Detroit is Hockeytown. At least that’s what it likes to call itself.
The Red Wings have won Stanley Cups there, the Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament is played there each year, and it has hosted Frozen Fours before. The most recent came in 2010, when the event took place inside Ford Field, the Lions’ stadium right down the road, an experiment that thankfully hasn’t been attempted again.
This year, the Frozen Four was coming back to Detroit — this time to a hockey arena, the Wings’ sparkling Little Caesars Arena. It was an event that thousands upon thousands of people were looking forward to. I considered attending the event as a fan too, just like I did in St. Paul two years ago.
As with several other sporting events around the country, the Frozen Four was canceled thanks to fears of spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It became the second major hockey event canceled in Michigan in the decade after the Winter Classic was canceled in Ann Arbor back in 2013. One big difference: the Frozen Four was canceled because of a pandemic. The Classic was due to a lockout.
The cancelation has led to many in the media wondering what might have been. Would Minnesota-Duluth have won its third national title in a row? Would Minnesota State (Mankato) finally end its long string of first round losses and get its first NCAA Tournament victory? Who would have even made the tournament — none of the conference tournaments were completed and nobody officially earned an automatic bid, even though we knew which teams were most likely to get one.
A Star-Tribune reporter made their predictions on how things would’ve turned out. So did College Hockey News and USCHO. They all came up with different winners. Some picks made sense, while others were a bit of a reach. That’s what made it fun. I decided to get in on it. I know I give you all my predictions each year, but this is a whole different situation, and more intriguing.
Before I give you my predictions, I’ll tell you how I picked my tournament. There’s really only two ways you could make a realistic bracket. You could either strictly abide by the Pairwise rankings, which of course officially determine the tourney field. Or you can use the Pairwise for the most part and then since there are zero autobids this year, you could fill in those slots with whoever won the regular season championships. Since I’m not a big fan of the Pairwise, I’m going with the latter, which is closer to what CHN did. I feel that if you rely strictly on the “final” Pairwise rankings this year, you make winning the regular season title worthless. Because of that, I’ll be going with CHN’s pairings. Without further ado, here’s what would’ve happened.
Worcester (Northeast) Regional
North Dakota vs. American International
This is a fun pairing because top-seeded UND has surprisingly missed the last two tournaments after winning its eighth national title in 2016. Meanwhile, AIC is back after pulling a shocking upset of St. Cloud State in the first round last year. Like CHN said, the Yellow Jackets get the Atlantic Hockey autobid after winning the regular season championship. However, the Fighting Hawks won’t be stung like the Huskies were as they strike quickly and overwhelm the Jackets. UND holds a 3-0 lead after the first period, two from Hobey Baker finalist Jordan Kawaguchi, and cruises to a 5-1 win.
Massachusetts vs. Clarkson
Massachusetts is back after finishing runner-up to UMD last year and even though they lost Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar to the NHL, the Minutemen are still a force and they want to finish the job this time. The Knights haven’t earned a tournament win since 2008 (hey, that’s still better than Mankato!), but they’ve had another solid year in the ECAC and made the NCAAs for the third straight season. Unfortunately for Clarkson, that streak will continue as the Knights blow a 2-0 lead in the second period and get dealt a 3-2 loss with the Minutemen getting the game winner late in the third period from Bobby Trivigno.
UND vs. Massachusetts
Once again, the Hawks draw first blood and unlike the day before, the Minutemen can’t recover. UND takes a 1-0 lead late in the first and goes up 3-0 in the second on two tallies from Shane Pinto. Massachusetts tries to rally in the third, getting two power-play goals, but the Hawks get two empty-netters in the final two minutes to clinch a trip to Detroit.
Loveland (West) Regional
Duluth vs. Arizona State
The Bulldogs are not surprisingly back in the tournament after two straight national championships. They’re trying to get the NCAA’s first three-peat since Michigan did it in the early 1950s. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils earn their second straight bid, which is impressive for an independent program that’s only existed for five years. However, due to its lack of a conference tournament, ASU is on a five-week layoff and it shows as the Devils are ice cold. Duluth hammers ASU as badly as it did the Minutemen last year. The Bulldogs get two goals from Hobey winner Scott Perunovich and a stellar outing from goalie Hunter Shepard as they get a 4-0 win.
