With conference tournaments wrapping up this past week, the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament is right around the corner. With a shortened season and limited out of conference play, it will be one of the most interesting NCAA tournaments in recent memory. With that being said, let’s examine the first-round matchups in the Midwest & West Regionals.
No. 8 University of Michigan vs. No. 9 University of Minnesota-Duluth
in the first matchup in the Midwest region, we see an exciting matchup between two strong teams in the University of Michigan vs University of Minnesota-Duluth.
On paper, these two teams are very evenly matched. They have very similar records; Michigan went 15-10-1 while Minnesota-Duluth went 14-10-2. They are also very similarly ranked being No. 8 & No. 9 respectively in the USA Today National Poll.
However, this is where the similarities end. When diving deeper into the statistics of these teams, it is clear who is the more talented of the two. Michigan averages 1.96 goals against per game while scoring an impressive 3.5 goals per game. Minnesota-Duluth, on the other hand, averages 2.31 goals against per game while scoring an even 3.0 goals per game.
On top of this, Michigan has more wins against top teams, going 4-5 combined against No. 2 Minnesota & No. 4 Wisconsin, meanwhile, Minnesota-Duluth has struggled against top teams, going a measly 2-6-1 combined against No. 1 North Dakota and No. 7 St. Cloud State.
The difference maker for Michigan will be starting goaltender and captain, Strauss Mann who has an impressive .930 save percentage and 1.89 goals against average. Strauss, along with Michigan’s trio of 02s in Owen Power, Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson (who all project to be top 15 picks in the NHL Draft) will be the driving force for Michigan’s first round victory over UMD.
Winner - University of Michigan
No. 1 University of North Dakota vs. No. 14 American International College
After evaluating a fairly close matchup in the first game in the Midwest region, we come to one of the most one-sided matchups in the entire tournament.
Plain and simple, North Dakota is one of the most talented NCAA teams in recent memory. The NCHC Champions have an impressive 21-5-1 record and are 8-1 in their last 9 games. On top of this, UND are the highest scoring team in the nation with 3.96 goals per game and are fourth lowest in the nation in goals against with 1.96 goals against per game.
AIC is also playing well, going 15-3-0. However, they competed in a weaker Atlantic Hockey conference and have only played one top ten team, going 0-2 against Quinnipiac University back in December. They are playing well in the defensive zone allowing just 1.94 GAA. Despite this, goaltending has been an issue; AIC has played four different goaltenders this year and has a team save percentage of just .912.
With Hobey Baker Finalist, Shane Pinto & NCHC top scorer, Jordan Kawaguchi along with Mike Richter Award Finalist, Adam Scheel in net, it’s hard to imagine UND not winning this matchup.
Winner - University of North Dakota
No. 6 Minnesota State University vs. No. 10 Quinnipiac University
In the first matchup in the West Regional, we see a strong Minnesota State University team who fell apart in the WCHA Tournament versus a strong Quinnipiac University team who lost to Saint Lawrence University in the ECAC tournament but got an automatic bid due to a covid-19 case on Saint Lawrence’s team.
Minnesota State is widely considered one of the best teams in the country due to their impressive 20-4-1 record. They allow the least goals against in the nation at 1.52 goals against per game and it’s not particularly close. However, don’t let this take away from their offensive game as they are producing at an impressive pace with 3.52 goals per game, good for 7th in the nation.
Quinnipiac has also been impressive in the ECAC going 17-7-4 and have gone 8-2 in their last ten games. They are fifth lowest in the nation in goals against per game (1.96) and have a solid offense as well that is ranked 11th in the nation (3.46 goals per game). they also have one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NCAA in Odeen Tufto who is an absolute game-breaker and will garner significant NHL interest at the end of the season.
As both teams lost in their conference playoffs, it will be interesting to see how they both bounce back. This game will come down to which team can better matchup against their opponent’s offensive game.
With each team having a Mike Richter Award finalist in Dryden McKay at MSU and Keith Petruzzelli at QU, this looks to be one of the more exciting matchups in the tournament. If this was a seven-game series, Minnesota State would have the edge, but in a do-or-die game; give Quinnipiac the slight advantage.
Winner - Quinnipiac University
No. 2 University of Minnesota vs. No. 12 University of Nebraska-Omaha
In the final matchup of this article, we have the second game in the Midwest regional, Minnesota vs. Nebraska-Omaha.
Minnesota is one of the best teams in the nation, evident from their No. 2 ranking in the national polls. The Gophers do a lot of things right, scoring 3.79 goals per game (4th in the nation) along with allowing only 2.0 goals per game (7th in the nation). On top of this, they are 8-2 in their last 10 games, winning the Big Ten tournament in impressive fashion.
Nebraska-Omaha has not had the decorated season that Minnesota has had, going 14-10-1. They have also gone 1-4 in their last five games as they lost to Denver in the first round of the NCHC tournament. While their offense has been solid, scoring 3.32 goals per game, they have struggled in the defensive zone allowing 2.96 goals against per game, the most of any team who qualified for the tournament.
Unlike other games in the tournament, this matchup is pretty cut and dried. While anything can happen in the tournament, it’s hard to imagine Bob Motzko and Minnesota losing in the first round after their record-setting season. Look for Jack Lafontaine in net and Sampo Raanta up front to be impact players for Minnesota in this one.
Winner - University of Minnesota