Frozen Four Preview: Blue blood meets new blood as Quinnipiac seeks first national title


Peyton McKenzie

Quinnipiac and Michigan will face off in the NCAA semfinal of April 6, a rematch of last season’s regional final in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

At a glance, the 2023 Frozen Four bracket looks like something 50 years into the past. Minnesota, Michigan, Boston University: three of college hockey’s most historic programs renewing old rivalries on the sport’s biggest stage.

But there’s another team in the fray, one that did not exist for half of the other’s national championships. Despite only being a Division I program since 1998, Quinnipiac’s resume successfully rivals its opponents since the turn of the millenia.

The Bobcats’ three Frozen Four berths since 2000 equal BU in that span, while their two national championship game appearances are trumped only by Minnesota, which has appeared in three, though only one in the past 15 years.

Quinnipiac has fully emerged onto the national scene in the last decade, but still lacks that elusive national championship, and the road to glory will not be easy.

Michigan stands in the Bobcats’ way in the semifinal round, looking for a repeat of last year’s regional final in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the Wolverines jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and hung on to win 7-4.

10 Michigan players turned pro following the 2022 season, but a young offense commanded by newly-named head coach Brandon Naurato has come back even more dangerous.

“I don’t think they’ve changed a ton with this year’s team, and in the end they still have what they’re best at is high end players,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We know we need to defend in waves and … we need to make them play defense.”

The Wolverines are led by Hobey Baker hat-trick finalist and projected No. 2 overall draft pick in this year’s NHL Draft Adam Fantilli. The freshman forward sits atop the nation with 64 points (29 goals, 35 assists) in 35 games this season.

Seven players on their roster have 30-plus points on the season, including sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes. The New Jersey Devils draft pick has proved his stature as one of the world’s top defensive prospects.

“As good of a player as he is, I think he’s a better person,” Pecknold said. “Just a phenomenal athlete, phenomenal person. He’s got that elusiveness that you can’t teach … we’re going to have to defend him in waves.”

Michigan’s third-leading scorer is Mackie Samoskevich (20-23-43), the twin brother of Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey junior defender Maddy Samoskevich and the younger brother of Bobcats’ director of player development and operations Melissa Samoskevich.

On paper, the matchup is between the nation’s best offense — Michigan — and best defense — Quinnipiac — but the Bobcats need to be the team controlling the attack if they want to avoid a repeat of last year’s regional final.

As high-powered as the Wolverines offense is, their defense struggles in comparison. They rank in the bottom 20 in the country in scoring defense, penalty-kill percentage and shots allowed per game (eighth worst). If Quinnipiac can come out strong and surge as it did in the latter half of the first period against Ohio State on March 26, it will put itself in prime position to build a lead.

No matter how hard your offensive pressure, a team as talented as Michigan will eventually break through and build attacking-zone pressure. The key for the Bobcats, as Pecknold alluded to, is to isolate the Wolverines’ talent and support the initial defender with layers. Michigan will make plays, but the more defenders it has to go through the more likely it is to turn the puck over.

If Quinnipiac gets past the Wolverines, waiting on the other side will be one of Minnesota or BU.

Minnesota, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, returns to the Frozen Four for the second-straight season, looking to bring home its first national title since 2003.

The Golden Gophers are powered by the best forward line in the nation. Freshman Jimmy Snuggerud and sophomore Matthew Knies are centered by freshman Logan Cooley. The trio has 50, 41 and 57 points on the season, respectively, and the latter two were both named to the Hobey hat-trick.

“His skating ability is elite, his skill is elite and that alone sets him apart,” Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said of Cooley. “But the greatest skill factor in him is his compete level.”

Hockey East champion BU heads to Tampa, Florida, on the back of wins over Western Michigan and Cornell in the regional round.

“One of our team goals at the beginning of the year was to get to Frozen Four and see what happens there,” BU head coach Jay Pandolfo said. “I give our guys a ton of credit, it’s been a ton of fun coaching these guys and like I said, I’m really proud of them.”

One of the Terriers’ standout is freshman defenseman Lane Hutson. The Montreal Canadiens’ 2022 second-round pick has turned heads with his phenomenal puck movement and deceptive playmaking, leading the country in points by defenseman with 48 in 38 games.

Minnesota and BU will face off in Tampa at 5 p.m. on April 6, with Quinnipiac and Michigan following at 8:30. The winners of the two contests will meet at 8 p.m. on April 8 for the right to be crowned national champion.