Week 24: College Hockey – Conference Championships + Bracketology

Gambling Gophers Hockey NCAA

As far as potential chaos in College Hockey is concerned, this is the peak. With just one week left before the NCAA tournament starts, there are still five undetermined spots remaining in the field of 16 teams. ONE each will go to the CCHA and Atlantic Hockey tournament champions. That leaves three seats at the table for seven other teams. Cornell, Dartmouth, and St Lawrence would have to win the ECAC tournament to find their spot, while the other four teams (St Cloud State, Colorado College, UMass, and Western Michigan) could still TECHNICALLY earn an “At Large” bid. All the variations of those potential scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg.

College Hockey Bracket Breakdown

Let’s face it, I’m not the only one putting together a College Hockey Bracket every week. I’m not even the smartest one, nor do I have the most (any) resources at my disposal. I am admittedly biased and don’t often double-check my work. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to, but I don’t get paid to do any of this…unless you’re offering. I just love the sport. It’s pure passion. Call me stupid or criticize the methods all you want, but I think that should count for something. Here’s my latest (highly contested) rendition of the “best bracket”.

Potential Chaos Scenarios

Boston College has officially been locked in as the #1 overall seed. That means they will (based on proximity alone) be headed to Providence. Unfortunately, that is ALL we know for certain in that regional. I’d love to tell you that they’ll for sure be matched up with the CCHA winner, who is all but locked into the 16-seed, but I can’t. The ECAC could piss in everyone’s cheerios and send another lamb to get slaughtered, popping the bubble of a more deserving team. We saw how that went last year. Let’s not do it again.

The only other team that’s locked fully into their final seed is #2 Boston University. Normally, I’d be able to tell you they’ll get the second closest regional site (Springfield in this case), but there are a few scenarios that could affect that. Most notably, if UMass comes into the postseason at number 13 or 14 overall, that would match them up with the top seed in their regional. Unfortunately, the chaos comes from the fact that the Minutemen are HOSTING the Springfield regional and are automatically awarded that as their site if they make the playoffs. Because of the tendency to avoid first-round conference matchups, this could push Boston University out west to either Sioux Falls or Maryland Heights.

Chaos or Continuity in College Hockey?

God forbid an Eastern 2-seed have to take a flight to their regional. It’s not like all of the Western programs have had to deal with the fact that THERE HAS ONLY BEEN ONE WESTERN REGIONAL FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS. Look, I know they aren’t called “eastern” and “western” regionals, but EVERYBODY knows that’s how it was intended to operate. I also am well aware of the fact that there are a higher number of total programs out east. To that, I’ll ask if the higher concentration of competitive programs is found east or west of the OH/PA border?

2022 Regional/Final Sites
2023 Regional/Final Sites

In the end, there will never be a “perfect” bracket. Someone will always feel like they’re drawing the short straw. I don’t feel like I’m asking for too much when all I really want is consistency. Just saying that out loud knowing that this is the same organization that not only employs Bruce Vida Jr, but allows him to officiate playoff games (it absolutely WAS a kick) makes me laugh at myself. Whatever.

Positives and Negatives of the Bracket

  • (+) The top three seeds all get regionals VERY close to home and the four-seed (Denver) would have to go ~650 miles to the closest regional anyway.
  • (+) Three of the four regional sites are all but guaranteed to maximize attendance. BC, BU, Quinnipiac, and UMass are all within 1hr45min of their established regional site. Unless they all lose in the first round, turnout should be great. Despite the Sioux Falls regional having more teams further away, it’s a good ol’ WCHA get-together and every ticket will sell out. Guaranteed.
  • (+) Both Omaha and UMass are placed in their hosted regional sites.
  • (+) ZERO first-round and only two potential second-round inter-conference matchups.
  • (+) A Mike Richter Award battle in the first game between BC and CC.
  • (+) All teams remain in their established bands.
  • (+) The 7/10 and 5/12 matchups were able to be preserved, even with all the other handcuffs.
  • (-) Outside of the TWO preserved matchups, bracket integrity is questionable at best. That’s not to say that this bracket isn’t FUN, but there’s plenty for some people to complain about. I will say that RIT and Bemidji (if that’s who ultimately wins those conferences) are not an “easy out” by any means and we’d be lucky to have them as our lowest seeds.
  • (-) Maryland heights is the only regional site that I’m truly concerned about being an empty arena, but this one was always going to be tough. Technically, the closest program still alive (Wisconsin) is slated to go there. Some would say that’s making the best of a bad situation and applaud my genius and logical reasoning. *Insert “please clap” GIF here*

