The Michigan Wolverines advanced to the next round of the
Big Ten NCAA Tournament following a dominant 11-1 victory over Colgate. Michigan has an opportunity to advance to its second straight Frozen Four and has a clear, albeit familiar, path to the National Championship.
To say the Big Ten was dominant in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament would be an understatement. The four Big Ten teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota) outscored their opponents by a combined score of 36-4, and a maximum of three could advance to the Frozen Four.
There is a uniquely clear path for Michigan to only have to play conference foes Penn State, Ohio State and Minnesota in search of its first title since 1998. Granted, that familiarity could be a double-edged sword with each team being equally familiar with the Wolverines, but with their depth of talent, every matchup would favor the maize and blue, save the coin-flip for an equally talented Minnesota team.
Michigan has to first get through Penn State. The Wolverines have posted a 3-1 record against the Nittany Lions this season, but the record dominance does not tell the entire story.
For instance, one victory required Luke Hughes reaching a Super-Saiyan level on the ice and scoring four goals to lead Michigan back from a three-goal deficit. And in Michigan’s lone loss to Penn State, the Nittany Lions overwhelmed Michigan from the puck drop to become the only team this season to shut out the Wolverines.
Penn State is similarly constructed to the Wolverines and will look to use its speed through the neutral zone to take advantage of Michigan’s aggressive defensemen. The key to beating the Nittany Lions for Michigan is simply discipline.
If Michigan can play physical without committing penalties and maintain blue line integrity across all six defensemen, the Wolverines will advance. But if one defender is caught out of place, they could find themselves giving up easy goals to a rejuvenated Penn State offense.
Penn State’s eight-goal outburst against Michigan Tech Thursday night was only the second time the Nittany Lions have scored more than two goals in a game since Feb. 3. Was this performance a slump-buster or an outlier? If Michigan can play disciplined against the Nittany Lions, the answer won’t matter.
If the Wolverines can toppled the hometown regional team, they will face the winner of Quinnipiac/Ohio State in the Frozen Four. On the other side of the bracket, the winner of Minnesota/St. Cloud State will face the winner of Boston/Cornell in the opposite side of the Frozen Four. (Apologies if any of this is outdated by the time of publication).
Frozen Four Prediction:
Minnesota vs. Boston
Quinnipiac vs. Michigan
GAME: Michigan vs. Penn State
WHEN: Sunday, March 26, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Allentown, PA
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN2, TSN+
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network