Week 23 – College Hockey Preview: Conference Championship Weekend

Gophers Hockey NCAA NHL

Surprise-surprise, Mankato remains the unanimous #1 College Hockey team in the nation, as they should. Minnesota remains in second place in consensus rankings despite falling behind Denver in my own. All of this will be subject to drastic changes following the events of this weekend. As conference championships are decided, the pairwise rankings and NCAA playoff teams, will become concrete. The top 10 teams are guaranteed a spot at the table, but underdogs winning could push out the likes of Ohio State, UMass Lowell, Northeastern, and even UMass. Who doesn’t love the sound of that?

March 14 – College Hockey Rankings Roundup

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.

The 16 spots and expected teams that were established for the NCAA tournament have not changed since last week. What has changed is the fact that UMD guaranteed themselves a spot after sweeping St. Cloud State university in the NCHC playoffs. Unfortunately for fans of college hockey everywhere, the winner of the Atlantic Hockey tournament will still be receiving one spot (the 16 seed) in the NCAA tournament. This leaves 5 teams watching the TV eagerly to check the status of their tournament life. If Bemidji, UConn, or anyone but Quinnipiac wins their conference championships, Ohio state will be out. If more than one of those underdogs win, the list will be cannibalized from the bottom up. The guys over at College Hockey News continue to put together one of the best graphics for those still in contention.

College Hockey News: Pairwise Probability Matrix

Explaining the (Minnesota) Rankings:

1. Minnesota State – Mavericks

Minnesota State has found themselves exactly where they expected to be at the beginning of the year. The Championship game of the CCHA tournament was always the (conference) goal with their talent and they’ve done it. Along they way, they’ve also found themselves as a national favorite to win it all.

2. University of Minnesota – Gophers

The Gophers had a bit of a nervous moment within their Penn State matchup last weekend. They were able to secure a 3-2 victory and make it to the Big 10 championship game, but to say that they’ll be facing tougher teams the rest of the year (however long that may be) would be an understatement.

3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

Home ice…who needs that? NOT THE BULLDOGS, THAT’S WHO! UMD went into St. Cloud’s barn and blew the doors off of the Huskies on Friday night with what felt like an unstoppable barrage of quality shots. They followed it up with a comeback victory on Saturday, proving that this team can win under any circumstance.

4. St. Cloud State – Huskies

I’ll say this as politely as I possibly can. St Cloud shit the bed. They did! They had the high of stealing home ice away from the bulldogs by the thinnest of margins and completely squandered it. There was no energy in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center during the games and UMD took full advantage. Some people are saying that’s because it’s spring break and the State Hockey Tournament was going on…others are just saying that St. Cloud isn’t even a hockey school anymore. Who’s to say, really.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

Bemidji shocked much of the hockey world by making it to the CCHA championship game, myself included. Now, it shouldn’t be a shock because they’ve been capable of playing close games all year long, there just hasn’t been any sort of consistency whatsoever. That’s the beauty of a team like this, they don’t need consistency anymore. They just need to be hot, one game at a time.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

No games as the Tommies season is already over. On the positive side, Rico gets a head start working over all the players who have entered the transfer portal!


As of the time this article was written, the bracket is almost perfect. The #1 team in the Pairwise Rankings is supposed to play the #16 team. #2 would play #15 and so on until the bracket is set. The only “rule” that would currently prevent this from working out perfectly right now is no two conference opponents can meet in the first round. This would mean that Michigan cannot play Ohio State, so the Buckeyes would have to switch with Northeastern.

With all of that said, the committee often takes things like profits, home-ice, and other things into consideration. That means there are currently only two guarantees in this tournament. One: Michigan and Minnesota State will have 1-seeds in whichever regional they are placed. Two: Denver will be placed in the Loveland regional, regardless of seeding, as they are the host university. Every time anybody says they have it all figured out, it’s CHAOS. But that didn’t stop me from putting my best guess out there.

