With conference tournaments underway, we're just over a week away from knowing the complete field for the 2023 Division I men's hockey tournament. So it's a perfect time for one last round of Frozen Four predictions.
There have been some changes compared to my picks at the start of the season and my midseason predictions.
These are my picks for the four teams that could have the best chance of advancing to the Frozen Four, right now. All stats and records are through Thursday, March 9.
The Golden Gophers (25-8-1, 19-4-1 Big Ten) are just lethal in every way. Freshmen Logan Cooley (16-32--48) and Jimmy Snuggerud (20-27--47) rank third and fourth in national scoring, and Matthew Knies sits sixth in goals (21) while also over a point per game (39 in 34). No team can match that three-headed monster. They have big-time two-way threats on defense in Jackson LaCombe and Brock Faber, and Justen Close has had a strong season in net, ranking fourth in save percentage (.928).
SCOREBOARD: Click or tap here for the latest scores around Division I men's hockey
The Gophers have the benefit of going up against stiff competition each weekend as the Big Ten turned out to be the nation's deepest and strongest conference this season. They sit third in overall strength of schedule with quality wins against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota State (CCHA) and St. Cloud State (NCHC), among others. Minnesota may just be the best team in Division I, top to bottom.
A statement sweep on senior weekend. Next up...— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) February 28, 2023
B1G Tourney 🎟's: https://t.co/FVPz013Deh pic.twitter.com/nKOZFwLew6
The Pioneers (28-8-0, 19-5-0 NCHC) are still as strong as ever as they roll into the NCHC tournament, ranking third in the PairWise. Massimo Rizzo has taken off even more as a sophomore with 46 points (17g, 29a) in 36 games, while Carter Mazur (22 goals) remains one of the most dangerous scoring threats in Division I. Mike Benning has come on strong of late, and Casey Dornbach has proven to be a formidable secondary option for the Pios. In net, Magnus Chrona is still solid, capable of stealing a game.
The reigning national champs are also battle-tested, coming out of the NCHC. Currently third in the PairWise, DU has quality wins against Western Michigan, St. Cloud, Notre Dame (Big Ten) and even Alaska (Independent) and Omaha. Denver has been there before and knows how to win. David Carle certainly knows how to get the most out of his group.
The Wolverines (22-11-3, 12-10-2 Big Ten), fourth in the PairWise, have had a much more consistent second half, winning 11 of 15. Adam Fantilli leads the nation with 56 points (25g, 31a) in just 31 games. Luke Hughes is still the country's top defenseman, scoring some clutch goals down the stretch and enjoying big second half production. Mackie Samoskevich and Rutger McGroarty are strong options, and Frank Nazar III is back in the fold as well.
RANKINGS: Click or tap here for the latest USCHO poll
In net, Erik Portillo has still dealt with some inconsistencies, but has been better in the second half as a whole. In the thick of the Big Ten gauntlet, UM has dealt with the second-most difficult schedule this season, picking up crucial wins against Boston University (Hockey East), Penn State, OSU, Minnesota and Western Michigan (NCHC). Michigan certainly has the firepower to outscore its problems.
So how was your weekend?#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/kpD7VEgj8P— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) March 6, 2023
Speaking of the Terriers (24-10-0, 18-6-0 HEA), a four-game losing streak in February may have scared some folks off, but BU recovered nicely to end the regular season slate. Lane Hutson is having a historic season as a freshman defenseman with 43 points (12g, 31a) in 33 games, while Matt Brown's career year (15-28--43) forges on. Depth scoring has picked it up in the second half between Wilmer Skoog and Jay O'Brien, while a number of freshmen, like Ryan Greene and Jeremy Wilmer, have stepped up.
Drew Commesso has had some ups and downs in goal, but has two shutouts in his last three outings. When he's on, few can match him. They're the favorites in Hockey East, and have some impressive wins, including victories over the likes of Michigan (Big Ten), Harvard (ECAC) and Cornell (ECAC). Checking in at fifth in the PairWise, we'll see if it was a February fluke for the Terriers.
Also in the mix
Quinnipiac, Western Michigan, Harvard, St. Cloud State
The Bobcats (28-3-3, 20-2-0 ECAC), ranked second in the PairWise, have as good of a case as any of the other programs mentioned. They have won 10 in a row since a winless weekend in January. Strength of schedule is a concern as they've rarely faced adversity this season, but they've made the most of the hand they've been dealt, taking down their strongest opponents in Harvard and Cornell. Colin Graf ranks second in scoring with 49 points (19-30--49) and Yaniv Perets is still one of the very best goaltenders in Division I, being named a top-three finalist for the Mike Richter Award once again.
The 𝐏𝐎𝐒𝐓𝐒𝐄𝐀𝐒𝐎𝐍 is here 😤#BobcatNation x #NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/0O6RCAOhfi— Quinnipiac Men's Ice Hockey (@QU_MIH) March 10, 2023
POWER 10: Minnesota leads, Michigan Tech enters final men's college hockey power rankings
As for the Broncos (23-12-1, 15-8-1 NCHC) , ninth in the PairWise, have been on a tear in the second semester, winning 11 of 14. Jason Polin has been otherworldly as his 29 goals lead the nation, and he and Ryan McAllister's 45 points each rank near the top as well. Cameron Rowe has gotten the job done in net, even though his numbers aren't sparkling. McAllister has cooled off a bit, though, and losses in bigger tests against Denver, Michigan, St. Cloud and Omaha are concerning.
The Crimson (21-6-2, 18-4-0 ECAC), have been one of the stronger teams on the east coast, ranking sixth in the PairWise. Sean Farrell has been on a mission with 47 points (18g, 29a) in just 29 games, and Alex Laferriere and Matthew Coronato are each dangerous as well. Henry Thrun is a terrific puck-mover on defense, and Mitchell Gibson is solid in net. However, Harvard has fallen short against tougher opponents in Michigan, BU, and perhaps most notably, Quinnipiac.
Meanwhile, the Huskies (20-11-3, 12-9-3) have had quite a drop-off in results in the second half, but they're still seventh in the PairWise. They're 6-7-3 since Jan. 1 with surprising defeats to Minnesota Duluth, Colorado College and North Dakota. SCSU is just 2-5-3 since Jan. 27. Still, this is still one of the nation's stronger teams. The top of the lineup has seen balanced production between Jami Krannila, Zach Okabe, Grant Cruikshank and Veeti Miettinen, while Jaxon Castor and Dominic Basse are capable options between the pipes. To St. Cloud's credit, they have some big wins over Denver (including a sweep), Minnesota and Minnesota State.
The OT winner from @zachokabe! 😤— St. Cloud State Men's Hockey (@SCSUHuskies_MH) March 5, 2023
🎥 @TeamECH#GoHuskies | #HuskyHockey 🏒 pic.twitter.com/bTKNP8rDzv
FROZEN FOUR: Click or tap here for everything you need to know about the 2023 Men's Frozen Four
National champion prediction
It's not the trendiest pick, going with the team sitting atop the USCHO poll and the PairWise, but the Gophers have been my pick all season. I still have total faith.
Whether it's Cooley, Knies and Snuggerud up front, Close in net or a stout defense, led by Faber, Minnesota is the complete package. They've proven they can beat quality opponents, and Bob Motzko will have the Gophers playing their best hockey down the stretch as they did last year.