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UConn men’s hockey within striking distance of NCAA Tournament

While still on the outside looking in, the Huskies could secure its first NCAA Tournament berth this year.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey is one of the hottest teams in the country, with a 7-1-0 record stretching back to a 3-2 overtime win over New Hampshire on Jan. 22. The only loss came to then-No. 2 Quinnipiac in the Connecticut Ice Festival final.

Stringing wins together around this time of year has become a theme for the Huskies over the past few years, as they went 5-3-0 to close both the 2019-20 and 2018-19 seasons and the team won seven straight games in 2017-18 to secure a quarterfinal berth in the Hockey East Tournament — the first in program history.

Armed with a season that did not include a long swoon, UConn — which was ranked No. 20 in the USCHO Poll this week for the second time ever — is on the bubble for its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

As of the start of play on Feb. 15, UConn is ranked No. 19 in PairWise, which is the mathematical formula used to select the 10 at-large teams. The six conference tournament winners comprise the remainder of the 16-team field.

One conference leader, AIC of Atlantic Hockey, is outside of the top 16, so if the tournament were to start today, Clarkson — tied for No. 14 in PairWise with Boston University — would be the last team in the field. This leaves UConn the fourth team out behind three conference foes in UMass Lowell, Northeastern and Providence.

The Huskies have plenty of opportunities for big wins but the flip side of that is that they have one of the strongest schedules remaining, especially of the teams that are currently below the cut line.

UConn closes with home-and-home series against No. 10 UMass, which is securely in the field at No. 8 in PairWise, and Northeastern, which is currently the second team left home. Mike Cavanaugh’s team will finish off with two home games against Vermont, one of the worst teams in the country.

Clarkson has just four games to go, each of which are singular contests. They will play a road game each against Colgate and Cornell while hosting Yale and Brown. Those four schools are ranked No. 38, No. 24, No. 57 and No. 54, respectively, in PairWise.

The Golden Knights are currently second in the ECAC standings — one point behind Quinnipiac — and have clinched a top-two seed in the eight-team conference tournament, securing a home game in the quarterfinals before the semifinals and final in Lake Placid, New York.

UMass Lowell is clinging to a tie for first in Hockey East but has played 20 conference games and is losing the tiebreaker to UMass on points percentage. The River Hawks have two home-and-home series with Providence (just below the cut line at No. 17) and New Hampshire (No. 30 in PairWise) as well as a non-conference game against LIU, which has three wins this season and is No. 53 in PairWise.

Northeastern, aside from its home-and-home against UConn in two weeks, has a home-and-home with Boston College — which is winless since UConn beat the Eagles at Conte Forum on Jan. 8, a 0-10-2 streak. Northeastern also has a single game on the road against Vermont and a home-and-home with Merrimack, which is No. 20 in PairWise.

Currently sixth in Hockey East but third in points per game since it has only played 17 games, Northeastern is fighting for a top-five seed in the Hockey East tournament, which would earn it an opening-round bye.

Providence, which is seventh in the Hockey East standings and in points per game, has just four contests left. The Friars will play UMass Lowell in a home-and-home series followed by a pair of home dates against Maine, which is tied for No. 54 in PairWise.

With up to 18 Hockey East points available before the end of the regular season, UConn will need to take a lion’s share against UMass and Northeastern in addition to five or six against Vermont at home to climb over four teams and put itself in position to earn an at-large bid. However, this has never been a true consideration for the program, as the Huskies have not finished in the top 30 in PairWise during the Hockey East Era aside from last year, when the formula was not viable due to a lack of non-conference play.

Bracketology

Unlike most NCAA Tournaments, the hockey committees merely seed the teams and fill the regionals without actually selecting the field. This objective measure gives teams a sense of what they need to do at all times while also giving fans sneak a peek at what may be coming down the road.

The top four teams in the 16-team field earn a seed and are placed in one of four regions, which are filled out according to straight bracket integrity, though the committee does adjust first-round matchups within an individual seeding band to keep teams within a nearby regional while also avoiding intra-conference games. Additionally, teams hosting a regional must play within that regional. This year, that will only impact Denver, as it is hosting the Midwest Regional in Loveland, Colorado.

With those mandates in mind, here is a look at how the bracket looks as of the start of play on Feb. 15. An asterisk represents an automatic bid.

NCAA Men’s Hockey Bracketology Feb. 15

Midwest (Allentown, PA) East (Albany, NY) West (Loveland, CO) Northeast (Worcester, MA) First Four Out
Midwest (Allentown, PA) East (Albany, NY) West (Loveland, CO) Northeast (Worcester, MA) First Four Out
No. 1 Michigan* No. 2 Minnesota State* No. 3 Denver* No. 4 Western Michigan UMass Lowell
St. Cloud State Minnesota Duluth Quinnipiac* Minnesota Northeatern
UMass* Michigan Tech North Dakota Ohio State Providence
Clarkson AIC* Boston University Notre Dame UConn

Denver is locked into the West Regional as hosts and since Michigan is the top team, it gets placed in the Midwest, bringing Minnesota State and Western Michigan to the East and Northeast regionals. The rest is straight bracket integrity and, despite the number of teams outside of New England, creates a pretty clean bracket. This does send Quinnipiac and Boston University out to the West Regional while two Minnesota teams and a squad from Michigan are in Albany.

The only required change is Minnesota and Ohio State, which is the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the Northeast Regional. Minnesota nor Ohio State are within 400 miles of a regional, so it doesn’t really matter which one gets moved. Quinnipiac, currently out in Loveland, is one slot lower on the S-Curve than Minnesota which makes that the likely choice, but sending Ohio State to the Midwest Regional and bringing Boston University to Worcester is also a possibility.