Updated Weekly Picks

This is it. Statistically, the hardest weekend of the year to win bets. With conference championships, NCAA Playoff berths, and important seeding decisions on the line, every team will be taking it more seriously than ever. We’ve seen MONSTERS get de-throned in this spot on a regular basis. There are boys that know it could be their last time lacing them up who’ll be playing in these games. Let’s have a damn weekend and let’s back the fellas (and ladies) who are asking for just ONE TV to be turned to hockey at the bar.

If you think you’re smarter than me, prove it. You can go on BettorEdge and either set your own lines or pick up one that someone else (me) has already thrown out there. I’ll be putting affordable lines out there on each of these if you’re just looking to “dabble” a bit. Just make sure to use β€œ10K” at sign-up.

National College Hockey Rankings Roundup

As we approach the finish line and the tournament teams are finally decided it’s time we looked at the conference summaries. There was an awful lot of talk about how the NCHC took a step back this season. A lot of idiots talking over everyone else considering they’ve got the most teams currently in the tournament. In reality, it’s the same three conferences that always seem to be making up the majority of the playoff field doing so again. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • NCHC: (5) North Dakota, Denver, Omaha, Western Michigan & Colorado College
  • Hockey East: (4) Boston College, Boston University, Maine, & UMass
  • Big 10: (4) Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, & Michigan
  • ECAC: (1) Quinnipiac
  • Atlantic: (1) RIT or AIC
  • CCHA: (1) Bemidji State or Michigan Tech
  • Independent: (0) N/A
March 18th College Hockey Rankings Roundup

Note: The National Rankings Roundup weighs each of the ranking sources instead of treating them all as equal. This takes into account the credibility of the source, potential committee influence, what data they utilize, evident bias, and amount of teams ranked. USCHO and USA Hockey still remain the drivers.

Big 10 Conference Championship

#10 Michigan @ #5 Michigan State – Sat, Mar. 23

Wolverines vs Spartans

Stats:

35.3 β€“ PP% – 26.7
78.1 – PK% – 80.9
52.5 – FO% – 48.9
1.405 – GF/GA – 1.298
.900 – SV% – .914

Vibes: Michigan State has been the better team all season long. You might not like it, but it’s true. They don’t have as many top-end players as Michigan’s lineup of Brindley, McGroarty, Hughes, and Casey, but they’ve got grit. They’re a team that’s had to battle back from being a laughing stock in the conference just a few years ago. They’ve got a NASTY goaltender in Trey Augustine and capitalize in big moments. Hell, they’ve won 3 of 4 against Michigan already this year. With a win, Sparty puts themselves in a position to claim a #1 regional seed, pending the outcome(s) in the NCHC. LOTS on the line for two teams who are locked into a guaranteed playoff spot already.

Prediction: Little Brother finds a win.

CCHA Conference Championship

Michigan Tech @ Bemidji – Fri, Mar. 22

Huskies vs Beavers

Stats:

22.9 β€“ PP% – 16.4
78.3 – PK% – 75.2
49.3 – FO% – 46.9
1.104 – GF/GA – 1.064
.911 – SV% – .890

Vibes: The Bemidji State Beavers have not let adversity stop them yet this year. They lost early in the season. A LOT. In addition to that, they lost two of their best players for extended stretches throughout the meaty part of the season. Still, they persevered and played well when it counted. Honestly, the same can be said for Michigan Tech. They had more expectations coming into the year too, so their deficiencies have been exacerbated. The Huskies have won six of their last seven games, outscoring opponents 31-11. Sure, most of those wins and goals came against Bowling Green. It’s also true that their last win required the help of a goal being kicked in that was allowed in addition to a penalty shot being awarded to someone who wasn’t on the ice, but who’s keeping track.

