The Michigan Wolverines (29-9-1) were selected as the No. 1 overall seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament after defeating Minnesota 4-3 in last week’s Big Ten Championship.
Michigan has played some of its best hockey over the last few weeks in the Big Ten Tournament: sweeping Michigan State (again), finally toppling Notre Dame and dominating the Golden Gophers in a game that was more lopsided than the final score would indicate.
If you are still unfamiliar with one of the most talented college hockey teams over the last decade, let me give you a brief rundown of some of the key players ahead of the tournament.
- Matty Beniers (Olympian, 2022 Big Ten Scoring champion, and Unanimous first-team All-BIG) — A threat to score any time the puck touches his stick, especially on the power play where he leads the conference in goals.
- Brendan Brisson (Olympian, second team All-BIG) — A high IQ player and a sniper with the puck that sports one of the best wristers in college hockey. Leads the team with six game-winning goals.
- Kent Johnson (Olympian, honorable mention All-BIG) — A strong skating creator who manipulates defenses with his puck handling and penetration. Leads the team in assists.
- Owen Power (Olympian, first team All-BIG) — The anchor of the blue line, Power is so good at hockey he almost looks bored at times. He is the Tim Duncan of hockey playing with effortless greatness and perfect fundamentals.
- Luke Hughes (Co-BIG Freshman of the Year) — Hughes is a playmaker with a pension for the spectacular. Hughes is the nation’s top leading scorer for defensemen.
- Thomas Bordeleau (DRIP GOD) — Bordy is creative with the puck and excellent in the face-off circle (55.9% win record this season). Also, he is the best dressed on the team.
- Erik Portillo (second team All-BIG) — The Super Swede goalie has been dominant down the stretch. On the season, Portillo has started every game and is second in wins nationally (29) and fourth in saves (1,022). The sophomore is the X-factor in the NCAA Tournament.
Far from an exhaustive list and apologies to some of my personal favorites: Dylan Duke, Mark Estapa, Captain Blankenburg, Pasta and Mackie Samoskavich, among others, but you have gotten the point this team is deeply talented and entertaining at every level.
With a potential four games remaining, the Wolverines begin their quest for a national championship tonight against American International College. Remember, it was only two years ago when the Yellow Jackets upset then No. 1 seed St. Cloud State, so they will not be intimidated.
If AIC is going to again play spoiler, it will be because of forward Blake Bennett (18 G, 14 A), defenseman Zak Galambos (5 G, 23 A), and a career night from a new goaltender. Bennett is the only 30-point scorer for the Yellow Jackets and is a catalyst for everything on their best line.
Galambos anchors the blue line and leads the team with most shots on goal (104), which is rare for his position. His aggression tends to set up second chance opportunities (which have been an issue for Portillo) and keep goalies honest.
In net, the Yellow Jackets have turned to graduate transfer Alec Calvaruso who took over for Jake Kucharski. Calvaruso currently holds a .911 save percentage will need to stand on his head in this one if AIC is going to keep pace in this one.
If Michigan wins, they will play the winner of St. Cloud State/Quinnipiac on Sunday.
How to Watch:
When: Friday, March 25, 3 p.m.
Where: PPL Center, Allentown, Pennsylvania