College Hockey: 2024 NCAA Tournament Preview

Gambling Gophers Hockey NCAA

It would be hard to argue with someone saying that College Hockey has never been in a better place. This years’ world juniors team that took on the rest of the planet and brought home gold? All but three were key pieces on college teams across the country. Every one of those eligible guys were already selected by an NHL team. Only two of those picks were made after the third round. This list isn’t even counting all the other unsung heroes that may have been playing for OTHER countries in that tournament, those who were snubbed completely, or ones who turned it on and found their game throughout the season.

This season, the final NCAA tournament field is about the best the nation could ask for as a whole. Seven of the sixteen programs in the tournament have won five or more championships. Iconic sweaters like Maine and North Dakota that were missing from last year’s field have made a return. Last year’s champion (Quinnipiac) has a (small) chance to repeat. Michigan State and Wisconsin have turned their programs around and returned to prominence. The number one overall draft pick is almost guaranteed to be a player on one of the best teams. If your team is missing like mine is, there’s still plenty to get excited about with what we’ve got in front of us.

The Final College Hockey Bracket Breakdown

It’s strange to have the field set in concrete with less than a handful of teams knowing exactly where they’d end up: BC who was (is) the number one seed was awarded the closest regional to home. Omaha and UMass are hosting regional tournaments, so they’re rewarded with an automatic placement at those sites. Finally, Denver knew they’d be matched up against UMass based on seeding and no conference conflicts, so all ten fans were able to buy tickets right away. Past that, there might have been teams (Quinnipiac/Wisconsin) who were 90% sure, but nothing else was “locked in”.

Every single year, there is all sorts of speculation about who will wind up where. College Hockey fans and analysts from all corners of the country put out their thoughts and opinions about what make sense to them. Taking Conference matchups not being allowed, trying to balance travel while maximizing the environment (fan attendance) for each regional is not an exact science. That’s why nobody knows exactly what the committee is going to go with. This year had significantly less (still some) controversy than others in recent memory but remained surprising. I (personally) only saw one person get it right.

Now that I’ve got my arm in a sling from patting myself on the back too emphatically, let’s get back on track and talk about the teams. It’s the usual suspects as far as conferences that are making up the majority of the field.

Conference Summary

The CCHA’s fall from grace was sudden and jarring with just one team making this tournament and being the lowest-rated team in the field. The Atlantic gets their standard allotment of one team with the ECAC bringing half the teams it did last year. Thank sweet baby Jesus because I didn’t want to have to break last year’s 11-1 goal differential record. The Big Three each brought four teams, but if you were paying attention to the conference championship games, you know the NCHC could have easily brought five again. I know some people have criticized Mayotte here, but getting fewer points in the playoffs after you earned home ice for the playoffs is something I would be happy to see changed.

  • Hockey East: (4) Boston College, Boston University, Maine, & UMass
  • NCHC: (4) Denver, North Dakota, Omaha, & Western Michigan
  • Big 10: (4) Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, & Michigan
  • ECAC: (2) Quinnipiac & Cornell
  • Atlantic: (1) RIT
  • CCHA: (1) Michigan Tech
The Final 2024 NCAA College Hockey Bracket

Positives & Negatives of the Bracket

  • (+) Number 1 seed gets awarded the closest regional
  • (+) Both host programs located in their host locations (Required)
  • (+) Three of four schools in Springfield are within “acceptable driving distance”
  • (+) The best traveling fanbase in College Hockey (North Dakota) will ensure the most remote regional site (Missouri) is well attended
  • (-) Tickets to the Maryland Heights regional games have soared to over $1,000/game because of the arena capacity restrictions and demand from high-profile programs.
  • (-) Three of four Michigan schools are located in one regional (The same thing happened to Minnesota Schools last year)

My Quick Picks

Don’t ever say I’m not doing this all for the people. For you. Here I am putting my picks before the game previews instead of burying them at the bottom of the article making you scroll through the whole thing first. Note that my picks here are heavily affected by the lines given and how I see the game scripts playing out. Also, I’m trying to have a little bit of fun. That’s what it’s all about when your team’s not in it anyway, right?

