Michigan hockey earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which was a bit of a surprise given its inconsistencies this season. The team is certainly one of the eight most talented squads in the country, but it was encouraging to see the committee weight the Wolverines’ performances against No. 1 seeds Minnesota and Wisconsin over their 15-10-1 record.
However, sneaking onto the 2-line means getting matched up with the top-overall seed North Dakota, a perennial powerhouse in college hockey. Furthermore, Michigan will open up on Friday afternoon against Minnesota Duluth, a talented team in its own right who happens to have won the two most recent tournaments. Here we go.
Fargo Regional game times & broadcast info! @UMDMensHockey @umichhockey— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 22, 2021
Fri., March 26
⏰ 4 PM ET
(1) @UNDmhockey @AIC_Hockey
Fri., March 26
⏰ 9:30 PM ET
Sat., March 27
⏰ 7:30 PM ET
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Minnesota Duluth
As mentioned above, the Bulldogs won the championship in both 2018 and 2019, giving them an incredible three titles last decade. Many will remember the school’s first ever championship, an overtime heartbreaker over Michigan in 2011. The Wolverines did happen to beat North Dakota in the Frozen Four that year, so this regional has a ton of history.
Minnesota Duluth ended ninth in the polls and sits 16th in Corsi, meaning this is a good team but probably a tier below Michigan. There is no top NHL picks on the roster and in terms of pure talent there is a sizable gap between the squads, but obviously games are not won on professional potential alone (see: LSU). This is a team with good fundamentals and balanced scoring, though average-at-best special teams.
The Bulldogs are a good squad with a championship pedigree and probably not who Michigan wanted to draw as a No. 3 seed. If the basketball tournament seems like a crapshoot, the hockey tournament is that on steroids, so really anything could happen in Fargo. The Wolverines have a good shot to advance to Saturday night, but there is no result from this one that would surprise me.
No. 1 North Dakota vs. No. 4 American International
Should Michigan get past Minnesota Duluth, it will face either North Dakota or American International. Like the Alabama-UCLA matchup on the other side of the basketball team’s Sweet 16 bracket, there is a very clear preference in the hockey tournament as well.
The Fighting Hawks do not need much introduction and have plenty of postseason experience. They knocked off the Wolverines in the regional final on their way to the 2016 championship, and this year’s team has similar aspirations. Like Michigan, they have tons of NHL talent, but their season was much more convincing in terms of results.
North Dakota would be the favorite here, but sort of how Michigan feels about Minnesota Duluth, this is probably not who the Fighting Hawks were hoping to see in their bracket. The Wolverines have faltered against weaker competition at times this season, but they have also shown an ability to skate with the best and win on any given night. Michigan should not necessarily feel confident about facing North Dakota, but an upset is definitely on the table.
I cannot speak much to American International, who won the Atlantic Hockey tournament for the second season in a row. In 2019 this earned them a No. 4 seed...and led to a massive upset over top-overall seed St. Cloud State, so maybe history will repeat itself? The Yellow Jackets have played a lot of games and not lost many, but they also have not played anyone of significance. It is hard to know exactly how good they are, but the answer is probably not too complementary.
This is the NCAA Tournament, though, so expect some upsets. Brackets rarely go chalk, and Michigan has an argument for the most raw talent in the region. From here on out it is “survive and advance” and the goal is to just get through the weekend. It would be foolish to count out these Wolverines.