Prediction: Roll dam (*get it) Beavs.

Atlantic Hockey Conference Championship

AIC vs RIT – Sat, Mar. 23

Yellow Jackets vs Tigers

Stats:

15.5 β€“ PP% – 23.2
84.1 – PK% – 86.0
52.2 – FO% – 52.2
1.104 – GF/GA – 1.682
.905 – SV% – .924

Vibes: If RIT doesn’t win this game, it will be both the most and least shocking result of the weekend. They are, without a shadow of a doubt, the best team in the Atlantic Hockey Conference and hold the edge in the stats battle on paper. They also play in the Atlantic Hockey Conference where the #1 seed frequently loses and misses the national tournament. For the greater good of the tournament and hoping to see the best hockey on the biggest stage, I’m rooting for the Tigers. For the chaos and additional outrage that would come from AIC being sent to face the #3 team in the country if the NCHC finishes at 3/4 and 13/14 as it currently sits, I’m rooting for AIC. Win, win.

Prediction: The #1 seed in the Atlantic (RIT) finally wins their tournament again.

NCHC Conference Championship

#11 Omaha vs #3-T North Dakota – Fri, Mar. 22

Mavericks vs Fighting Hawks

Stats:

17.8 β€“ PP% – 25.8
77.8 – PK% – 82.4
53.7 – FO% – 51.3
1.059 – GF/GA – 1.526
.910 – SV% – .905

Vibes: Omaha is making their FIRST trip to the Frozen Faceoff. Ever. The first one. Are you realizing how crazy that is? Bananas. Good for the Mavericks. North Dakota is looking for their first Frozen Faceoff championship since 2021 (so long ago) and their first win in St Paul since 2012 (actually a long time ago). The Fighting Sioux Hawks have just one win against Omaha through four games this season. That’s 30% of NoDak’s season losses.

If you think they’re not looking to prove they can win against Omaha and are going to coast into the national tournament, you’re crazy. A pseudo-home-ice regional placement is likely the prize if they can win this game. A trip out east is the alternative. The best part? They could BOTH wind up in Sioux Falls and we’d get ANOTHER potential meeting between them. Every one of their games has been appointment television and I’m begging for more.

Prediction: NoDak locks up a (short) trip to the Sioux Falls regional with a win.

#14-T St Cloud State vs #3-T Denver – Fri, Mar. 22

Huskies vs Pioneers

Stats:

23.6 β€“ PP% – 23.1
78.8 – PK% – 77.3
50.8 – FO% – 50.0
1.073 – GF/GA – 1.652
.893 – SV% – .894

Vibes: St Cloud State will be limping into the College Hockey postseason if they make it there. In all but one scenario (which someone claims they found) they need to win the Frozen Faceoff to even make the tournament. That MAY put them in as both an automatic qualifier AND in the top 14 teams, but they control their own destiny at this point. Win and in. Simple. That might be over-simplifying it for a team that lost 4 straight before the NCHC playoffs and got WALLOPPED 1-6 in their second game against Western Michigan, but sometimes simple is the best way to go.

Denver isn’t much better off. They’ve been playing without top-line Center Massimo Rizzo for over a month and secondary center, Carter King for nearly the same amount of time. It sounds like Rizzo is doubtful for this series and likely next weekend’s NCAA opening round as well. King’s outlook is slightly better and could be green-lit before this blog is released. The biggest question about Denver is the same it’s been all year. Are they going to be able to outscore their opponent, because their defense and goaltending can’t match the top-tier teams.

Prediction: St Cloud takes advantage of the depleted Denver centers and wins a close game.