Springfield, MA – Host: UMass

UMass (14) vs Denver (3)
Thur, Mar 28 – 2:00PM ET – ESPN2

Minutemen vs Pioneers

Stats:

20-13-3 – Record – 28-9-3
192.2 (15th) – SOS – 206.5 (7th)
19.5 – PP% – 22.9
76.5 – PK% – 77.1
51.2 – FO% – 50.1
1.039 – GF/GA – 1.658
.902 – SV% – .893

Vibes: At one point this week, I caught myself wondering why on earth the committee put this game at 2:00 on a Thursday. UMass is hosting the regional and should, therefore, have the biggest opportunity for fans to flood the arena and make it a fun atmosphere. Kind of hard to do that in the middle of a work-day in the middle of the week if you ask me, but what do I know. Maybe they did that because DENVER IS THE ONE-SEED IN THIS REGIONAL AND HAD TO TRAVEL ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO PLAY A FOUR-SEED IN WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY A HOME GAME FOR THEM. We finally get two “western” regional sites and still find our way into a mess where we’re sending a team out east. Wild.

Denver was the better team all season long. They’re still the better team. The Pioneers are UNSTOPPABLE in the offensive zone with Jack Devine and Zeev Buium flying around carrying cannons they’ve got to register with the federal government. Their Achilles heel is clear and the same thing it’s been trying to fix all season, defensive presence and goaltending. They’ve relied on outscoring opponents in a boat race at points and look like they’ll continue to do that in the postseason. One thing to note and keep an eye on, Denver has been sneaky “bad” on east-coast trips vs ranked teams in the last couple of seasons.

Betting Odds: Denver (-1.5) – O/U: 7
Prediction: Denver

Cornell (12) vs Maine (5)
Thur, Mar 28 – 5:30PM ET – ESPNews

Big Red (Bears) vs Black Bears

Stats:

21-6-6 – Record – 23-11-2
93.6 (29th) – SOS – 195.9 (12th)
18.5 – PP% – 21.9
79.4 – PK% – 80.5
54.0 – FO% – 52.1
1.790 – GF/GA – 1.298
.917 – SV% – .900

Vibes: Some comedic geniuses are calling this one the Kreischer-Segura matchup. Okay, nobody is doing that. I was going to try something, but my wife’s pregnant, I’m trying to buy a house, corporate work is crazy and I’m out of juice. Sue me.

Maine being back in the fold of relevant College Hockey teams is incredible for the sport. Their sweaters are among the best in the sport at any level, their barn (which is getting a face-lift) is historic, and their fans are loyal. Cornell has felt like a bit of a staple themselves lately too and it would be a shame to not mention how awesome games at Lynah Rink are. The thing that can’t be overlooked on this year’s squad is that mutant Psenicka wearing 26. The 6’6″ 216lb monster isn’t going to blow you away with stick handling or speed, but he can change the course of the game being a physical presence on the ice.

In a game where neither team has overly impressive team stats, it will probably come down to an individual performance that determines a winner. Maine will look to Bradly and Josh Nadeau who have 91 combined points (37G, 54A) between them. Gabriel Seger (14G, 28A) will try to keep pace for Cornell, but he’s not the key piece. Ian Shane is. The Junior Goaltender from California is among the best in all of College Hockey and if he is on his game, it could be a LONG night for Maine.

Betting Odds: Maine (-1.5) – O/U: 5
Prediction: Ian Shane shocks everyone who hasn’t watched him play. Cornell Wins.

Sioux Falls, SD Regional – Host: Omaha

RIT (15) vs Boston University (2)
Thur, Mar 28 – 5:00PM ET – ESPNU

Tigers vs Terriers

Stats:

27-10-2 – Record – 26-9-2
55.8 (56th) – SOS – 250.8 (1st)
23.6 – PP% – 28.5
86.4 – PK% – 79.5
52.2 – FO% – 51.3
1.700 – GF/GA – 1.685
.924 – SV% – .914

Vibes: If you were looking for some insightful breakdown of a predicted game script for this game, you’ve come to the right place. Not. BU losing this game would be shocking. RIT’s record and stats are indeed impressive and they’re BY FAR the best Atlantic Hockey representative we’ve seen in the postseason in years. That’s still not going to be enough in my opinion.

The Terriers have played the hardest schedule in all of College Hockey this season and that makes them a battle-tested unit that’s ready to take on anyone. RIT’s got the 56th ranked SOS and racked wins up against teams who can’t stay upright and would benefit from pushing around a folding chair most nights. I try not to let that cloud my judgment on what is actually a good squad of players, but I’m only human. The SINGLE point of pause I have for BU is, funny enough, related to their superstar freshman Macklin Celebrini. There’s nothing about his game or skills that give me any concern, but his age does. Being 17 drags his team’s average age down to the 4th lowest in the country and they’ll be matched up against the oldest team in the nation. Size alone can be a killer this time of year.

