Buffalo Sabres prospects from the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota are part of just four programs remaining in the NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament.
Owen Power, Erik Portillo, Ryan Johnson, and Aaron Huglen are poised to make a final push, with just two wins needed to claim a national championship.
The Michigan Wolverines, University of Denver Pioneers, Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Minnesota State Mavericks have traveled to Boston for the Frozen Four at TD Garden this week.
The semifinals will be played on Thursday at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. with a day of rest before the national championship game at 8 p.m. on Saturday. All games will air on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
If both Michigan and Minnesota advance, all four Sabres prospects will be in the title game.
Let’s dive deeper into the matchups for Michigan and Minnesota:
Thursday at 5 p.m., ESPN2
The Wolverines have punched their ticket to their 26th Frozen Four in program history, breaking a tie with Boston College for the most ever in the NCAA.
Michigan, the top overall seed in the field, outscored their opponents 12-7 in their two regional games in Allentown, Pennsylvania to secure their spot in the Frozen Four.
In the opening round, Michigan beat Atlantic Hockey champion American International 5-3.
Power, the first-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, had a primary assist on the power-play, two blocked shots, and three shots on goal in the victory. In the regional final, Michigan matched up against the #2-seeded Quinnipiac and made a statement beating the Bobcats 7-4.
The sophomore defenseman added four more assists against Quinnipiac to up his point total this season to 32 (3+29).
Portillo, a third-round selection of the Sabres in 2019, stopped 59 of the 66 shots he faced during the two-game stretch in Allentown. Both Power and Portillo were named to the All-Region team, and Portillo was named Most Outstanding Player after notching his 31st win of the season.
Denver was granted the third-overall seed heading into the tournament after a shocking defeat to Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC semifinals. In the first round, Denver knocked off UMass Lowell 3-2 and then got their revenge on Minnesota Duluth in a 2-1 victory.
These two programs are no strangers to winning. Michigan has won the most national championships all-time with nine, while Denver is tied for second-most with eight. Michigan’s last win came in 1998. Denver most recently won it all in 2017.
Thursday’s game will be the 84th matchup between the two programs, but just the second in the last 40 years. Denver leads the all-time series 46-36-1, but Michigan has come away victorious in the last six meetings. These hockey powerhouses have not played one another since March 23, 2002.
Thursday at 8:30 p.m., ESPNU
After losing to Michigan in the Big Ten championship game, Minnesota has returned to form as they make their first Frozen Four appearance since 2014.
The Gophers have already played tournament games in Massachusetts as the No. 2 seed in the Worcester region. The Gophers clawed their way to a 4-3 win over UMass, the reigning national champion, and then blanked the top-seeded Western Michigan Broncos 3-0 in the second round.
Johnson, Buffalo’s second first-round pick in 2019, and Aaron Huglen, a fourth-round selection that year, both played pivotal roles in the Golden Gophers’ wins.
Johnson netted his third goal of the season against Umass to put Minnesota on the board late in the first period.
Meanwhile, Huglen, in his first year with the program, scored 33 seconds into the third period against the Broncos to solidify the Gophers’ spot as their region’s representative. As a freshman, Huglen has recorded seven goals and nine assists in 36 games this season. Twelve of those points (4+8) have come in the last 12 games.
Minnesota has had good fortune in Beantown, winning their first-ever national championship in Boston back in 1974. However, they do have their hands full with Minnesota State, arguably the hottest team in the country.
The Mavericks have won 17 straight and 26 of their last 27, beating Notre Dame and Harvard on their way to a second-straight Frozen Four berth. Last season, Minnesota State beat Minnesota 4-0 in the regional final to advance to the next round, making this matchup even more exciting.
Minnesota State has won its last nine games against the Golden Gophers even though they hold a 37-17-6 edge in the all-time series.
Minnesota hasn’t won a national title since 2003 and Minnesota State is looking for its first in program history.
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