Hockey East Conference Championship

#12 UMass vs #1 Boston College – Fri, Mar. 22

Minutemen vs Eagles

Stats:

20.0 – PP% – 26.9
77.4 – PK% – 89.8
50.8 – FO% – 50.4
1.116 – GF/GA – 1.949
.906 – SV% – 
.921

Vibes: If UMass loses this game, it’d be the first domino of a series of “unfortunate” events that would result in the matchup being called the First one in and First one out. There’s about a 90% chance that the Minutemen make the playoffs, but the fact that they could (and would likely) come in as a 4-seed is where the problem arises. If they would just do us all the first favor and bow out early, I’m confident the field remaining could take care of the rest.

The BC Eagles stomped on UMass (the same way they did too many other teams) this season. There were only two games to draw data from, but goals were 11-5 in favor of BC and shots/opportunities were HEAVILY weighted towards the winner. There is only one caveat in my mind. If anyone were to take a weekend off, it would be Boston College because their spot is already locked up and if UMass wins, it could push their conference rival out west. Will there be a little gamesmanship happening at the Garden this weekend?

Prediction: BC advances, but loses the championship game to BU.

#6 Maine vs #2 Boston University – Fri, Mar. 22

Black Bears vs Terriers

Stats:

21.6 – PP% – 27.9
81.5 – PK% – 82.3
52.0 – FO% – 51.5
1.345 – GF/GA – 1.756
.903 – SV% – 
.916

Vibes: Despite sweeping Maine in their only series this season, I fully expect BU to be tested in this game. They do have College Hockey’s biggest star in Macklin Celebrini, but some people forget that he’s SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD! We saw how difficult the postseason can be on young, highly skilled players in the national championship game last year and we’ve been watching it happen for a decade now. He’s incredible. He will have a great professional career, hopefully not for the Blackhawks. I wonder if he can keep it up or if he will be bottled up.

Maine is not built like the heavy teams of the NCHC or CCHA. With that being said, they play a similar game-management style. They want to control the puck and look for mistakes to take advantage of. In my opinion, there are going to be a few with BU so they have to be effective when the opportunity presents itself.

Prediction: BU wins Friday AND Saturday.

ECAC Conference Championship

Dartmouth vs #14-T Cornell – Fri, Mar. 22

Big Green vs Big Red

Stats:

21.1 β€“ PP% – 18.1
81.3 – PK% – 79.6
50.6 – FO% – 53.9
1.047 – GF/GA – 1.759
.905 – SV% – .915

Vibes: The loser of this game has to change the prefix (?) in their nickname from “Big” to “Little”. That’s really the only solution here. In all seriousness, this game should be over quickly. Cornell is a quality team with one of the nations best goaltenders and play an exhausting physical game. They let Harvard hang around last weekend and almost paid the price for it. The boys have learned their lesson and are going to be up to the task to make an ECAC Championship run.

Prediction: Big Red with a Big Win.

St Lawrence vs #7 Quinnipiac – Fri, Mar. 22

Saints vs Bobcats

Stats:

18.7 β€“ PP% – 22.2
79.3 – PK% – 84.2
49.1 – FO% – 55.1
0.748 – GF/GA – 2.217
.904 – SV% – .917

Vibes: I almost didn’t even preview this game. It’s got the widest spread of any College Hockey game this week. A quick look at recent history and you’d see that the Bobcats dismantled the Saints 8-1 on March 2nd in their last ECAC regular season game. Ten more seconds and you’d see that St Lawrence actually BEAT Quinnipiac in their first game of the season (3-1) on Feb 9th. You could jump off at that point and say “anything can happen in the ECAC” which would be true…but you’d be an idiot to think it WILL happen. In that loss to St Lawrence, Q-Pac DOMINATED shots 42-25 and won 40 of 65 faceoffs. Calling it a “fluke” would be disrespectful to the Saints, but betting on it to happen again would be silly.

Prediction: Bobcats pounce…I’m not doing another pun. Q-Pac wins.

Previous Rankings/Reviews

Week 23: College Hockey Rankings/Preview + Bracketology

Week 22: College Hockey Rankings/Preview + Bracketology

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