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The Takeaway: A totally not controversial NCAA bracket has arrived

Conference champions have been crowned and the 2021 NCAA Tournament field is set

Justin Wolford/Colgate

Conference playoffs are officially in the books, and in one of the strangest years of college hockey we’ve ever had, there was no shortage of drama, excitement, and some….choices to come up with the NCAA Tournament bracket.

Read on for a recap of conference tournament action and where that leaves us heading into the 2021 NCAA Tournament!

Colgate wins their first ECAC championship: Competition was stiff in the ECAC this year, even with a much shorter field of teams, but the Raiders proved themselves to be the class of the conference. After finishing atop the regular-season standings for the first time ever, they took home their first postseason championship with wins over Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence.

SLU, ever content to play the role of everyone’s favorite upset bidders (or just mine), nearly took home their first ECAC title since 2012. After knocking off Clarkson four times in the regular season, the Saints faced the Golden Knights again in the semifinals and built up a 3-0 lead. Clarkson came storming back, eventually tying it with 27 seconds left. But Aly McLeod scored 13 minutes into overtime, on an unfortunate play that maybe probably should have been blown dead, to send St. Lawrence to the championship game.

On the other side of the bracket, Colgate squeezed past Quinnipiac to book their spot in the title game. Goals from Kaitlyn O’Donohoe and Sammy Smigliani built up a 2-0 lead for the Raiders, and they held off a late Bobcats push to win 2-1. In the ECAC championship game, St. Lawrence was first on the board, but Colgate scored the next three to take a 3-1 lead in the third. The Saints pulled within one, but the Raiders held on to become ECAC Tournament champions for the very first time. Smigliani took home Most Outstanding Player honors.

Northeastern wins their fourth-straight Hockey East championship: The Huskies, heavy favorites and already well into the dynasty conversation, made it a fourth-straight conference tournament championship this weekend. In three games, they outscored their opponents 15-3, and looked every bit the nation’s number one team heading into the NCAA Tournament.

A 7-0 win against New Hampshire got things started for the Huskies last weekend; Maine, UConn, and Providence all advanced past the single-game quarterfinal round. Of those results, UConn’s win was perhaps the most notable. Not wasting any time getting into playoff form, the Huskies took down ranked BC, 5-1, to move on. They met Northeastern in the semifinals and gave NU all they could handle, tying the game up 1-1 in the second and holding on deep into the third. With less than five minutes to play, though, Northeastern’s Chloé Aurard scored shorthanded to put her team up 2-1.

The title game was comparatively smoother for the Huskies, although Providence kept it as close as they could. Northeastern ended up with a whopping 47 shots on goal and got contributions from all throughout the lineup, which is when they’re at their best. Most Outstanding Player honors went to Aerin Frankel, who is now 15-0-0 in the Hockey East Tournament in her career.

Wisconsin knocks off Ohio State in overtime: The Badgers are once again WCHA champions after beating the Buckeyes in a rematch of last year’s title game. The WCHA elected to hold a four-team tournament this season, a questionable decision considering the men’s league’s playoffs includes all eight teams, but so it goes.

Wisconsin advanced past Minnesota in the first semifinal with a 5-3 win. The Badgers jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the second, and though the Gophers were able to make it a one-goal game three times, they were never able to tie it up after that. In the second semifinal, Minnesota Duluth got off to a strong start and came out of the first period with the score knotted at 1-1, but Ohio State scored four straight goals in the second period and pulled away with a 7-2 win.

In the title game, Wisconsin pulled ahead twice but the Buckeyes tied it back up both times. Watts scored twice for the Badgers, including this very casual and not significant at all goal to take a 2-1 lead in the second. But Sophie Jaques tied it up halfway through the third to eventually send the game into overtime. Lacey Eden, who’s been quite the midseason freshman pickup for the Badgers, scored off a turnover 42 seconds into overtime to win it in thrilling fashion.

Robert Morris wins the CHA title: The Colonials will take their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2017 after winning the College Hockey America crown this weekend. While RMU is certainly one of the top teams in the conference, the win was a bit unexpected. Penn State won the CHA regular season crowd handily and were favorites to win the tournament as the top seed.

The one team that gave the Nittany Lions the most trouble all season was Syracuse and after PSU earned a bye into the semifinals, they found themselves matched up against the Orange, who took a 3-0 lead into the third period. Oliva Wallin, who’s had a stellar rookie season, scored twice to make it a one-goal game for Penn State, but it wasn’t enough.

Meanwhile, RMU advanced to the championship game after a 4-0 win over RIT in the quarterfinals and a 3-2 overtime win against rival Mercyhurst in the semifinals. Michaela Boyle tied it up early in the third for the Colonials, and Maggy Burbidge, who was named tourney MVP, won it in OT. In the title game, Gillian Thompson scored early and the Colonials held on, with Raygan Kirk making 36 saves for the championship shutout.

NCAA Tournament bracket comes with some major surprises: Following the weekend’s games, the committee had some critical decisions to make. Without any inter-conference play this year, there was no way to rely on any of the traditional metrics to select the field, meaning we (understandably) saw more subjective decisions than we probably ever will again.

As others have pointed out, with Robert Morris clinching the CHA autobid over Penn State, the committee basically had to decide if they would be taking four WCHA teams, three Hockey East teams, or two CHA teams. They ended up going with the latter, selecting Providence as the #7 seed and leaving Minnesota out of the tournament for the first time since 2007. Here’s the bracket we’re looking at:

  1. Northeastern (Hockey East) vs. 8. Robert Morris (CHA autobid)
  2. Wisconsin (WCHA autobid) vs. Providence
  3. Ohio State vs. 6. Boston College
  4. Colgate (ECAC autobid) vs. 5. Minnesota Duluth

Minnesota has been ranked within the top four or five pretty much all season and I would not have expected them to be the fourth WCHA team, below UMD. I personally felt that all four of the WCHA teams in contention should have made it, and as Nate Wells explains in this post, I can at least see how the committee arrived at ranking the Bulldogs ahead of the Gophers.

I’m really, really at a loss as to how Providence ended up ahead of them, though. And, if it was going to be just three WCHA teams in the field, I think I would have taken Penn State over the Friars, too—they were dominant with the schedule they had, and without any inter-conference play to use as a bar, I would have thought that would count for more.

What complicated matters even further, to me, is that basically every team with something on the line lost this weekend. Minnesota Duluth lost in the semis. Penn State lost in the semis. Minnesota lost in the semis. Providence lost in the championship game. I don’t think you can or should hinge these types of decisions on one game, but pretty much all of these teams knew they needed to win to control their own fate and that didn’t really happen.

People who are much smarter than I am can tell you more about how we got here if bracketology piques your interest; you can read more from Chris Dilks and Nicole Haase, in addition to Nate’s breakdown above. Despite the unusual circumstances that led us here, this is our 2021 NCAA Tournament field, and the action picks back up with quarterfinals on Tuesday, March 15, and Wednesday, March 16 from Erie, Pa.