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NCAA Tourney Fallout: The CCHA

It was a rough weekend for the CCHA, and there's been quite a bit said about it. The conference went 1-4 on the weekend and was outscored 24-8. But let me be the first to say that most of the criticism is malarkey.

First off is the unnecessary bashing of Nebraska-Omaha. Coming into the tournament, everyone was saying that Denver and St. Cloud were more deserving of an NCAA tournament bid, and felt that the 9-2 loss to Boston University in the first round was just more evidence to prove that. But the question is, why weren't people saying the same thing about New Hampshire. New Hampshire lost by the exact same to Boston University last weekend, and like UNO, would not have made the tournament if the KRACH Ratings were used instead of the Pairwise Rankings. One game worth of evidence is not more powerful than an entire season's worth of evidence, no matter how much importance you place on that single game.

The fact of the matter is that the system worked to perfection this year. You can argue that the system for picking teams should be tweaked, but as long as they stick with a mathematic formula that is based on performance rather than opinion, the right teams will be getting into the tournament. The beauty of the system is that the more deserving team got in based on what they did on the ice this year. Not what they did the past two seasons, or what they did 40 years ago. That's the way it should be.

It's not fair to say that Denver would have done better than Omaha if they had made the tournament either. In a single-elimination tournament, anything can happen, and so much is based on how teams match up with each other. So it's not about who would do better against Boston University. It's about who deserves to be there more, and in this case, the answer was Nebraska-Omaha.

Miami had probably the most disappointing tournament of the CCHA teams. Some people thought they could go as far as winning their first NCAA championship this season, but those dreams never got off the ground. I didn't get a chance to see this game, but it sounded like things just weren't going to go their way. Again, I didn't get a chance to see Boston College's first goal, but the unanimous opinion was that the puck was clearly kicked in and shouldn't have counted. It's completely unaccpetable for a call of that magnitude to get blown in the NCAA tournament. The first goal of that game was going to be huge after the first period was scoreless, and for BC to score a tainted really hurt Miami's chances. After giving up a powerplay goal, Miami had another unlucky break when BC's Dan Bertram got a breakaway as he came out of the penalty to make it 3-0 and end the game for all intents and purposes. Two empty net goals made the score look a little worse than it really was.

Michigan's result was far from surprising, despite my boneheaded pick. They were a team that came limping into the postseason while North Dakota was playing their best hockey on the season. Michigan actually managed to play the Sioux pretty even. The differene was the goaltending though. Jordan Parise made big saves when he had to, and Michigan just didn't have a top-level goalie to match him. In a season of disappointing efforts, I actually thought Michigan played to their ability. They just ran into a tough match-up.

I thought the game was an extremely interesting contrast in recruiting styles though. North Dakota had more of the "quick fix" philosophy with a lot of super-talented freshmen, while Michigan had the more long-term approach of freshmen that will take a couple years to develop. Obviously North Dakota looked far superior. But I would love to see these two teams meet up in two or three seasons. Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie, and Travis Zajac, and probably a couple others will all be playing pro hockey and North Dakota will have to rebuild, while Michigan's four year players will just be hitting their stride. I think it would be a very different hockey game.

The final CCHA team was Michigan State. They did at least save some respectability for the CCHA by scoring early against New Hampshire and then hanging onto that lead like grim death. They weren't able to do that on Sunday as Maine jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Next year will be an important year for Michigan State. Drew Miller will be the last Ron Mason recruit left for Michigan State. Can Rick Comley's players pick up the slack once Booth, Fretter, and Potter leave? The Lerg cousins will be solid as always, but after that, I think there's some question marks.

So the CCHA is shut out of the Frozen Four for the fourth consecutive year. While that statistic is very disappointing from the league's perspective, I think that lack of success is cyclical and there's a lot of positive signs around the league that this downturn will soon be coming to an end, especially in places like Miami, Ohio State, and Nebraska-Omaha.