Recapping NCAA regionals; Top performers at CHL Top Prospects; Notes on recent NHL signees
Plus: The latest on the 2022 and 2023 World Juniors; News and notes
After one of the most thrilling and evenly-matched regionals that I can remember, there are just four teams left standing as the men’s college hockey season comes to a close. No. 1 Michigan, No. 2 Minnesota State, No. 4 Denver and No. 6 Minnesota are all heading to Boston for the Men’s Frozen Four after surviving and advancing out of some hotly-contested games, some of which could really have gone either way.
Here’s how the bracket shook out through the regionals and what the schedule looks like for Boston.
I will be in Boston for the national semifinals on Thursday before returning home for a prior commitment, but I will have full coverage of the Men’s Frozen Four, with on-site analysis for the first day and a full accounting after the national championship game.
And now some thoughts…
Best game: Minnesota vs. UMass — Two of the country’s best teams going head-to-head in the first round, it was a shame one of them had to go. This was the game I had circled going into the tournament and it more than lived up to the hype. A 4-3 Minnesota win in OT with a high-skill play between Aaron Huglen (BUF) and Ben Meyers to close it out, it was an appropriate end to a great game. Bobby Trivigno, Josh Lopina (ANA) and Matt Kessel (STL) left it all out there in their final games with the Minutemen. Matt Murray gave them a chance in net. In the end, Justen Close was excellent in net for the Gophers and Minnesota’s forward depth may have made the difference in a game with margins so thin. The Gophers had to come back from a 3-1 deficit and got their game-tying goal fairly late in the third period after chipping away.
Weirdest moment: We thought Notre Dame had beaten the buzzer to stun North Dakota, but after a lengthy review that lasted around 15 minutes, the goal was waved off. There was a ton of confusion about this because ESPN’s clock — which is not official — still had time left as the puck crossed the line. Additionally, the in-arena green lights behind nets to indicate time expired did not go on until after the puck was in. However, when there was a look at the overhead with the official clock burned it, it didn’t seem close. The length of the review and the fact that the in-arena time indicators like the light and buzzer went after the puck went in cast doubt on the process. In the rulebook, there is only one official timekeeping element, and that of course is the game clock. It’s just weird how far apart the game clock was from the TV clock, the green light and the buzzer.
The NCAA came out with a statement later saying that the overhead shot with the clock burned in was indeed the official clock and that’s why the goal was waved off. Notre Dame won in OT to render the decision moot, but I still think the NCAA video review protocols need an overhaul of some kind. More transparency, communication and uniformity across all leagues and buildings needs to become a bigger priority, especially at this stage of the season.
Most unfortunate moment: Brian Halonen (NJD) had a dream season with Michigan Tech, earned Hobey Top 10 honors and was the heart and soul of his team. His NCAA tournament turned into a nightmare however as he was tossed from the game 4:17 into it for a checking from behind call. Sometimes I think the college rules can be a little too harsh and this was an instance where I did not think a major was warranted. It looked more like a boarding situation to me as both players kind of lose their footing. Halonen definitely starts his hit on Wyatt Kaiser (CHI) as the defenseman is dipping his shoulder. Both lose their footing and go into the boards hard. It wasn’t an egregious check from behind, but I thought a minor for boarding would have been appropriate. It cost Tech their best player in the biggest game and that was the last moment of Halonen’s otherwise strong collegiate career as he signed with New Jersey this week.
Best individual game performance: According to Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko during his radio show this week, defenseman Brock Faber (LAK) played 41 minutes in a 68-minute game against UMass. He registered zero points, but holy smokes was he incredible. From blocking shots, to killing plays by the opposition to getting pucks up ice. I think that was one of the more impressive showcases of defense in a tournament that had a lot of them. Faber can do anything out there, which is why he ascended to the No. 1 defense role for Team USA at the Olympics. He’s never going to blow you away offensively, but every coach he’ll ever have is going to trust him unconditionally in the biggest moments of a game.
Most productive players: Michigan’s Brendan Brisson (VGK) and Owen Power (BUF) each finished the weekend with five points. Brisson had two goals and three assists, while Power had five assists. Michigan’s offense is fueled by the precision and skill the team possesses. Brisson is an elite finisher in the college game and Power has had three straight weeks of being an absolute monster at both ends of the ice.
Best weekend overall: Minnesota’s Ben Meyers had one for the ages. He scored a game-winning overtime goal in the regional final and finished the weekend with four points overall. No one could stop him this weekend and really that’s been mostly true since he returned from the Olympics. Meyers now has 41 points. He’s put up 15 of those points over the seven games since he returned from Beijing and further vaulted himself into the Hobey Baker conversation.
Most touching moment: The work that has been done to rebuild the UMass program needed core pieces to be the tentpoles for #NewMass. The first is head coach Greg Carvel. Then it’s retaining elite recruits Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro. Pleasant surprises like Filip Lindberg, Zac Jones and Matt Kessel are another. But then you’ve got a four-year staple in Bobby Trivigno who was a key cog in the rise to prominence of this program and helped steer them to the program’s first national title.
The UMass captain was the last player off the ice in his final collegiate game. He and head coach Greg Carvel shared a long embrace before the two exited. It was a culmination of four years between player and coach and they weren’t quite ready to let go of it after UMass lost the heart-breaker to Minnesota in the first round. This is a results-driven business, but it’s a relationships business, too. This was a special one.
Other stray thoughts from the NCAA regionals
Notre Dame proved a lot as a program over the course of the regionals. They got a gutsy win over North Dakota and hung with Minnesota State, but just couldn’t find the goal. I was particularly impressed by the performances by Spencer Stastney (NSH), Nick Leivermann (COL) and Landon Slaggert (CHI) against North Dakota. All of them played big minutes, made an impact on the game at both ends of the ice and gave their team a chance to win. Stastney and Leivermann seemed like they never left the ice in that game, while Slaggert’s ability to disrupt on the forecheck is one of his unrivaled traits.
Dryden McKay is already the shutout king of college hockey, but his performance against Notre Dame may have been one of the best of his season. He turned aside 23 shots, tied for most shots in one of his 10 shutouts this season, and just never looked bothered throughout the game. It seemed to come to him. With that shutout to punch the Mavericks’ ticket to Boston, McKay made it three straight seasons of 10 shutouts. I know the defense in front of him is about as good as any team in the country, but he’s still got to stop the pucks and he makes it look easy.
Western Michigan is going to lose a lot of key players, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the job Pat Ferschweiler did in his first year as head coach at Western Michigan. He got the most out of that team and led them to an NCHC final and helped collect the programs first ever NCAA win. It’s a passion project for Ferschweiler, who went to Western Michigan, and has big goals for where they can get to next. There’s going to be some growing pains as they lose so much of the core of this team, but watch out for the Broncos.
Northeastern is going to be a team to watch next year. They lost captain Jordan Harris to the pros, which was expected as he was a senior and ready to move on as opposed to take a COVID year. However, if they get Devon Levi (BUF) back, they could be a force still. The Huskies got a big boost when it was reported that Aidan McDonough (VAN) is returning for his senior season. He was the nation’s second-leading goal scorer and has a chance to lead Northeastern to new heights if they’re able to keep the whole group together outside of Harris.
Notes on NHL UFA/early signings out of NCAA
The College Free Agent signings have come fast and furious in the aftermath of the NCAA tournament. I thought I’d touch on some here, as well as some of the NHL-drafted players that have signed before their senior season.
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