The field of 16 teams for the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship was announced on Sunday with Hockey East regular and post-season champion Boston University taking home the number one overall seed.
The Terriers were joined by Michigan, Notre Dame and Denver as the tournament’s top seeds.
Overall, the seedings were as expected, though that didn’t mean that there weren’t quirks. With two teams from the CCHA receiving number one seeds and two receiving number four seeds, the overall integrity of the bracket had to be compromised in order to avoid two CCHA teams facing one another in the opening round. The result was Boston University drawing Ohio State in the opening round, the 15th seed overall according to the final PairWise Rankings, rather than Bemidji State, the 16th seed overall.
BU head coach Jack Parker said he was aware that the selection committee would be forced to make such a switch and said he felt that is the best move the committee could make.
“You know what the rules are going in and it’s an absolute rule,” said Parker. “It’s supposed to be a national tournament. The last thing you want to do is play somebody you just played last week [in a conference tournament]. I think it’s a good rule. I had [predicted] the exact same bracket myself. That’s how I would’ve picked it.”
Parker’s team will face the Buckeyes in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., on Saturday.
“Everybody’s got a tough road to hoe,” said Parker. “We’re excited to be playing in Manchester. We don’t have to travel that far, and we’re excited to be playing Ohio State and team we haven’t seen thus far.”
Perennial power North Dakota is the second seed in that region and will face New Hampshire. That could end up being a pretty tough task for the host Wildcats, who have not won a regional game in Manchester when they hosted in 2005 and 2007.
“Well obviously [North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol's] done a pretty good job; he’s been to the Frozen Four I think every year that he’s been there,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “He’s done a great job with his program and a rich history. Obviously UNH, we’ve been to the NCAA tournament, we haven’t been as successful as we would have liked the past couple of years and we’re looking forward to changing that this year.”
In the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn., top seed Michigan will face Atlantic Hockey champion, Air Force, in the opening round. The region’s host, Yale, will face Vermont in the other semifinal.
For Vermont, it may feel like a road game playing the region’s host just 30 miles from its campus, but being able to stay in the east is important to head coach Kevin Sneddon, knowing that the Catamount fans travel well.
“Obviously we’re thrilled first and foremost to be involved in the national tournament,” said Sneddon. “And we’re thrilled to be in the East. It’s a great opportunity for our great fans to watch their Catamounts.”
For Michigan, it’s the NCAA record 19th consecutive appearance in the national tournament.
“We’re glad we’re in the tournament again,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “When I look back to the fall there were a lot of questions about whether this team would even be in the tournament.
“Air Force is a good team. The beat Colorado [College] this year and they’ve played teams like Yale.”
In the Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich., CCHA champion and 2008 national finalist Notre Dame will face Bemidji State. Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson is looking to bring his club back to the Frozen Four where he hopes last year’s national title game experience will help his club.
“Last year we had never been there before and our guys played a little tentative in that championship game,” said Jackson. “Hopefully going into this year’s tournament we can focus on Bemidji State and moving forward.”
In the other game, second-seeded Northeastern will take on Cornell. Huskies head coach Greg Cronin wasn’t with his team on selection Sunday, but captain Joe Vitale offered his perspective on facing the Big Red.
“I don’t know much about Cornell, I don’t know much about a lot of the teams and I won’t know anything about them till tomorrow,” said Vitale. “I know I have a tremendous amount of respect for them, in the past years they have been great, they are going to be a big, big challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
The West Regional in Minneapolis has Denver as its top seed. The Pioneers will play fourth seed Miami while third-seeded Princeton will be matched against possibly college hockey’s hottest team, Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs won the WCHA Championship on Saturday after winning three straight games at the Final Five riding the back of goaltender Alex Stalock, who allowed just one goal in the three wins.
The bubble team for this year’s tournament was Minnesota, which lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the opening game of the WCHA Final Five. It’s the first time since 2000 that the Gophers will not be in the tournament. The Gophers finished in a three-way tie with Ohio State and Wisconsin for the final at-large bid but the Buckeyes received the final bid with the highest RPI of the trio. That’s music to the ears of Ohio State head coach John Markell.
“We won 23 games and we thought winning those games was important,” said Ohio State coach John Markell. “We figured out record was going to speak for itself. In the end, we did as much as we could do. We’re very fortunate to have gotten in.”
The winner of the Northeast Regional will face the winner of the East Regional and the West and Midwest Regional champions will square off in the national semifinals of the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C., on April 9. The national championship game will be played on April 11.
Keith Lavon, Paula Weston, J. Justin Boggs, Bob Miller and Melissa Parrelli contributed to this report