This week’s column revisits the battle for the last home ice spot and takes a first look at the battle for the last at-large berth.
So what is this week’s bracket projection?
Mercyhurst at No. 1 New Hampshire
Princeton at Minnesota
Minnesota-Duluth at St. Lawrence
Providence at No. 2 Wisconsin
This week’s bracket is the trickiest yet to fill out since the natural method of seeding by the USCHO.com Pairwise Rankings produces three intraconference matchups. Swapping Providence with Mercyhurst and Princeton with Minnesota-Duluth is the best solution in terms of preserving bracket integrity while protecting the top seeds.
Notice that a small difference in the rankings, Princeton sixth against Mercyhurst seventh, can produce a much larger difference in the ranking of the quarterfinal opponent in this scenario, provided New Hampshire remains No. 1 and the last qualifier is from Hockey East.
What changed from last week’s analysis of Minnesota’s chances at home ice?
Minnesota got the split it needed against Wisconsin to gain control of its own destiny for home ice. There was more good news beyond that result.
First, UMD lost to North Dakota, a result that was particularly painful for the Bulldogs because games against UND would otherwise have been dropped from UMD’s RPI calculation.
Second, Ohio State’s RPI fell below .500 and is likely to stay there. The Buckeyes will need at least a sweep of North Dakota, plus a split of Wisconsin or playoff series win to get back above .500. This is great news for Minnesota, who gained a big jump on UMD in the record against teams above .500 category. The Gophers went 2-2 against OSU, while UMD went 3-0-1.
What does this all mean? Roughly speaking, last week’s results narrowed whatever gap was left between UMD and Minnesota. Barring either team losing more than once before the WCHA semifinals, a potential UMD-Minnesota semifinal will likely decide the fourth home ice spot.
Any other recent developments?
While the top seven in the rankings look to have solidified their positions, the race for the eighth spot looks as wild as ever. (Keep in mind, as always, that automatic bids may render the race for eighth irrelevant, or even knock out one or two of the established top seven.)
St. Cloud State and Harvard are the two teams in best control of their own destiny, short of winning their conference titles, since they have the toughest schedules ahead. The Huskies can impress against Minnesota, while Harvard can impress against St. Lawrence and Clarkson in the last weekend. And their conference tournaments are tougher than Hockey East’s.
If neither the Huskies nor the Crimson can pull off any upsets in the next two weekends, Providence or Boston College could pick up the slack. BC’s win over Harvard — the Eagles’ first over a true contender since early November — was a huge boost to their at-large hopes. Providence and BC play each other twice this a weekend and likely a third time in the Hockey semifinals. Their games could ultimately be a best-of-three for the last at-large spot.
There are still many games left to analyze every possible outcome between these teams. But the bottom line is that these teams are all very close, and whichever one gets hot (or stays hot) down the stretch will pick up the last tournament spot, whether it be an at-large spot or an autobid.