Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

طوبیٰ Tooba 4 months ago 0 2

The field for the men’s NCAA hockey tournament is set, with 16 teams looking to earn a trip to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Frozen Four.

Regional play begins Thursday and concludes March 31, with the national semifinals set for April 11 and the championship game April 12 at the Xcel Energy Center. Every game of the tournament will be aired on the ESPN family of networks and streamed on ESPN+.

Boston College, the Hockey East champion and No. 1 team much of the season, secured the No. 1 overall seed. The other top seeds are Boston University, Denver and Michigan State.

The tournament champions in Atlantic Hockey, the Big Ten, CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East and NCHC were automatic qualifiers, with the 10 at-large spots determined by the PairWise rankings.

Below is the tournament schedule, which will be updated with results as games are played. (An interactive bracket that will be updated can be found here.) Additionally, we get you ready for the action with a look at the top storylines and players from ESPN college hockey analysts Andrew Raycroft and Sean Ritchlin, and a team-by-team breakdown of the entire field.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

Every game of the NCAA men’s hockey tournament, including the Frozen Four and championship game, will be available on ESPN+. Subscribe to watch!

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field


All times Eastern

Springfield (Massachusetts) Regional

Semifinals, Thursday

No. 1 Denver vs. No. 4 UMass, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
No. 2 Maine vs. No. 3 Cornell, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNews)

Final, Saturday

Semifinal winners, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Regional

Semifinals, Thursday

No. 1 Boston University vs. No. 4 RIT, 5 p.m. (ESPNU)
No. 2 Minnesota vs. No. 3 Omaha, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Final, Saturday

Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Providence (Rhode Island) Regional

Semifinals, Friday

No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 4 Michigan Tech, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Quinnipiac, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNews)

Final, March 31

Semifinal winners, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

Maryland Heights (Missouri) Regional

Semifinals, Friday

No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Western Michigan, 5 p.m. (ESPNU)
No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 3 Michigan, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Final, March 31

Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Frozen Four

National semifinals, April 11, 5 and 8:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

National championship game, April 13, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

Storylines to watch

What team outside the top four could make a run at the national title?

Andrew Raycroft: Omaha is my pick. Coming off an upset of North Dakota in the NCHC semifinals, Omaha could have the easiest path — if there is an easiest path? — of all the lower seeds. The Mavericks are one of the hottest teams in the country; prior to their loss to Denver in the NCHC final, they had won 14 of their past 16 games in a battle-tested conference.

Sean Ritchlin: Outside of the top four, the Big Ten and NCHC have some talented teams that have not been as consistent as you’d like to see. But they have significant upside that could push them to making a run. Michigan won six of its last seven games before losing in overtime in the Big Ten final and has a high-end offense that can compete with anyone. But the Wolverines have struggled to keep goals against down, and over the past 10 years, the best defensive teams have had more success in the NCAA tourney. At the top of the list for team defense this year are Cornell, Quinnipiac (no surprise there) and Wisconsin. Those are the teams best suited to slow down the high-powered offensive teams (like BC and BU) and frustrate them in transition.

Two options: 1) Boston College or Boston University, the top two overall seeds, will win it all, or 2) anyone other than BC or BU will win it. What’s your pick?

Raycroft: I am taking option 1 because BC is so good! The Eagles have the star power, the role players, the steady defense and, of course, the goaltending necessary to win the championship. On top of that, their special teams are elite, with the penalty kill the best in the nation and the power play in the top five.

Ritchlin: BC is the clear chalk heading into the tourney as it has the deepest lineup in the country; the Eagles are second in goals per game (4.51) and fourth in goals against (2.22). Will Smith, the nation’s leading scorer with 67 points, is just the beginning with Cutter Gauthier, Gabe Perreault and Ryan Leonard all proven high-end players up front. In net, Jacob Fowler has been solid with a 2.19 GAA while winning 29 games. BC can beat you on the rush or play a grind-it-out game down low, leading to chances off the forecheck and in front of the net. With all that said, the Eagles are young and most of the stars haven’t played an NCAA tournament game. Can their skill outweigh the lack of experience and nerves that come with playing on college hockey’s biggest stage?

