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Frozen Four Preview: Michigan hockey facing Denver in opening round

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The Wolverines take on the Pioneers today at 5 p.m. with a National Championship game berth on the line.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 26 Michigan at Notre Dame Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the 26th time in program history and the first time since 2018, the Michigan Wolverines (31-9-1) are in the Frozen Four. Following a stressful third period in the 7-4 victory over Quinnipiac in the Allentown Regional Final, Michigan is back in Boston — the site of its last National Championship in 1998.

But in order for the Wolverines to reach their first National Championship game since 2011, they must overcome the Denver Pioneers and the highest scoring offense in the country.

The Pioneers (29-9-1) lead the country in goals per game (4.28) and play a high-tempo style similar to Michigan. Denver is paced by the best setup and statistical play-maker in the country, junior forward Bobby Brink.

Brink leads the country in points (56) and assists (42) and is the front-runner to win the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the top hockey player in the country. Surrounding Brink on the attack are two 20-goal scorers (Carter Savoie, Cameron Wright) and two 40-point seniors (Cole Guttman, Brett Stapley).

While a solid team up-and-down the roster, Denver’s strengths are on the offense end and slowly weaken through the back end.

On the blue line, the Pioneers are led by 30-point scorer Mike Benning. While most of the Denver defensemen are undersized and over-rely on speed, freshman Shai Buium has helped mitigate this as a 6-foot-3, 220-pound enforcer.

Goalie Magnus Chrona’s .909 save percentage will not strike fear into opponents’ hearts, but his six shutouts represent an impressive and capable ceiling.

Denver plays a similar style to Michigan, and most of the Big Ten for that matter. The Pioneers will look to attack, attack, attack, and let their potent offense be their greatest defensive weapon.

Michigan’s strongest advantage will be their style familiarity. The Wolverines have played numerous teams of this attack-first mirroring style, while the Pioneers have played very few.

However, in order for the Wolverines to advance, they cannot risk taking the third period off and coasting like they have done against AIC and Quinnipiac. To beat the Pioneers, it will take a full 60-minute attack because their offense is never out of any game.

If Michigan can top the Pioneers and advance to the title game on Saturday, it will have proved it by defeating the No. 1 ranked defense (Quinnipiac) and No. 1 ranked offense (Denver).

Common Opponent(s)

  • Denver faced Minnesota-Duluth six times this season (four in the regular season, one in the conference tournament, one in the NCAA Tournament) and posted a 3-3 record against the Bulldogs, while holding a 16-15 seasonal goal advantage.

Michigan defeated Minnesota-Duluth 5-1 on Oct. 15 at the Ice Breaker Tournament in Duluth.

  • Denver defeated Western Michigan three out of four times during regular season play.

Michigan’s first loss of the regular season was at the hands of Western Michigan the week after sweeping Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State in the Ice Breaker Tournament. The Wolverines split the weekend series 1-1 with the Broncos. A rubber match was scheduled for the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 30, but was canceled due to health and wellness protocols within the Wolverines’ program.

How to Watch

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

When: Thursday, April 7, 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

The winner will play either Minnesota/Minnesota State on Saturday at 8 p.m.