University
Loveland Regional March 27-28
#1 Minnesota vs. #4 Omaha
#2 Minnesota State vs. #3 Quinnipiac*
*= Quinnipiac enters as the ECAC champion to replace St Lawrence, who is out of the tournament due to their head coach testing positive for Covid-19
**Notre Dame earns their bid as the final at large selection which originally went to Quinnipiac
The Frozen Four will take place in Pittsburgh April 8-10
So which one of these teams will be the one standing after all the Frozen Madness and hoists the Frozen Four Trophy? Your guess is as good as mine.
Minnesota-Duluth vs Michigan, Fargo Regional
Let’s start with the two time (or three time if you count the lost tournament in 2020) defending champs, the Bulldogs from Minnesota-Duluth. Looking to become the first three time champ since Michigan back in 1951-53, they face the two seed Wolverines to open the tournament in one of the Fargo Regionals. Minnesota-Duluth has now made the tournament six consecutive times, the longest active streak in the country.
UMD was fortunate to grab an at large entry into the Frozen Frenzy tournament after losing in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference semifinals to St. Cloud St. last week. The trouble with facing the Bulldogs is their championship pedigree. This team does not panic. They play the same way whether they face a lead or a deficit. Furthermore, the Bulldogs also play fast which is trouble for opponents because they do not make mistakes and put a ton of pressure on teams to match their pace.
Michigan Talented but Conservative
The Bulldogs’ opponent is a much more talented Michigan team that features eight NHL draft picks and an additional three projected first round picks in 2021. Michigan has been playing up and down hockey of late. By the same token, nobody knows which Wolverines team will show up. Additionally, Michigan struggles to close games out by playing too conservatively at times. That is a recipe for being eliminated when you play a team like the Bulldogs, who I have advancing to the next round.
Players to Watch
Nick Swaney (UMD Forward; NCHC Player of the Year Runner Up), Strauss Mann (Michigan Goalie; Mike Richter Award Finalist), really every shift on the ice for Michigan is worth watching as they have all those future NHLers.
North Dakota vs American International College Fargo Regional
The University of North Dakota won the NCHC this year and will have home ice to open the Frozen Frenzy as they are hosting the Fargo Regional. UND is consistently good night in and night out and are elite because of their depth. Furthermore, they dominated their conference with an 18-5-1 record and then defeated Denver University to claim the NCHC tournament as well. Keep an eye on Jordan Kawaguchi, who is the glue of this team. He had just nine goals but added 25 assists. He always seems to find players in the right position to score.
American International College, champs of the Atlantic Hockey Conference will have their work cut out for them. The Yellow Jackets did defeat the number one seed St Cloud St Huskies in the 2019 Tournament. Seven of the 19 players from that team are still on the roster. This could bode well for AIC in this game. They are a grinding type team that competes hard and and will not panic. Then again, they are facing the number one overall seed. Can lightning strike twice for the Yellow Jackets? I say no and predict that the Fighting Hawks of UND prevail and will face the UMD Bulldogs.
Players to Watch (in addition to Kawaguchi)
Shane Pinto (UND F; 15 goals, 15 assists), Adam Scheel (UND Goalie; Mike Richter Award Finalist), Elijah Barriga (AIC Center), Justin Cole (AIC Forward; Most Outstanding Player, Atlantic Hockey Tournament).
Should both North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth advance, it would set up their third meeting of the season. The Bulldogs won both regular season meetings, including one in a shootout.
Frozen Frenzy Round of Eight Match-up: North Dakota vs Minnesota-Duluth
Wisconsin vs Bemidji State Bridgeport Regional
Next, let’s move to the Bridgeport Regional of Frozen Frenzy and talk about the Badgers. When you think of Wisconsin and how they were able to get a one seed in the tournament, you have to think Cole Caufield. His resume is big time: projected Hobey Baker Award finalist, NCAA leading scorer in both goals and points, the list goes on. The Badgers also have the third and fourth scorers in the country in Linus Weissbach and Dylan Holloway. Goals should not be a problem as they were the highest scoring team in D-1 (3.80 goals per game). The Badgers defense needs to play better against Bemidji State than they did against Minnesota in the Big Ten championship.
