After defeating Minnesota on the road to secure its first Big Ten Tournament Championship since 2016, the Michigan hockey team earned the NCAA Tournament’s highest ranking. Traveling to Allentown, Pa., the Wolverines face a regional draw of American International College, St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac. The Daily’s hockey beat predicts the outcome of the regional.
I started this season not knowing much about hockey and I’m still learning — Michigan has been the best instructor.
The Wolverines struggled in the beginning to balance its stars. Then it lost them all to the Olympics and had trouble reintegrating them along the way, losing twice to Notre Dame at the end of the regular season. It seems as though the stars have aligned at the right time with Michigan beating Minnesota last weekend for the Big Ten Championship game.
The Wolverines will be successful in their first regional game. Against American International, Michigan will easily come away with the win. If they could beat Minnesota by three goals, I see the Wolverines winning by five. In their next matchup against either St. Cloud or Quinnipiac, I see the lower seeded team in St. Cloud meeting the Wolverines on the ice. Michigan will struggle at first, going down early by two goals and have to fight to earn its spot in the game. If it could come back from the early goal against the Golden Gophers, the Wolverines can do it against the Huskies, 3-2.
All year, we’ve talked about how good Michigan is and what the Wolverines need to do to compete for a national championship. For the most part, they’ve delivered. They’ve beaten top-five teams, they won the Big Ten tournament and they conquered their most insurmountable mountain in Notre Dame.
Expect that momentum to carry into the tournament.
Michigan begins its quest for a title against American International, winners of the Atlantic Hockey Association. The Yellow Jackets have won 19 of their last 24 games and have an upset on their minds. However, the Wolverines are simply too good and too hungry to drop this game. I’ll take Michigan by three goals.
Moving forward, the Wolverines will draw either St. Cloud State or Quinnipiac. I expect St. Cloud — the far more battle-tested team — to prevail. Quinnipiac has had a great season, but I think its lack of big-time games will prove detrimental.
With a trip to the Frozen Four on the line, I like Michigan to get past St. Cloud. Again, the Wolverines are that good. In the last few weeks, sophomore forward Brendan Brisson’s time on the first line, sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo’s ability to be a brick wall and the deep Michigan roster should book its ticket to Boston. Give me the Wolverines in a tight one, with Brisson tallying the game winner, something he’s done all year long.
Heading into this season, everyone knew the Michigan hockey team was going to be good. But did they think it would be this good? Regardless of the answer, the Wolverines made their answer loud and clear with a 16-3 record since New Years’ including one of those losses in OT at Mariucci.
Every part of Michigan’s roster has clicked into place these past few weeks. Sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo is practically unbeatable in net (Minnesota needed a three-man advantage to make last Saturday’s game close). All three defense pairings found chemistry and consistency. And thanks to sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau’s adaptability (shameless story plug), all four offensive lines have found ways to get involved. The Wolverines are a wagon in every sense of the word.
And the thing about wagons is they keep on a-rollin’. Bet the farm on Michigan giving American International a masterclass in college hockey on Friday. The Yellowjackets are good — hanging in the Pairwise conversation all season — but they just aren’t the same level as the Wolverines. Whatever Vegas sets for odds, hammer the over. This is going to be a bloodbath.
As for the regional final, I can’t say the same thing. Personally, my grandma grew up for a few years in St. Cloud, and Red Wings legend Dennis Cholowski spent a season on defense there back in the day. Something tells me the Huskies are going to pull through.
All jokes aside, the NCHC is the toughest conference in college hockey, full stop. There’s a reason five of its teams are still playing in late March, and that kind of season-long competition is going to make them dominant in the postseason. I don’t see Quinnipiac beating St. Cloud State despite the insane season Yaniv Perets is having between the pipes. They’re just too good all around.
And when they get to the final, I don’t think their momentum stops. Michigan is going to smack a worse team, while St. Cloud is arguably playing up to their competition. I think that’s the difference maker in this regional. Give me the Huskies over the Wolverines, 4-2.
Hockey is unpredictable to begin with, and playoff hockey? Well, let’s just say it’s impossible to have any idea what’s going to happen.
You can look at data, matchups and history and think you’re making an informed decision — and maybe my beatmates above have already done that — but I truly believe that this time of year, each game is simply a 50/50 chance. Hot take? Maybe. But March is chaotic.
So will I consult stats while making these predictions? No. Will I look at win probabilities? No. Will I look at teams’ schedules, past matchups and who they’ve beaten or lost to? No, no, no. This is single elimination hockey, and my predictions will be based on vibes.
With that being said, the vibes are squarely in Michigan’s favor to start the tournament. The Wolverines drew the No. 1 ranking and will host the Allentown, Pa., regional, where they will open tournament play against 16th-ranked American International. Michigan’s potent offense and power play unit will overwhelm the Yellowjackets, and the Wolverines should cruise to victory.
The regional final, however, will be no such walk in the park. The other two teams in the regional — St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac — are capable not only of winning by chaos alone, but each boast respectable resumes in their own respects. Oops, maybe I consulted some data on that one, but either way, it’ll be anyone’s game.
I see Quinnipiac defeating St. Cloud State to face Michigan, and the regional final will come down to the wire. The game can truly go either way, and a bounce here or there will give Quinnipiac the edge, ending the Wolverines’ stellar season short.