Men’s Frozen Four has long been one of the under-the-radar great takes in sports. If you know, you know. And if you don’t, what are you waiting for?
Among the eye-catching features of college hockey’s Division 1 championship, which began Thursday night with their semifinal matchup at TD Garden:
If you start watching a game without the original interest, chances are you’ll find a game along the way.
Consider Thursday night’s first semifinal, Denver’s 3-2 overtime win over the University of Michigan in the battle for the No. 1 seeds. With no New England team reaching the men’s Frozen Four, the Wolverines, who entered with a 31–9–1 record, may have seemed the local favourite.
Talented first-line center Matty Benniers, a Hingham native, made the rounds of Ann Arbor, putting on hold his plans to play at Harvard only after the Ivy League canceled its 2020-21 season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And the Wolverines’ third-row center, Johnny Beecher, the Bruins’ first-round draft pick in 2019, has shown resilience by batting through injury during his Michigan career. Beecher was impressive, almost flipping into a backhand goal a little over two minutes into the second period, flashing pace, and winning 10 of 14 faceoffs.
Yet by the time Denver’s Carter Savoie reversed his own shot into the net for the winning goal in 14 minutes, 53 seconds of overtime, it would have been understandable that the Pioneers (30-9-1) had relented on any indecision. Would have won Greeley Tribune University, Greeley Tribune College and even the occasional Team USA between Michigan and Denver in the crowd of a garden dotted with sweaters.
Michigan had a star-studded roster that included seven first-round picks and four of the top five in the 2021 NHL Draft – defenseman Owen Powers (1st, Sabers), Benears (2nd, Kraken), defenseman Luke Hughes (4th, Devils) ) ), and leftist Kent Johnson (The Fifth, Blue Jackets). But according to coach David Carle, the Pioneers tested Wolverine at its best by playing a remarkably disciplined game—a well-rounded and not at all common occurrence. Denver did not score a single penalty in nearly 75 minutes of action.
Asked if the pioneers felt like underdogs, Carle said, “I can’t tell you we felt that way.” But Denver was at a loss in praise if not achievement, and so as the game unfolded, it was easy to appreciate the Pioneers’ chivalry and patience, especially in the early days of the game, mostly in disrupting Wolverine. (Denver beat Michigan 33-21.)
“Discipline has really been an issue of ours at times throughout the season,” Carle said. “And it’s been the best of the whole year in the biggest moment. Our angling, moving our feet, putting our sticks on the ice, not stepping in straight lines and finishing checks, was extraordinary. And I thought maybe a suspicious non- Outside the call, we did not give the referee any opportunity to call us.
Carle admitted Denver was able to play their game partly because they were staked for an early lead. Brett Stapley scored on a rebound of Justin Lee’s shot at 11:22 of the first period, and while this may have been the last goal Greeley Tribune fans will want to see Stapley score in the Garden—he’s a Canadiens draft pick—it did take notice that The Wolverines’ parade of high draft picks wasn’t going to cruise into Saturday night’s finals.
When Michigan joined the board, it wasn’t one of the young guns that got the net. Instead, it was fourth-liner Jimmy Lambert—a 25-year-old with no NHL affiliation who cites Tom Brady as his favorite Michigan athlete—who did the job, pushing the score to 4:03 of the second period. tied up. The teams traded goals in the third period, with Cameron Wright pitching Denver to 5:36 before Michigan’s Thomas Bordeleau tied it again at 9:09 when linemate Mark Estapa tried to block a shot. Started the play by setting the stage for Taut overtime and Savoie’s final heroics, his sixth game-winning goal this season.
Whether you watched the game with original interest or found one along the way, there was no disputing when it was over that the game was a gem, the kind that Frozen Four delivers year after year. Even moments after the end of the season, Michigan coach Mel Pearson took a moment to acknowledge his admiration for reaching Frozen Four.
“This is my 13th time as a coach at Frozen Four, my 14th overall,” he said. “I played as a player. I’ve been to three championship games in those 14 years. It’s so hard to get here. There were some really good teams that never got the opportunity to get here.
“You have to be nice. And you need a little luck. We feel like there’s no lady luck on our side tonight.
“We were in the game. A shot could go either way. But it happens too often. That’s part of what makes it so great, isn’t it?”
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