This offseason will probably be known as the one that changed college hockey.

With everyone getting a free year of eligibility -- the NCAA ruled 2020-21 does not count -- college hockey players, especially those who have graduated, are using their extra year to jump in the NCAA transfer portal and try something new.

From March 1 through Monday night, 145 Division-I men's players had entered the portal. In the exact same time frame a year ago, 41 players entered the portal. In the same time frame two years ago, 36 did.

Yes, the number of players in the portal has exploded this offseason.

But the transfer portal is already making significant impacts in college hockey. Just look at the four teams in Pittsburgh for this week's NCAA Frozen Four.

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UMass: The Minutemen reached the Frozen Four by beating Bemidji State 4-0 in the regional final. Carson Gicewicz, who transferred from St. Lawrence last summer, scored the first three goals, a natural hat trick, and the game-winner. Gicewicz also scored a key goal in the regional semifinal against Lake Superior State. He is Hockey East's leading goal-scorer with 17.

MSU-Mankato: The Mavericks reached the Frozen Four by beating Minnesota in the regional final. The game-winning goal was scored by Sam Morton, who transferred from Union during the offseason. Todd Burgess, who transferred from RPI last summer, is playing on Minnesota State's top line.

St. Cloud State: The Huskies reached the Frozen Four by beating Boston College in the regional final. The game-winning goal was assisted by Jared Cockrell, who transferred from Colgate last summer. The Huskies also received key contributions from top-pair defenseman Seamus Donohue, who was a plus-3 against Boston College and a plus-4 in the regional. Donohue transferred from Michigan Tech last summer.

Minnesota Duluth: The Bulldogs, who lost three veteran defensemen in Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg and Nick Wolff, looked to the transfer portal to bring in a veteran blue liner last summer. They grabbed senior Matt Cairns, who leads the Bulldogs in plus-minus with a plus-16 rating.

Minnesota Duluth defenseman Matt Cairns (22) passes the puck near Miami defenseman Dylan Moulton (27) during Friday's game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Matt Cairns (22) passes the puck near Miami defenseman Dylan Moulton (27) during Friday's game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

UND looking to the portal

UND, which has lost six players to NHL contracts in the last week, will look to the portal to fill some of those spots.

While no commitments have been announced yet, sources say the Fighting Hawks are closing in on one target: Bowling Green senior captain Connor Ford.

Ford's resume should be music to UND's ears. He's a top-six centerman, which the Fighting Hawks need after losing Shane Pinto to the Ottawa Senators and presumably losing Collin Adams to an NHL deal, too. He won 60 percent of his faceoffs last season, another key to give UND a 1-2 punch with Jasper Weatherby on key defensive zone draws. And he led the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in goals last season with 16. UND will need some scoring after those six NHL signings.

If UND can close the deal with Ford, it could line up on opening day with the center position being a strength. Weatherby played like a legit first-line center down the stretch, while Mark Senden and Louis Jamernik are ideal third- and fourth-line centers.

Of course, the Fighting Hawks also need a goaltender or two.

With Peter Thome in the transfer portal, right now, there's only one officially on the roster in third-string Harrison Feeney.

Some of the goalie shifting has already occurred. In the last week, Notre Dame's Dylan St. Cyr picked Quinnipiac, Cornell's Matthew Galajda picked Notre Dame and Bowling Green's Eric Dop picked Boston College.

The top goaltenders remaining in the portal right now: Thome (a Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick), Minnesota's Jared Moe (a Winnipeg Jets draft pick), Bemidji State's Zach Driscoll and UMass Lowell's Logan Neaton (Winnipeg Jets draft pick).

Teams begin testing today

Today will be a hold-your-breath moment for the Frozen Four.

All four teams are scheduled to do their first NCAA-mandated coronavirus testing on site.

We all know how this played out at the NCAA regionals. Two teams -- Notre Dame and Michigan -- were disqualified from the tournament because of positive tests.

Testing is set to begin at noon Central.

Latest portal entries

Bowling Green defenseman Will Cullen (6-19--25); Union forward Jack Adams (Detroit Red Wings pick, 10-12--22 in 2018-19 when he was last healthy); Michigan Tech forward Carson Bantle (Arizona Coyotes draft pick, 2-1--3); Omaha defenseman John Schuldt (0-0--0); Omaha forward Travis Kothenbeutal (0-0--0); Omaha forward Noah Prokop (0-0--0); Omaha defenseman Alex Roy (0-0--0); Omaha forward Josh Boyer (0-0--0); UConn defenseman Adam Karashik (1-8--9); Bentley defenseman Christian Felton (0-0--0); Michigan State forward Gianluca Esteves (2-1--3); Robert Morris forward Nick Prkusic (7-18--25); Northern Michigan defenseman Noah Ganske (0-2--2); UMass Lowell forward Matt Brown (8-5--13); New Hampshire defenseman Benton Maass (2-2--4); Michigan forward Dakota Raabe (1-3--4) and Bemidji State's Driscoll (15-10-3, .922, 2.32).