Betting Odds: Boston University (-2.5) – O/U: 6.5
Prediction: BU with relative ease. No offense, Tigers.

Omaha (11) vs University of Minnesota (7)
Thur, Mar 28 – 8:30PM ET – ESPNU

Mavericks vs Golden Gophers

Stats:

23-12-4 – Record – 22-10-5
203.0 (9th) – SOS – 222.2 (4th)
18.1 – PP% – 23.4
78.4 – PK% – 80.0
52.5 – FO% – 49.9
1.055 – GF/GA – 1.402
.910 – SV% – .918

Vibes: Omaha made it to their very first Frozen Faceoff tournament this season and was one game away from winning the whole goddamn thing. Including that championship game, the Mavericks only had two losses in their last 17 games of the season. They’re playing some of the most disciplined and effective hockey in the country. If they can shake off the bad loss to Denver, they’re a DANGEROUS three-seed matchup for anyone, but especially Minnesota.

For the first time in what feels like forever, you’re not going to find a Minnesota player setting the world on fire at the top of the scoring in the country. In fact, Rhett Pitlick (49) is the only Gopher in the top fifty. That just means that Minnesota has spread the wealth around and learned that they can’t rely on one line for all of their production…I hope. Jimmy Snuggerud, Oliver Moore, and Bryce Brodzinski are all incredible players that will be able to help out plenty on the offensive side of the puck. If any one of those guys gets hot and Justen Close is on his game, the Gophs are in a really good position. They just need to put that together for three periods, which has been a problem lately.

Betting Odds: Minnesota (-1.5) – O/U: 5.5
Prediction: Gophers play a full 60 minutes and ruin the host’s party.

Providence, RI Regional – Host: Brown

Michigan Tech (16) vs Boston College (1)
Fri, Mar 29 – 2:00PM ET – ESPNU

Huskies vs Eagles

Stats:

19-14-6 – Record – 31-5-1
68.5 (43rd) – SOS – 236.4 (2nd)
22.9 – PP% – 29.2
78.4 – PK% – 89.6
49.2 – FO% – 50.0
1.113 – GF/GA – 2.049
.912 – SV% – .923

Vibes: This is going to be a bloodbath of biblical proportions. Is that what you were expecting to hear? Well, you got your wish. Watching a movie marathon of Braveheart, Apocalypse Now, and Gladiator before the puck drops on Friday MIGHT get you comfortable enough with what’s going to happen on the ice. I hope this gets clipped and shared. I’ve made a ton of money betting on Michigan Tech games this year. They just made me a bunch of money last weekend! But it won’t.

Boston College is too damn good. Will Smith is the most lethal player in College Hockey with eight more points than the closest challenger and he’s supported by Cutter Gauthier, Gabe Perrault, and Ryan Leonard. Any one of those guys would be a difference-maker on another team and they all play together. Oh, and did I mention that they’ve got a Mike Richter award favorite Jacob Fowler backstopping the whole show? Hockey Guys don’t like to push the individual player narratives like those roundball fans, so it’s important to note that they’re also top three in Goals, Shooting Percentage, Saves, Powerplay Efficiency, and Penalty Kill Efficiency as a team. This squad is the complete package and it will be like watching the Harlem Globetrotters to kick off the Friday slate.

Betting Odds: Boston College (-2.5) – O/U: 6.5
Prediction: BC wins in a modified scoring blowout.

Quinnipiac (9) vs Wisconsin (8)
Fri, Mar 29 – 5:30PM ET – ESPNews

Bobcats vs Badgers

Stats:

26-9-2 – Record – 26-11-2
106.8 (27th) – SOS – 185.5 (18th)
22.1 – PP% – 19.9
83.7 – PK% – 86.8
55.0 – FO% – 54.9
2.125 – GF/GA – 1.615
.916 – SV% – .929

Vibes: Did Quinnipiac take dive orders for the second year in a row to get another ECAC team into the tournament? Had St. Lawrence won, people might have been asking that. How you have guys like Collin Graf and Jacob Quillan on your team and lose get shut out by a team like St Lawrence is bananaland. This team has the ability to win this hockey game, but they will not be repeating as national champions.

This 2023/2024 Wisconsin team will be talked about in coaching circles and fan lore for years. Mike Hastings (and staff) left Minnesota State, took over a sad and underperforming Badgers program, brought in some of his key pieces from the Mavericks, and turned the entire program around in one season. I hate saying it as a Minnesotan, but College Hockey is better when the Badgers are good. There’s plenty of talent on the front end to keep up with the best teams, but the strength of this Badgers squad comes in playing a smart game and controlling the puck. With Kyle McClellan’s .931 save percentage in the net and Mike Richter Award finalist nomination, you can afford to bide your time a bit.

