A pair of WCHA teams earned top seeds for the NCAA tournament, but unlike the last 15 seasons, that doesn’t put them any closer to the Frozen Four than the rest of the field.
Colorado College and Minnesota joined Cornell and New Hampshire as No. 1 seeds for the expanded 2003 national tournament, which opens next Friday.
It’s the first time the ice hockey committee has had 16 spots to fill on the bracket, and the first time since 1987 that top regional seeds will play in the tournament’s first round. In the last 15 years, No. 1 seeds had a bye into the quarterfinals.
The six automatic qualifiers were Cornell in the ECAC, Minnesota in the WCHA, New Hampshire in Hockey East, Michigan in the CCHA, Mercyhurst in the MAAC and Wayne State, the recipient of the first CHA autobid.
At-large bids announced Sunday went to Colorado College, Boston University, Maine, Ferris State, Boston College, North Dakota, Ohio State, Harvard, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato.
Cornell was the top overall seed, but it wasn’t afforded the opportunity to play the 16th seed, Wayne State. Instead, it’ll play Minnesota State, one of three first-time qualifiers for the national tournament.
“I didn’t think the selection committee did a very good job protecting us as the No. 1 seed at the expense of avoiding intra-conference matchups,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “I don’t agree with it.”
That pairing came about because of the bookend nature of four of the WCHA’s five teams in the tournament — two were No. 1s and two were No. 4s. Teams from the same conference can’t play in the first round, so fourth seeds St. Cloud State and Minnesota State were sent East to resolve the conflict.
“The two principles I think that we really felt we needed to stick with were avoiding the first-round conference matchups, and, secondly, balancing the brackets competitively,” NCAA ice hockey committee chair Ian McCaw said. “I think we were able to accomplish both, and I think it’s going to make for an outstanding and very exciting championship.”
The bubble burst for Providence and Michigan State, who were the first two teams left out of the 16-team field.
The first-round matchups include:
The regional champions will go to the Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y. The semifinals are April 10, with the championship game April 12.
There weren’t many surprises when the brackets were revealed. Minnesota coach Don Lucia said he mapped out a bracket Saturday night and hit the nail right on the head.
That indicates a strict interpretation of the selection and seeding criteria by the committee.
Among the items that raised some eyebrows, however, was Maine being sent to Ann Arbor to play host Michigan in the first round.
With three No. 2 seeds from Eastern schools, one had to be sent West. The Black Bears, who likely were the second-best team in the band of second seeds, were sent out.
“We looked at a number of issues,” McCaw said. “I think the overwhelming issue there was competitive equity and trying to balance the bracket as evenly as possible.”
The addition of bonus points, added to a team’s RPI on an increasing scale for home wins, neutral-site wins and road wins against teams outside the conference that finished in the top 15 of the RPI, apparently had no effect on the determination of which teams made the tournament, but had some impact on seedings.
In one instance, St. Cloud State’s bonus points may have lifted the Huskies out of a first-round game with the overall top seed, Cornell, but not enough to get them out of a fourth seed.
Contributing: Tim McDonald.