What’s your take on the Hobey Baker race?

Raycroft: My choice is Gauthier of BC. He leads the nation in goals with 35 and been ultra-consistent, getting points in 32 of 37 games played. The caveat to this pick is that Macklin Celebrini, BU’s uber freshman, beat out Gauthier for Hockey East Player of the Year. I’m still sticking with Gauthier though.

Ritchlin: There are so many star-powered underclassmen this season. The race between the amazing talent of 17-year-old Celebrini of BU and BC freshman Smith makes this a coin flip for me. Celebrini winning Player of the Year in Hockey East leads me to believe the voters could lean his way, and he scored more goals than Smith, with 31 in his stellar freshman season. Historically the committee has placed an emphasis on goal scoring, which could swing things toward Gauthier. And North Dakota sophomore Jackson Blake, who is right there with Celebrini and Gauthier with 59 points, also would be worthy. I think the final three will come down to Celebrini, Smith and Blake, and after Smith’s four-goal performance in the Hockey East final, it is hard not to give him the award. He has been the most dominant player on the best team in the country.

Who are your picks for the Frozen Four?

Raycroft: BC, BU, Denver and North Dakota. I see upsets coming in the opening games of each regional, but not against the top dogs. In one-and-done games anything can happen, but I believe the top three teams have too much firepower to be shut down on opening weekend. The tough one here will be NoDak vs. Michigan State — those teams would provide an elite matchup in the second game of regionals.

Ritchlin: BC, Michigan State, Minnesota and Denver. When it gets to one-and-done games, I am a big believer in team defense and goaltending. Michigan State just won the Big Ten title on the back of Trey Augustine making impressive saves look easy and he has won in pressure situations already, taking home the gold medal for Team USA in the world junior championship. I like the Spartans to return to the Frozen Four. Boston College is clearly the top team in the nation and unless the Eagles have a completely off night, they will be in St. Paul as the favorite to take home the title. After the heartbreaking OT loss to Quinnipiac in last year’s title game, the Golden Gophers have had their eyes set on this tourney from the start of the season and I see Bob Motzko and Minnesota returning to the Frozen Four in their home state. Denver is coming off a stellar NCHC championship win. Standout freshman defenseman Zeev Buium and forward Jack Devine lead the Pioneers, who are as scary as anyone offensively, leading the country with 4.79 goals per game.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

Providence Regional

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 1 Boston College (31-5-1)

How did Eagles get here: Hockey East champion

PairWise ranking: 1

NCAA history: In 36 previous NCAA appearances, the Eagles have made the Frozen Four 25 times (second all time). BC has won five national championships, the last in 2012.

Hot or not? Hot doesn’t do BC justice. How about ready to spontaneously combust? The Eagles have won 12 straight, capped by a dominant performance in the Hockey East tournament. Smith had four goals and an assist in the title game (a 6-2 win over BU), Gauthier had three goals and four assists over the two games at TD Garden and Perreault, who missed five games with a hand injury, returned this weekend and is riding an 18-game point streak.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 2 Wisconsin (26-11-2)

How did Badgers get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 8

NCAA history: Wisconsin’s résumé includes six national titles, 12 Frozen Fours and 27 NCAA appearances. The Badgers are in the field for the first time since 2021.

Hot or not? Wisconsin, the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, was upset in the first round, dropping two of three to last-place Ohio State. The Badgers also lost a pair to the Buckeyes in February. Wisconsin did post a 4-1 win over Big Ten champ Michigan State to close the regular season.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 3 Quinnipiac (26-9-2)

How did Bobcats get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 9

NCAA history: After beating Minnesota for their first national title, the defending champs are in the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season and fifth time in six years. The Bobcats have advanced to the Frozen Four three times in nine NCAA appearances.

