Now that Conference Championship Weekend is here, we are finally approaching the NCAA Tournament for College Hockey; everybody’s favorite part about March! Only one weekend separates us from the knowledge of who’s in and who’s out, officially. As it stands right now, there are TECHNICALLY only ten teams that are 100% safe. That means Western Michigan and Cornell are still going to be watching every outcome and may have to remind one another to blink occasionally. Past that line in the standings, it’s more chaotic than it would appear. Minnesota State basically needs to win to get in or pray that Merrimack joins them as the only upsets of the weekend. Outside of Penn State, technically NOBODY knows where they’ll be traveling for their regional tournaments either. This is part of why playoff hockey is the best.
College Hockey Bracket IntegrityAs was the case last week, the Nittany Lions continue to be a thorn in the side of bracket creators everywhere. Penn State at 8 and Ohio State at 9 remains the only first round inter-conference matchup, which cannot happen according to the NCAA rules. While the obvious and most sensible solution would be to simply swap Penn State (T-8) and St Cloud State (7) I thought it would be fun and interesting to swap them with Ohio State (T-8) even though PSU holds the rankings edge. This would allow you to bring a lower-seeded team into the #1 overall seed’s bracket instead of making their competition stronger. Will that happen? No. It makes too much sense for the committee to do it.
After that swap, there are a couple of “simple changes” that don’t affect the overall integrity of the tournament. In fact, they SHOULD increase a few of the regionals attendance and make *nearly* everyone happy. Shifting the Harvard/Western (6 vs 11) matchup with the SCSU/Tech (7 vs 10) games entirely puts another ECAC team in Connecticut and brings two more western teams a little further “west”. After that’s complete, switch PSU (9 in this scenario) with Michigan Tech (10) and you’ve got yourself one hell of a bracket that is perfectly suitable. If you watched both Penn State and Ohio State finish the season out, you know as well as I do that the Buckeyes deserve the edge in that ranking anyways.
Positives & Negatives
- (+)Bridgeport continues to have TWO teams on opposite sides of the bracket, each being the higher seed from the ECAC, who is the host conference. This all but guarantees as high of an attendance rate as possible for that regional.
- (+)BU was the best team in Hockey East all season long and is in the regional hosted by a Hockey East team. The only potential “improvement” (to drive attendance) would be to swap Merrimack (14) with MN State (13) so there would be two of them. I’m BEGGING the committee to NOT do that.
- (+)Ohio State will have an opening round matchup against A Michigan team…it may not be the one that people want to see, but they’re both “western teams” in the eyes of College Hockey, so I’ll take it in the most western regional.
- (-)Outside of Cornell (potentially) every other team will have to fly to this regional. It’s not great for attendance, but with Alaska still being included and knowing they’d have to fly anywhere, that leaves only two having to travel “long distance” to this regional.
National Rankings Roundup
The top four are all but locked at this point in time. In fact, it would take Michigan losing to Minnesota and either BU or Harvard winning their tournaments to see anyone else climb into a top seed at a regional. Minnesota State, Alaska, and Merrimack are the three teams on the ledge with a four conference tournaments still undecided and underdogs lurking. North Dakota, Colorado College, UMass Lowell, Providence, Colgate, and Northern Michigan are schools that are the most dangerous to their bids. As it stands, here’s what we would have for representatives from each conference making up the field of 16:
- Big 10: (4) Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State, & Ohio 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) Holy Cross OR Canisius
- Independent: (1) Alaska
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.
NCHC Frozen Faceoff
Colorado College vs #3 Denver University – Fri, Mar 17
20.6 – PP% – 27.2
81.2 – PK% – 78.1
50.0 – FO% – 50.1
0.813 – GF/GA – 1.807
.912 – SV% – .914
Vibes: While Holy Cross and Canisius are the dark horse darlings of the playoffs right now, Colorado College has quietly snuck their way into the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul, MN. They’ll play in the afternoon game against a familiar rival in Denver for the fifth time this season. While DU holds a perfect record and 12-4 goal advantage against CC this season, the games have all been played close. If CC can get a great performance out of Mbereko while staying out of penalty trouble and find a minimum of 2 goals…they’ll have a real shot. Bettors should be aware the Denver is known to rest their stars early in the Frozen Faceoff and are essentially locked into the 3-seed (overall) for the national tournament, so there’s not much to play for other than another small trophy and personal pride.Prediction: DU takes control early and finishes CC off for the FIFTH TIME this season.
