Undefeated RIT and NCHA-champion Wis.-Superior were named top seeds as the NCAA Division III men’s tournament brackets were announced today. With six automatic bids and RIT garnering a surefire spot, the drama came down to the final at-large bid, which went to Wis.-River Falls over NESCAC runner-up Amherst.
Quarterfinal action takes place at the home arena of the higher seed Friday and Saturday March 9 and 10. Teams will play a two-game series, with a mini-game following Game 2 if necessary.
In one bracket, RIT will host ECAC Northeast winner Lebanon Valley while Wis.-River Falls will host the winner of the ECAC East, New England College. In the other bracket, Superior will host MIAC champion St. John’s, while SUNYAC champion Plattsburgh visits NESCAC winner Middlebury.
RIT is making its sixth consecutive visit to the NCAA tournament, and its eleventh since the Division III championship was started in 1984. RIT received the tournament’s Pool B berth, as the top team not a member of a conference eligible for an automatic qualifier. The Tigers (24-0-1) have Division III’s most potent offense, averaging 7.40 goals per game and the nation’s most effective power play, scoring better than 44 percent of the time with the man advantage.
Facing that daunting opponent is Lebanon Valley (18-7-2), a hockey program in just its third season, making its first trip to the NCAA tournament. The Flying Dutchmen, fourth-seeded in the conference tournament, beat the fifth and third seeds before downing No. 2-seed Wentworth, 4-3, for the league crown.
River Falls (21-8-2) returns to the tournament for the first time since 1998. The Falcons received the Pool C at-large bid as the highest-ranked team not winning its league title among the six conferences with an automatic qualifier. River Falls finished second in both the regular season and in the NCHA playoffs to Wis.-Superior.
River Falls’ opponent, New England College (20-8-0), returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Division III championship’s inception in 1984. The Pilgrims, seeded third in their conference tournament, beat second-seeded Salem State in the league semifinals, and then earned the automatic bid with a 2-1 win over the defending-national-champion Norwich Cadets for the ECAC East title.
Superior (27-3-1) gained the automatic bid from the NCHA with a win and a tie against Wis.-River Falls in the conference championship series. The Yellowjackets are making their third straight NCAA appearance, having finished second to Middlebury in 1999, and losing a semifinal overtime game to last year’s champ Norwich.
The Yellowjackets will take on St. John’s (15-10-4), the third seed in the MIAC playoffs. The Johnnies outlasted fourth-seeded Bethel with an overtime mini-game win after two ties in the conference final series to gain the MIAC automatic bid.
Middlebury (23-2-1) makes its seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA’s. The Panthers outlasted Amherst in an overtime thriller, 4-3, in the NESCAC conference final for an automatic bid. Middlebury was the national champion in its first five NCAA tournaments, but saw that streak end when the defending champs were ousted last year in the quarterfinals at Plattsburgh.
The Panthers will host Plattsburgh (25-5-0), which won its fifteenth SUNYAC championship by defeating Potsdam in a three-game series to earn an automatic bid. The Cardinals return to the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season.