As fans of College Hockey, nothing drives us crazier than having to compete with March Madness every year. Hockey in general has been feuding with Basketball as far as playoff schedules go for DECADES. It’s fun to have high-stakes games going on across the sports world, but it a lot less fun when only one of them gets national attention and airtime. On any normal weekend throughout the year, having both of those sports going on at the same time isn’t a problem whatsoever. Then March comes around and asking a bartender to change Alcorn St/Fairleigh Dickinson basketball to Minnesota vs BU hockey may as well be a death sentence. It’s ridiculous.To combat all that nonsense, we’re kicking off bracketology for College Hockey before Basketball gets off the ground. Is it all pointless until the final rankings are out? Yeah probably, but when has being stupid stopped anyone in America before? You want to control the narrative, you’ve got to be the first to the story. Before you get going and shout the same replies as Twitter, I am well aware there’s some glaring issues with the way this bracket is laid out. Look, there’s a method to the madness. With the ONLY “bracket integrity” changes coming from swapping seeds 13-15 and moving Minnesota out east, this is the best bracket possible at the moment.
College Hockey Bracket Integrity
- The #1 overall seed not being in the closest regional –> Sure, Minnesota has earned every right to the closest regional…but I’m not sure they’d even want it. There are so many anti-Gopher fans living in North Dakota that they may out-number the traveling Gopher fans and turn it into a hostile environment. Additionally, there’d be THREE “local” teams in that regional, including two from the NCHC which is the host’s conference. It makes too much sense. That’s why it
- THREE Michigan teams all lumped into one region –> This would be fun. I don’t care who you are. None of the three Michigan teams are in the same conference and it would be a bonus version of the Great Lakes Invitational. Now factor in the lingering resentment between Western Michigan and the Wolverines. If those two met with a trip to the frozen four on the line…there would be fireworks.
- Quinnipiac (and Harvard) being in PA instead of CT –> Listen, we could sacrifice “bracket integrity” again by swapping the Bobcats and Wolverines, but something seems inherintly wrong about swapping seeds in the top-tier. If you lock yourself into not doing that, your hands are tied with Penn State at #7, because they’re automatically locked into the Allentown, PA regional. If either of these teams moves ONE spot in the rankings, the problem fixes itself.
Final Bracket Thoughts
Long story short, don’t get your panties in a bunch over any of the brackets that are put out until the final one. There’s still two weeks left in the regular season for some conferences and teams in the middle have been shifting every week for the last month. Outside of Minnesota and Quinnipiac, I’m sure ANYONE else is locked into a specific tier (1-4, 5-8, etc.) at this time. We’re just having fun with a sport we all like and talking about all the possibilities adds to that.
National Rankings RoundupAfter another Gopher’s sweep of a top-ten team, the controversy for the top slot is all but gone. Sure, there’s an unapologetically east-coast biased representative holding out, but that is what’s fun about rankings. I’ll be the first to say that I’m unapologetically biased to the “Western” style of College Hockey. We are who we are. As long as there’s balance, everyone
Rounding out the remaining playoff spots we’re finding Denver, Western Michigan, and St Cloud all inside the top six with Omaha at thirteen. The narrative of “The NCHC is having a down year” was seemingly overblown. Who would have thought. Hockey East, on the other hand, is in the midst of a nightmare scenario where Merrimack could win the Lamoriello Trophy for the best regular season team and still miss the NCAA playoffs. With the cut line currently sitting at Northeastern, every team within 3 on either side is in panic mode and has to have a win-now mentality.As always, rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted for transparency.
Note: The National Rankings RoundupTM weighs each of the ranking sources instead of treating them all as equal. This takes into account the credibility of source, potential committee influence, what data they utilize, evident bias, and amount of teams ranked.
Ranking the State of Hockey:
1. University of Minnesota – Gophers
Minnesota came out FLYING on Friday night, coasting to a 7-2 win against the Nittany Lions. Saturday required a late comeback and OT to decide a winner with both goals provided by Hobey Favorite, Matthew Knies. Sweeping yet another top ten team will always keep you in the top spot, regardless of what else happens with others.
2. St. Cloud State – Huskies
SCSU has not earned a victory in their last SIX outings. Despite that, they’ve still managed to amass six points in that time frame, which slowed them from a full on free-fall to more of a faulty parachute situation. They’re currently at 4th place in the NCHC and clinging to a ten point lead over UMD who they play in the season finale for home ice in the NCHC conference playoffs.