Hot or not? Quinnipiac was shut out by St. Lawrence in the ECAC semifinals 3-0. The Bobcats had won 11 of 13 prior to that, however, allowing 23 total goals in that span.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 4 Michigan Tech (19-14-6)

How did Huskies get here: CCHA champion

PairWise ranking: 32

NCAA history: Michigan Tech is in the field of 16 for the third straight year and is making its 16th NCAA appearance overall. The Huskies are 0-5 with two overtime losses in their five tournament games since 2015.

Hot or not? Michigan Tech, which snapped Bemidji State’s 11-game winning streak with its 2-1 CCHA championship game win, has won five in a row and seven of its past eight. Senior goalie Blake Pietila has yielded no more than two goals in eight of his past 10 games.

Sioux Falls Regional

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 1 Boston University (26-9-2)

How did Terriers get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 2

NCAA history: The Terriers have made 38 NCAA appearances (third all time) and have been to the Frozen Four 23 times, including last season, when they lost to Minnesota in the semifinals. BU has won five national titles, the last in 2009.

Hot or not? Prior to their loss to BC in the Hockey East title game, the Terriers had won seven straight, averaging five goals per game. Freshman phenom Celebrini has eight goals in his last seven games and 31 on the season. Sophomore defenseman Lane Hutson has 94 career points (28 goals, 66 assists) in 74 games.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 2 Minnesota (22-10-5)

How did Golden Gophers get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 7

NCAA history: Minnesota has played a record 102 NCAA tournament games in 40 appearances, which is tied with Michigan for the most of all time. The Gophers have been to 23 Frozen Fours, including the last two, and have won five national championships, their last in 2003.

Hot or not? Despite a pair of tight, one-goal losses to Michigan, including one in the Big Ten semifinals, the Gophers closed the season strong, going 13-4-1 since Jan. 8. That included a split at Big Ten champ Michigan State. Jaxon Nelson has scored half of his 16 goals on the season in the last six games.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 3 Omaha (23-12-4)

How did Mavericks get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 11

NCAA history: Omaha has made four NCAA appearances, the last in 2021, with one trip to the Frozen Four (2015).

Hot or not? After losing three straight in late January, Omaha went on a serious heater, winning 14 of 16 games to surge up the PairWise rankings. The run included three March wins over North Dakota, which was a top-four team in the country before running into the Mavericks.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 4 RIT (27-10-2)

How did Tigers get here: Atlantic champion

PairWise ranking: 21

NCAA history: RIT is in the NCAA field for the fourth time since moving up to Division I in 2005 and the first time since 2016.

Hot or not? The top seed in the Atlantic tournament, RIT outscored its opponents 26-6 over five games. Graduate student Elijah Gonsalves had 10 points in the tournament, including two goals and two assists in the championship game win over AIC. Sophomore Tommy Scarfone had a .954 save percentage in net for the Tigers.

Springfield Regional

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 1 Denver (28-9-3)

How did Pioneers get here: NCHC champion

PairWise ranking: 3

NCAA history: The 2022 champ, Denver has nine national titles, which is tied with Michigan for the most of all time. The Pioneers have played in 14 of the past 15 NCAA tournaments (missing only in 2021) and have made 32 appearances overall.

Hot or not? Denver is riding a season-high five-game winning streak and is 11-2-1 since the start of February. The high-flying Pioneers, the top scoring team in the country, have at least three goals each of their past 12 games. Freshman Zeev Buium leads all defensemen with 48 points.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 2 Maine (23-11-2)

How did Black Bears get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 5

NCAA history: The Black Bears have made 18 NCAA appearances, but this is their first time in the field since 2012. Maine has won two national championships, in 1999 and 1993.