Beavers Will Be Tough
Bemidji State, of the WCHA, finished 15-9-3. The Beavers played a good schedule and beat Minnesota State a couple times. Wisconsin should not take them lightly. Bemidji State is one of those teams that will not beat itself or get out worked. In reality, Badgers will be too much to handle and get the win.
Players to Watch (in addition to Caufield, Weissbach and Holloway)
Alex Ierullo (Bemidji State Forward), Brendan Harris (Bemidji State Forward), and Ethan Somoza (Bemidji State Forward)
UMass vs LSSU Bridgeport Regional
The other game in Bridgeport will pit UMass, of the Hockey East conference and Lake Superior State against each other in round one of the Frozen Frenzy. UMass is making its third ever appearance and LSSU is making its first appearance since 1996 after winning the WCHA playoff for the first time ever. Not only is it a little surprising that each of these teams made it in, they are similarly lacking in National Award finalists. Despite the lack of notoriety, I anticipate a great game of hockey.
UMass went just 1-4 against other tournament entrants. This does not bode well for them heading into their match up with the Lakers. LSSU went just 2-4-1 against other tournament teams. However, each of these teams won their respective conference tournaments and enter the Frozen Madness on fire. Look for LSSU to keep its momentum rolling and stun UMass in an upset.
Players to Watch
Bobby Trivigno (UMass Forward; Hockey East Tournament MVP), Filip Lindberg (UMass Goalie), Zac Jones (Umass Defenseman), Mareks Mitens (LSSU Goalie; Mike Richter Award Finalist), Ashton Calder (LSSU Forward), Pete Veillette (LSSU Forward)
Frozen Frenzy Round of Eight Match-up: Wisconsin vs LSSU
Minnesota vs Omaha Loveland Regional
On the other side of the Frozen Frenzy bracket, we have the rival Gophers facing Omaha. Minnesota is the far superior team and feature the senior Jack LaFontaine in net. He is a favorite for the Mike Richter award as the nation’s top goaltender and is also garnering Hobey Baker consideration. In addition to LaFontaine, Minnesota also has play makers all over the ice and are strong on the back check.
Omaha posted a few wins over tournament teams before losing to Denver in the NCHC tournament. Unfortunately, Minnesota is just a tough draw. Omaha is a solid team but Minnesota is great. As much as I want to pick Omaha at the expense of the Gophers…that would be foolish. Minnesota advances in a game that may not be that close.
Players to Watch (in addition to LaFontaine)
Taylor Ward (Omaha), Chayse Primeau (Omaha), Tyler Weiss (Omaha), Blake McLaughlin (Minnesota), Sampo Ranta (Minnesota)
Minnesota State vs Quinnipiac Loveland Regional
Let’s move now to the Frozen Frenzy meeting between Minnesota State and Quinnipiac. The Bobcats of Quinnipiac were the runners up in the ECAC tournament, suffering an upset loss to St Lawrence in the final. With St Lawrence unable to participate, Quinnipiac is the sole representative of ECAC Hockey. Despite their upset loss to St Lawrence, the Bobcats put together a great season (17-7-4).
On the other hand, Minnesota State went 20-4-1 this year including an impressive 5-2-1 against fellow tournament teams Bemidji Staten and LSSU. Furthermore, the Mavericks outscored their opponents by 50 goals this season. I’ll take Minnesota State to advance to the Frozen Madness round of eight.
