The field for the 2023 Division I men's ice hockey tournament was officially announced on Sunday.
Minnesota earned an at-large bid and the top overall seed. Quinnipiac, the second overall seed, earned an at-large bid as well. Michigan checked in at No. 3 after winning the Big Ten tournament, while reigning national champion Denver came in as the fourth seed on an at-large basis.
Minnesota State (CCHA), St. Cloud State (NCHC), Boston University (Hockey East), Canisius (Atlantic), and Colgate (ECAC) each won their respective conferences for automatic bids.
Cornell (ECAC), Harvard (ECAC), Penn State (Big Ten), Ohio State (Big Ten), Merrimack (Hockey East), Michigan Tech (CCHA) and Western Michigan (NCHC) made up the remaining at-large bids.
Regional competition will be held from Thursday, March 23, through Sunday, March 26, at neutral sites. The Men's Frozen Four will be played at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida from Thursday, April 6, through Saturday, April 8.
BRACKET: Click or tap here for the complete interactive bracket
Here are my predictions for the tournament, which will without a doubt naturally be completely correct. Click or tap on each matchup for live stats. All opinions are my own:
Manchester Regional, March 23-25 | SNHU Arena – Manchester, NH
2 p.m. ET Thursday, March 23 | ESPN2: Boston University vs. Western Michigan
5:30 p.m. ET Thursday, March 23 | ESPNews: No. 4 Denver vs. Cornell
I'm taking BU and Denver to meet in the regional final in Manchester.
The first semifinal between the Terriers and Western Michigan is one of the most evenly-matched games in the entire tournament. In fact, both teams are scoring 3.9 goals per game and giving up 2.6. Each team has two players in the national top 10 for points (Lane Hutson and Matt Brown for BU; Ryan McAllister and Jason Polin for WMU). Both goaltenders have had their ups and downs this year as well.
Only one @HobeyBakerAward finalist can do #LaneHutsonThings™️https://t.co/uOXGdBmNLU pic.twitter.com/8Pdm2lsoVF— BU Men's Hockey (@TerrierHockey) March 22, 2023
BU is rolling with seven wins in a row, including taking the Hockey East title in overtime over Merrimack. In goal, Drew Commesso is playing his best hockey of the season at the perfect time. He's better than he showed earlier this season, and he's proving it right now.
The key for BU will be keeping McAllister, Polin and even Max Sasson at bay. If Commesso can keep it up, and the depth and freshmen can keep coming up big, they have the edge.
As for Denver and Cornell, the Big Red has one of the better defensive units in the country, but the Pioneers' depth and experience will be too much. Cornell is 1-5-0 against teams in the tournament, struggling against their toughest matchups. Carter Mazur gives Denver one of the best goal-scorers in Division I, and Massimo Rizzo can make plays with the best of them.
They're pretty evenly matched in goals-for and against per game as well as on special teams. Most of DU's core won it all last year, including goaltender Magnus Chrona. They should advance.
4 p.m. ET Saturday, March 25 | ESPNU
It's a tough one in the regional final, but I'm taking Denver to return to the Frozen Four.
Experience will be the key here. Both teams are deep and strong when playing with a lead, but if Denver can get out to an early lead, they're nearly unstoppable (22-0-0 when scoring first). David Carle's group has that killer instinct to put teams away and if BU falls behind, it could be tough sledding for the Terriers (just 2-7-0 when trailing after two periods).
Fargo Regional, March 23-25 | Scheels Arena – Fargo, ND
5 p.m. ET Thursday, March 23 | ESPNU: St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota State
9 p.m. ET Thursday, March 23 | ESPN2: No. 1 Minnesota vs. Canisius
In Fargo, I'm picking Minnesota and Minnesota State to advance.
Canisius would truly be a wild upset. Bigger than RIT over Minnesota State in 2015, AIC over St. Cloud State in 2019 and maybe even Holy Cross over Minnesota in 2006. I'd only be impressed if they were to bust my bracket. Nevertheless, Minnesota is just too good, between Logan Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud, Matthew Knies, Brock Faber and so on. They're too deep.
