As we head into the final weekend of college hockey’s regular season, it’s natural to begin focusing on the national tournament. Who is in the tournament, who is out. Where will teams be going. It makes for an exciting finish to college hockey’s season. Though we don’t yet have all the information we need, we do have a lot of it, which allows us to make some rather educated guesses.
On the micro level, College Hockey News’ You Are The Committee tool is a delightful way to waste hours, trying to guess which way pucks will bounce off shin pads next weekend and how that will affect the final standings. On the macro level, Jim Dahl of College Hockey Ranked ran all the scenarios and has them each team’s potential seed broken down into percentages.
With the WCHA and Big Ten moving to just a single game on the final weekend—a playoff format, which by the way, has seemed like a huge success for both leagues—there’s a little less mystery heading into the final weekend. It especially helped with Michigan Tech knocking off Minnesota State last weekend, removing the possibility of the WCHA taking just a single bid.
The four number one seeds are all but a lock now: St. Cloud State, Notre Dame, Cornell, and Ohio State. There’s a chance that if Ohio State loses the Big Ten championship, and Denver wins the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and some other favorable minutiae happens for the Pioneers, Denver could surpass the Buckeyes for that final spot, but it seems unlikely.
In a normal year, knowing four number one seeds would go a tremendous distance in setting up the bracket. You place your four number one seeds in the most logical regional, and from there, you’re more or less just trying to maintain bracket integrity.
But there’s a wild card this year. St. Cloud State is extremely likely to be the number one overall seed. They’re guaranteed to if they get a win this weekend. Even with two losses, it’s more likely than not that they’re number one.
Past precedent says the number one overall seed gets the most preferable, usually meaning closest regional. Sioux Falls is 223 miles from St. Cloud, while the other three regionals might as well be on the moon.
The problem with that is that North Dakota is still floating around near the bubble of the NCAA Tournament. If the Fighting Hawks make the tournament as a four seed, a possibility if they win one or neither of their games and some results fall their way—they would have to be placed in the Sioux Falls regional as that regional’s hosts. One seed St. Cloud State couldn’t play the four seed North Dakota because intra-conference match-ups aren’t allowed in the first round, and North Dakota would take precedence for the spot because this is a fantastic tournament.
If St. Cloud State can’t be put in Sioux Falls, things become crazy. After the NCAA put Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook on the map by letting them host past Midwest Regionals, they were unable to come up with any other bidders this year in the geographic Midwest. That happened to coincide with a year where two teams in the geographic Midwest ended up as number one seeds. So you’ve got three number seeds all more than 400 miles from any possible regional. You could put them Literally Anywhere(by which I mean literally anywhere, not Allentown, whose nickname is Literally Anywhere).
The fourth number one seed doesn’t provide much instruction either. Cornell is 260 miles from Bridgeport and 290 from Worcester. Allentown is 180 miles away, but I’m sure Cornell would like to pretend it’s farther away.
Really, you could put any number one seed in any regional and have it plausibly make sense. It’s vaguely egalitarian in that it is a horrible inconvenience for everyone involved. Again, this is just a fantastic tournament.
But enough about seeding. This weekend is all about The Bubble; who gets into the tourney and who doesn’t. Especially because once a team gets into the field, it doesn’t take all that much to go on a deep run.
Again, cribbing heavily from Jim Dahl on this, but Dahl says St. Cloud State, Notre Dame, Cornell, Ohio State, Denver, Minnesota State, Northeastern, Providence, and Michigan are all locked in, guaranteed spots in the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota Duluth, at 8th in the Pairwise, is the highest-ranked team not guaranteed a spot. It would take two losses this weekend and multiple other catastrophes for them to miss. The Bulldogs have been arguably the best team in the country in the second half of the season, and could be a sexy pick to win the NCAAs, but if you’re a fan of chaos and want to see the world burn, that seems to be the craziest scenario. Same is true for #11 Clarkson, though their Nightmare Scenario has a slightly higher likelihood, since it’d take one fewer autobid to knock them out.
#12 Penn State and #13 Minnesota are both off this weekend, but sit in decent position. They’re unlikely to be passed in the PWR standings by anybody. Their doom scenario is enough teams taking autobids to move the cut line above them. They need to avoid teams below them in Hockey East and the ECAC winning their conference tournament. Dahl has Penn State at about 98% to make the field, and Minnesota about 76%. My less scientific survey has Minnesota at about 33% of their fans even wanting to make the tournament at this point.
North Dakota sits at 14th and still controls their own destiny, since they are playing this weekend. Two wins at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff guarantees them an autobid, and will push them high enough that they will almost definitely be a 3 seed in the tournament. Less than that doesn’t eliminate them, but it makes things very dicey. If they win one game this weekend, they’ve got about a 1 in 4 of making the tournament. Lose both and the odds drop to 1 in 7.
Boston College and Boston University both have very slight chances to make the tournament if they only win one game at the Hockey East Tournament, but more than likely, need to secure an autobid to make the field.
Eight other teams need to win their conference tournament to get a bid. Four of them are in Atlantic Hockey, which will take one bid, and two are in the WCHA, which will take one bid. Those two team are likely to take spots 15/16 in the seeding, though the order depends on which teams win. Harvard and Princeton are still alive in the ECAC and could potentially steal a bid as well.
Overall, it should be a very interesting weekend. We should know a great deal about the make-up of the field, perhaps as soon as Friday evening. But with the situation with the regionals and number one seeds, this is looking like it could be one of the hardest fields ever to predict where teams will actually be placed on selection day.