Cawledge hawkey fans, we made it! After a full year of postponed championship hockey, we’ve finally arrived at the most wonderful time of the year for college hockey fans. It’s #BoatSZN, also known as Frozen Four time! This week, I’ll go over each regional and give you the lowdown on each team, including players to watch and NHL prospects. This article will focus on the Loveland Regional of the NCAA tournament.
How They Got Here: Minnesota is making their 38th NCAA tournament appearance and are the number one seed in the Loveland Regional. The Golden Gophers finished second in the Big Ten during the regular season with a 16-6 record (23-6 overall). They won their conference tournament with a 6-4 win over rival Wisconsin.
Who to Watch: The Golden Gophers feature some NHL-level talent – as you do if you’re a Big Ten school. One such player to watch is goaltender Jack LaFontaine. The Carolina Hurricanes prospect won 21 of the 23 games for the Golden Gophers and posted a 1.74 GAA along with a .936 save percentage. Forward Sampo Ranta (Colorado) lead Minnesota in goals (18) and overall points while teammate Scott Reidy (San Jose) lead the team in power play goals (4). Defenseman Jackson LaCombe (Anaheim) was a +18 and scored two shorthanded goals.
#2 Minnesota State
How They Got Here: Minnesota State (formerly known as UM-Mankato) makes their eighth NCAA tournament appearance and third in a row. The Mavericks won the WCHA regular season with a 13-1-1 record (20-4-1 overall), but were upset in the conference tournament by Northern Michigan.
Who to Watch: Like their in-state counterpart, Minnesota State has excellent goaltending. Junior goaltender Dryden McKay (appropriate name for a goalie) started in 23 games and posted a 1.40 GAA to go with a .930 save percentage. In front of him is a defensive unit that allowed 38 goals altogether this season. The Mavericks feature an experienced backline with three defensemen who posted more than 30 blocked shots this season. This includes seniors Riese Zmolek (41) and Jack McNeely (35). One NHL prospect to watch is sophomore forward Nathan Smith (Winnipeg), who scored 21 points this season (5 G, 16 A).
How They Got Here: Quinnipac will make their seventh appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Bobcats won the ECAC regular season title with a 10-4-4 conference record (17-7-4 overall). They lost in the ECAC tournament championship, but champion St. Lawrence was forced to forfeit due to COVID concerns. As a result, the Bobcats were chosen to represent the conference.
Who to Watch: Quinnipac features three players that are currently NHL prospects. The first is forward Ty Smilanic; the Florida prospect finished his freshman campaign finished tied for first in goals scored (14) and was second in power play goals scored (6). The second is junior defenseman Peter DiLiberatore; the Vegas Golden Knights draft pick scored five power play goals during the 2021 season. He was also the Bobcats’ team leader in blocked shots (30). The last is senior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli; the Detroit prospect who listed at 6’5” posted a 1.83 GAA and four shutouts in 2021.
How They Got Here: Nebraska-Omaha will appear in their fourth NCAA tournament. It’s their first appearance since they made the Frozen Four in 2015. The Mavericks finished fourth in the NCHC during the regular season (14-9-1 conference, 14-10-1 overall). They lost in the first round of the conference tournament, but received an at-large bid.
Who to Watch: You may not think of Nebraska-Omaha as a traditional hockey power, but there are a couple of notable names to watch. Defenseman Jonny Tychonick transferred from North Dakota to the Mavericks and helped bolster UNO’s backline. The junior had eight points in 22 games, but contributed 20 blocked shots. Tychonick is an Ottawa Senators draft choice. The other player to watch is goaltender Isaiah Saville; the Vegas Golden Knight draft pick posted similar numbers to his freshman campaign with a 2.86 GAA and one shutout. One last notable name is forward Chayse Primeau; the son of Keith Primeau and brother of Montreal prospect Cayden Primeau led the Mavericks with 23 points (9 G, 14 A).
The Loveland Regional begins on Saturday afternoon at 4pm when Minnesota State facing Quinnipiac. Nebraska-Omaha will take on Minnesota at 9pm EST. The winners advance to the regional final on Sunday at 8pm and the regional champion will advance to the NCAA Frozen Four.