Conference tournament season was wild with three upsets across the WCHA, WHEA and CHA championships. Minnesota, Northeastern and Mercyhurst secured autobids to the NCAA Tournament, and five at-large spots were selected based on the PairWise.
#1 Clarkson vs #8 Mercyhurst
The reigning national champions and winners of the ECAC tournament will host the CHA champions. Mercyhurst upset Robert Morris in the CHA finals to earn the auto-bid, and will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.
This will be the 18th matchup between the Golden Knights and the Lakers. Clarkson is the obvious favorite here, and it would be absolutely stunning if Mercyhurst defeated them on the road. Crazier stuff has happened this season, however.
#2 Wisconsin vs #7 Minnesota
When Bucky and Goldy face off on Saturday, it’ll be the first time these two teams have faced each other since... today. Minnesota defeated Wisconsin 3-1 in the WCHA finals to get back in the NCAA tournament, and will have to turn right around and beat the Badgers again to advance to the Frozen Four.
Wisconsin was consistently the #1 or #2 this season, going undefeated from opening day until late November. Minnesota started off the season rough with a loss to Merrimack, who didn’t even qualify for the Hockey East playoffs. This should be a great matchup and hopefully draws a lot of fans as it is one of the top rivalries in the NCAA.
#3 Colgate vs #6 Northeastern
The Raiders have found their way to their first ever NCAA tournament via an at large bid. They fell short to the Clarkson Golden Knights in the ECAC tournament, but a strong regular season schedule granted them the right to a home regional. Northeastern won their first ever Hockey East Championship defeating UConn 2-1 to go to their second ever NCAA tournament, and first since 2016.
The two teams faced off back on October, and Colgate won both games, 3-0 and 5-2. Northeastern has been up and down since then, but has had their season highlighted by a win over #1 Wisconsin and #2 Boston College. The Huskies won four straight one-goal games in the Hockey East playoffs, while Colgate exploded for 12 goals over Harvard in two games, then five over Cornell, before being blanked by Clarkson.
#4 Boston College vs #5 The Ohio State University
Boston College surprisingly exited the Hockey East tournament in the semifinals after falling 4-2 to UConn, the #7 seed. The Eagles qualified as an at-large bid, but the winds in their sails may be a bit weaker than anticipated earlier in the season when they were competing for a #1 spot in the USCHO polls and PairWise. Meanwhile, Ohio State garnered an at-large bid from finishing second in the WCHA regular season and making it to the WCHA Final Face-Off before losing to eventual champs Minnesota.
This will be the first ever meeting between BC and OSU, and is the only matchup in this year’s tournament to feature two at-large bids.
The selection committee got it right this year.
One of the very clear pieces of language in the NCAA’s guidelines for putting together the bracket is their desire to minimize overall travel costs for regional games. Back in 2016 when BC and NU both made the tournament, the two faced off at Conte despite the seeding really not making sense (BC was the clear #1, NU was either #6 or #7 based on the PairWise and auto-bids).
This year, the NCAA had BC and NU face opponents based on their seeding. They could have copped out and planned the bus trip, but they did the right thing. And for that, we all have to be happy.
The selection committee put together two games featuring teams that have never faced off before. Boston College and Ohio State might be the most exciting named matchup and it’s probably because they have never played against each other. Katie Burt and Kassidy Sauve is a goaltending matchup most could have only dreamed of in the early parts of the season.
Likewise, you have your established Minnesota/Wisconsin rivalry that brings an element of familiarity to the tournament.
Colgate and Northeastern has some great story lines, particularly Northeastern’s revenge tour on a season that has not gone their way, and Colgate’s first ever trip to the dance.
Clarkson gets to host Mercyhurst, who upset the best CHA team all season.
This year, the NCAA got it right. And that’s all we could ask for.