3. Minnesota State – MavericksAfter a RED HOT start to 2023, the Mavericks have found themselves stumbling as of late. Failing to earn sweeps against St Thomas and Bemidji the last two weekends has allowed Michigan Tech to climb back into contention for the MacNaughton Cup. A few more losses and the Mavericks are in danger of dropping to playoff bubble territory as they currently sit at 12 in the Pairwise. In fact, if all six conference tournaments had an unranked champion, the Mavericks would miss the playoffs right now. If that’s not incentive to win, I don’t know what is.
4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
The UMD Bulldogs refuse to die. Are they in the conversation for an at-large bid right now? No, not really. Are they still one of the most difficult teams to play in the country? Yes, apparently. This past weekend, Denver was reminded of that for the second time this season. Sure, UMD technically only has 1 win and 3 losses in the two series, but that doesn’t tell you that UMD has earned five of twelve potential points by taking two of those losses to OT. In fact, the Pios have held a lead over UMD for less than 40 minutes of play this season TOTAL. With one of the most difficult remaining schedules, that also presents the most opportunity for UMD to make moves in the rankings.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
*Whispers* Do I even need to write a recap for Bemidji at this point? For the THIRTEENTH time this season, the Beavers were neither swept or found earning a sweep on the weekend. To put that in perspective, they have been swept by BGSU and Michigan Tech while earning a sweep against Minnesota State (which still required OT in one win), but every other weekend has been somewhat mixed emotions for the boys from Bemidji. A couple of bounces, a missed call here or there, and a handful of goals and we might be talking about a completely different team here…one way or another.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
With two winnable games in front of them, the Tommies could only come away with a split against the Lake Superior State Lakers. St Thomas played well enough to win in both games and had their opportunities to do so, but just could not capitalize when the opportunity presented itself while also giving up a few goals they wish they had back. With one regular season series remaining, the Tommies have already more than tripled their win total from last season and hit double digits. Another small milestone for a program on the rise.
Minnesota College Hockey Games
#7/8 Ohio State @ #1 Minnesota – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
21.3 – PP% – 25.5
90.0 – PK% – 84.5
48.8 – FO% – 52.6
1.421 – GF/GA – 1.733
.913 – SV% – .917
Vibes: Minnesota is the best College Hockey team in the nation. From top to bottom, they’ve got talent, depth, and traditional expectations to rely on and push them. With that being said, they’re not the best at EVERYTHING. Ohio State has the nation’s top penalty kill and they’ve held that nearly all year long. They find ways to separate teams from the puck, get in lanes, and aren’t afraid to put their body on the line to wear a shot or two. Not only are they able to prevent other teams from scoring, but the Buckeyes penalty kill has been a threat for scoring themselves. Ohio State has a NCAA high ten shorthanded goals this year. TEN. We’ll see if that threat puts the Gophers on their heels this weekend.
Prediction: Gophers have less to play for having already secured a bye in the Big10 tournament and will let one game slip against Ohio State for the split.
#6 St Cloud State @ #14/15 Nebraska-Omaha – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
25.6 – PP% – 24.8
75.8 – PK% – 79.8
52.1 – FO% – 54.0
1.493 – GF/GA – 1.247
.915 – SV% – .914
Vibes: If you were to split this season it two and view them individually, St Cloud would appear to be a completely different team. After five series sweeps in the first “half” of the year, the Huskies have only been able to notch one in the 2023 calendar year. The obvious answer is that the loss of Dylan Anhorn is bigger than anyone expected it to be and, unfortunately for the Huskies, that could continue to be a factor against Omaha.
Only four teams have a better faceoff percentage than Mavericks. While a lot of people tend to consider that a bit of a “throw away” metric, the importance of maintaining control of the puck when you’ve got a set of tired defenders on the ice cannot be overstated. All of that being said, St Cloud isn’t too far behind them at the dot either. This will be the first and only meeting between the two clubs this season and the math doesn’t support the Huskies falling forever.
Prediction: St Cloud State rebounds for a series sweep.
