The 2023 Men's Frozen Four is exactly one week away, and this year's field is one of the best in recent memory.
Whether it's the so-called bluebloods like Minnesota, Michigan and Boston University, or one of the east coast's best programs in the last 15-plus years in Quinnipiac, the festivities in Tampa will undoubtedly be appointment viewing.
Between the number of professional prospects between the four teams, the championship droughts for the historic programs or Quinnipiac's return to Tampa in search of its first title, there is no shortage of storylines.
My first batch of tournament predictions went sideways almost immediately. Nevertheless, I'm back with more. I had Minnesota and BU in my way-too-early predictions at the start of the season, so it's nice to see at least some proclamations pan out, too.
Here are my picks for each game, which will undoubtedly be 100 percent correct (all stats through March 30). All opinions are my own:
No. 1 Minnesota vs. Boston University | 5 p.m. ET Thursday, April 6 | ESPN2
The first semifinal sees two rivals from many moons ago squaring off on a national stage once again.
In one corner, you have the top-seeded Golden Gophers, boasting two of the Hobey Baker top-three finalists in Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies. The two of them make up the best line in college hockey, alongside Jimmy Snuggerud. Aside from the first trio, Minnesota has exceptional forward depth between Jaxon Nelson, Bryce Brodzinski and Rhett Pitlick. They're just as loaded on defense between the do-it-all Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe and Mike Koster. Justen Close is exceptional in goal as well.
The Gophers are tied with Michigan with 4.2 goals per game, the most in the nation, and are allowing 2.2, the second-fewest of the four teams. They have the best power play (26.2 percent) in the Frozen Four and the second-best penalty kill (83.7) behind Quinnipiac.
Minnesota is on to a second-straight Frozen Four. It is their 21st appearance all-time. They are seeking their sixth national title and first since 2003. The Golden Gophers last made it to the championship game in 2014, reaching it 12 times, overall.
In the other corner sit the Terriers, one of the hottest teams in the nation right now. There's Lane Hutson, considered by many to be a Hobey Baker top-three snub after having arguably the best season ever by a freshman defenseman. A solid defense core also includes the likes of strong puck-movers like Dom Fensore and Ty Gallagher, as well as the shut-down Cade Webber. In the forward group, what BU lacks in a star-studded first line, it makes up for in strong depth on all four lines between Matt Brown, Ryan Greene, Wilmer Skoog, Jay O'Brien and Quinn Hutson. In net, Drew Commesso is far and away playing his best hockey of the season over the last month or so.
The Terriers are right behind Minnesota and Michigan, tied with Quinnipiac with 3.9 goals per game, allowing 2.6. The power play (19.8 percent) has been relatively quiet, but the penalty kill is strong (81.1).
BU is appearing in its first Frozen Four since 2015 and the 21st in program history. The Terriers are in search of a sixth national title, last winning in 2009. They've made it to the championship six times, most recently in 2015.
Prediction: I may be a recent BU graduate, but I'm checking my bias at the door. I'm taking Minnesota here.
The Terriers have had a terrific run, but I believe Minnesota is the best team from top to bottom in this tournament. There's the star power, the depth, the goaltending and the special teams. All of it. They are also more than battle-tested coming out of the gauntlet that is the Big Ten this year. Even then, between all that Minnesota has to offer and everything that BU has shown in the last couple of weeks, I could see whoever takes this game eventually taking the whole thing. Both of these teams feel like they have "it."
Things could change between now and next Thursday, but right now, BU has some key injuries to Case McCarthy, a top-four defenseman, as well as Nick Zabaneh, an impactful depth forward, aside from other bumps and bruises that every team deals with this time of year. Between those absences and the Gophers' key experience from last year's Frozen Four, I think Minnesota has the edge.
No. 2 Quinnipiac vs. No. 3 Michigan | 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday, April 6 | ESPN2
The second semifinal is the battle of the gold and blue, or the maize and blue, if you will.
