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The Hockey News
NCAA Frozen Four: Breaking Down the Finalists in 2023
By Tony Ferrari,
The NCAA Frozen Four is set, with the Michigan taking on Quinnipiac and Minnesota facing Boston University. Tony Ferrari gives the rundown.
After an exciting start to the NCAA hockey tournament, the Frozen Four is set.
The University of Michigan will take on Quinnipiac, while Boston University will take on the top-seeded University of Minnesota.
Some of the most exciting players in college hockey will be in action. The best draft prospect in college hockey since Jack Eichel, the NCAA’s most exciting defenseman, and the nation’s top line will all be in Tampa Bay when the Frozen Four kicks off.
The Frozen Four runs from April 6 to 8, crowning a national champion next weekend. Let’s look at each team and how they’ll get the job done in their trek to capture that national title.
University of Minnesota
With 14 drafted players on the roster, they boast the most NHL talent remaining in the college hockey playoffs. Led by their top line of Logan Cooley (ARI), Jimmy Snuggerud (STL), and Matthew Knies (TOR), the offensive attack of the Golden Gophers ranked second in the nation. Their goal prevention was impressive as well as they placed second in the country in goal differential.
The entirety of the top line rank among the top 20 scorers in the nation, while Cooley and Snuggerud sit in the top five, second and fifth, respectively. Cooley and Knies are both Hobey Baker hat-trick finalists. Cooley is the driving force, a dual-threat center that does everything with dynamic skill. Snuggerud is the play connecter with high-level finishing ability. Knies is a powerful presence that goes through opponents as often as he goes around them.
To say that the Gophers' top forward line is the best in the country would be an understatement.
Minnesota also features one of the best blueline groups in the nation, led by captain Brock Faber (MIN), one of the most well-rounded and underrated defensive prospects in hockey. Jackson LaCombe (ANA), Mike Koster (TOR) and Ryan Johnson (BUF) round out a group that can do it all. They are sound defensively, move the puck efficiently, and engage at the offensive blueline.
There should be no lack of motivation as a national title is worthy enough of their best efforts, but they also get the chance to redeem themselves against Michigan. Despite the University of Minnesota’s standing as the top-ranked team nationally, they fell to the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten championship.
With so many Gophers ready to sign NHL deals and turn pro, this could be the last run with one of the deepest and most talented college hockey rosters in recent years. A matchup against Boston University will be a stiff test as they deal with the high-end talent featured on that roster. If they do find themselves looking ahead too much, they could find themselves out in the semifinal, just as they did last year.
Headlined by the top-scoring defenseman in the NCAA, Lane Hutson (MTL) and the Boston University Terriers are in tough in their semifinal matchup as they are going up against the top-seeded Golden Gophers. While Minnesota may have the most NHL-drafted talent, BU is loaded in its own right with a dozen drafted prospects.
Hutson has 48 points through 38 games as an 18-year-old freshman, providing as many highlight plays as anyone in college hockey this season. The Hobey Baker top-10 finalist and Walter Brown Award-winner has earned high praise for his on-the-puck play this season as he’s dazzled with his upper-tier skating ability and manipulative intellect that pulls opponents out of position and allows him to take advantage of their mistakes.
Hutson isn’t the only undersized defender dominating on the Terriers this season, though, as captain Domenick Fensore (CAR) has been a force on the back end. He understands how to push play in the right direction and seldom makes mistakes. The duo gives Boston a one-two punch on the back end that not many teams can handle.
Boston is flush with freshmen making an impact. Ryan Greene (CHI) and Jeremy Wilmer have made their presence known, making it three freshmen in the top five of team scoring. Wilmer plays a smart game based on making quick decisions and getting himself into space in the offensive zone. Greene is a playmaker who uses his hands to create separation and open the ice up so that he can find teammates in great spots.
The key to Boston University could be goaltender Drew Commesso (CHI). The 20-year-old netminder has been one of the best players on the Terriers through the second half of the season. Commesso must continue his strong play of late to ensure his squad will play for the national championship as they face a powerhouse in Minnesota.
University of Michigan
Michigan is another squad with a dozen NHL-drafted prospects, but the team's best player isn’t eligible for the draft until June.
The Michigan Wolverines are the most dangerous offense in college hockey. Led by super freshman and highly touted 2023 NHL draft prospect Adam Fantilli, the Wolverines put up 123 goals, just ahead of the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the NCAA lead. They will take on Quinnipiac in the semifinal, a wonderful clash of styles as the Bobcats are one the nation’s top defensive teams.
Fantilli made the top three finalists for the Hobey Baker after leading the NCAA in goals (29), points (64) and points per game (1.83). The super freshman plays with a unique blend of speed, power, and finesse that is unlike just about anyone outside of the NHL.
Fantilli isn’t the only draft-eligible freshman on the squad, though, as Gavin Brindley has been one of the most impressive players in college since he returned from the World Junior Championship. Brindley plays with speed and tenacity despite his size while being one of the shiftiest playmakers on the team.
The Wolverines’ roster is littered with high-end talent. Luke Hughes (NJD) and Seamus Casey (NJD) highlight the blueline, bringing incredible puck skill and playmaking ability. Hughes is one of college hockey’s most dangerous defensemen, using his elite-level skating and cerebral offensive mind to attack opponents.
Mackie Samoskevich (FLA) was the hero in the regional round, scoring an overtime winner to send the Wolverines to the Frozen Four. He brings some of the most impressive puck skills and offensive IQ at the NCAA level. Rutger McGroarty (WPG) has grown with each passing game this season, becoming one of Michigan’s most integral scorers.
Michigan defeated Minnesota in the Big Ten title game and could face them again in the national championship match, looking to assert its dominance over the top-ranked team in the nation. The Wolverines will look to capture the national title after losing in the semifinal last season. If they can capture the championship, it would be their 10th title all time, breaking the tie with Denver, who captured its ninth title last year.
The defensive foil to Michigan’s offense, Quinnipiac will look to shut the nation's top offense down in the semifinal.
The Bobcats allowed the fewest goals against of any team in the nation, with 60. They don’t have the star power of the other teams in the Frozen Four, but they boast the best defensive structure.
Goaltender Yaniv Perets is a Hobey Baker top 10 finalist, just as he was last year, and will be the biggest differentiating factor for Quinnipiac as they face the country’s most explosive offense in Michigan before possibly facing Minnesota (No. 2 two in goals-for) and Boston University (fifth). Thankfully, Quinnipiac isn’t devoid of offense, as they are the fourth-highest scoring team in the nation.
The Bobcats’ leading scorer this year has been Collin Graf, yet another Hobey Baker top 10 finalist. His 56 points on the year are third in the nation, giving them a dangerous threat at all times. The squad has six players with at least 30 points on the year, giving them a deep cupboard of offense to rely on if Graf is shut down in any game.
Quinnipiac has only three drafted prospects, one of which is their backup goalie. Sam Lipkin (ARI) and Skyler Brind’Amour (EDM) are pivotal members of the team's forward group, with 39 and 32 points, respectively. The names aren’t as big as Michigan, but QU has some of the nation's most highly effective players across the roster.
Captain Zach Metsa leads the defensive group. The 24-year-old blueliner is a graduate student in his final season of NCAA hockey, and he is looking to get the perennially strong Quinnipiac squad over the hump. They’ve been to the national title game in each of their previous two trips to the Frozen Four, so they will be looking to keep that trend going. The trend they are looking to break is finally winning it all.
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