#11 Michigan Tech @ #12/13 Minnesota State – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
14.7 – PP% – 25.8
88.8 – PK% – 81.8
46.7 – FO% – 59.1
1.348 – GF/GA – 1.567
.924 – SV% – .900
Vibes: The MacNaughton Cup will be awarded this weekend, one way or another! If the Mavericks are able to get a regulation win on Friday night, they’ll be able to take home the hardware for the 6th year in a row. Should the game end any other way, and Saturday will decide it. The last time the trophy was shared between two teams was the 2015/2016 WCHA title in which, you guessed it, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State shared custody.
As far as difference making stats go, there are a few to look out for in this series. The Mavericks have the single best faceoff percentage in the nation. Combine that with a top-five power play unit and this is a dangerous team with the puck on their stick. Michigan Tech’s strengths are almost all on the other side of the puck. With the second best penalty kill in the country, this defensive front simply makes it tough to score. In addition to that, they’ve got a REALLY strong contender for the best goaltender in College Hockey with Blake Pietila between the pipes. He is the same type of difference maker that the Mavericks had gotten used to with Dryden McKay over the last few years in Mankato.
Prediction: Mavericks take home the MacNaughton Cup with a split series.
Miami (Ohio) @ Minnesota, Duluth – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
16.9 – PP% – 26.0
77.2 – PK% – 76.5
45.0 – FO% – 48.2
.536 – GF/GA – .819
.890 – SV% – .890
Vibes: UMD hasn’t been favored in this many stat categories since the calendar flipped to 2023. If there was a weekend they NEEDED to sweep it would be this one. UMD knows better than just about anyone this year how much more “bad” losses hurt your ranking than “good” wins help. With Miami currently at 47 in the Pairwise, a regulation loss would eliminate any chance (no matter how razor thin) at an at-large bid for the Bulldogs. With two wins, they’ve got the potential to climb into the top-20 with only top-ten teams remaining on the schedule.
Despite their ranking and record, Miami is not a team to be overlooked. This is a team that has split with St Cloud while they were on fire at the beginning of the season and took them to shootout ties in their second series as well. Going back to last year, UMD was in a similar position…albeit on the other side of .500 and the ranking cutoff. Miami was able to earn a shutout win against them on a huge Saturday matchup. One (of many) things that’s changed between these two teams over the last year is which squad Derek Daschke is suiting up for. If he’s able to spread a little knowledge about weak points in the Redhawks system for UMD to exploit, that could legitimately be the difference in these games.
Prediction: Duluth finally has another complete weekend where they take two games and some more confidence.
Bemidji State @ St Thomas – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
23.7 – PP% – 17.1
80.8 – PK% – 79.2
46.5 – FO% – 47.8
.988 – GF/GA – .748
.899 – SV% – .899
Vibes: At 31 and 46 in the pairwise, neither of these teams are making the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid program. With that being said, I’d say that BOTH have the opportunity to play spoiler and make waves in the CCHA tournament. Bemidji is less than a year removed from a run to the championship game which ended in controversy…twice. The Beavers have beaten every team in the CCHA this season at least once with the exception of Bowling Green. To think that they would not be able to do that again would be silly.
Prediction: Both of these schools are among the elite teams in College Hockey…at finding ways to split. This time, Bemidji finds a way to finish BOTH games.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
#3 Denver @ #5 Western Michigan – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
25.2 – PP% – 23.8
78.0 – PK% – 75.4
49.7 – FO% – 50.9
1.685 – GF/GA – 1.658
.910 – SV% – .904
Vibes: This will be the most exciting series of the weekend in College Hockey. A top-five matchup that could legitimately decide which of these two teams gets a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Denver’s longest losing streak of the season is only two games in a row which were series losses against UMass way back in October and St Cloud at the beginning of the new year. Western Michigan isn’t too far behind that metric themselves.
This Broncos team will be the most potent offense that Denver has faced all season and it’s not particularly close. Having to weather that new type of storm is one thing. Doing it in one of the most hostile environments in College Hockey with the Lawson Lunatics screaming is completely differently. Hopefully someone’s prepared Jack Devine for what he’s walking into. If either one of these teams is able to come away with a sweep, they’ve all but guaranteed themselves the Penrose Cup and bragging rights in the NCHC.
Prediction: Pioneers maintain their lead in the Penrose race, but split with Western in Kalamazoo.
