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Zwiller: College hockey bracketology

| Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Last weekend I detailed what I thought would be the most likely Big 10 playoff scenario and tried to map out who Notre Dame would have to beat to lock up an auto bid for the Big Dance.

So, to build off of what I did last week, I thought it would be fun to project what the NCAA Hockey tournament could look like right now. A brief bracketology, if you will. 

While it certainly might be my first try at college hockey, it is not my first try at playoff predictions. After all, I did predict the LA Rams would win the Super Bowl in August (sorry, I had to plug that. You would too).

The tournament format is relatively straightforward: 16 teams will compete in a single-elimination tournament. There are four rounds, the first being the regional semifinal, then the regional finals. The next round is the Frozen Four, which comprises two rounds, a national semifinal and a national championship.

The first two rounds will occur at four different sites across the country, and the Frozen Four will occur at the TD Garden in Boston. 

How teams are selected is somewhat similar to how March Madness picks teams: Conference champions receive an auto-bid to the tournament, with all the remaining spots given to “at-large” teams. The D-1 Men’s Hockey Committee decides the at-large bids.

Big 10

Since I already picked Michigan as my Big 10 champion last week, I think it makes sense to continue with that assumption. 

PlayoffStatus.comwhich is my go-to for research on college hockey, currently has Michigan with a 40% chance of becoming B10 hockey champs. The next closest is Minnesota at 26%.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Atlantic Hockey

The current leader in points is American International at 48 (16-7-0-4), with the second closest team being Canisius at 37 (12-10-2-2). According to PlayoffStatus.com, there is a 45% chance that the Atlantic Hockey tournament winner will be one of these two teams. American International has a 29% chance of winning the tournament, and Canisius has a 16% chance. 

Interestingly enough, neither team is likely to get an at-large bid. AIC ranks 21st by USCHO’s Pairwise Rankings, with Canisius sitting at 37th. That suggests that the winner of this conference is likely to be the only representative in the NCAA tournament. For this conference, you’re either in or out.

Central Collegiate Hockey Association

For the CCHA, powerhouse Minnesota State (currently ranking first in the polls) leads the conference with 56 points and boasts an overall record of 25-5-2-0. A bit of a juggernaut. 

The next closest team is No. 14 Michigan Tech, currently 17-4-1-5 with 49 conference points.

This is another top-heavy conference; PlayoffStatus.com gives State a 63% chance to win the conference and Michigan Tech a 20% chance. Given the overwhelming odds, I will ride with State, but Tech winning could significantly affect the tournament field.  

Eastern College Athletic Conference

Next up is the ECAC, another conference that feels like it might be reasonably easy to predict. 

Quinnipiac (4) and Clarkson (15) are the current heavyweights. Quinnipiac is currently 23-2-2-1 with 45 conference points, which seems like a comfortable point total. However, Quinnipiac is neck and neck with Clarkson, who is 17-6-0-1 overall with 44 points. I am intrigued by the possibility of Clarkson winning the conference (just 21%, according to our good friends at PlayoffStatus.com), as they are certainly a bubble team.

Should Clarkson win the conference tournament, they would take up a spot not guaranteed to them, while Quinnipiac would be a lock to take an at large bid. This conference championship is one to keep an eye on.

Hockey East

I understand why Notre Dame left Hockey East, but I felt a little nostalgia when looking at the conference standings. 

Nostalgia aside, the Hockey East feels like the most wide-open division. The top six seams are within five points of first, with the top four being within two of first.

Because of how close the race is, there is not a clear favorite. Tied for first at 37 points are No. 10 UMass (14-6-2-3) and No. 16 UMass Lowell (15-8-1-0). 

Next are No. 20 Connecticut (14-9-2-2) and No. 17 Boston University (14-8-3-2) at 35 points. 

At 33 and 32 points, respectively, are Merrimack (15-8-0-4) and Northeastern (17-8-2-1).

Massachusetts currently has a 24% chance of being the Hockey East Champions. Of all the conference champion favorites, Massachusetts has the lowest probability of making the Championship game (43%). UMass Lowell sits at just 14% (they have played more games than the other teams). Connecticut sits at 13%, and Boston University currently has a 14% chance. Merrimack only has a 6% chance, which feels surprising considering that Northeastern has a 16% chance.

Massachusetts will win the conference, but Northeastern is a severe threat. According to College Hockey News, Northeastern is No. 17, while Mass.-Lowell is 16th. 

National Collegiate Hockey Conference

Alright, last one! In the NCHC, there are three serious contenders: No. 3 Denver, No. 9 North Dakota and No. 6 Western Michigan. 

Denver leads the conference with 41 points, North Dakota at 39 points and Western Michigan with 34. Denver is third in the country with a record of 20-6-1-0 and, regardless of the conference tournament result, they will secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. North Dakota has an overall record of 17-9-0-2, and Western has a record of 17-6-2-1 (despite having a worse conference record). 

Denver is the most likely to win the conference championship, according to PlayoffStatus.com, with a 31% chance. Next is Western at 28%, which, I will be honest, really surprised me. Those percentages will likely change this weekend as Western has a critical series against Denver. North Dakota is the least likely of the three at 15%. 

So, while I think it would be great if Western could win, I think Denver can take the conference.

Bracket time

The six auto bid teams are Michigan, American International, Minnesota State, Quninipac, Massachusetts and Denver, indicated by an italicized font in the bracket below. 

The at-large teams are Minnesota, Western Michigan, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Michigan Tech, Ohio State, Notre Dame Clarkson and UMass Lowell. 

I picked the at-large teams by combining the NCAA rankings and the College Hockey Pairwise Rankings.  

No. 1 Minnesota State vs. No. 16 American International 

No. 8 St. Cloud State v. No. 9 Massachusetts 

No. 4 Quinnipiac vs. No. 13 Notre Dame

No. 5 Minnesota vs. No. 12 North Dakota

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 UMass Lowell

No. 7 Minnesota Duluth v. No. 10 Ohio State

No. 3 Denver vs. No. 14 Clarkson

No. 6 Western Michigan v. No. 11 Michigan Tech

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a sophomore currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, studying Business and Theology He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joe SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Feel free to contact him about all things NFL and NBA.

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