It’s been a week since the Boston University men’s hockey team met the swift ax of elimination from the NCAA Tournament, but college hockey isn’t over.
The Frozen Four, held in St. Paul, Minnesota, kicks off Thursday night with the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan squaring off along with the University of Minnesota Duluth and Ohio State University.
The last four remaining teams in college hockey pretty much mirror exactly how the season went: Western domination was pretty consistent throughout the season while Hockey East and the ECAC both had a down year.
Nothing illustrates that more than how the two league playoffs sifted out.
Boston College — Hockey East’s 2018 regular-season champion — didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. Union College — the ECAC’s second seed — also missed out on the automatic bid and failed to qualify for the national tournament. It was a wide-open year, as the No. 4 (BU) and No. 7 (Princeton University) seeds won their respective tournaments.
In fact, the entire NCAA field as a whole was pretty wide open. The general consensus among coaches around the nation was that this year was anyone’s tournament.
Disagreeing with that logic seems rather difficult as two No. 4 seeds won, including No. 16 seed United States Air Force Academy over St. Cloud State University, the No. 1 overall seed.
Despite the Western domination, there are certainly some intriguing matchups in St. Paul. There is also the potential for some really compelling national title game matchups.
However, let’s look at the first games before jumping ahead to the championship game.
Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth kick off the frozen festivities with the early game at 6 p.m. This is a rematch of last year’s first-round game in Fargo, North Dakota, where Duluth needed overtime to extinguish the pesky Buckeyes. Duluth advanced all the way to the championship game last year and is making its second straight trip to the Frozen Four.
Ohio State is back in Frozen Four for the first time since 1998 following the team’s domination in regional play. First, Ohio State made quick work of upstart Princeton and then dispatched the defending champions, the University of Denver, with ease.
Still, nationally the Buckeyes seem to be flying under the radar. Something tells me after Thursday night, that won’t be the case.
In the late game, Michigan and Notre Dame will go at it. On the gridiron, this would be a “must watch game,” and this should be no different.
Michigan has serious firepower up front and maybe the best defenseman in the tournament: freshman Quinn Hughes. The Fighting Irish have been consistently one of the top teams all year. In the preseason rankings, they were top 10 and have stayed there all year. Notre Dame is the better — but in these games, anything can happen.
Some of the possible national championship games this year are downright mouthwatering. Michigan and Minnesota Duluth would be a rematch of the 2011 championship game that ended with Duluth winning their program’s only national title in overtime. Oh yeah, that was also in St. Paul.
There is also the obvious one: Michigan vs. Ohio State. Could you imagine? It would be The Game to determine the college hockey national champion. I feel like I don’t even need to saying anything else.
Throw the names of the schools out the window for a second, Notre Dame and Ohio State would probably produce the best game. Both teams have been in the top 10 for the majority of the year and were number one seeds in the tournament, although that means virtually nothing now.
Regardless of the championship game matchup, do yourself a favor and watch these games. The hockey in the Frozen Four is always exceptional. There is always that defining moment in one of these games that will live on forever in college hockey. This is just the next chapter and it will be written this weekend. Get ready for the unexpected, the drama and excitement.