Welcome to another kind of Madness. While men’s basketball takes up the college headlines in March, we in the hockey world are more than happy to shift our attention to the ice as the calendar drives toward April, with the Frozen Four regionals. This year, the field is fascinating, as traditional marquee names such as North Dakota, Michigan and Boston College all missed the cut. In fact, the whole state of Michigan got shut out. And it’s a big year for Minnesota – unless you’re a Gophers fan. Arizona State is the first independent team to make the field since Alaska-Anchorage in 1992, while American International is dancing for the first time in program history. And if you’re looking for top-tier NHL prospects, the Frozen Four has you covered. Colorado pick Cale Makar leads the best UMass team ever, while Harvard’s Adam Fox has already made headlines by announcing he will stay for his senior year instead of signing with Carolina this summer.
But let’s get on to the matchups. Below, you will find a preview of all 16 teams in the field, complete with a scouting report. The quotes were provided to me by coaches whose teams played against these squads during the season, so they’ve got the inside scoop on style, strengths and weaknesses. Along with the team’s record this season, I’ve also included their Pairwise ranking, which is a stat the NCAA uses to determine a team’s strength. Unlike college basketball, there is no subjectivity in picking who gets into the Frozen Four; it’s the best Pairwise teams plus automatic bids for teams that win their conference tournaments. Finally, I’ve also dropped in some players to watch, skewing towards NHL prospects. Let’s get to it.
St. Cloud State Huskies
Pairwise Rank: 1 (tie)
Players to Watch: Top center Ryan Poehling (MTL) is returning from a nasty crash into the boards in the NCHC tournament and his status will be crucial. Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt is a Hobey Baker candidate and a top NHL free agent-to-be, while big David Hrenak (LA) patrols the crease for the Huskies.
Scouting Report: “They were the best team we played this year. So deep, so much skill and talent, but also unbelievable compete level. When you’re hard on pucks, relentless on the forecheck and take away time and space, you’re going to be very effective. If Poehling can’t go, it would hurt, but they have so much depth that they would still be fine.”
American International College Yellow Jackets
Pairwise Rank: 31
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
Players to Watch: Undrafted left winger Blake Christensen is the team’s top scorer and he piled up assists for the Yellow Jackets. Goaltender Zackarias Skog is a Swede with great size.
Scouting Report: “I thought they were really well-balanced this year. They have four lines that come at you for three periods and six good defensemen. If there was a weakness early, it was in goal, but Zackarias Skog really settled in for them. In our league, they were clearly on a mission this year. I think they knew they were good.”
Ohio State Buckeyes
Pairwise Rank: 9
Conference: Big Ten
Players to Watch: Captain Mason Jobst is getting NHL attention as a free agent thanks to his transition from waterbug to two-way center, while Tanner Laczynski (PHI) has a nice combination of skill and grit on the right wing. Dakota Joshua (TOR) is a strong center and another good producer.
Scouting Report: “Their top-end guys are really good. Ohio State doesn’t have the depth of Notre Dame, but they’ve got a great high end. Coming into the season, I wondered about their goaltending, but as it turned out, they ended up with two pretty good ones.”
Pairwise Rank: 8
Players to Watch: Small but potent Emilio Pettersson (CGY) has been an excellent producer in his freshman year, while fellow European first-year Filip Larsson (DET) was great in net after an early-season injury. Defenseman Ian Mitchell (CHI) has great feet and hockey sense.
Scouting Report: “They’re still young, but they’re playing well. They shine at tournament time – they’re so consistent and they play a speed game. Jarid Lukosevicius is a goal-scorer and he scores at the right time. They have as much talent as anybody. St. Cloud is in their regional; will the Huskies be their nemesis?”
“They play with a lot of pace and they skate hard. Not big or physical, but they’re quick. Very good puck pressure and angling. Run a five-man cycle. Not as lethal as St. Cloud, but play similar.”
