Allentown, PA- The balance of college hockey power shifted heavily in the west’s favor in the 2021-22 college hockey season. Seven of the eight teams left standing after one round of the NCAA Tournament hail from the western conferences. The Quinnipiac Bobcats are the only eastern team left standing. And in order to advance to their third Frozen Four in program history, they are tasked with beating the most talented team in college hockey: the Michigan Wolverines.
With an absurd spread of talent, Michigan claimed their second Big 10 Tournament championship and showed their offense against the American International College Yellow Jackets to open the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon. Michigan scored five goals on 31 shots, and potted each of their goals within the first seven minutes of the first and second periods, opting for a “shock and awe” approach of scoring early and often, forcing the opposition to dig out of a hole. Michigan’s speed lends itself perfectly to that style of play.
The Blue line in particular is remarkable as far as their speed. The number one overall pick of the 2021 NHL draft, Owen Power, (31GP-3G/26A/29PTS) set up Brendan Brisson (36 GP- 20G/20A/40PTS) for a power play goal, fed Dylan Duke (39 GP- 10G/9A/19PTS) for a goal, and offered three sequences in which he deked out multiple defenders and did everything except score. And Power is not the leading blue-line scorer. Luke Hughes (39 GP- 17G/21A/38PTS) is the nation’s leading defensive scorer and had one assist to set up senior Garrett Van Wyhe (40- GP 5G/5A/10PTS) for the opening score. Hughes, Power, and Jacob Truscott (38 GP-2G/15A/17PTS) are all capable of taking over a game scoring wise from the back end and setting up the seven NHL draft picks of the forward lines for clean looks and shots.
The Quinnipiac Bobcats play a similar style with their blue line driving the action and offense. In QU’s win over St. Cloud State on Friday night, five of the six blue liners recorded one point including three of the five goals scored. Denver transfer Griffin Mendel (41GP- 6G/9A/15PTS) gave the Bobcats the lead in the third and assisted on fellow blue liner Jayden Lee’s (41GP- 5G/10A/15PTS) game winning tally mind-way through the final stanza against the Huskies. Zach Metsa (41GP- 9G/27A/36PTS) notched two assists and only trail Hughes by two points for the nation’s lead among defensemen. Quinnipiac will need to at least equal Michigan’s blue line output to make the Frozen Four and they’re the team best equipped to do so.
Michigan is fully aware of that similarity. “We’ve practiced against that,” said Wolverine Head Coach Mel Pearson. “Their schemes and systems are very similar to ours. So, we talked about it. We defend that all the time in practice, whether it’s Owen Power or Luke Hughes, Nick Blankenburg (36GP- 14G/14A/28PTS) or Ethan Edwards and go down the list. We’re prepared for that. We feel we have a good game plan. We’ve seen it, we understand it.”
Up front, the comparison is between Michigan’s youth and dominating talent and Quinnipiac’s experience and grit. Brisson, Matty Beniers (35GP- 20G/22A/42PTS) and Kent Johnson (30GP- 8G/29A/37PTS) form probably the highest drafted line in all of college hockey’s history.Brisson went 29th in the 2020 NHL draft to Vegas while Beniers and Johnson went 2nd to Seattle and 5th to Columbus int he 2021 draft respectively. Mackie Samoskevich (38GP- 10G/19A/29PTS), Johnny Beecher (32GP- 6G/8A/14PTS), and Duke form a second all-drafted to the NHL line with Florida, Boston, and Tampa holding their draft rights respectively.
Quinnipiac only boasts two drafted players up front: Skyler Brind’Amour (40GP- 3G/16A/19PTS)- son of Carolina Hurricane’s Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour and Ty Smilanic (40GP- 13G/9A/22PTS) are Edmonton and Florida draft picks respectively. What Quinnipiac has in abundance, is long-term chemistry. Seniors Wyatt Bongiovanni (41GP- 15G/19A/34PTS) and Ethan De Jong (41GP- 10G/20A/30PTS) form a veteran and dynamic scoring pair on Rand Pecknold’s top forward unit with the left wing spot rotating between a few different people. Freshman Jacob Quillan (34GP- 2G/5A/7PTS) started up top. UMass transfer and National champion from last season Oliver Chau (41GP- 13G/20A) saw some time there. Michael Lombardi (40GP- 14G/13A/27PTS) took the spot for a time as well, seeing the best success against the Huskies. Head Coach Rand Pecknold will have to sort out his line arrangements to beat the Wolverines.
One spot with no questions is Quinnipiac’s goaltending. Freshman Yaniv Perets (30GP/.945SV%/1.07GAA) has paced the nation in most all the relevant goaltending stats this season. He did give up the most goals of his season against St. Cloud, but he stopped 30 shots and gave his team a chance to win. He will have to face the most potent team he’s ever played and show that his numbers weren’t just a result of facing the bottom of the ECAC.
His counterpart, Buffalo Sabres draft pick Erik Portillo (40GP/.928SV%/2.08GAA), measures in at 6-6 and fills the net with huge size and as numbers to hang with most goalies in the nation. And he had to perform well in the back end of the AIC game on Friday, stopping 29 of 32 shots, more shots faced than in the Big10 Championship Game at Minnesota.
Michigan plays to live up to their immense talent while Quinnipiac plays to represent all of eastern college hockey. Puck drops at 6:30 pm ET in Allentown. The crowd will likely tilt to Michigan’s side, but these two have enough to play for that the crowd will be a lovely plus to the game if attended well.