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Hockey

NCAA Hockey Bracket Breakdown

| Monday, March 21, 2022

In a sports weekend full of action, men’s and women’s March Madness, NBA action, NHL action and NFL trades, one event went slightly under the radar: the NCAA Division I hockey selection show.

The selection show, which took place on Sunday, March 20 on ESPNU, is where teams and fans alike find out the bracket for the upcoming tournament. Sixteen teams compete for the chance to make the final Frozen Four weekend and the opportunity for college hockey glory.

Notre Dame received the No. 3 seed in the Albany regional, and a challenging path awaits the Irish.

Notre Dame’s Path

The Irish are coming off a close loss to Michigan, 1-2. The Irish are currently one of the country’s top defensive teams, allowing 2.11 goals per game. Notre Dame has featured an ability to beat opponents in many ways. The 2.11 goals allowed display their suffocating defense, and the Irish particularly thrive when killing penalties. Offensively, the Irish have plenty of depth. Five players scored 10+ goals for Notre Dame, and an additional two skaters dished out 20 assists. When they are on, they are a tough team to beat. But the Irish have also suffered blowout losses, 5-1 to Minnesota and 4-1 to Ohio State among others. They went 2-5 in seven games that they gave up 4+ goals. It’s what makes it so hard to pick games for Notre Dame. They’re one of those teams that could win the whole thing or be out after the first round.

For Notre Dame, they start the tournament by playing North Dakota and most likely play Minnesota State in the second round. While the odds of the Irish beating the Mavericks are not that great but let us say the Irish survive and advance.

In my opinion, their most likely opponent would be Minnesota. Minnesota beat ND in the season series, 3-1 by a total margin of seven goals. Again, let’s say Notre Dame advanced where, based on seeding, they would face Michigan in the national championship.

In the regular season, Notre Dame swept Michigan 4-0 (14-8 goal differential), but two of those games went into overtime. And in the Big 10 playoffs, Michigan was able to beat Notre Dame. But a win is certainly possible. Notre Dame’s ceiling, evidenced by four wins over Michigan, is good enough to win the tournament. However, inconsistencies or a cold streak could also see the Irish feature a quick exit. 

Having looked at Notre Dame’s path, here’s some analysis on the overall bracket.

The Bracket

Allentown

The number one overall seed was Michigan, a selection that should have surprised no one. They have been a great squad all season and boosted their comprehensive resume with a strong performance in the B10 tournament, going on the road and beating the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 4-3.

Their opponent, the 16th overall seed, is the Atlantic Hockey conference champion, American International. This was the third straight conference championship for the Yellow Jackets beating Air Force 7-0.

Next up is Quinnipiac, the 8th overall seed. Quinnipiac is one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing just 1.05 goals against per game. Their performance on the defensive end of the ice is in large part because of the goaltending of Yaniv Perets (.949 save percentage). The Bobcats are by no means an easy out.

Their opponent is the ninth overall seed, St. Cloud State. The Huskies boast a top-6 offense, averaging 3.58 goals per game largely thanks to senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (17 goals 18 assists) and junior forward Jami Krannila (15 goals and 15 assists). The Huskies also boast the best Power Play Attack in the country at .315%

Albany

On the other side of the bracket lies the number two overall seed and a team that might be the most complete in hockey. While I thought Minnesota State would be the first seed, Michigan’s performance in the conference playoffs was enough to get them past Minnesota State. Make no mistake, though, the Mavericks are a lethal team, the only team with a top-two scoring offense and defense (4.17, 1.27). The RPI difference (Ratings Percentage Index) between Michigan and Minnesota State was .0007. The difference between Minnesota State and Western Michigan, the third-best team by RPI, is .0291. A mere hair separates Michigan and Minnesota.

Their opponent and 15th-overall seed is Harvard, who won an auto bid by beating Quinnipiac 3-2 in OT. Harvard is a hot team, having won 10 of their 14 since February. Expect the Crimson to have a scrappy defense as they rank top-10 in the nation.

Also in the quadrant is No. 7 North Dakota, who lost to Western Michigan 4-2 in the NCHC semi-finals. The Fighting Hawks boast a record of 23-13-1 this season and by RPI are 7th in the country (.5720).

Worcester

Western Michigan came up short in the NCHC conference championship game, falling short to Minnesota-Duluth 3-0. However, the Broncos are still a one-seed, which should tell you something about the strength of their season overall. The Broncos have a top-four scoring offense in the country (3.68 goals per game) in large part due to Ethen Frank, who leads the nation in goals (26) and goals per game (.72).

 The Broncos’ first-round opponent will be No. 14 Northeastern. The Huskies have the third-best scoring defense (1.74 goals allowed per game). Northeastern also has a top-10 goalie in Devon Levi (.694 save percentage) and a top-three scorer in the country in Aidan McDonough (0.65 goals per game).

Also in the quadrant are the Golden Gophers, the B10 regular-season champions, and tourney runner-ups. Minnesota is a great team (they rank 6th by RPI at .5773), and in the last USCHO.com poll, they ranked second overall and even received a first-place vote.

Facing the Gophers will be the No. 11 University of Massachusetts. The Minutemen made it into the NCAA tournament by winning the Hockey East Conference, beating UConn 2-1 in OT. By RPI, UMass is 11th in the country (.5584)

Loveland

The last number one seed is the Denver Pioneers. Denver lost to the eventual NCHC champions in Minnesota Duluth but are still a force to be reckoned with. At 4.38 goals per game, the Pioneers have the best scoring team in the country.

The Pioneers will face the 13th-seeded UMass Lowell River Hawks. The Hawks are a great defensive team allowing just over two goals per game, primarily due to goaltender Owen Savory tied for the fourth-best save percentage in the country (.750).

The No. 5 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, winners of the NCHC, are an excellent defensive team (10th in the country at 2.27 goals against). I could legitimately see the Bulldogs winning this quadrant. They split the regular-season series 2-2 but won against them in the conference playoffs 2-0. They only need to beat their first-round opponent.

Facing the Bulldogs will be the Michigan Tech Huskies. Tech is another great defensive team, ranking fourth in goals against (a flat two goals against per game) and an excellent power-play percentage (.273%) which is good enough for second in the country.

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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