2021 NCAA Frozen Four Preview

728 days have gone by since the last Frozen Four action took place in Buffalo, New York. It has been a long time coming, but the NCAA is ready to showcase the top four college hockey teams at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Through the twists and turns of the unprecedented 2020-21 college hockey season, players, coaches, fans, and the NCAA can let out a sigh of relief as Minnesota-Duluth, Massachusetts, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State all have their eyes set on the ultimate prize.

Minnesota-Duluth vs. Massachusetts

These two squads prepare to square off in a rematch of the 2019 NCAA Tournament championship game. Minnesota-Duluth prevailed in that contest with a 3-0 victory to clinch their second consecutive NCAA championship and third in program history.

UMass entered the Hockey East Tournament as the no. 3 seed, however, they marched through the field and shut out UMass Lowell in the championship game to capture their first-ever Hockey East title.

Once in the NCAA Tournament, the Minutemen continued to ride the hot seat as they took down Lake Superior State in the opening round by a final of 5-1. UMass then went on to take down Bemidji State in the Regional Finals where junior goaltender Filip Lindberg carried the Minutemen to victory over the Beavers with an 18 save shut out.

While Lindberg has been remarkable all season long, posting a 9-0-3 record over his last 12 starts, he will miss the semifinals matchup against Minnesota-Duluth due to COVID-19 protocols.

The Minutemen’s top scorer Carson Gicewicz will be in the same boat as Lindberg and two other UMass players. Gicewicz leads the club with 17 goals and has scored in both NCAA Tournament games thus far, but will miss the pivotal matchup with the Bulldogs.

Although Massachusetts will be without two key members of their roster, they still boast a strong lineup that has carried them to this point. Senior netminder Matt Murray will step in for Lindberg as Murray is the program’s winningest goalie with 51 wins in his career as nine of them came this season. Head coach Greg Carvel will look to his lower lines to replace Gicewicz as his second line will most likely stay intact. Bobby Trivigno, Josh Lopina and Garett Wait have combined for 68 points on the second trio.

As for the defending National Champions, Minnesota-Duluth looks to defend their crown following a first-round bye due to the dropout of Michigan, which then led to the longest game in NCAA Tournament history. The Bulldogs went toe to toe with the tournament’s number one seed in North Dakota, where they would eventually outlast the Fighting Eagles 3-2 in five overtimes. Freshman forward Luke Mylymok took the liberty in scoring the emotional game-winner that pushed the Bulldogs on to their fourth consecutive Frozen Four.

Despite winning one of the most dramatic games in college hockey history, the Bulldogs continue to avenge their National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament loss. The Bulldogs were bounced in the semifinals by St. Cloud State, a team they may face in the NCAA championship game. In 2019, the Bulldogs went unscathed through both tournaments to clinch the respective titles, but this time around they have carved a different path.

Minnesota-Duluth is led by five 20-point getters, including Nick Swaney and Jackson Cates, who record a point per game for the Bulldogs. While Swaney and Cates have led the charge, they have been complemented by a plethora of different producers.

Backstopping the Bulldogs, freshman netminder Zach Stejskal made 57 saves in the overtime thriller against North Dakota. Stejskal has had a strong rookie campaign, posting a 4-3 record with a 1.82 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. Throughout the year, sophomore goalie Ryan Fanti led the way for the Bulldogs with a 10-6-2 record. Either way, the Bulldogs have some youth on the backend that will look to carry the program to glory once again.

In what will be a thrilling rematch of the 2019 NCAA Tournament championship game, these two teams will look to battle it out, but due to Massachusetts’ COVID-19 issues and Minnesota-Duluth’s scoring depth, the Bulldogs will reign supreme over the Minutemen.

Prediction: Minnesota-Duluth wins 4-2

Minnesota State vs. St. Cloud State

These two Minnesota schools will extend their rivalry onto the Frozen Four’s grand stage for the first time in history.

Minnesota State enters their first-ever Frozen Four matchup as one of the nation’s most feared programs this season. The Mavericks were ranked no. 1 in the most recent USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll as they currently own a 22-4-1 overall record.

In the WCHA conference tournament, the Mavericks comfortably defeated Ferris State in the quarterfinals but were upset by a tough Northern Michigan team in the semifinals.

Using that 5-1 loss to Northern Michigan as fuel, the Mavericks moved past Quinnipiac in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and then took down the no. 1 seed in the West Region, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, by a final of 4-0.

Leading the way for the Mavericks, junior forward Julian Napravnik has 27 points, along with ten goals. Minnesota State also boasts 11 other double-digit producers. Due to the well-rounded scoring approach, it has also translated into Minnesota State’s top power play. The Mavericks lead the nation as they convert on 31.7% of their opportunities on the man advantage.

While the Mavericks have shown no signs of slowing down offensively, the team’s defense has been superb as well. Minnesota State leads the nation with 1.06 goals allowed per game. Starting netminder Dryden McKay has played exceptionally well this season, leading the country with ten shutouts and second with a 1.39 goals-against average.

Looking to figure out McKay’s solid play in net, the St. Cloud Huskies aim to dispatch their historic rivals in their first Frozen Four appearance since the 2012-13 season when the tournament was last held in Pittsburgh.

The Huskies have made a mark on college hockey this season with a current record of 19-10. In the NCHC Tournament, the Huskies defeated Colorado College and then subsequently taking down fellow Frozen Four member, Minnesota-Duluth, in the semifinals. However, the Huskies would be stifled by North Dakota in the championship game, losing 5-3.

After becoming an at-large bid, St. Cloud State rolled past Boston University in the opening round 6-2. They would then take down Hockey East’s regular-season champion, the Boston College Eagles, 4-1.

Maneuvering through one of the most challenging roads in the tournament, the Huskies have outscored their two opponents 10-3. This came as no surprise as the Huskies turned into one of the more potent college hockey squads this season, registering 3.29 goals per game.

Veeti Miettinen serves as the Huskies’ leading producer, totaling 24 points and 11 goals this season. Miettinen is accompanied by four other 20-point producers.

With the stage set and this historic rivalry ready to play out on Thursday, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State are primed for a close contest. However, Minnesota State’s dominance from the season will carry over into this Frozen Four matchup, leading to a Mavericks victory.

Prediction: Minnesota State wins, 3-2