By Jake Antonucci
The 2023 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship brings its annual Frozan Four down to Tampa this year to be played at Amalie Arena. The four teams left playing include the Minnestoa Gophers playing against the Boston University Terriers at 5 p.m. on April 6. Following that game we have a highly anticipated matchup between the Quinnipiac Bobcats and the Michigan Wolverines.
Minnesota and Boston U meet in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012 but their rivalry dates back all the way to the 1970’s, which includes the famous brawl in the 1976 NCAA tournament. This should be an incredible game between two of the nation’s most entertaining teams each of which will be making their 23rd Frozan Four appearances. The Gophers advanced out of the Fargo Region with a 9-2 win over Canisius and then defeated in-state rival St. Cloud State 4-1 in the regional final. Minnesota is known for their ability to score and that was on full display throughout the regional and they hope to keep that going during the Frozen Four.
Minnesota has the perfect mix of skill and experience needed to win during this time of the year. Goaltender Justen Close has been fantastic down the stretch for this team and he is getting much needed help from one of the country’s best defensive groups led by seniors Jackson LaCombe and Ryan Johnson along with junior Brock Faber. You take this defense and add them with one of the most potent top lines in the country with Logan Cooley, Matt Knies, and Jimmy Snuggerud who have combined for 148 points this year. The Gophers have had the best team on paper all year but they have to be ready for battle when they get down to Tampa.
Boston U heads back to the Frozan Four after a relatively easy regional performance where they beat Western Michigan 5-1 and then outlasted Cornell in the regional final. Boston U enters the Frozen Four on a nine game winning streak, making them a team nobody wants to see at the moment. Up front, Boston U has plenty of veteran leadership with players like Matt Brown and Wilmer Skoog driving a lot of the production. Defensively they have been a little shaky throughout the season but have figured it out when it matters the most, with goaltender Drew Commesso only allowing two or fewer goals in five of his last six starts.
On the other side of the Frozan Four, Quinnipiac will take on Michigan in a battle of one of the nation’s best defensive teams and one of it’s best offensive teams. For the third team in program history, Quinnipiac is going to the Frozen Four after dominating Merrimack 5-0 and beating Ohio St 4-1 in the regionals. The Bobcats have been one of the stingiest teams in the nation, allowing only 1.5 goals per game and 21.7 shots against per game. Qunnipiac doesn’t always play the most exciting brand of hockey, but they’re effective and it has paid off so far this season. The two previous times the Bobcats have made the Frozen Four they lost in the National Championship, so this year they are looking to get over that hurdle and bring home the hardware.
The Michigan Wolverines are heading to their 27th Frozen Four after defeating Penn St in an overtime thriller in the regional final. They had back to the Frozen Four with a first-year head coach in Brandon Naurato and the NCAA’s youngest roster and many new faces after losing so many to graduation and NHL contracts last season. The offense is lead by Freshman Adam Fantilli, one of the top prospects for the 2023 NHL Draft, who is the NCAA’s scoring leader with 64 points. The defense is anchored by Luke Hughes, who is second among NCAA defensemen with 47 points. Michigan, like Minnesota, has all of the pieces to come out on top. The experience of this team will be the biggest factor.
The Frozen Four always gives us must watch entertainment and we should expect nothing less with this years teams. It’s going to be a wild finish to what has been an especially entertaining NCAA season.