For the fourth time since 1998, Boston is hosting the Frozen Four, but unlike the three previous occasions, when there were two Hockey East teams participating in the championship weekend each time, there will be no teams from the east competing.
But that’s not to say there will not be any local interest, not with Michigan (31-9-1) in this year’s field. Sophomore Matty Beniers is from Hingham. He was selected second overall in the 2021 NHL Draft by the Seattle Kraken, while junior Johnny Beecher was drafted by the Bruins in the first round in 2019.
Mel Pearson, in his fifth season as Michigan’s coach, had nothing but praise for both players ahead of Thursday’s game against Denver.
“He makes our team better the moment he walks in the door every day,” said Pearson about Beniers. “Just his personality, positivity, the energy that he brings.”
Beniers initially was set to bring those traits to Harvard, but once the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 winter season because of the pandemic, he became available. Pearson credits Kris Mayotte, who was in his second season as an assistant coach at Michigan, with helping to bring Beniers to Ann Arbor.
Having served as an assistant to Nate Leaman at Providence from 2014-19, Mayotte had become familiar with Beniers and his family. (Mayotte departed Michigan after last season to become head coach at Colorado College.)
Despite missing five games while playing for Team USA in the Olympics as well as the World Junior championships, Beniers still managed to tally 20 goals and 23 assists in 36 games this season and was named a Hobey Baker top 10 finalist.
The road has not been as smooth for Beecher the last two seasons. After appearing in 31 games in 2019-20 and being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team, Beecher was limited to 16 games and had season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in his sophomore season.
He missed more time this season with a broken thumb, but is back on track for the Wolverines with six goals and nine assists.
“We really didn’t get him back until the second half of the year, and that’s when we made our push,” said Pearson. “The numbers aren’t maybe as high as you’d like them to be, but he’s not playing on one of our power-play units right now. I wouldn’t be overly concerned with the stats.
“What he brings is speed, physicality. He’s got good size, he’s great on faceoffs. He’s taken a defensive role on the penalty kill and has done a great job.
“His development is good. He’s continued to grow not only as a player on the ice, but off ice. He’s matured. You can see that now.”
The forwards are just two of seven (seven!) first-round picks skating for the Wolverines.
Four of the top five picks from the 2021 draft are on the roster, including defenseman Owen Power, the No. 1 pick by Buffalo. Beniers followed, then was joined by Luke Hughes at 4 for the Devils, and Kent Johnson at 5 for the Blue Jackets. Mackie Samoskevich was taken by the Panthers at 24.
Expectations were understandably high, with Michigan ranked in the top five in preseason polls and some predicting a national championship.
“You just have to earn your way there,” said Pearson. “It doesn’t matter how many draft picks you have, or what type of team you have. You just have to find a way to get it done.”
The Wolverines rolled to a 27-9-1 record in the regular season to finish second to Minnesota in the Big Ten. They would not be denied in the conference tournament, though, exacting revenge for four losses to Notre Dame with a 2-1 win over the Fighting Irish in the semifinals, then defeating the Gophers, 4-3, in the title game.
That would earn Michigan a No. 1 seed in the Allentown regional, where it defeated AIC in the semifinals, 5-3, then held off a furious rally by Quinnipiac for a 7-4 win to move on to TD Garden, site of the Wolverines’ last national-title victory when they defeated Boston College in overtime in 1998, back when the building was called the FleetCenter.
“It’s hard to win. It’s become very difficult,” said Pearson, who was an assistant coach for the 1998 team. “We haven’t even thought about the past. We’re not going to change the past, but we have something to say about the future. We have that opportunity this weekend.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.