College Hockey is in an absolute FRENZY right now. There’s just 16 spots available in the NCAA tournament, and 9 of them have already been guaranteed. Spots 10-12 are NEARLY certain, but some catastrophic series of events could theoretically still prevent Michigan Tech, Duluth, and/or UMass from making it. With the lowly Atlantic Hockey being guaranteed one spot (the 16 seed) for their tournament champion, that leaves just three spots up for grabs. The guys over at College Hockey News have put together one heck of a graphic for those still in contention. As a math guy, playing with this takes me from six to midnight every time.Some people love March for the basketball brackets and tournament. Others (me) prefer to spend our time obsessing over the possibilities in the NCAA hockey bracket! This year, I’ve taken the analytics to a whole different level. My friends and family have already tried having an intervention with me after seeing the bracketology has consumed me.
Explaining the Rankings:
1. Minnesota State – Mavericks
The Mavericks had a bit of a scare on Friday last week with St. Thomas opening up the game with a lead. In fact, the teams were tied going into the third period! The Mavericks got a little (a lot) of help from the zebras on the game winning goal before Rico Blasi had a (justified) meltdown on the Tommies bench. The Mavs returned to form and dominated on Saturday, but they’ll need complete weekends moving forward to win the CCHA.
2. University of Minnesota – GophersThe Gophs had the week off due to their stellar performance in the second half of the year. Motzko still found his way into the news arguing about the schedule, but there’s nothing to say that his squad won’t be ready for this weekend.
3. St. Cloud State – Huskies
St. Cloud dropped Friday’s game to UMD, but took it to OT leaving the door open to secure home ice on Saturday. They followed through for their fans, blanking UMD on Saturday to take the first round of the NCHC playoffs back to The Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. Good for them, I guess.
4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – BulldogsUMD was the better team on the ice last weekend, but couldn’t close out the Friday game in regulation to keep AmsOil open for the season. It’s become a routine to expect a defensive zone turnover every weekend for the Bulldogs. They’ll have to find a way to eliminate that from their game if they want to make another long postseason push.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
If you read the blog last week, you already know that I predicted this series PERFECTLY. It took the Beavs three games to win the series, and they were all as close. They are on to a TOUGH game against Michigan Tech in the CCHA semifinal game where they can’t afford to come out slow.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
Despite getting swept, the Tommies ended the season strong. Taking the #1 team in the nation tied into the 3rd period is no easy task. The fact that they had the game STOLEN from them by some stripes is CRIMINAL to not only them, but college hockey fans everywhere. Some people didn’t like Rico’s outburst…I did. It shows his squad how much he cares about the effort they put into the season and, specifically, that game. This squad is done for the year, but they’re on the up and up.
National Rankings Roundup
The top 20 teams in the nation has not changed much since last week. Mankato remains the unanimous #1 despite their near blunder on Friday. Minnesota and Michigan will be fighting for the #2/3 seed in the nation, and whoever wins the Big 10 tournament will get it. The same is true for the #2/3/4 seed, but the race is between three teams in Denver, North Dakota, and Western Michigan. The big thing to keep an eye on right now is Ohio State sitting at 15 in the Pairwise with one Atlantic Hockey school guaranteed to take the 16-spot in the tournament. They’ll be nervously watching every week to see who in Hockey East screws up next and hoping they can still sneak into the NCAA Tournament.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. Rankings that deviate from the Pairwise by 5 or more are highlighted.
NCHC College Hockey Games
#10 Minnesota Duluth @ #9 St Cloud State – Fri-Sun March 11-13
UMD and St Cloud have officially split both of their series this season. The fact that St. Cloud is getting home ice is only due to the fact that they won the one and only game that was decided in regulation between the two. Nearly everyone on the planet is expecting this series to go to three games based on how all of the others have been played this season. Each of these teams has had games where they dominated play and lost due to great goaltender play. I believe that is going to be the difference in this series as well.
If this matchup does end up going three games, these two teams will have faced each other FOURTEEN TIMES in the last two seasons. Everybody talks about the BeanPot for it’s storied roots in the college hockey landscape and for how many times those schools have played one another. If my math is correct, St Cloud and UMD will catch up to them in the next three years at this pace! Obviously that’s A BIT of an exaggeration, but the sentiment stands…these teams rivalry is becoming well known in the sport.
Prediction: Bulldogs take the fistfight of a series, but it takes a brutal three games.
