NCAA Tournament Bracket Reaction

The eight-team field for the 2013 NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championship was revealed this morning on on a live selection show.

The three teams selected for the available at-large bids came as no surprise to join the five conference champions in this year’s quest to be the last team standing holding the gold trophy at Wessman Arena in a little less than two weeks.

UW-River Falls, Middlebury and Elmira joined conference champions Plattsburgh (ECAC West), Norwich (ECAC East), Bowdoin (NESCAC), St. Norbert (NCHA) and Gustavus Adolphus (MIAC) to round out this year’s field.

For the second year in a row we’ll see a first-round matchup flight take place as cinderella upstart St. Norbert will travel to Plattsburgh on Saturday to try and continue its nearly unfathomable run in just its third year as a program. The tournament field expanded to eight teams later year with Concordia (Minn.) being the beneficiary securing the final at-large bid into the tournament and getting a first round date with eventual national champion RIT.

Two years ago, Norwich became the last team to receive a bye to the Frozen Four after the Cadets were given the free pass to the semifinals while top-seeded RIT was forced to play Adrian in the first round in my opinion to avoid having to fly a team before the Frozen Four. The committee has debunked that theory in each of the last two seasons however since the field has expanded to eight teams and provided up with 5/3 splits each season without the ability to avoid a first-round flight.

All of the pairings make complete sense to me and I correctly assumed after looking at the numbers Sunday night. The only major surprise that I caught me off guard a bit was the potential semifinal matchup between Plattsburgh and Norwich. The last NCAA rankings that we saw on Feb. 26 had Norwich still as the No. 2 seed in the East and Bowdoin at No. 3. Norwich beat Southern Maine and NCAA ranked Manhattanville to win the ECAC East crown, while Bowdoin beat two NCAA ranked teams in Amherst and Middlebury.

That’s the only difference and it would appear that was enough for the committee to bump the Polar Bears up to No. 2 East since Norwich is paired up with Middlebury. The only other factor that could have happened is Bowdoin and Norwich were switched to avoid an intra-conference matchup in the quarterfinals, which the committee has shown a history and in the past there has been a guideline to avoid those when preventable.

I’m sure the potential of a semifinal showdown between the two Lake Champlain rivals raised more than few eyebrows on both sides this morning. Regardless, you’ve got to beat the best to the best and should those two meet next Friday in Superior, fans will be treated to one heck of a game as the previous two regular season meetings have been this year. Don’t forget these two teams also played to an 8-7 thriller last year at Plattsburgh and a 3-2 overtime win for Norwich at Norwich earlier in the season.

More to come later this week with a full preview on all four quarterfinal round matchups!