First up is Quinnipiac, led by Collin Graf, one of the nation's top freshmen, finishing as a top-10 finalist for the Hobey. He may have grabbed the headlines, but Ethan De Jong, Samuel Lipkin and Jacob Quillan also lead a very strong forward group. On defense, Zach Metsa is still one of the better offensive defensemen at the collegiate level, while Jayden Lee and TJ Friedmann are strong on the backend, too. In net, Yaniv Perets remains one of the best goaltenders in the nation as a top-three finalist for the Mike Richter Award for the second straight season. They are also far and away the oldest team in the tournament, with plenty of upperclassman experience.
The Bobcats are the best defensive team left in the field, allowing the fewest goals per game (1.5) and killing 86.1 percent of penalties. It helps when QU has Perets, too. Quinnipiac is also a very strong possession team, holding a 59.1 percent share of even-strength shot attempts, the second-best mark in Division I.
Quinnipiac is headed to its third Frozen Four and first since 2016, which was also in Tampa. They are gunning for the program's first national championship, finishing as runners-up in 2013 and 2016.
As for Michigan, talk about an offensive juggernaut. There's the odds-on favorite for the Hobey in Adam Fantilli, who leads the nation in scoring as part of a stacked forward group that also includes Rutger McGroarty, Mackie Samoskevich and Gavin Brindley. The defense is anchored by Luke Hughes, who could've been in the Hobey conversation himself this year. Jacob Truscott and Seamus Casey also help lead the way on the blue line. Between the pipes, Erik Portillo has had his share of ups and downs this year, but he has been very solid of late.
The Wolverines boast one of the most dangerous attacks in the country, averaging 4.2 goals per game and scoring on 23.8 percent of their power plays. There have been defensive flaws, though, as their 3.1 goals-against per game are the most of the remaining teams, and the 77.3 percent penalty kill is the lowest of the four.
Michigan is back to the Frozen Four for the second year in a row, their 27th appearance ever, which is the most all-time. UM is aiming for a 10th national title, which would also be the most all-time. They reached the championship game an additional three times, most recently in 2011.
Prediction: I'm taking Michigan. Quinnipiac has been capable of shutting down some potent attacks this season, whether it be Ohio State, Harvard or Merrimack, but the Wolverines are relentless offensively with virtually every line posing a threat. Hughes is hands down the best defenseman in the nation, capable of completely taking over games alongside Fantilli, and Portillo has had a strong run of form in the tournament.
2023 Men's Frozen Four: Debriefing regionals, and how we got here
UM hung seven goals on Perets and the QU defense in last season's Allentown Regional final. Both teams returned very similar teams this season, and the Wolverines have the blueprint to knock off Quinnipiac. This could also be where the Bobcats' relatively weak strength of schedule shows itself, as the Wolverines are better than any of the teams in the Bridgeport Regional, which QU took handily.
Both of these semifinals are tough, tough calls, and I could see them going either way. In this case, I think Michigan's talent will just be too much to handle.
National Championship | 8 p.m. ET Saturday, April 8 | ESPN2
That all leaves us with a name-brand national championship between Minnesota and Michigan, two historic programs looking to end prolonged droughts.
It'll truly be a heavyweight battle between two powerhouses, featuring some soon-to-be NHL stars.
The Gophers are 3-2-0 against the Wolverines this season, although Michigan has taken the last two meetings, including the Big Ten title game on March 18.
Prediction: I've been picking the Gophers since my first Frozen Four predictions back on Oct. 14. How can I possibly stray from the path now?
Admittedly, picking the top overall seed gives me pause, but as I said above, Minnesota is the best team from top-to-bottom in the tournament. Granted, that never necessarily dictates how one winner-take-all game will shake out, but even then, I like the Gophers' chances.
Minnesota is capable of playing any style, winning their fair share of high-flying track meets as well as close one-goal games this season. There are also lessons learned from the Big Ten championship loss to the Wolverines.