Hot or not? After riding high most of the season, Maine hit a bit of a late skid but closed with a sweep of UMass and a 5-0 win over rival New Hampshire in the Hockey East playoffs before falling to BU in the semifinals. Despite losing 4-1, the Black Bears outshot the Terriers 33-18. Freshmen brothers Josh (45 points) and Bradly (46) Nadeau had four points each in the win over UNH.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 3 Cornell (21-6-6)

How did Big Red get here: ECAC champion

PairWise ranking: 12

NCAA history: Cornell is making its 24th NCAA appearance and its second in a row. The Big Red played in three straight tournaments from 2016 to 2019 and qualified in 2020 (canceled because of COVID). Last year, Cornell shut out Denver, then the defending national champ, before losing 2-1 to BU in the regional finals.

Hot or not? The Big Red have won five in a row, their third five-game winning streak since the start of 2024. Since Jan. 1, junior goaltender Ian Shane has a 15-2-3 record with a 1.62 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 4 UMass (20-13-3)

How did Minutemen get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 14

NCAA history: In four NCAA appearances, the Minutemen are 8-3, with their .727 winning percentage the best ever. UMass, the 2021 national champ, had made three straight tournaments before missing out in 2023.

Hot or not? The Minutemen made the tournament by the skin of their teeth after losing a pair at Maine to end the regular season and getting drubbed by BC 8-1 in the Hockey East semifinals. In between, there was a quarterfinal win over Providence that got them in the field. Defenseman Ryan Ufko, a finalist for conference Player of the Year, had the game-winning goal against Providence.

Maryland Heights Regional

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 1 Michigan State (24-9-3)

How did Spartans get here: Big Ten champion

PairWise ranking: 4

NCAA history: A regular participant under Ron Mason in the 1980s and ’90s, Michigan State has made 27 NCAA appearances, but none since 2012. The Spartans last made it to the Frozen Four in 2009, when they won their third national championship.

Hot or not? With freshman Patrick Geary’s overtime goal, Michigan State claimed its first Big Ten championship, 5-4 over Michigan. The Spartans have won seven of their past nine games and have four straight wins over archrival Michigan for the first time since 1997-98.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 2 North Dakota (26-11-2)

How did Fighting Hawks get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 6

NCAA history: North Dakota has won eight national titles (third all time), the last in 2016, which was coach Brad Berry’s first season in Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks are 53-28 in 34 NCAA appearances; their .654 winning percentage is the best among schools with 50 or more tournament games.

Hot or not? NoDak is under .500 over its last nine games (4-5) with three losses to Omaha and two to Colorado College. However, they won the season series against Denver, 3-1, with the loss in overtime, and have a win over BU on their résumé. Jackson Blake reached 100 career points (in his 78th game) with two assists in an NCHC semifinal loss to Omaha, becoming the first NoDak sophomore to do that since Zach Parise in 2004.

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 3 Michigan (21-14-3)

How did Wolverines get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 10

NCAA history: Despite being the most decorated program in college hockey history — nine national titles (tied with Denver), 40 NCAA appearances (tied with Minnesota) and 27 Frozen Fours — Michigan has not won it all since 1998. The Wolverines lost in the national semifinals the past two years.

Hot or not? Michigan found some magic late in the season, winning six of seven, with five of the wins by one goal, before falling to Michigan State in OT in the Big Ten championship game. Rutger McGroarty, who leads the Wolverines with 52 points, is on an eight-game scoring streak (14 points).

Road to the Frozen Four: Breaking down the 16-team field

No. 4 Western Michigan (21-15-1)

How did Broncos get here: At-large bid

PairWise ranking: 13

NCAA history: Western Michigan is in the NCAA field for the third straight year, a first in program history. The Broncos have won just one game in eight previous appearances, beating Northeastern in overtime in 2022.

Hot or not? While the Broncos went 6-9 to close the season in the rugged NCHC, three of those losses were in overtime and they posted wins over Denver and Omaha during that stretch. Sam Colangelo, who is tied with Dylan Wendt with a team-high 23 goals, had a hat trick in WMU’s playoff win over St. Cloud State.

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