#16/17 Merrimack vs #19/20 UMass Lowell – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25 (H&H)
13.3 – PP% – 14.9
80.4 – PK% – 85.6
46.3 – FO% – 53.8
1.184 – GF/GA – 1.203
.907 – SV% – .922
Vibes: For a team that is only two points back from the top of the Hockey East standings, Merrimack sure seems like they have their work cut out for them. Trailing the Riverhawks in every notable category, they’ll have to play a tight game and take advantage of shots when they’re in front of them. The Warriors are in a precarious position where they could sweep UMass Lowell, win against Vermont and win the Lamoriello Trophy, but still miss the NCAA tournament if they get bounced from the Hockey East tournament early. Only a real sicko would be rooting for such a travesty.
Prediction: Merrimack splits the series, but has their loss come in OT allowing them to secure a 4-point weekend.
#19/20 Notre Dame @ #4 Michigan – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
17.7 – PP% – 22.3
75.4 – PK% – 78.8
49.8 – FO% – 47.9
.882 – GF/GA – 1.267
.924 – SV% – .907
Vibes: Sitting on the outside of a precarious bubble position with a .500 record has the Irish NERVOUS. For those that don’t know, you need to maintain a .500 record (minimum) to be considered eligible for an at-large tournament bid. If the Irish split their final regular season series against Michigan, they’ll need to win in the first round of the Big 10 playoffs to even be considered for a playoff spot. Without that, their season would be finished.
The stakes for Michigan are similar…in a way. They need to win to remain the #2 seed in the Big 10 tournament and keep a hold on a #1 seed for the NCAA tournament. Yeah, it’s a different kind of and lesser version of pressure, but when you’ve got Fantilli and the expectations that come from the Michigan fanbase, it’s pressure nonetheless. Playing at Yost and having split with Notre Dame already this season has to put their minds at ease a little bit.
Prediction: Irish win one, but can’t get enough done to earn the sweep and remain on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
#14/15 Northeastern vs UMass – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25 (H&H)
16.0 – PP% – 26.2
85.2 – PK% – 83.0
51.3 – FO% – 50.3
1.296 – GF/GA – .920
.929 – SV% – .916
Vibes: Northeastern is currently sitting at first place in the Hockey East standings. They’ve got a one point lead on BU and are two ahead of Merrimack. With four games remaining on their schedule, the pressure is mounting. The Huskies have been SIGNIFICANTLY better in the second half of the season thanks to the efforts of goaltender Devon Levi. He’s been a true difference-maker in net and has stolen a few games, including both Beanpot tournament victories. Waiting until this late in the season to play UMass is interesting than it seems on paper. While the Minutemen have struggled this year, they have still managed to sweep Denver in their series and taken Quinnipiac to a shootout in their only matchup of the year. It’s a dangerous team to play with so much on the line.
Prediction: Huskies are only able to win one and CLING to a 1-point lead in Hockey East going into the final games.
Alaska, Fairbanks @ Arizona State – Fri & Sat, Feb 24/25
17.4 – PP% – 19.0
81.2 – PK% – 86.2
50.3 – FO% – 48.2
1.217 – GF/GA – .990
.906 – SV% – .911
Vibes: Alaska (Fairbanks) is the first team outside the rankings in both the USCHO and USA Hockey polls right now. They’re also currently #17 in the Pairwise rankings. They are the highest ranked independent school this season and nearing an at-large playoff birth…their only way into the tournament. I’ve been highlighting them for the last 3 weeks and as many times as possible all season because the storyline is so good for the sport, but also for Alaskan Hockey in general.
They have to keep the intensity up this weekend against Arizona State. The haters will say that this is a team that’s lost to the likes of LIU and St Thomas, but they’ll neglect to bring up the fact that they’ve also beaten Notre Dame, Omaha, and Denver. It’s still a long shot that will require some help, but if the Nanooks can win-out, they’ll have a hell of an argument to be in.
Prediction: The at-large playoff dream finally dies as Alaska drops Saturday’s game in a heartbreaker.
Previous 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.
Alternative College Hockey Media:
Hate my predictions or don’t fancy yourself as much of a “reader”? Lucky for you, there’s plenty more College Hockey information coming out of the 10K Takes family! You can listen to The Has Beens podcast (or follow them on social media) as former College Hockey players/National Champions (Gage Ausmus and Trevor Olson) talk with guests about their path to College Hockey, how the sport impacted their life, and where it led them after.
This week, the guys are tested in a spelling bee by Jude Hull before being joined by Sami Cowger to talk coaching in hockey.
I’ve been hit by cars three times, which is an indication of how stubborn I am.
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