“Frozen Four Primer: 25th Anniversary Present for the Wolverines?” – by Woodward Sports guest author, Steve Steele
April 4th, 1998. The Fleet Center (now TD Garden) in Boston, Massachusetts. The game is tied 2-2 between Michigan and Boston College with 2:44 to go in Overtime. A BC player stumbles to make a pass to his teammate at the right side of the net just below the goal-line. The teammate receives the pass and sends a centering pass to a wide-open player in front of the Michigan net, but it goes just through his legs and out the other side. Just 30 seconds later, a Michigan defender receives a pass at the left point and skates it down to the corner, cycles the puck to his teammate Josh Langfield coming from behind the net. He takes the puck and curls just into the lower circle and fires a quick shot catching the BC goalie unprepared and scores the game-winning goal. The Michigan Wolverines are the 1998 NCAA Hockey National Champions!
25 seasons ago was the last time the Michigan Wolverines reached the peak of NCAA Men’s Hockey. Thursday night will be the 8th time since they are back in the Frozen Four, seeking to reach the summit yet again. They are 1-6 in the Frozen Four since then, a trend this year’s squad hopes to change. In seeking to do so here’s a look at the other 3 teams competing to hoist the trophy this year, as well as what needs to happen for Michigan to get over the hump and take back the crown.
Up First: The Quinnipiac Bobcats, ECAC Champions, 32-4-3
For a team who was the top seed in their regional, this Quinnipiac team is as close as things get to a Cinderella for this weekend’s Frozen Four without the blue-blood identity and star-studded lineup. The Bobcats are making only their 3rd trip in program history to the Frozen Four. However, the other two trips (2013, 2016) both resulted in National Runner-Ups. While the Bobcats hope to change that result, so do the Wolverines who are hoping they don’t even make it that far.
Quinnipiac has scored 2.57 goals for every goal they give up this season shooting over 12% and holding opponents to shooting only 7%. Goaltender Yaniv Perets has recorded a staggering 10 shutouts with a .932 Save Percentage for the #1 scoring defense in the country. Collin Graf leads the Bobcats and is 4th nationally averaging 1.44 points per game in which they are the 3rd highest scoring offense in the country. They have given up 3+ goals in less games (8) than they have shutout their opponents (10).
For Michigan to defeat the Bobcats and head to the National Title for the first time since 2011, they need to do a few things.
- They CANNOT get behind. The all important first goal of the hockey game must go to the Wolverines. Just like last season in the regional final, if Michigan can get ahead and force Quinnipiac to take more chances, they can open up both bullet points below this.
- They need to win the shot share. With the Bobcats averaging a 59.1% shot share when 5 on 5, the Wolverines need to find a way to overtake that and get solid zone time.
- Crank the tempo. Quinnipiac is the oldest team still playing, the Wolverines one of the younger. The more controlled this game is, the more it’ll favor that experience and defensive mentality. The more open this game can go and the more energy it contains, the more it will favor the wide open offensive mentality of the Wolverines.
The Other Contenders: Boston University Terriers & Minnesota Golden Gophers
The other semi-final reunites an old school rivalry with a trip to the ship on the line. Both teams are good, and both have what it takes to bring home the ultimate prize.
The Terriers have been on a tear lately and are definitely playing their best hockey coming in. While without some of the big names the Gophers boast, they are a deep team, they have a great hockey tradition, and they are believing they can do it right now. Those factors can take a team a long way, and you could argue they already have. They are a Top 5 scoring offense and have the drive to compete with everyone. While they have earned the right to be here, can they beat the behemoth that is the Gophers?
Minnesota comes in with not one, but TWO Hobey Baker finalists in Coyotes’ Draftee Logan Cooley and Leafs’ draftee Matthew Knies. Add in Jimmy Snuggerud and you have an insane line leading the second-best scoring offense in the country. Brock Faber anchors the defense pacing the sixth best scoring defense coming in. The Gophers don’t have a lot in the form of weaknesses and should beat the Terriers and move onto Saturday’s game at Amalie Arena.
The Michigan Wolverines; B1G Champs, 26-11-3
Hail to the Victors, the Michigan Wolverines and B1G Champions. Newly christened permanent Head Coach Brandon Naurato has the team playing great and believing this is the year. He’s done an incredible job in his first year at the helm, albeit with the interim tag until now. Thursday’s Frozen Four game will be his first as the permanent Head Coach and should solidify the University’s belief in the changes he’s made to move on from the troubled past in the locker room.
If the prize is to be won, it’ll start from none other than the likely Hobey Baker winner Adam Fantilli. The nation’s best 1.85 points per game and likely 2nd overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft has been the driver of the Wolverine offense all season long. Playing in every game situation and finding ways to make a difference, he hopes to bring Michigan back to the top in what will more than likely be his only year wearing the Maize and Blue. But he’s not the only key player for the Wolverines.
Roster of NHL Talent
Michigan has 12 players already drafted by NHL organizations as well as 2 players who should be 1st round picks in this year’s draft. The Wolverines could look very different next year with departures from some of these players moving onto professional careers. Luke Hughes will likely move onto play with his brother Jack in New Jersey, while Mackie Samoskevich (Florida), Frank Nazar (Chicago), and Rutger McGroarty (Winnipeg) could all have opportunities to move into either the AHL or NHL next year as well.
This is a loaded team with the talent, depth, and camaraderie to do it. They’ve beaten the Gophers the last 2 times they played, including the B1G Championship in Minnesota. It should be an incredible hockey game between 2 of the best NCAA hockey teams in history should it come to pass. However, for Michigan fans the hard question to think about prepping for this weekend isn’t can they do it? The better question is if this group can’t do it, what group can?
Article written by Woodward Sports guest writer, Steve Steele
Photo Credit: © Daily Press
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