Denver vs. Bemidji State
If you would’ve asked me at the start of this season if BSU had a chance at making the tournament, I would’ve laughed and told you no way. However, the Beavers shocked pretty much every analyst in the country and almost won the WCHA regular season title before getting edged out by Mankato. Denver, on the other hand, made its 13th straight tournament bid, the longest streak in the nation. The Pioneers are looking to make their fourth Frozen Four in five years. However, they fall short and in dramatic fashion: Denver holds a 2-1 lead in the third period, but Bemidji rallies, tying it with five minutes left on a power play goal by WCHA First Teamer Adam Brady. In the final minute, Beavers goalie Zach Driscoll denies DU star Bobby Brink on a partial breakaway and seconds later at the other end, BSU forward Owen Sillinger scores on a rebound to send the Beavers to the regional final with a 3-2 win.
Duluth vs. Bemidji
Two Minnesota schools enter and only one can emerge with a ticket to Michigan. Surprisingly, it’s the Beavers who come out on top and in exciting fashion again. The game is a goaltending battle between Driscoll and Shepard, with neither giving much of an inch as the two teams go to overtime tied 1-1. However, the Beavers find a way early in the extra period as senior Tommy Muck gets the puck out by the blue line and slaps a rocket past Shepard to send Bemidji to Detroit and ending the Bulldogs’ attempt at a three-peat.
Albany (East) Regional
Cornell vs. Michigan
The Big Red are, outside of Mankato, the team that can’t seem to make it out of the regionals. Including this year, they will have made the tournament for the fourth year in a row, but Cornell hasn’t made the Frozen Four since 2003. Then there’s the Wolverines, who used to be the model of consistency. They reached the Frozen Four in 2018, then missed the tournament altogether in 2019 after flopping in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan is coming into the tournament hot, but Cornell is the better team and it shows it quickly. The Big Red score in the opening minute and stay in control for the majority of the game, leading 3-0 early in the third. Michigan gets two back, both from Will Lockwood, but the Big Red gets an empty-netter from Morgan Barron to clinch a 4-2 win.
Boston College vs. Ohio State
For the first time in four years, the Eagles are back in the tournament. Like Michigan, UND, Minnesota and others, BC was always there for the longest time, but it’s been on a slide for a while. This season, the Eagles had a strong second half and came in with momentum. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have been up and down before getting two wins over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. The two teams start off slow. It’s a 0-0 game until midway through the second, when it becomes a back and forth affair. It’s tied 2-2 in the third before the Eagles’ Logan Hutsko scores on a rebound with three minutes left. OSU tried to get the equalizer, firing 10 shots on net in the final two minutes. It looked as if it would get it too, as Carson Meyer had an open net with 20 seconds remaining, but BC goalie Spencer Knight made a sprawling save to get the Eagles to the next round.
Cornell vs. BC
Can Cornell finally end its jinx? Is this the year? Unfortunately for Big Red fans, the answer is no. CU looks good early, as Barron gets a power-play tally in the first period and goalie Matthew Galajda stifled the Eagles through the first two periods. However, the Big Red can’t close out the win. BC catches fire in the third period, getting two goals 20 seconds apart from Jack McBain and Mike Hardman. Knight then shuts down the Big Red the rest of the way to get the 2-1 victory, and the Eagles scan their ticket to Detroit.
Allentown (Midwest) Regional
(Nothing says Midwest like eastern Pennsylvania)
Mankato vs. Maine
If the Mavericks are going to get their first tournament win, it’s now. They’ve been good from start to finish and they’re good in every area of the ice. Honestly, Mankato is probably the most complete team in the country, but it doesn’t get an easy task with Maine. The Black Bears return to the tournament for the first time in eight years and they’re led by goalie and Mike Richter Award winner Jeremy Swayman. He and the Mavs’ Dryden McKay repeatedly rob their opponents of scoring opportunities, and the game stays 0-0 until midway through the third when All-American Marc Michaelis snaps a wrister past Swayman. The Mavericks hold on to get a 1-0 win, allowing head coach Mike Hastings to breathe a sigh of relief.