#16/17 North Dakota vs #7 St Cloud State – Fri, Mar 17
27.2 – PP% – 25.5
83.9 – PK% – 76.1
51.9 – FO% – 53.9
1.168 – GF/GA – 1.371
.886 – SV% – .909
Vibes: This may come as a shock to some people, but North Dakota hasn’t lost since February 11th. If you’re an SCSU fan who’s been watching your team slide and struggle to stop anyone over the last two months, that’s got to be terrifying. The only thing scarier is the special teams play of North Dakota. They’ve been one of the best power play units in the nation all year long. Seeing how much the Huskies have struggled with their PK since Dylan Anhorn’s injury leads me to believe that this WILL be a factor in this game and account for at least one premium scoring chance. We’ll just have to see if the Huskies stellar goalie tandem can stop it or their 5-on-5 play can find the back of the net to match.
Prediction: NoDak’s special teams is the difference as they come out on top.
Hockey East Tournament
Providence vs #5 Boston University – Fri, Mar 17
18.2 – PP% – 20.8
82.3 – PK% – 79.7
53.5 – FO% – 48.7
1.200 – GF/GA – 1.474
.903 – SV% – .903
Vibes: It’s only been two weeks since these teams were playing one another in a weekend series. Boston University outscored Providence 8-4 over two wins in that time period. You’d think it would be hard for a team to make enough adjustments in that time period to see a different result. The Friars were able to find a way to beat Devon Levi and the Northeastern Huskies last weekend, but it was a 1-1 game that went into OT before it was decided. Providence has a great penalty kill unit, but doesn’t have the offensive firepower that will be needed to keep up with a team like BU who has scored 38 more goals than them this season with one game in hand.
Prediction: Boston University takes it to the Friars and moves on to the championship.
UMass Lowell vs #14 Merrimack – Fri, Mar 17
14.6 – PP% – 13.5
84.3 – PK% – 81.5
53.7 – FO% – 46.6
1.100 – GF/GA – 1.275
.916 – SV% – .915
Vibes: If you’ve been reading all season, you’re aware that I’m the #1 Merrimack hater in the nation. I pick one team who I believe to be incredibly overrated every year and they were the selection for this season. It’s hardly their fault that they were ranked at 8 in the polls and 6th in the pairwise with the most fraudulent schedule in the history of College Hockey. That’s enough hating…for now.
It’s not often you see the “underdog” leading in every stat category but one. That’s exactly what we’ve got in this Lowell/Merrimack matchup. As was the case in the last matchup for Lowell, neither of these teams are particularly effective on the power play, but both are proficient on the penalty kill. It’s tough to get pucks on net against either one, so it’s got to come down to goaltending.
Prediction: Riverhawks effectively end the Warrior’s season by winning in OT.
ECAC College Hockey Championship
Colgate vs #2 Quinnipiac – Fri, Mar 17
21.3 – PP% – 23.3
84.4 – PK% – 84.7
49.4 – FO% – 56.8
1.126 – GF/GA – 2.526
.910 – SV% – .924
Vibes: The people who haven’t been watching College Hockey this season will be quick to write in Quinnipiac to advance in this one. That would be understandable seeing the lopsided stats and hearing that the Bobcats gave up a total of FIVE SHOTS last weekend. That being said, it would also be downright silly not to think that Colgate has a shot here. They’ve got a great PK, a positive goal differential, a .900+ goaltender, and the ability to score. They’re also one of just three teams to have beaten Q-Pac this season which is no easy task. The only question is, can they do it one more time, when it matters the most.