Players to Watch
Odeen Tufto (Quinnipiac Forward; Hobey Baker Finalist), Keith Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac Goaltender; Hobey Baker Award Finalist), Dryden McKay (Minnesota State Goaltender; Mike Richter Finalist, Hobey Baker Finalist), Julian Napravnik (Minnesota State Forward; WCHA Offensive Player of the Year), Akito Hirose (Minnesota State Defenseman; WCHA Rookie of the Year)
Frozen Frenzy Round of 8 match up: Minnesota vs Minnesota State
Boston College vs Notre Dame Albany Regional
That leaves us with our final region in Albany. The first match up is the number one seed Boston College Eagles facing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Boston College is the second overall seed and the Irish were the final team selected. These two teams are essentially opposites of one another. Boston College lost consecutive games just once this year and three of their losses came in overtime (one such loss was in double overtime).
Notre Dame on the other hand, is very inconsistent. The Irish had two different three game losing streaks. They also won four in a row. Although the Irish are talented, they play simple, efficient hockey. It will be a tough challenge for BC to solve them. I’ll take Notre Dame in a close upset.
Players to Watch: Notre Dame Loaded with Finalists
Matt Boldy (BC Forward; Hobey Baker Award Finalist), Spencer Knight (BC Goaltender Mike Richter and Hobey Baker Award Finalist), Marc McLaughlin (BC Forward), Alex Steeves (ND Forward), Spencer Stastney (ND Defenseman), Graham Slaggert (ND Forward)
St Cloud St vs Boston University Albany Regional
Finally, we have St Cloud St facing Boston University to close out the Frozen Frenzy field. The Huskies finished the season 17-10 (15-9 in the vaunted NCHC conference). This included a 6-4 mark against fellow tourney teams UMD and UND. The Huskies have lost four consecutive games in the tournament and 5-15 all time in the Frozen Frenzy. Their odds are decent just because they play in the NCHC, which has had a team win the last four titles. The Huskies are battle tested and pose a serious challenge for Boston University.
The Terriers posted a 10-4-1 record (10-3-1 in Hockey East play). Boston University has appeared in 37 tournaments, second most all time. The concern with Boston U is that they have not been tested the same way most of the other teams have. They fared well against other tourney teams (3-1) but the last time they played a tournament caliber team was Feb. 6. St Cloud St ends their drought and advances to the next round.
Players to Watch:
Nick Perbix (St Cloud State, Defenseman), Veeti Miettinen (St Cloud State Forward), Nolan Walker (St Cloud St Forward), David Farrance (Boston U Defenseman; Hobey Baker Award Finalist), Drew Commesso (Boston U Goaltender), Jay O’Brien (Boston U Forward)
Frozen Frenzy Round Eight Match-up: St Cloud St vs Notre Dame
Frozen Four Predictions (winners in bold)
North Dakota vs Wisconsin
Minnesota vs Notre Dame
The National Championship game will feature the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers. Not only will Wisconsin be meeting Minnesota in a rematch of the Big Ten Championship Game, but also there is the border battle aspect. What better way to cap off the Frozen Frenzy? As a matter of fact, it seems like destiny for the Badgers and Gophers to be set up to meet with the national title on the line. Not only are each of these teams loaded with playmakers, but also we get to watch Jack Lafontaine try to stop Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway. Of course I am picking Wisconsin to win it all. After all, I am entitled to a little bias as this is a Wisconsin sports site right? Badgers avenge their conference title game loss with a 5-4 win in overtime.
Frozen Frenzy Fun Facts
None of the four number one seeds made the last Frozen Madness tournament (2019)…Six of the eight Mike Richter Award Finalists are appearing in the field…All ten Hobey Baker Finalists are appearing in the tournament…For as star studded as Michigan is, the only finalist on their team is junior goalie Strauss Mann…Lake Superior State University has players representing nine different countries…Minnesota has won the most tournament games (55) and five championships. They last won it all in 2003…
Boston College is 12th in D-1 in goals against per game (2.19)…The Eagles have the most shorthanded goals in D-1 with 8…Michigan is in the tourney for a record tying 38th time (Minnesota)…Wolverines also have the most titles (nine)…19 Wolverines are represented on NHL rosters, tied for the most of any school…North Dakota leads the nation in goals per game (3.96) and scoring margin (+54)…The Big Ten and NCHC each have four teams in the field…Hockey East and the WCHA have three teams apiece…