It’s never too early to start thinking about the postseason, so here’s our first prediction for the NCAA’s road to the Frozen Four.
Sixteen teams will qualify for the NCAA’s Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. In a formula similar to college football’s Bowl Championship Series, hockey uses a ratings system known as the PairWise Rankings to determine its grid of teams. Each of the nation’s five conference champions receive automatic byes, with the remainder of the teams filled in using the PWR. We use the rankings and the host school system to determine who will play where and who their opponents might be. Bear in mind that host schools, if qualified for the tournament, are contractually bound to play in that region. They also cannot play an in-conference opponent in the first round, which affects who places where. Locations and geographic placement are then usually slotted based upon rankings, so the higher (or lower-numbered) ranked teams get the first crack at where they want to go.
Let’s have a look and explain how it stacks up early in the season:
As of right now, we’re assuming the first place teams in the conferences will win their respective postseason tournaments and qualify for the national tournament. That means, as of right now, Air Force would come out of Atlantic Hockey; Notre Dame would win the CCHA; Union would win ECAC, Boston College would win Hockey East, and Minnesota would win the WCHA. The four regionals are located in Bridgeport, Connecticut (hosted by Yale and Fairfield, which doesn’t sponsor hockey), St. Paul, Minnesota (hosted by the University of Minnesota), Green Bay, Wisconsin (hosted by Michigan Tech), and Worcester, Massachusetts (hosted by Holy Cross). The Frozen Four is in Tampa Bay, Florida (hosted by Alabama-Huntsville and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission).
The following are the current Top 16 teams according to the PWR, in order:
2. Notre Dame
3. Ferris State
5. Lake Superior
6. Boston College
7. Ohio State
11. Colorado College
13. Michigan State
14. Western Michigan
Understanding that this is still very, very early in the season, this rankings list will undoubtedly change once the bulk of the conference schedule gets under way. In no way, shape, or form will the Top 16 look anything resembling this by the time the year’s over. But with semester breaks right around the corner, the season will enter its halfway point in about a month, which means it’s fun to speculate.
Since each regional has four teams, the top 16 teams will slot accordingly under the following seeds:
Merrimack, Notre Dame, Ferris State, Minnesota
Lake Superior, Boston College, Ohio State, Minnesota-Duluth
Yale, Michigan, Colorado College, Providence
Michigan State, Western Michigan, Cornell, UMass-Lowell
In terms of seeding, the top #1 seed would play the lowest #4 seed and the top #2 seed would play the lowest #3 seed. As a very raw example, this means that Merrimack would play UMass-Lowell, and Lake Superior would draw PC. But remember that ECAC and Atlantic Hockey’s automatic bids aren’t taken into effect. Union is rated #29 in the PWR rankings, and Air Force isn’t even on the board. So, by default, this puts Union in as the second lowest #4 seed and Air Force as the lowest seed over all. Before positioning, this makes the seeds the following:
Ferris State-Western Michigan
Boston College-Colorado College
Let’s take those matchups, and seed them into regionals, where higher seeds get preference of location. Bear in mind that Yale is contractually obligated to go to Bridgeport as a host school, as Minnesota is with St. Paul:
Northeast (Worcester/Holy Cross): #1 Merrimack vs. #4 Air Force; #2 Boston College vs. #3 Colorado College
East (Bridgeport/Yale): #1 Notre Dame vs. #4 Union; #2 Yale vs. #3 Minnesota-Duluth
Midwest: #1 Ferris State vs. #4 Western Michigan; #2 Lake Superior vs. #3 Providence
West: #1 Minnesota vs. #4 Michigan State; #2 Ohio State vs. #3 Michigan
This is where it gets tricky. Ferris and WMU can’t play each other because they’re both CCHA schools. Ohio State and Michigan also can’t play each other as CCHA schools. But we can’t move Michigan State into the Midwest regional because of the CCHA matchup. So, Union is forced to move as the next lowest choice, since Air Force as the lowest possible seed will play Merrimack as the highest possible seed. But Notre Dame can’t rotate in any of the schools from the Midwest or the West, meaning that, in order to move Union, Air Force will have to go play ND. That leaves us with the following:
Northeast: #1 Merrimack vs. #4 Western Michigan; #2 Boston College vs. #3 Minnesota-Duluth
East: #1 Notre Dame vs. #4 Air Force; #2 Yale vs. #3 Michigan
Midwest: #1 Ferris State vs. #4 Union; #2 Lake Superior State vs. #3 Colorado College
West: #1 Minnesota vs. #4 Michigan State; #2 Ohio State vs. #3 Providence
Expect this to change at least 50 times between now and the actual end of the season.