Week 23 – College Hockey Preview: Tournament Trials & Tribulations

Gambling Gophers Hockey NCAA Power Rankings

After 22(ish) long weeks of hockey games, we’re officially onto the postseason tournament in every conference of College Hockey. There’s already been some upsets in Atlantic Hockey and the CCHA, but the favorites are all still alive. For teams like Alaska who are done until the tournament teams are announced, that’s phenomenal news. For fans of the sport who love a good underdog story, but want to see the best teams advance, it’s even better. If your team is still alive in any way, no matter the odds, you’re bracket watching. Get comfortable because you’ve got two more weeks of it.

Road to the Frozen Four – 2023

College Hockey Bracket Integrity

As was the case last week, Penn State continues to be an issue when it comes to putting the regional brackets together. Why the Pairwise has them above Western Michigan (tied for 8th) with the same RPI and Western having a better winning percentage will never make sense to me. For that reason, I’ve simply chosen to flip them at 8/9 to start this week’s exercise. From there, it’s as simple as you want to make it, but you’ve got to keep in mind that they will be hosting the Allentown, PA regional.

You’ve got to move them out of Minnesota’s regional as the #1 overall seed is still awarded the closest regional, Fargo. You shouldn’t swap them with Ohio State (10) because that would put them with Quinnipiac who is best suited to be the 1-seed in Bridgeport, CT. That leaves Michigan Tech at 11, in the same regional as Denver and Cornell. Keep it simple, stupid. That’s the answer.

Positives & Negatives

  • (+)Three “Western” teams in the only real Western regional. BONUS: The Michigan Tech vs Western Michigan matchup would be ELECTRIC.
  • (+)The highest seeded Hockey East team gets the Manchester, NH regional to drive attendance.
  • (-)Only one ECAC team in Bridgeport, CT. The Ohio State/SCSU game could be a record low attendance regional game. Could swap Harvard and SCSU to alleviate this, but then you have two regionals with two conference opponents in them instead of a “good mix” everywhere but Allentown.

Note: I hate most of what this bracket looks like and have less than no confidence that the committee would see it this way. That being said, it’s great to look at what all the options are.

Until the conference tournaments wrap up, this entire exercise is more “for funzies” than anything else. It drums up conversation and creates arguments talking points online. If the NCAA had any brains whatsoever, they’d be collecting and considering the well thought out arguments and points that are brought up online and factor them into their decisions. After all, those points are being brought up by the fans that consume their product. But hey, that’s just one dolt’s opinion.

National Rankings Roundup

The top four in the nation have (once again) not changed at all. If Denver and Michigan both win this weekend, I’m confident in saying that these will be the four 1-seeds in the regional tournaments, regardless of what happens elsewhere. Penn State lost to Ohio State last weekend, but you’d never know it looking at the pairwise. Penn State remained at 8 (Tied with Western Michigan) while Ohio State dropped one spot to 10th. Minnesota State, Cornell, and Merrimack round out the bubble teams, but all probably need to win this weekend (at a minimum) if they want to keep their season alive.

As it stands today, here’s what we would have for representatives from each conference making up the field of 16:

  • Big 10: (4) Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, & Penn State
  • ECAC: (3) Quinnipiac, Harvard, & Cornell
  • NCHC: (3) Denver, St Cloud, & Western Michigan
  • CCHA: (2) Michigan Tech & Minnesota State
  • Hockey East: (2) Boston University & Merrimack
  • Atlantic: (1) RIT
  • Independent: (1) Alaska

As always, rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted for transparency. Teams in green have a 99.9% (or greater) chance of making the NCAA tournament.

Mar 6th – 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.

Minnesota College Hockey Games

Michigan State @ #1 University of Minnesota – Sat, Mar 11

Spartans vs Golden Gophers


18.9 – PP% – 24.8
79.3 – PK% – 83.5
48.0 – FO% – 52.7
0.964 – GF/GA – 1.805
.910 – SV% – .920
37% – TOURNEY ODDS – 100%

Vibes: This matchup has been one sided all season long. Through four games, the Gophers have outscored the Spartans 25-6. The closest of those games ended 6-3, which happened twice. I don’t know if you’re a math person or not, but that should tell you that Minnesota’s also gotten two shutouts as well. Michigan State has relied on Dylan St. Cyr to be the difference maker for them. He fulfilled that role last weekend against Notre Dame, but the Gophers are a completely different challenge. St Cyr might have more reason to want retribution than anyone as the Gophers essentially ruined his resume for the Mike Richter Award single-handedly. Take out the Minnesota games and his GAA goes from 2.74 to 2.31 and his save percentage improves from .917 all the way to .928 which would be tied for 4th in the nation.