Betting Odds: Wisconsin (-1.5) – O/U: 5
Prediction: When in doubt, take the better goalie. Wisco.

Maryland Heights, MO Regional – Host: Lindenwood

Western Michigan (13) vs Michigan State (4)
Fri, Mar 29 – 5:00PM ET – ESPNU

Broncos vs Spartans

Stats:

21-15-1 – Record – 24-9-3
154.1 (23rd) – SOS – 212.3 (6th)
21.3 – PP% – 26.2
84.0 – PK% – 80.6
53.4 – FO% – 48.7
1.435 – GF/GA – 1.296
.902 – SV% – .913

Vibes: As cool as the Wisconsin turnaround is, the Michigan State one might be even more impressive. They were the laughing stock of the Big10 Conference two years ago and struggling mightily against the top teams as recently as last year, but that is no longer the case. They’re Big10 champions twice over and have talent from front to back. Artyom Levshunov, Isaac Howard, and Karsen Dorwart are as formidable as almost any other trio in the sport and Trey Augustine is an incredible backstop too.

Western Michigan is coming into the NCAA tournament for the third (?) straight season and continues to ride a team build that’s been successful in the past. They’ll play a similar style as Denver, trying to outscore and overwhelm opponents early on. Luke Grainger, Dylan Wendt, and Sam Colangelo lead the team, but Minnesota native Alex Bump (Fr) isn’t to be overlooked either. Outside of Miami, the Broncos haven’t swept a team and put a full weekend together since Jan 5th against Lindenwood. They can win a game against anyone if they’re firing on all cylinders, but I don’t expect an extended run.

Betting Odds: Michigan State (-1.5) – O/U: 7
Prediction: Michigan State speeds past the Broncos.

Michigan (10) vs North Dakota (6)
Fri, Mar 29 – 8:30PM ET – ESPNU

Wolverines vs Fighting Hawks

Stats:

21-14-3 – Record – 26-11-2
222.1 (5th) – SOS – 206.5 (8th)
35.3 – PP% – 25.7
78.5 – PK% – 81.6
52.6 – FO% – 51.1
1.379 – GF/GA – 1.465
.899 – SV% – .902

Vibes: Saving this one for the last game of the first round was ingenious. Look at me giving props to both the committee and ESPN. Two things more rare than the looming total solar eclipse. This could be the most exciting 2 vs 3 matchup we’ve seen in YEARS. A combined seventeen national championships between these two programs and only one of them will get to move on with the opportunity to add to that total. Neither one of them has played up to their full potential this season, but North Dakota has been the more polished product by a decent margin.

Game Script

If there’s one game-breaking difference to keep an eye on in this matchup it’s Michigan’s INSANE powerplay efficiency. The Wolverines are humming along, scoring on more than 35 percent of chances they’re given. A lot of that success can be attributed to the likes of Rutger McGroarty, Gavin Brindley, Seamus Casey, and TJ Hughes. With that looming on the other bench, playing a clean and disciplined game will be critical for North Dakota. I’ll be interested to see which conference’s referees draw this game.

North Dakota’s counter comes by the name of Jackson Blake who’s put up 21 goals and 38 assists this season on his way to being named NCHC player of the year. Those stats are good enough to land him in second place nationally for points on the season. Pretty good for playing in the nation’s most difficult conference. Look, it pains me to say nice things about North Dakota, but I’m legally obligated to when they play as well as they have all season long. Their only losses this season have come at the hands of Minnesota, Boston University, Denver, Omaha, and Colorado College. All of those teams deserved a spot in the tournament, all but one made it and they won’t face any of them until the Frozen Four.

Note: UND’s goaltender Ludvig Persson’s ability to play could weigh heavily on the outcome of this game.

Betting Odds: North Dakota (-1.5) – O/U: 7
Prediction: NoDak on top.

Previous College Hockey Previews & Picks:

Don’t know whether you can trust the picks or input? I don’t blame you. I’m not anywhere near a “Big J”. In fact, I’m just some idiot with an outlet. An idiot who watches more college hockey than 99% of the nation, but an idiot nonetheless. Take that how you will.

Week 24: College Hockey – Conference Championships + Bracketology

Week 23: College Hockey Rankings/Preview + Bracketology

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