The Frozen Four is one of the hardest tournaments to forecast - a one-and-done hockey bracket? There's a lot that can happen in just one game. But it also makes the tourney incredibly intense because you literally cannot take a game off. On the men's side, you can just look at last year when Cole Caufield and Wisconsin got blindsided by a very game Bemidji State squad. And we've seen incredible upsets from the likes of American International and Holy Cross in the past, too.
Which is all a way of saying that I agonize over the men's bracket. Could American International upset No. 1 Michigan in the first round? The Yellow Jackets certainly could, but I would also feel very silly putting money on it only to see the Wolverines take care of business as most would expect. But we need a preview of some sort, don't we?
Here are my picks for the first round of the tourney, with some gut-checks thrown in just for fun.
Michigan beats American International
There are still some Yellow Jackets left over from the team's 2019 upset over St. Cloud, so this team will not be intimidated by the Wolverines - and they do have a solid goalie in Jake Kucharski (CAR). Having said that, it feels like Michigan will just have too much firepower here, led by the likes of Matty Beniers (SEA), Kent Johnson (CBJ) and Brendan Brisson (VGK). The defense is led by Owen Power (BUF) and Luke Hughes (NJ), while Erik Portillo (BUF) is a very good netminder.
Quinnipiac beats St. Cloud State
I really like the Bobcats this year. They feel like one of those older teams that go on a run - much like St. Cloud has done in the past. My biggest concern for the Huskies is that starting goalie David Hrenak (LA) is day-to-day with an illness. And yes, St. Cloud does have the likes of Nick Perbix (TB), Sam Hentges (MIN) and my boy Jack Peart (MIN) on the roster, but Quinnipiac counters with Oliver Chau, a fifth-year transfer who won last year with UMass, as well as Ty Smilanic (MTL) and one of the hottest netminders in the country in Yaniv Perets.
Denver beats UMass-Lowell
The Pioneers have a potential Hobey Baker winner in Bobby Brink (PHI) and tons of offense behind him, too. From Cole Guttman (TB) to Carter Savoie (EDM) and Brett Stapley (MTL), Denver can come at you in waves. The River Hawks don't have that kind of firepower, though Andre Lee (LA) is intriguing. They've also gotten great performances out of Owen Savory in net, but can he hold the fort against such a potent attack?
Minnesota-Duluth beats Michigan Tech
The Bulldogs have so much experience and success in the Scott Sandelin era, it's hard to pick against The Machine. They're a hard team to play against and guys like Blake Biondi (MTL), Noah Cates (PHI) and Wyatt Kaiser (CHI) have stepped up this season. They also have experience in net with Ryan Fanti. If the Huskies are going to pull off a win, the guy to watch is left winger Brian Halonen, a coveted college free agent who plays a physically dominating game. His goal-scoring ability hit a new level this year.
Northeastern beats Western Michigan
This is where I get in trouble. Western Michigan has a veteran roster and a great offensive defenseman in Ronnie Attard (PHI), plus a big goalie getting NHL free agent interest in Brandon Bussi. So the Broncos are good, no doubt. But I look at Northeastern and see a goalie who can steal games in Devon Levi (BUF), a solid offense led by Aidan McDonough (VAN) and a mobile defense corps featuring Jordan Harris (MTL). A toss-up, but I'm going with the Huskies.
UMass beats Minnesota
Guess I'm all about the upsets in the Worcester regional. The Minutemen are the defending champs and though they lost some talent, they still have NHL free agent sparkplug Bobby Trivigno, a veteran goalie in Matthew Murray and a new scorcher on defense in Scott Morrow (CAR). My big concern with the Gophers is goaltending, as they lost starter Jack LaFontaine to the NHL midway through the season. While Justen Close has played really well, Minnesota hasn't beaten a tourney team since late January. Having said that, they do have the top NHL free agent in the country in Ben Meyers, plus Matthew Knies (TOR), Jackson LaCombe (ANA) and a lot of other weapons. So I don't like making a choice on this game at all.
Minnesota State beats Harvard
I will say this right off the bat: I would not be surprised if the Crimson pull off an upset here. Harvard has real high-end offensive threats in Matt Coronato (CGY), Sean Farrell (MTL) and Nick Abbruzzese (TOR), among others. If they can crack the Mavs defense, they can put pucks past star goalie Dryden McKay. But that is a big 'if' because the Mavericks have been building towards a championship for years now and Nathan Smith (ARI) brought a new level of offense to his two-way game this season. Julian Napravnik is a very dangerous scorer too, and an NHL free agent to watch.
North Dakota beats Notre Dame
This will be, most likely, a low-scoring affair. The Fighting Irish are a great defensive team and the Fighting Hawks are missing elite defenseman Jake Sanderson due to injury - so it's gonna be tight. I do think North Dakota has enough to triumph thanks to Riese Gaber and Connor Ford up front, but Notre Dame does counter with the likes of Ryder Rolston (COL) and D-man Spencer Stastney (NSH). This might all come down to the goaltending: Zach Driscoll for NoDak, Matt Galajda for NoDam.