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Frozen Four Notebook: Denver Knocks Out Michigan

The Pioneers controlled most of the game and got the OT winner from an Oilers pick. Now we wait to see how many Wolverines leave for the pro ranks.
Carter Savoie scores the winner. Photo by Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports.

Carter Savoie scores the winner. Photo by Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports.

BOSTON - It was heartbreak for Michigan fans - and anyone who follows the murderers' row of NHL prospects that play for the Wolverines - but Denver earned the first victory of the Frozen Four semifinal. The Pioneers prevailed 3-2 in overtime thanks to a goal from sophomore Carter Savoie (EDM) from Bobby Brink (PHI). Savoie scoring was no shock; it's always been his thing. But the former AJHL star has impressed coach David Carle with growth in other facets.

"His game is continuing to develop and improve to where we can put him out in really big moments," Carle said. "And obviously the goal-scoring, he's been doing that for a really long time. It's a God-given ability that he has. But his whole game continues to round out as he becomes a more and more complete player."

The Oilers got Savoie in the fourth round, 100th overall in 2020. For fun, I looked back at my scout interviews from that year when he still played for Sherwood Park and it was clear Savoie had upside, but also work to do:

“Tremendous shot but very lackadaisical game," said one scout. "I worry about his skating and his energy level. But if you’re looking for an NHL attribute, he has it – he shoots the puck as well as anyone in this draft. His work rate leaves something to be desired.”

No one would complain about his efforts against Michigan, so it's nice to see a player develop his game and fix his weaknesses.

So what happens now to the Wolverines? This was never a team constructed to be together for long and undoubtedly we're going to see some big names leave for the pro ranks very soon. The biggest and most likely to depart?

Owen Power (BUF)

Matty Beniers (SEA)

Kent Johnson (CBJ)

Brendan Brisson (VGK)

Thomas Bordeleau (SJ)

Johnny Beecher (BOS)

Most NCAA programs would kill to have so much talent on their team; luckily the Wolverines have a raft of elite replacements on the way, led by potential 2023 NHL lottery pick Adam Fantilli.

Interestingly enough, Bruins GM Don Sweeney was in the house and Beecher looked pretty good on the night, blocking shots and throwing his weight around.

And what about Luke Hughes, you say? True, the New Jersey Devils pick is advanced on the blueline, but he is only a freshman. Recently, I spoke with Devils assistant GM and senior VP of hockey operations Dan MacKinnon about Hughes and he said that, at least "conceptually," the plan was always for Hughes to spend at least two years at Michigan. Needless to say, the Devils are big fans.

"What's similar to his brothers is his confidence with the puck; in making a play, what he sees on the ice," MacKinnon said. "I really believe the way the NHL has gone, he's going to be entering the league during the right era."

I know there is also interest from Sabres fans about goalie Erik Portillo, but given that this was his first year as a starter with the Wolverines (and the fact Buffalo has Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen already in the pros), it feels like there's no reason to rush the Swedish netminder - and he played quite well in the loss to Denver.

The other big story to watch out of Michigan is the fate of coach Mel Pearson. He is famously without a contract extension right now and there is that ongoing investigation into misconduct claims surrounding the program. Though he's only a first-year assistant coach at Michigan, I do know Brandon Narauto, the former Detroit Red Wings skills coach, has support out there.

Man, Carter Mazur (DET) does not look fun to play against. He was all over the action for Denver, throwing hits, drawing penalties (maybe going to that well once too often, but he got away with it) and generally just being a thorny opponent.

Cole Guttman was another standout for Denver, playing a fast, complete game and continuing a trend of late-round finds by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cole Koepke from Minnesota-Duluth is another one that comes to mind.

One of my favorite aspects of the Frozen Four is the number of different NCAA jerseys sported by the fans, many who attend no matter which teams make the final weekend. It's like the license plate game we'd play in the car as kids on road trips. I've already seen both Alaska schools, American International and, my favorite, a couple gentlemen rocking Northern Arizona sweaters (the Lumberjacks played five seasons of D1, ending in 1986).

Stay tuned for more notebook entries as the tournament goes on.

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