The NCAA men's hockey regional tournaments are in the books, and three of the top four overall seeds — the No. 1 Gophers, No. 2 Quinnipiac and No. 3 Michigan, plus No. 5 Boston University — advanced to the men's Frozen Four on April 6 and 8 in Tampa, Fla. While the bracket ended up with a chalk-like quality of most of the favorites winning, how they got there was interesting. Here are some observations from the regionals:
1. The Big Ten flexes its muscles
It started Thursday when the Gophers shook of a sluggish start, trailing 2-1 to Canisius early in the second period, before rolling to a 9-2 win over the Golden Griffins. On Friday, Minnesota's Big Ten brethren joined the act, with Ohio State embarrassing No. 7 seed Harvard 8-1 in Bridgeport, Penn State drubbing Michigan Tech 8-0 in Allentown, and Michigan drilling Colgate 11-1, also in Allentown.
A combined 36-4 margin for the Big Ten against its first-round opponents showed the league isn't messing around when it comes to hockey. The margins came back to earth in the regional finals, with the Gophers grinding out a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State and Ohio State falling 4-1 to Quinnipiac. Not counting Michigan's 2-1 overtime win over Penn State in an intraconference matchup in the Allentown final, the Big Ten had a cumulative 41-9 scoring advantage.
2. St. Cloud State, Penn State impressive in defeat
Both the Gophers and Michigan had to put their work boots on to win regional titles. In Minnesota's case, a game effort from St. Cloud State put the Fargo Regional's champion in doubt until 8:16 remained, when Logan Cooley won a faceoff directly back to Jackson Lacombe, with the defenseman using Matthew Knies' screen to blast a shot past Huskies goalie Jaxon Castor for a 3-1 lead. "They were revving up and down the rink in the second period,'' Gophers coach Bob Motzko said of the Huskies. "… They were double-shifting their top two lines for a big part of the game. Finally, I said, 'All right, have at it. Let's go finish this thing off.' ''
Sunday in the Allentown final, Michigan trailed Penn State 1-0 after two periods before tying the score on Adam Fantilli's power-play goal at 12:08 of the third period. Both squads pushed the pace the rest of regulation before Mackie Samoskevich wired a snapshot past Nittany Lions goalie Liam Souliere 52 seconds into overtime. "I feel bad for the guys on our team that aren't gonna get this opportunity again, but I sure look forward to another time," Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky told reporters in Allentown. "It was an awesome experience, and I look forward to another time. I look forward to someday when it doesn't end like this."
3. Fargo did a fine job
The NCAA tournament selection committee placed three Minnesota teams in the Fargo Regional, so the presence of the Gophers, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato, plus the North Dakota fans who kept their tickets, made for a full arena with a great atmosphere. Saturday's final drew 5,326, a record for a regional in Fargo. Stick tap to the staff from host school North Dakota for a well-run tournament.
There has been much chatter about moving the regionals back to campus sites to improve attendance. Since 2010, the regionals have been held at non-campus sites. Competitive balance was one reason for moving the tournaments off campus, and for any change to happen, college hockey coaches would have to come to a consensus on the subject.
The regional and Frozen Four sites have been scheduled through 2026. Next year, Sioux Falls; Maryland Heights, Mo.; Providence, R.I.; and Springfield, Mass.; will host regionals, while the Frozen Four is back to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for the fourth time. After that, the Frozen Four will be held in St. Louis in 2025 and Las Vegas in 2026.
4. Early game for Gophers-Boston U.
At the Frozen Four in Tampa, the top-seeded Gophers will face No. 4 Boston University at 4 p.m. (Central) in the first semifinal on April 6. Second-seeded Quinnipiac meets No. 3 seed Michigan in the 7:30 semifinal. All games, including the 7 p.m. championship on April 8, are on ESPN2.
Why aren't the Gophers, the top seed, playing in the late game? That decision belongs to ESPN, rather than being awarded based on seeding. Last year, Michigan was the No. 1 seed and played Denver in the early game. In 2021, Minnesota State was the No. 1 seed and played early. Minnesota Duluth was the top remaining seed in 2019 and played early. Both Notre Dame in 2018 and Denver in 2017 played late as the top remaining seeds.
5. Hobey Hat Trick coming
The Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick of three finalists will be announced Thursday, and the Gophers have two candidates among the final 10: Cooley, the freshman phenom, and sophomore linemate Knies.
Cooley bolstered his case by scoring the winning goal against St. Cloud State and assisting on LaCombe's goal that gave the Gophers some breathing room. Cooley (20 goals, 37 assists, 57 points) ranks second nationally in scoring, first in plus-minus rating (plus-37), tied for first in assists, tied for 17th in goals and tied for third in game-winning goals (six). The Pittsburgh native is on a 15-game point streak and a six-game multipoint streak.
Knies, who's been battling an illness, Motzko said, did not register a point in the regional. With 21 goals and 20 assists, Knies' 41 points are tied for 18th nationally, while he's tied for first in game-winning goals with seven and is a plus-29 (tied for ninth).
The top competition for the Gophers duo in the Hobey chase figures to be Fantilli, a freshman center for Michigan. Fantilli leads the nation in scoring with 64 points on 35 goals and 29 assists and is tops with 10 power-play goals. He has nine goals and five assists in six postseason games.