Prediction: Minnesota does what it has all year and dominates the Spartans in all facets of the game.

Minnesota Duluth @ #7/8 St Cloud State – Fri & Sat, Mar 3/4

Bulldogs vs Huskies


24.3 – PP% – 26.4
77.9 – PK% – 76.3
48.0 – FO% – 52.6
0.822 – GF/GA – 1.402
.891 – SV% – .909
4% – TOURNEY ODDS – 100%

Vibes: The difference between these two teams can be described any way you want to spin it. Un-ranked Minnesota Duluth has to find a way to topple a top-ten St Cloud State team. Teams ranked 4 & 5 in the NCHC battle it out for the second year in a row to see who gets to move onto the Frozen Faceoff in St Paul. St Cloud State attempts to get their first regulation win against UMD after having played four games already this season. You see, the only consistency is inconsistency. That’s true for the play from both of these teams as well.

The Huskies were dominant for the first half of the year, but have been struggling every weekend for the better part of two months. They have one regulation win in their last ten games. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have been struggling to find any sort of consistency from game to game, and sometimes within the same game. No contest is a better example of that than the last time these teams hit the ice. UMD jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after the first period, only to give up 4 goals to SCSU with the game-winner coming with less than 20 seconds remaining in OT.

What They’re Fighting For

St Cloud needs to win this series and advance in the NCHC playoffs if they want to remain in the top-8 teams and stay a 2-seed in the national tournament. If they lose in the first round of the tournament, it’s pretty likely they end up at 9 or below given the number of active teams currently behind them in the standings. Being among the “tier III” teams could eliminate them from being chosen for the Fargo regional which would be a short drive for the players and fans.

With UMD’s record sitting at 15-18-1, they no longer have any hope of making the tournament as an at-large team due to the .500 record requirement. Had they lasted another few seconds in OT last week, they could TECHNICALLY make the Frozen Faceoff championship game and find a way in even if they lost…but that would have still needed a lot of outside help. That means it’s win-out or miss-out for UMD. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been warned about approaching a hostile dog with their back up against the wall.

Prediction: This has been the most exciting matchup for both programs over the last few years. This series lives up to the hype, needing three games (one containing OT) before being won by UMD.

Ferris State @ #12/13 Minnesota State – Sat, Mar 11

Bulldogs vs Mavericks


13.4 – PP% – 27.6
78.7 – PK% – 83.2
49.7 – FO% – 59.8
0.726 – GF/GA – 1.589
.896 – SV% – .903
8% – TOURNEY ODDS – 78%

Vibes: This is a one-sided affair that can be overlooked according to everyone. Everyone who hasn’t paid attention to the CCHA this season that is! Despite the lopsided stats, Ferris State and Minnesota State have each swept one another this year. What’s more impressive is that they’ve each done it on the road. With how much the Mavericks have struggled to put away less talented teams this season, this is a series that makes you nervous. Add in the fact that Ferris State is already coming off of an upset sweep, and it’s officially upgraded from a long-shot to realistically possible for the Bulldogs.

Prediction: Minnesota State survives another scary game, but wins w/ an empty netter for a 2-goal differential.

Other College Hockey Games to Watch

#9 Ohio State @ #4 Michigan – Sat, Mar 11

Buckeyes vs Wolverines


21.2 – PP% – 22.7
89.3 – PK% – 77.8
48.0 – FO% – 48.3
1.337 – GF/GA – 1.261
.915 – SV% – .906
100% – TOURNEY ODDS – 100%

Vibes: Of all the teams Michigan has played this year, the one that matches up best against them is probably Ohio State. The high-powered talent on the Wolverines roster has trouble finding the back of the net against the Buckeyes, being outscored 11 to 16 through four games this year. The Wolverines are 1-2-1(SOL) against the Buckeyes with the only win coming back in the middle of January. A lot of that success can be attributed to the STELLAR penalty kill for Ohio State and steady play from goaltender Jakub Dobes. If Michigan wants to move past Ohio State this weekend, they’ll need the national points leader Adam Fantilli running at 100% and a recurring name on the box score.