Pairwise Rank: 4
Conference: Hockey East
Players to Watch: Cale Makar (COL) is the best player in the nation and he leads a skilled blueline that also includes partner Marc Del Gaizo (2019 draft) and Mario Ferraro (SJ). John Leonard (SJ) is one of the top weapons up front.
Scouting Report: “They have the best player in the country in Cale Makar, but they are also a very solid team. Very thorough. Their strength is in their grind, they don’t dance around a lot. They are aggressive in front of the opponent’s net; the goalie is going to get bumped and they will arrive in numbers. If they have a challenge, it’s that they have a young ‘D’ corps and didn’t play as many guys down the stretch in games.”
Pairwise Rank: 13
Players to Watch: Adam Fox (CAR) is one of the top defensemen in the nation and he can make the offense sing, while Jack Rathbone (VAN) and Reilly Walsh (NJ) have been similarly impressive with their work on the blueline.
Scouting Report: “Probably the most skilled team in the conference. Their defensemen have great feet and deception. They can generate a lot from the blueline, led by Adam Fox – he’s a difference-maker. He makes it look effortless out there and he’s unbelievable on the power play. Harvard is great in transition, they’re a good possession team and they can get up and down the ice in a hurry. If you don’t forecheck hard and pressure them physically, they’ll pick you apart. Goaltending is interesting – Michael Lackey got hurt recently and looked rusty when he came back, so who do they go with?”
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Pairwise Ranking: 12
Conference: Big Ten
Players to Watch: Captain Andrew Peeke (CBJ) is a great two-way defenseman, while power forward Cam Morrison (COL) is part of a balanced offensive attack. Freshman Jake Pivonka (NYI) led the team in faceoff wins.
Scouting Report: “First off, they have Jeff Jackson, one of the best coaches in college hockey. They’re a big, strong team and their skill guys will make you pay if you make a mistake. They’ve got a good formula over there: Jackson always has them playing their best hockey at the right time of year. They won a lot of close games and getting that Big Ten championship speaks volumes.”
Clarkson Golden Knights
Pairwise Rank: 5
Players to Watch: Center Nico Sturm is one of the top college free agents garnering NHL interest right now, as his mature, responsible game is seen as NHL-ready. Goaltender Jake Kielly is also on the free agent radar. Freshman and fourth-line center Nick Campoli (VGK) is the only NHL draft pick on the roster.
Scouting Report: “Well-oiled, well-coached, well-structured. They will not beat themselves out there. A complete team in every regard, they could do some damage. Nico Sturm is a very good player. Complete game, 200-foot guy.”
Minnesota State Mavericks
Pairwise Rank: 3
Players to Watch: The Mavs have a couple of intriguing free agents in defenseman Carson Mackey and left winger Marc Michaelis. Mackey has good size, good feet and can transition pucks, while Michaelis brings speed and guts to the lineup.
Scouting Report: “They are good, top to bottom. Their depth is really good. The kid who scored the game-winner against Bowling Green (Nicholas Rivera) is listed as a bottom-sixer on their line chart, but he doesn’t play like it. They come at you in waves and they’re a very good possession team. They have a chance to win this thing.”
Providence College Friars
Pairwise Ranking: 14
Conference: Hockey East
Players to Watch: Right winger Jack Dugan (VGK) was an incredibly impressive freshman, while Hayden Hawkey (EDM) carries the load in net. Read below for all the blueline goodies.
Scouting Report: “They get miscast as a structure team – they just have exceptional habits. They’re a puck possession team and they get above the puck defensively very quickly. The defense is very good. Jacob Bryson (BUF) and Spenser Young are two of the best skaters out there and they’ve got a great shutdown pair in Vincent Desharnais (EDM) and Michael Callahan (ARI). Offensively they can get caught when they’re not attacking the net.”
Cornell Big Red
Pairwise Rank: 11
Players to Watch: The Big Red have some big boys, Morgan Barron (NYR) being the most prominent. He has been sensational as a freshman. Towering Beau Starrett (CHI) is the top-line center, while undrafted goalie Matt Galajda is listed as doubtful due to a knee injury.