Meanwhile, St. Cloud and Minnesota State will be a fun one. Both teams stack up evenly on special teams, but the Mavericks have a distinct edge at even strength, leading the nation with a ridiculous 62.1 percent share of 5-on-5 shot attempts. MSU has been red hot in the second half (15-3-0 since Jan. 1). Meanwhile, St. Cloud has struggled of late. Before going on a run in the conference tournament, they were 6-8-3 since Jan. 10, and goaltending and the penalty kill were of serious concern. If those go quiet again, they could be in trouble.
STAY UPDATED: Keep up with the latest results from the DI men's hockey tournament
It's worth noting that SCSU swept Minnesota State back at the start of the season, but I'm still leaning toward MSU.
6:30 p.m. ET Saturday, March 25 | ESPNU
In the regional final, I'm sticking with the Gophers.
THAT MAN HAS A FAMILY RHETT— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 19, 2023
YOUR #SCTOP10 NUMBER ONE PLAY OF THE NIGHT @SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/qtXLpAYmG4
The Mavericks have solid depth at both forward and defense between David Silye, Jake Livingstone, Akito Hirose and Ryan Sandelin on down. But like I said above, Minnesota is just too much to handle, whether it's the top line, the complimentary pieces or even Justen Close in net. Mike Hastings can definitely coach up MSU in any matchup, but I still think the Gophers take this one.
Bridgeport Regional, March 24-26 | Total Mortgage Arena – Bridgeport, CT
2 p.m. ET Friday, March 24 | ESPNU: Harvard vs. Ohio State
5:30 p.m. ET Friday, March 24 | ESPNews: No. 2 Quinnipiac vs. Merrimack
I'm going with Quinnipiac and Harvard in the regional semis.
The Harvard and OSU semifinal is one of my tougher choices. The Buckeyes obviously have strong special teams and a solid track record in the nation's toughest conference. However, Harvard has too many ways to beat teams. Sean Farrell (third in points) and Matthew Coronato make up one of the most formidable duos as two-thirds of a potent top line, while Alex Laferriere and John Farinacci make up part of a dangerous second line. The bottom six has come up with clutch goals at various points throughout the year, Henry Thrun and Ian Moore are strong two-way defenders and Mitchell Gibson also has a slight edge in net over OSU's Jakub Dobes.
As for Quinnipiac and Merrimack, the Warriors have had a terrific year, but I think QU is the better team. The Bobcats have stronger depth, including five double-digit goal-scorers to MC's three as an example. Collin Graf (second in points) has been stellar, and Rand Pecknold's group is one of the stingiest squads out there, allowing just 1.6 goals per game. That's helped largely by an all-star goaltender in Yaniv Perets. Goaltending could be the key here, Merrimack has split the cage between Hugo Olas and Zachary Borgiel. Both have been good, overall. If Perets falters, and one of the Warriors' netminders steps up, they'll have a chance. Until that potentially happens, this one will go to Quinnipiac.
6 p.m. ET Sunday, March 26 | ESPN2
In an upset, I'm gonna take Harvard over No. 2 Quinnipiac to move on to the Frozen Four.
SCOREBOARD: Click or tap here for the latest scores around Division I men's hockey
I just can't shake some tough losses for the Bobcats. There was the stunning 4-0 beating at the hands of Cornell in January, which snapped a 17-game unbeaten streak. QU failed to respond the next night against unranked Colgate, blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss. They fell again to the Raiders, 2-1 in overtime, in the ECAC semis where they were heavily favored. Also consider last year's NCAA tournament, where Quinnipiac's defense and Perets faltered big-time, winning a 5-4 shootout over St. Cloud before dropping a brutal 7-4 showing to Michigan.
This season, there is a clear blueprint to beat the Bobcats. In games where they've scored two goals or fewer, they are 2-4-2. They're 2-0-0 against the Crimson this year, but if Harvard can snuff out the QU attack, they'll be in good shape. The Crimson will also be the best team Quinnipiac has seen in a while, ironically since a 3-0 loss to the Bobcats back on Feb. 3. This might be nothing more than a gut feeling, but I like Harvard here.
LAFERRIERE CALLED GAME 🎯— Harvard Men's Hockey (@HarvardMHockey) March 18, 2023
📺ESPN+ #GoCrimson | #OneCrimson pic.twitter.com/fqnzAnE75M
Allentown Regional, March 24-26 | PPL Center – Allentown, PA
5 p.m. ET Friday, March 24 | ESPNU: Penn State vs. Michigan Tech
8:30 p.m. ET Friday, March 24 | ESPNU: No. 3 Michigan vs. Colgate
In Allentown, I think Michigan Tech and No. 3 Michigan will move on to the regional final.
