CINCINNATI — After a dramatic, 3-2 overtime win over Notre Dame on Friday night, No. 2 seed Michigan advanced to the Midwest Regional Final of the NCAA Hockey Tournament.
The Wolverines will meet first-seeded North Dakota on Saturday night in Cincinnati with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. It will be the program’s first in five years.
Michigan’s unofficial mantra since the bracket was revealed has been, “Cincinnati has been good to us, we have to be good to Cincinnati.” In 1996, Michigan won the national championship at U.S. Bank Arena, beating Colorado College, 3-2, in overtime.
Saturday night, the Wolverines will have a chance to turn this resurgent season into a championship one.
But North Dakota, seeking its third straight frozen four appearance, may be up to the task. A clash of styles and matchup of talent depth make the Fighting Hawks — recent mascot-change alert — something of an antidote to the Wolverines vaunted offensive attack.
Scoring 4.89 goals per game heading into the weekend, Michigan’s offense mustered just two regulation goals against a physical Fighting Irish forecheck in the first round matchup. It was just the seventh time the Wolverines (12-5-3 Big Ten, 24-7-5 overall) have scored two or fewer goals in regulation this season.
North Dakota (19-4-1 NCHC, 31-6-4) passes the eye test for size and boasts four NHL draft picks on defense in front of stud netminder Cam Johnson.
But the Fighting Hawks’ best weapon isn’t even on the defensive size of the puck. North Dakota’s top line of seniors Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz and freshman Brock Boeser — dubbed the CBS line — is lethal.
The trio scored twice in 6-2 romp over Hockey East tournament champion Northeastern in the first-round matchup. Boeser leads the team with 54 points, and is second among all freshman nationally — behind only Michigan’s freshman forward phenom Kyle Connor (70).
In four games of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs, the line netted 21 points and cemented its place alongside Michigan’s CCM line in the world of prolific collegiate offenses.
“(North Dakota) has been one of the best teams in college hockey the past couple of years, and that’s something we have to take note of,” said junior forward Tyler Motte. “They have a top line over there and a good defense and a great goaltender. We’re going to focus on ourselves and what we need to do, but we’re ready for the challenge.”
March is a tough time play hockey, with a season conclusion always just one bad bounce away.
Senior forward Boo Nieves remembers thinking during Friday’s win that it just wasn’t time for the season to be over yet. It wasn’t.
Saturday night, the team will find out just how long the run can last.