With a little over a month remaining in the NCAA men’s college hockey season, the contenders and pretenders to win the championship are revealing themselves. Several Michigan teams have surged to the top of the PairWise rankings. According to several top sports betting apps Michigan like BetMGM, Michigan is +500 to take home the title, while Western Michigan could be a great value at +1000.
Here are our predictions for the national championship tournament.
Michigan Will Win Big Ten, Claim Top Seed
Michigan may be the overall most talented team in the country this season and holds the #1 spot in the PairWise rankings. Boasting four of the top five picks from the 2021 draft, including the top two overall in Owen Power and Matty Beniers, the star power is there for a deep run. As of writing, the Wolverines are 20-7-1 and in first place in the Big Ten (11-5-0), holding a half-game lead over the Minnesota Golden Gophers (#10 in Pairwise, 16-10-0 overall, 11-6-0 in Big Ten play). Michigan and Minnesota split their season series at two games each. They’ll likely meet again in the Big Ten Tournament, though the Gophers could be in trouble without goaltender Jack LaFontaine, who was called up to the Carolina Hurricanes two weeks ago. While Ohio State (#11 in Pairwise, 18-7-2 overall, 10-5-2 in Big Ten) is a dark horse to give Michigan a run for the money, the Wolverines are undoubtedly the favorites and should win the conference.
Western Michigan Gets Revenge Showdown
After Michigan appeared to duck #3 Western Michigan (16-6-0, 8-5-0 in NCHC) at the Great Lakes Invitational Showcase, many fans across the sport cried foul. After all, the Wolverines had just played Michigan Tech the day before, ending in a 0-0 tie. It was a chance for a red-hot Broncos team to make a statement after splitting a weekend series with Michigan earlier in the season, erased before they ever took to the ice. However, hockey has a funny way of doling out justice. In a crowded NCHC with five teams in the PairWise Top 10, it could be challenging for WMU to claim a top seed unless they win the conference tournament. But if they fail to take the NCHC crown, the bracket might shake out with the Wolverines and Broncos in the same region, which would become the must-watch game of the tournament. Western Michigan is no pushover either. With sweeps of perennial powerhouse North Dakota and St. Cloud State, a road win at Ohio State, and a split with Nebraska Omaha, WMU has shown they belong at the top this year. This season, the Broncos have allowed the 10th-fewest goals in college hockey, with junior goaltender Brandon Bussi leading the way (16-6-0, 2.35 GAA, .919 save %, three shutouts). Seniors Ethen Frank (18 goals, seven assists) and Drew Worrad (six goals, 23 assists) make up a powerful scoring tandem, and there’s sufficient depth behind them for a deep run. WMU could have nine skaters with at least 20 points by the end of the year.
Other Teams to Watch
Minnesota State (+500) has one of the top goaltenders in men’s college hockey history in Dryden McKay. Earlier this season, McKay set the career record for shutouts earlier this season and is now at 24 and counting. He’s also got a 75-15 record, a 1.58 GAA, and a .932 save percentage. The Mavericks have struggled in recent tournaments, but they’ll be a tough team to beat if they can get some offensive support. Denver (+700) and the University of Minnesota-Duluth (+1200) can’t be counted out either. UMD went back to back in 2018-19, and Denver beat the Bulldogs in 2017. With tons of experience across their respective clubs, both should make a splash come tournament time. Quinnipiac (+1200) should also make a deep run, and anything less than a Frozen Four appearance would be an utter disappointment. They’ve allowed just 24 goals in 24 games, tops in the country as writing. They also rank ninth in goals at 88 and are fifth in the PairWise, but they’ve yet to pick up a road win over a ranked opponent because Quinnipiac beat Northeastern at a neutral site in the Ice Breaker Tournament.
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