3/16 – NCAA Hockey Bracketology

NCHC College Hockey Games – Frozen Faceoff

#8 Minnesota Duluth vs #2/3 Denver – Fri March 18 – 4:00 CT

Bulldogs vs Pioneers

Do you ever think you’re living on a completely different planet than the rest of the world? Everyone in the nation is afraid of the Denver Pioneers, yet nobody (outside of their NCHC opponents) will even acknowledge they exist. Bobby Brink is the most electric player and point machine on the planet and we’re all supposed to be fawning over a couple of East coast goalies? I DON’T UNDERSTAND. The Pios have gone 17-3-1 in the most difficult conference in College Hockey since Dec. 31st and there’s no love to be found. It’s BANANAS.

So I lied, get used to it. I said that everyone in the nation is afraid of the Pioneers. That’s not true because UMD has beaten them twice already this season! They’re also the only team to beat Denver at home all year long. Now, UMD has an opportunity to do that again, and while they’re not “at home” they’ll certainly be familiar with their surroundings. The NCHC Frozen Faceoff games will be played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. A place where UMD has made strong postseason pushes in the past AND WON TWO NATIONAL TITLES. With that history, they’ll have the (newly crowned) NCHC Goaltender of the Year between the pipes.

Ryan Fanti: NCHC Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: The UMD Bulldogs own the X and make the championship game.

CCHA College Hockey Championship

Bemidji State @ #1 Minnesota State – Sat, March 19 – 6:07 CT

Beavers vs Mavericks

Mankato has a tendency of losing big games. I’m not sure what it is about the Mavericks when spring comes around, but they tend to look like a completely different Hockey team. Other people will say I’m digging into it too deeply, but I’m certain that’s why they scheduled St. Thomas for their Hockey Day Minnesota game earlier this year. Hell, Dryden McKay couldn’t even keep a hold of what should have been a “guaranteed Mike Richter Award” when the committee gave it to LaFontaine last season! He’s still in the running for that award this time around as well as the Hobey Baker, but he’s already been awarded the CCHA goaltender of the year, so we’re still on track in 2022.

Bemidji has played spoiler once or twice before. As recently as last year, they upset Cole Caufield and his high-powered Badgers team in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs. These guys and their coaching staff know exactly what it takes to win big hockey games. I don’t know that they’d have the depth needed for a LONG run in the playoffs, but they certainly have what it takes to make it there. Fueled by losing their stud goaltender to North Dakota in the offseason, these guys have a lot to prove. With a lot of upper-classmen and physicality, I sincerely think they’ve got a little more magic left in the tank.

Prediction: Bemidji knocks Ohio State out of the Tournament, shocking Mankato by winning the CCHA tournament.

Big 10 College Hockey Championship

#4 Michigan @ #2/3 Minnesota – Sat, March 19 – 7:00 CT

Wolverines vs Gophers

Michigan is preoccupied with some silly basketball tournament so the Gophers should be the favorite here. Unfortunately, and even though they did win the regular season Big 10 title, they are not. Michigan has been getting sucked off by the national media and ranking systems for the duration of the year. From start to finish, they’re praised whenever they do anything good and ignored whenever they get swept by Notre Dame. Twice.

Bob Motzko has to have the boys fired up and running on all cylinders here. Michigan has scoring power, sure. They’ve also got Owen Power. A shut-down, Canadian Olympian defender who is all but guaranteed to be starting NHL games in the next couple years. Fortunately for Minnesota, they’re no stranger to Olympians as they have a few of their own. Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies have been EXCEPTIONAL for the Gophers this year and I expect that to continue. Hell, they’ve already beaten Owen Power on a pretty big stage once this year.

Prediction: Minnesota drops Michigan and keeps a grasp on their #1 seed.

Think you know better? Bet on it.

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The Has-Beens (our college hockey podcast) once again gave their predictions on the biggest games of the weekend too! They picked winners for all of the Minnesota games as well as predicting the NCHC Frozen Faceoff champion. If you want their reasoning behind the picks (which definitely aren’t biased at all either) give it a listen!

Has-Beens: March 18-19 College Hockey Predictions

Previous Previews:

Week 22 – College Hockey Preview: Pairwise Pandemonium

Week 21 – College Hockey Preview: Welcome to the Postseason! White Text for Readability.

Week 20 – College Hockey Preview: Biggest Week of the Season