Another season has led up to the NCAA tournament, and after Sunday’s announcement of the 16 bids, we know who will be competing for the national championship starting this weekend.
Some teams knew they were in already, including the six autobid winners: Denver, Michigan, Cornell, Boston College, Bemidji State and Mercyhurst. Some others, like Colorado College and Harvard, didn’t need to be concerned, based on their standing in the selection criteria, summarized by the PairWise Rankings.
And on the other hand …
Last Team In
For some squads, Selection Sunday was a nervewracking affair. Colgate, which didn’t secure its bid until a win in the ECACHL’s third-place game Saturday, was on that list despite its 14th-place standing in the PairWise.
“You never really know what’s going to happen,” said Raiders head coach Don Vaughan. “We felt we did our part by winning that game yesterday. The deeper into the [ESPN2 selection] show, the more nervous the guys got, and I tried to keep reassuring everyone.
“We were hoping to stay East, but we’re just thrilled to be in it. For us it doesn’t happen a lot. We’ve been in the tournament four times now and we’re excited now.”
Vaughan and his charges can now turn their attention back to the ice, where they meet No. 1 seed Colorado College in the first round at the Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“We’re excited to be in and we feel we deserve to be there,” said Vaughan. “We set out to accomplish a lot of the goals that we’ve set for ourselves, and we’ve accomplished them. We would have like to have won the ECACHL championship, but the ultimate goal is to get in [the NCAAs] and then to see what we can do.”
Same Faces, New Places
Like the Raiders, Ohio State resided on the bubble all weekend, keeping its fingers crossed after losing the CCHA championship game to Michigan. OSU was rewarded with a berth, but also a tough first-round opponent in Cornell. That game will take place in Minneapolis at the West Regional, with the prospect of either Maine or regional host Minnesota next should the Buckeyes advance.
“It’s a tough draw, but I don’t think there are any easy draws out there,” said Buckeyes head coach John Markell. “I certainly didn’t want to be matched up with anybody from the CCHA. [The fact that we’re not] is a good thing, because it gives the opportunity for the CCHA to get two teams in [the Frozen Four]. We’re looking forward to league representation.”
The Buckeyes and the Big Red last renewed acquaintances last season with a pair of games, including one in the Everblades Classic championship.
“We’ve played Cornell before, obviously,” said Markell. “They’re a team that you have to deal with the strength factor there, and they like to play along the boards — so do we.”
Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena, site of the West Regional, features an Olympic-sized ice surface, which OSU saw only once this year in an early-season game at New Hampshire. In the CCHA, only Northern Michigan and Alaska-Fairbanks have the big surface, and Ohio State visited neither in 2004-05.
“It will be an adjustment period for both teams,” said Markell, “but I think we have an opportunity, and that’s what you look forward to, an opportunity to play for a national championship.”
Come NCAA tourney time, teams typically see opponents — familiar or otherwise — in new venues. Markell saw some positives in facing an ECACHL team in Minneapolis.
“It’s a good hockey town, and hopefully in the first game, anyways, we’ll get the Big Ten backing,” he said.
Wisconsin, which saw the chips fall its way after some nervous hours following its play-in loss at the Final Five, will face a familiar foe in Michigan in its next game. The two schools clashed in the College Hockey Showcase during the first half of the season.
“It was probably one of the best college games I’ve seen all year,” said head coach Mike Eaves. “[Michigan] didn’t have T.J. Hensick in the lineup and their captain, Eric Nystrom, wasn’t in the lineup, so they had a couple aces that were off the ice. But we know the way they play and we know what to expect. They’ve got a tremendous goaltender [Al Montoya] and they always seem to get playing well at this time of year.
“They won a few more games going down the stretch than we have, but we know that we have some things going as well. We’ve just got to put the puck in the net.”
For Eaves and his Badgers, this is another step on the road back after a few lean years for Wisconsin.
“The kids are really excited about this opportunity. It’s all about opportunity,” he said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of work and trying to put yourself in a position to have an opportunity to continue to play. We have that opportunity now and we’re very excited.”
One team that didn’t have much to worry about Sunday was Boston University, despite the Terriers’ loss to New Hampshire in the Hockey East semifinals. BU, seeded third, is hosting the East Regional in Worcester, Mass., where it will start by facing North Dakota.
“I haven’t seen them play one game this year, so I don’t know anything about them,” said BU head coach Jack Parker of the Fighting Sioux. “I know what they usually bring to the table. They usually bring speed up front, tenacious defense, and solid goaltending. And the one thing I do know is that they’ve gotten great goaltending all year from [Jordan] Parise.”
Parker was happy with this year’s brackets. Hockey East coaches are split on the issue of distributing the league’s teams nationally, with some bench bosses, such as New Hampshire’s Dick Umile, preferring to regionalize the early rounds of the NCAA tourney. Parker, for his part, would rather see a pastiche of interconference play early on.
“A few years ago, it was a really bad tournament,” Parker said, referring to 2002, in which the NCAA tournament was split completely into East and West halves, without a single interregional game until the Frozen Four. That led to Boston University playing Maine twice in nine days, first in the Hockey East semifinals, and then in the first round of the East Regional.
“Nobody was traveling; it was like having an Eastern championship after playing Eastern championships,” said Parker. “I think the fact that almost everybody has a different league to play against is a great situation.”
Scott [nl]Brown, Scott Weighart, Paula C. Weston, Jayson Moy and Todd D. Milewski contributed to this report.