CCHA College Hockey Games
Northern Michigan @ #1 Minnesota State – Sat, March 12
The Minnesota State Mavericks have amassed a 33-5 record. Not only is it the best record in school history, but it’s the best in the country as well. These kids have been on top of the national polls since before the holiday break and they were there earlier in the season as well. They are easily the outright favorites to win the CCHA and probably most people’s favorites for the NCAA tournament as well.
This is familiar territory for each of these teams. They met in the same position (CCHA Semifinals) last season with Northern Michigan taking the game 5-1. As crazy as it sounds to say, that’s not out of the realm of possibilities again this season. While I certainly don’t expect that outcome, Northern Michigan (like Mankato) has two of players inside the top 10 national points leaders. Mankato’s certainly got the edge in terms of overall depth and goaltending, but overlooking the potential firepower of the Wildcats, for the second year in a row, would be a mistake.
Prediction: Mankato moves on to the CCHA championship game by the skin of their teeth.
Bemidji State @ #13 Michigan Tech – Sat, March 12
With a 3-game series win against Bowling Green last weekend, Bemidji State found a way to keep their season alive for another week. Friday, they’ll look to keep the magic alive again. Bemidji has lost 3 of 4 games to the Huskies on the year already. The beauty of that statement if you’re a Bemidji fan? They only need to win one to keep their season going. Every opponent from here on out just needs to be beaten in one game. Do I think Bemidji CAN do that, yes. Do I think the Beavs WILL do that…unfortunately, no.
Michigan Tech does not have a top-tier goaltender to rely on stealing games for them. They’re not the biggest team in D1 hockey either. While we’re at it, they also don’t have the depth that some of the other schools do. With all that being said, they’re a threat to everyone. These kids just know how to play the game of hockey and get wins. They only have two losses by more than one goal this season and both of those were by two. While they do have talented players capable of scoring, don’t expect any game they’re in to be a shootout. That plays to both of these teams strengths.
Prediction: I WANT Bemidji to win this game, but Michigan Tech takes it.
Big 10 College Hockey Games
Penn State @ #2 Minnesota – Sat March 12
Penn State shocked the College Hockey world with an upset over Ohio State last weekend. Going into the Friday game, the Buckeyes had over a 70% chance of making the NCAA tournament. After getting swept by the Nittany Lions, that’s dropped to 32%. Upsetting big favorites is not uncommon for Penn State this year. They took down both North Dakota and this same Minnesota team earlier in the season. It’s a tall task given how the Gophers are playing now, but they’ll have to do it again if they want to play another game this season. They’ve got just a 6% chance at making the NCAA tournament, which would require them winning the Big 10 tournament first.
Minnesota is trying to find a way to stay hot after a full week of rest. The Gophers are currently riding an eight-game winning streak. What’s more impressive is that they’ve only lost three games this calendar year! It’d be more than fair to say that Motzko’s squad had some troubles with consistency of play early in the year, but he’s got them firing on all cylinders right now. The big players are making big plays and Close has been an absolute stud between the pipes since LaFontaine left mid-season. Few squads looked as good as the Gophers going into the postseason, now we’ll get to see if they can carry that momentum forward.
Prediction: Minnesota takes the game, and home-ice for the Big 10 Championship handily.
Think you know better? Bet on it.
I’m not one to brag (yes I am) but my series predictions AND storylines were 100% last week. I know cryptocurrency and NFT’s are hot in the streets right now, but I prefer to take chances in my own big brain for my big break. Every week I get chirped online about “blatant favoritism” and uneducated picks. While one of those things is definitely true, I don’t think anyone would be better over a full season. If you disagree, you can now prove it.
Our friends at Bettor Edge have now added College Hockey games to their platform and it’s completely legal, even in Minnesota! Use promo code “10K” for a FREE $10 to put towards your bets!
Our college hockey podcast crew from The Has-Beens gave their predictions on all of the NCHC games this weekend if you don’t trust me either! If you want their reasoning behind the picks (which definitely aren’t biased at all either) give it a listen! I guarantee you’ll have a good time if you’re a college hockey fan.
Week 21 – College Hockey Preview: Welcome to the Postseason!
Week 20 – College Hockey Preview: Biggest Week of the Season White Text for Readability
Week 19 – College Hockey Preview: The Time Is Now
I’ve been hit by cars three times, which is an indication of how stubborn I am.
I write about everything across the board, but focus on Hockey and the pain that is Minnesota sports.
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