Scouting Report: “Very consistent, very good defensively and structurally, as they always are under coach Mike Schafer. They don’t make mistakes and they are very good at getting into shooting lanes and taking away time and space. Injected some high-end guys up front and can play more uptempo than in the past. Morgan Barron is a very good player – a big, strong, talented power forward. Galajda would be a big loss if he can’t go.”
Pairwise Rank: 6
Conference: Hockey East
Players to Watch: The high end is great for the Huskies, with elite goalie Cayden Primeau (MTL) and puckmover extraordinaire Jeremy Davies (NJ) on the blueline. Up front, Tyler Madden (VAN) has already proven himself to be a clutch player and he’s only a freshman.
Scouting Report: “They play at a racehorse pace, they keep coming at you. They like to play possession hockey and they’ve got those high-end defensemen that are always in the play. Jeremy Davies – he doesn’t come off the ice. He was all over, like a bad rash. They work their butts off and they’re not afraid to be first all over the ice, even though they’re not a big team. Deep scoring.”
“I’m impressed they’ve got this far; they play a high-risk game. Cayden Primeau is elite and he is on fire right now. They’ve got a lot of offense and Jeremy Davies plays 30 minutes a night. They run more faceoff plays than anyone else in the country and they’re good at winning draws.”
Pairwise Rank: 1 (tie)
Players to Watch: Captain Mikey Anderson (LA), skilled Scott Perunovich (STL) and big Dylan Samberg (WPG) are all experienced blueliners who won the title with Duluth last season, so they’re ready for anything. Right winger Nick Swaney (MIN) led the team in goals.
Scouting Report: “More of a pro-style team than St. Cloud; Duluth is bigger and heavier, but still deep and talented. They play the right way: they forecheck hard and the defense corps is strong. Those defensemen really paste guys in their own zone – they end plays. If you don’t move East-West really quickly, you won’t be in the offensive zone long. They close on you.”
Bowling Green Falcons
Pairwise Ranking: 15
Players to Watch: Brandon Kruse (VGK) is the guy that makes it happen up front with his excellent playmaking skills, while Ryan Bednard (FLA) takes care of the goaltending duties.
Scouting Report: “They have high-end talent in Brandon Kruse up front, Alec Rauhauser on defense and a 6-foot-5 goalie. Their top line is as good as any in the country. Bowling Green plays a unique, vertical game – they stretch you out and have good speed. Because of that, they can be a little loose defensively. It will be interesting to see what happens, because Duluth plays a lot like Minnesota State.”
Arizona State Sun Devils
Pairwise Rank: 10
Players to Watch: Netminder Joey Daccord (OTT) can handle a heavy workload and has been a star for the team in his junior campaign, while Demetrios Koumontzis (CGY) has brought some nice skill up front as a freshman. Undrafted Johnny Walker is the top scorer on the team.
Scouting Report: “That Walker kid has as good a stick as any kid in college hockey. He’s a scorer and point-hound, he’s the straw that stirs the drink. They’ve also got six high-end defenseman and a really good goalie in Joey Daccord. The question is how their forward depth will match up against a fast Quinnipiac team.”
Pairwise Rank: 7
Players to Watch: Chase Priskie (WSH) has been one of the most dynamic D-men in the country, while fellow blueliner Peter DiLiberatore (VGK) had himself a very nice freshman campaign with the Bobcats. Free agent netminder Andrew Shortridge is garnering a lot of NHL interest.
Scouting Report: “They generate a lot from the back end, Chase Priskie jump-starts them. Great on the power play. Interesting because they play a 1-3-1 through the neutral zone, so you better be willing to chip the puck in and go get it. If you try to carry it in and fail, they will transition on you fast. They limit opportunities and once you get past them, Andrew Shortridge is tough to beat in net.”