It's not on campus, but Allentown is only a little under three hours from State College. Even though Penn State should get a nice boost of home support in this regional, I think the Huskies move on. Penn State is 4-10-1 since Jan. 1, averaging 2.33 goals per game after putting up 3.7 in the first half. Their shooting percentage has dipped from the first half, which is concerning for a volume team such as this, and the defense and goaltending have somewhat dropped off as well.
Meanwhile, MTU is coming off just four losses in a strong second half. Blake Pietila, a Mike Richter Award finalist, is a stud in net, and Kyle Kukkonen has been scorching with eight goals in his last seven games. Given the home crowd and if they return to first-half form, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Nittany Lions take it, but their drop-off is too hard to ignore.
There's a history here going back to 2000. Michigan won in overtime to survive a Colgate rally in the regionals. The Raiders nearly won it, but their goal did not count and was never reviewed. Oh, what could have been.
Credit to Colgate and coach Don Vaughan, making their first appearance in nine years. The Raiders are capable of pulling off a stunner, as we've seen twice this year with Quinnipiac, but I still like Michigan's chances.
CHAMPIONS: How Denver won in 2022
Similar to Minnesota, the Wolverines are just too potent on offense. There's Adam Fantilli, the nation's scoring leader and the odds-on favorite to go second overall in the NHL Draft this year. There's also NHL-bound Luke Hughes and other top prospects like Rutger McGroarty, Mackie Samoskevich and more. Erik Portillo hasn't been himself, but UM has outscored its problems, so far.
Highlights as Michigan defeats Minnesota 4-3 to win its second straight B1G Tournament Championship#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/kQRcabi6gE— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) March 19, 2023
6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, March 26 | ESPN2
In the final, I'll take Michigan over MTU.
This really comes down to how many times the Wolverines can get to Pietila. There's always the chance that Michigan gets "goalied," but there are too many weapons there. They'll be able to overmatch the Huskies and break through Pietila.
Men’s Frozen Four, April 6-8 | Amalie Arena – Tampa, FL
Semifinals: 5 p.m. ET Thursday, April 6 (ESPN2) | 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 6 (ESPN2)
Fargo Regional Champion vs. Manchester Regional Champion
Bridgeport Regional Champion vs. Allentown Regional Champion
In one semifinal, we'll have Minnesota taking on Denver, and I'm still leaning with the Gophers.
Chrona and Close are two strong goaltenders. It's close, but I give the edge to Close in the head-to-head. Puns aside, I think the Gophers have the slightest of advantages in terms of depth and their overall defensive core, headlined by six NHL draft picks who each bring various strengths to the table. The top line of Knies-Cooley-Snuggerud has no shortage of ways to beat the opposition as well.
FROZEN FOUR: Here's everything you need to know ahead of this year's Men's Frozen Four
In the other semifinal, I've got Michigan against Harvard. I'll take the Wolverines. This is where I think strength of schedule will come back to hurt Harvard (it ranks 31st. Michigan is third). It could wind up being a track meet between the two potent offenses, but UM's attack will be too much for the Crimson.
National Championship: 8 p.m. ET Saturday, April 8 | ESPN2
That leaves me with a national title game of two absolute powerhouses: Minnesota vs. Michigan.
They've been my pick all year long. Sure, it's not the trendiest pick to go with the top seed, but why stray from the path now? I've got Minnesota.
"An absolute wagon"— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 19, 2023
Here come the #Gophers. pic.twitter.com/cqO64MSmoJ
This is the most complete team in the tournament, in my opinion. The star power on the top line is well-documented. The defense is capable of shutting the opposition down or jumping into the offense. Close has made a noticeable improvement from last year in my eyes, and he gives them a decided advantage over Portillo. This may just be where Michigan can no longer outscore its issues.
The Wolverines came up with a big win over the Gophers in the Big Ten title game, but Minnesota has 3-2-0 edge against UM this season. I'd expect them to adjust from that loss.
National champion: Minnesota
Here is my completed bracket: