It’s time for the Tournament: Who’s making it Minnesota?

By Ryan Stieg 

My favorite time of year has arrived once again as the NCAA men’s hockey tournament drops puck later this week and the road to St. Paul begins.  

Usually this time of year, I’m simply excited to watch some quality hockey on TV, but this year, I’ll be at the Frozen Four. So that makes this tournament a little extra special. This weekend will also give me a chance to redeem myself after an overall subpar season of CCHA picks. Last year, I had a great NCAA Tournament as I correctly predicted the national champion, Quinnipiac, as well as the final score, 3-2 over Minnesota. I’m confident that I can put forth that type of performance again, so let’s get started. Here are my predictions for the 2024 NCAA Regionals.  

Springfield Regional (Thursday, Saturday) 

Denver vs. Massachusetts 

On paper, this looks like an easy pick to make, but for me, it’s not. UMass was the last team to get into this year’s field, edging out Colorado College after DU beat Omaha in the NCHC Championship. The last time that the Frozen Four was in St. Paul, Minnesota Duluth was the last team in, and it ended up winning the whole thing. As a result, I’m tempted to pick the Minutemen here just based on that. However, I just watched the Pioneers in person last weekend and they looked good against both St. Cloud State and Omaha at the Frozen Faceoff. So, I’m picking them to get another win. Denver wins 4-2.  

Maine vs. Cornell 

It’s nice to see the Black Bears back into the mix again. In fact, a lot of the traditional college hockey powers are seemingly back on track this year and I think that’s good for the sport. Maine has been in the top 10 for the majority of the season and it’s a fun team to watch. Meanwhile. Cornell was the surprise winner of the ECAC Tournament and although the Big Red are solid, I think they’ll come up short. Maine moves on 3-1.  

Regional Final: Denver vs. Maine 

Denver is the popular pick to come out of this region as some people think Springfield is the easiest one for the top seeds to win. I don’t think it will though. I just have a feeling this is Maine’s big coming out party and it makes it to Minnesota. The Black Bears win 4-3.  

Sioux Falls Regional (Thursday, Saturday) 

Boston University vs. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) 

BU was seen as the team to beat at the start of the season and there was good reason for that as the Terriers were coming off a Frozen Four appearance. However, they got blown out by rival Boston College in the Hockey East championship, so I’m less confident in them right now. Then there’s the Tigers, who have been the team to beat in Atlantic Hockey all season and cruised to a conference title. RIT is notorious for pulling upsets in the tournament and I think they pull off a huge one here. The Tigers win 3-2.  

Minnesota vs. Omaha 

For me, this is the toughest game to pick in the entire tournament because it could go either way. The Golden Gophers are the more talented team, but Omaha is coming in with momentum after making it to the NCHC title game. I was impressed by the Mavericks the past two weekends and they looked especially good against NCHC top seed North Dakota last Friday. However, I think the Gophers do just enough to get by to the next round. Minnesota wins 4-3.  

Regional Final: Minnesota vs. RIT 

The Tigers made it to the Frozen Four back in 2010 and the way they’re playing, there’s a good chance they’ll do it again. I want to predict that RIT gets to St. Paul, but I can’t. The three times that the Xcel Energy Center has hosted the Frozen Four, a Minnesota team has made it there. I think the tradition continues and the Gophers get back to the Twin Cities with a victory. Minnesota wins 5-2.  

Providence Regional (Friday, Sunday) 

Boston College vs. Michigan Tech 

Hey, look it’s the lone CCHA squad and not the one that most people expected. Yet here the Huskies here after taking down MacNaughton Cup winner Bemidji State on the road last Friday. I’ve had my doubts about Tech all season, but it proved me wrong in the playoffs and got the job done. However, BC is a much different beast than the Beavers. The Eagles have been soaring high all season and haven’t shown any signs of landing anytime soon. The Huskies will need a career-type game from goalie Blake Pietila to stay in this and as good as he can be at times, I don’t think he can do it on his own. BC flies on to Sunday 4-1.  

Wisconsin vs. Quinnipiac 

The Badgers are another classic college hockey program that has returned to power, and I think with Mike Hastings at the helm, they’ll be good for quite a while. However, hey don’t get an easy task in the first round as they get to deal with the defending national champion Bobcats. QU is a good team this year, but it’s not as good as last year. So, I think the Badgers wiggle their way to Sunday. Wisconsin wins 4-2.

Regional final: Boston College vs. Wisconsin 

The overall top seed takes on the powerhouse that has risen from the ashes. I enjoy upsets but picking them frequently has hurt me a lot during the CCHA season. So, as much as I’d like to pick the Badgers here, I can’t do it. The Eagles are too good offensively and I think they will fly west to Minnesota. BC wins 5-3.  

Maryland Heights (Mo.) Regional (Friday, Sunday) 

Michigan State vs. Western Michigan 

This battle between two nonconference Lower Peninsula foes has the potential to be a classic. The Spartans are the third team on the list of former powers that have climbed their way from the cellar to the penthouse and are coming off a Big Ten championship. Meanwhile, the Broncos are back again for their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and they look like they’ll continue to be a frequent participant in the future. Like I said before, I’m tempted to pick another upset here, but MSU has been so strong all season, so I don’t see it happening. The Spartans prevail 4-3.  

North Dakota vs. Michigan 

Two of the most popular programs in the country will battle in a tiny arena. How sad is that? Well, the few people that get to watch it in person should see a good one. The Fighting Hawks won the NCHC regular season title and have been consistently good all year. Michigan, on the other hand, used a late season surge to lock up an at-large bid and had a great Big Ten postseason. UND didn’t impress me when I saw it in person last Friday during its loss to Omaha, but I think the Hawks will come together and make it to Sunday. UND wins 4-2.  

Regional final: Michigan State vs. North Dakota 

For those who don’t know, my wife went to UND, and my entire family is full of UND fans. So naturally, they all are hoping the Fighting Hawks make it to St. Paul. After all, they won their most recent national title on my wife’s birthday and since this year’s Frozen Four is my delayed birthday gift, it’s almost meant to be that the Hawks will be there, right? Well, I don’t think they will. UND has had a great year, but I think the Spartans have been the more impressive team overall. I think it’ll be a tight game, but MSU moves on to Minnesota. The Spartans win 3-2.  

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