Penn State vs. UMass-Lowell
The Nittany Lions did what they always do, score goals and hope for the best on defense. For the most part, it’s worked for them as with this year, they’ve made the NCAAs for the third time in four years. The River Hawks are one of the more consistent teams this decade. They’ve gotten back to the tournament for the first time since 2017. Not surprisingly, Penn State starts fast and they’re up 2-0 midway through the first period. However, Lowell manages to get its act together and ties it at 2-2 early in the second period. With the game tied 4-4 in the third, Lowell explodes, getting two quick goals from Andre Lee and then an empty netter from Seth Barton to eliminate the Lions 7-4.
Mankato vs. Lowell
The Mavericks are on the cusp of making their first Frozen Four ever. First they need to stop a River Hawks team that erupted for seven goals the night before. That’s what McKay is for. The All-American netminder shuts down Lowell through most of the game and he gets good goal support, including two from Julian Napravnik. Michaelis notches a power-play tally late in the third to put the game away. The Mavericks make it to Detroit with a 3-0 shutout win.
UND vs. Bemidji
The last time the Beavers were in the Frozen Four was 2009. That appearance came after big upsets over Notre Dame and the Big Red in the regionals. However, Bemidji’s run came to an end once it got there, and it happens again in Detroit. Driscoll does his best to stop the powerful Hawks offense, but UND busts loose in the second with three goals. Brady gets one goal past Hawks goalie Adam Scheel early in the third, but UND’s Colton Poolman puts the game away on a goal with four minutes left. The Hawks move on to the championship game with a 4-1 win.
Mankato vs. BC
The last time the Eagles were in Detroit for the Frozen Four, they blitzed Miami in the semis 7-1 on their way to their fourth national title. BC was unstoppable that year in the Frozen Four. They weren’t quite as potent this time around. They fell behind 2-0 before getting one back on a nice goal by Hutsko. The Mavs looked like they were on their way to the national championship as Michaelis put them up 3-1 with a power play tally early in the third, but then things fell apart. BC scored two quick goals to tie it up midway through and then McBain got the game-winner with three minutes remaining. With a 4-3 win, BC got a date with UND for the title.
UND vs. BC
These two programs have had some epic battles in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks (then the Fighting Sioux) beat the Eagles for their seventh national title in 2000, then BC ended its long drought getting revenge the following year. They also tangled in the Frozen Four semis from 2006-08. They looked like they were on a collision course for another championship bout in 2014 and 2016, but it wasn’t to be. Not surprisingly, this championship bout was one to remember.
The game was tied 1-1 after the opening period and 2-2 after the third. BC took the lead with about 11 minutes left on a goal by David Cotton, then stopped back-to-back UND power plays, the last one with less than four minutes remaining. However, Hawks head coach Brad Berry gambled and pulled Scheel a few seconds after the second power play ended. The move paid off as Kawaguchi snuck a wrister in the slot past Knight with a minute left and send the game to overtime. Both teams had chances in the first overtime with Hardman ringing a shot off the post and Pinto off the crossbar, but neither squad could find the back of the net and the game went into a second extra session. With both teams clearly exhausted, somebody needed to step up and Westin Michaud was that guy. He got a pass from Jacob Bernard-Docker three minutes into the second overtime and snapped a shot through traffic that got past Knight, giving the Hawks their record-tying ninth championship.
This was a sad year and not just for sports. Thousands have died from COVID-19 and many more have lost their jobs, either to furlough or layoffs with me being one of them. Many of us turn to sports to take our minds off these horrors, but that’s all but disappeared. We won’t see a trophy be embraced or exciting moments to remember. So we’re left wondering what might have been with the Frozen Four and hopefully, I’ve given you a good glimpse of what we would’ve seen together.