Prediction: Michigan makes it back to the Big10 title game, but Ohio State pushes them for the duration of the game.

North Dakota @ #17/18 Omaha – Fri to Sun, Mar 10-12*

Fighting Hawks vs Mavericks


28.4 – PP% – 22.5
82.7 – PK% – 78.2
52.2 – FO% – 53.0
1.137 – GF/GA – 1.182
.883 – SV% – .909
7% – TOURNEY ODDS – 13%

Vibes: North Dakota is a dangerous team that has started to find their footing late in the season. Nobody is more aware of that than Omaha, as the Mavericks were just swept in Grand Forks less than a week ago. Both of these teams are fighting for their seasons this weekend. Omaha has a SLIGHT advantage and could make it into the tournament as the 14-16 seed without winning the Frozen Faceoff. They’d have to make the championship game while Merrimack and Northeastern lose early before there are no other upsets in any conference tournaments. North Dakota’s path is much more simple. They have to win their way in. That’s it. As the most dangerous special teams program in the nation, they’ll need that to be the difference for at least four more games.

Prediction: North Dakota has been on the wrong side of bad bounces all season, but find a way to win the series with their special teams play.

Providence @ #15/16 Northeastern – Sat, Mar 11th

Friars vs Huskies


18.5 – PP% – 17.3
82.8 – PK% – 84.8
53.7 – FO% – 51.0
1.190 – GF/GA – 1.325
.901 – SV% – .929
4% – TOURNEY ODDS – 19%

Vibes: The Northeastern Huskies have fallen from grace, risen triumphantly, and fallen for a second time since the December. They’re on the outside of the tournament looking in right now. A slim chance exists where they could get in as an at-large bid, but that would require them to win this weekend regardless. Providence, on the other hand has only one path to the NCAA tournament and that’s by winning the Hockey East tournament first. Neither of these teams are particularly intimidating in terms of offensive firepower or potency on the power play, but both are among the best in the country on the penalty kill. The friars have relied on defensive structure and freshman goaltender Philip Svedebäck for much of the season while Northeastern has needed Devon Levi to keep them in games. As the national SV% leader, it’s not a bad strategy to lean on.

Prediction: Northeastern does it again and Devon Levi leads them to victory.

Holy Cross @ #20 RIT – Fri – Sun, Mar 10 – 12*

Crusaders vs Tigers


15.1 – PP% – 21.4
81.5 – PK% – 87.6
47.3 – FO% – 51.0
0.802 – GF/GA – 1.341
.886 – SV% – .917
7% – TOURNEY ODDS – 56%

Vibes: Once again, RIT has to feel good going into the weekend. They’ll be matched up against the 48th team in the Pairwise for the second round of their conference tournament. The bad news (for them) is that Holy Cross is the team who just found a way to knock of AIC, who’s won Atlantic Hockey every year since 2019. It will be a 3-game series (if necessary) so I trust that the better team will come out of it, but you can never really count anyone out in the Atlantic…even if the stats are horrendously lopsided. Both teams need to win as only the Atlantic Hockey tournament champion will be making the NCAA tournament from this conference.

Prediction: RIT keeps their season alive, winning in 2.

UMass Lowell @ #19 UConn – Sat, Mar 11

Riverhawks vs Huskies


14.8 – PP% – 19.8
84.2 – PK% – 84.8
54.0 – FO% – 45.6
1.089 – GF/GA – 1.191
.913 – SV% – .909
6% – TOURNEY ODDS – 13%

Vibes: After making it to the postseason and testing eventual champion Denver in the first round of the tournament last year, the Riverhawks have taken a bit of a step back. One thing that hasn’t regressed this season is their strong presence in the net. The tandem of Gustavs Davis Grigals (GR) and Henry Welsch (Jr) have given a lot of teams trouble who struggle to find scoring. UConn absolutely falls into that category, or at least they have for a couple stretches this season. With their ineptitude at the faceoff dot, the Huskies will have to score early and try to hold a lead because Lowell is better than most at maintaining possession and killing clock when they need to.

Prediction: The Ice Bus comes to a screeching halt as the Huskies fall to the Riverhawks.

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.

Week 22 – College Hockey Preview: Playoff Panic

Week 21 – College Hockey Preview: Bracketology Begins

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 fellas are joined by Nate Bordson who talks about his personal story and the support role(s) behind the scenes of College Hockey.