Prediction: The Bobcats win. Easy.
#10/11 Cornell vs #6 Harvard – Fri, Mar 17
26.2 – PP% – 24.3
81.7 – PK% – 82.2
54.3 – FO% – 52.9
1.730 – GF/GA – 1.729
.900 – SV% – .919
Vibes: Two BIG teams with a lot of heavy power playing against one another here. Harvard has the season advantage with two wins this year, but one of ’em took OT to decide. If Big Red is able to find a way to score first, they’ll make it difficult to come back into the game, despite all the NHL talent on the Harvard side. Scoring could be the biggest challenge with the goaltending that Harvard has seen this season though. The under of this game is as close to a lock as you can really get.
Prediction: Cornell FINALLY finds a way to beat Harvard this year. 2-1 win.
BIG10 College Hockey Championship
#4 Michigan @ #1 Minnesota – Sat, Mar 18
22.3 – PP% – 25.0
77.1 – PK% – 83.0
48.6 – FO% – 52.6
1.288 – GF/GA – 1.846
.906 – SV% – .921
Vibes: Imagine being a top four team in the nation going into a game and not leading in a single statistical category. What an absolutely wild scenario the Wolverines have found themselves in. Factor in that they’ve got a player who’s all but locked in to being selected #2 in the NHL draft (Adam Fantilli) and it gets even crazier. That’s just how good this Minnesota Golden Gophers squad has been all year. Dominant isn’t emphatic enough to describe what they’ve been when the machine is firing on all cylinders. Good goaltending, great defense, phenomenal offense, and unmatched depth is going to be tough to beat. That being said, it’s tough for anyone to beat a conference opponent four times in a season. The Gophers are 3-1 against the Wolverines this year and have more confidence in this re-match of last year’s Big10 Championship game.
Prediction: Gophers complete their incredible “regular season” on a high note, winning the Big10 tournament.
CCHA College Hockey Championship
Northern Michigan @ #12 Minnesota State – Sat, Mar 18
23.6 – PP% – 28.9
85.5 – PK% – 82.6
55.2 – FO% – 59.6
1.210 – GF/GA – 1.640
.906 – SV% – .903
Vibes: This Mavericks team is not what it was a year ago. That being said, they’re not a bad team at all either. They’ve still got incredible size and experienced players with a well-balanced roster. They’ve gotten into trouble when scoring isn’t there and have lost close low-scoring games. I don’t see that being the issue against this Northern Michigan squad. The Mavs hold the #1 PP and #1 Faceoff rankings in the country. That ability to control the puck can wear out anyone. One chink in the armor to watch is that Minnesota State has surrendered seven goals while on the power play this year and the Wildcats are one of the better PK programs and have scored eight while playing with a man down.
Prediction: What’s purple and gold and chokes in the playoffs? Just kidding, the Mavericks win, but it’s close.
Atlantic Hockey Championship
Holy Cross @ Canisius – Sat, Mar 18
15.0 – PP% – 22.8
82.3 – PK% – 79.6
47.2 – FO% – 49.1
0.845 – GF/GA – 1.027
.893 – SV% – .915
Vibes: If you had given these programs a polygraph test a month ago and asked whether they thought they’d still be playing hockey today, I’d be SHOCKED to hear more than 10% of the players and staff saying yes. That being said, it just shows how ANY team in College Hockey can go on a heater! At 43 and 44 in the Pairwise, whoever comes out of the Atlantic will be the lowest seeded team in the NCAA playoffs since 2014! While the stats certainly seem to favor the Golden Griffins of Canisius, the Crusaders from Holy Cross have momentum behind them.
Prediction: Holy Cross is too hot to stop right now. Crusaders make it, much to the chagrin of Minnesota’s fanbase.
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 23 – College Hockey Preview: Tournament Trials & Tribulations
Week 22 – College Hockey Preview: Playoff Panic
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, Grand Forks Herald legend Brad Schlossman joins the pod to discuss big news in College Hockey, the NCHC as a whole, and the evolution of sports journalism as a career.
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