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UConn men’s hockey continues path to NCAA Tournament

The Huskies would make the field of 16 if the season ended today, but they still have a lot of work to do to secure a spot.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey entered the weekend as the fourth team out of the NCAA Tournament, the closest the Huskies have come to a bid this late in the season in program history.

After a loss to No. 10 UMass at home on Friday evening in which they were thoroughly outplayed, followed by a gutsy road win over the Minutemen the following night, the Huskies are in NCAA Tournament position with two weeks remaining in the regular season, currently occupying the final spot in the field.

UConn has the strongest remaining schedule out of the teams along the cut line and survived a series with a top-10 team, earning a split. They represent the fourth of the last four in, joined by Michigan Tech, Ohio State and Boston University. Three of the first four out are Hockey East squads, as aside from Clarkson, UMass Lowell, Northeastern and Providence are currently the first teams left home.

Northeastern and UConn represent the only series among bubble teams across the coming weekend, while Michigan Tech will take on Minnesota State, currently the No. 2 overall seed, at home. Each of the other teams near the cut line are either idle or squads outside the at-large conversation.

Michigan Tech was on the road at Ferris State, ranked No. 51 out of 59 teams in the PairWise, for two games last weekend. After a 3-2 win on Friday, the other Huskies went the distance with their hosts, taking victory in a shootout to solve a 5-5 tie following overtime.

Currently locked into the No. 2 seed in the eight-team CCHA Tournament, Michigan Tech will close the regular season with a home series against Minnesota State. The tournament’s first round is a best-of-three series followed by a single-game semifinal and final, each hosted by the higher seed.

Ohio State traveled to Ann Arbor to play the top team in the PairWise, Michigan, to conclude its regular-season schedule. The Wolverines took both contests, 5-3 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday.

The Buckeyes are currently third in the Big Ten standings, with a five-point lead over Notre Dame, though the Fighting Irish still have two more conference games. The top team earns a bye in the best-of-three first round in the Big Ten Tournament, followed by a single-game semifinal and final. Each game will be hosted by the higher seed.

Boston University was idle this weekend after winning the Beanpot championship on Feb. 14. The Terriers’ 11-day layoff concludes with the Battle of Comm. Ave. against Boston College in a home-and-home series on Friday and Saturday. The Eagles have just one victory in their last 14 contests.

Boston University is tied for fifth in Hockey East with Northeastern, but the Huskies have played one fewer game. The top five teams get a bye to the quarterfinal, while the No. 6-No. 11 seeds will play in the opening round. Each round will be a single game and be hosted by the higher seed in the quarterfinal and opening round, while the semifinals and final will be played at TD Garden in Boston.

UMass Lowell, currently the first team on the outside looking in, split a home-and-home series with fellow bubble team Providence over the weekend, as the Friars are fourth on the first four out. Each team took a home victory in a 3-2 contest. The River Hawks are tied with UMass for first in Hockey East, though the Minutemen have two games in hand, while Providence is currently seventh.

The Friars will complete their regular-season schedule across Friday and Saturday with a home series against Maine, which is tied for No. 52 in the PairWise. Meanwhile, UMass Lowell will take a break from Hockey East play and battle with the other No. 52 team in PairWise, LIU.

The second team left home, Clarkson, split its weekend of road games. The Golden Knights defeated Colgate, No. 39 in the PairWise, but could not take down Cornell, which is No. 23. Clarkson, which has clinched a No. 2 seed in the 12-team ECAC Tournament, will close with home games against Yale (No. 57 in PairWise) and Brown (No. 56).

The top four teams get a first-round bye in the tournament and will host the four winners of the best-of-three series in a second best-of-three series, before the single-game semifinal and final at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, NY.

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 likely only impact Denver, as it is hosting the Midwest Regional in Loveland, Colorado. The ECAC is hosting the East Regional, while Holy Cross is hosting the Northeast Regional and Penn State is hosting the Midwest Regional. Neither Penn State nor Holy Cross are high enough in the PairWise to merit at-large consideration and must win their respective conference tournaments to secure a bid.

With those mandates in mind, here is a look at how the bracket looks as of the start of play on Feb. 21. An asterisk represents an automatic bid, assuming the conference’s leader in the regular season standings would earn the bid.

NCAA Men’s Hockey Bracketology- Feb. 21

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
Minnesota Duluth Quinnipiac* North Dakota* Minnesota Clarkson
UMass* St. Cloud State Notre Dame Michigan Tech Northeastern
AIC* UConn Boston University Ohio State Providence

The top five teams in the PairWise did not change their order over the past week, so the four No. 1 seeds and their respective regions will remain the same, while Western Michigan will continue to be paired with Minnesota in the Northeast Regional. However, North Dakota has jumped up to the two-line in the West Regional, followed by Quinnipiac and Minnesota Duluth. UConn is the only new team in this bracket, replacing Clarkson.

With straight bracket integrity, UConn is in the East Regional with No. 2 Minnesota State, Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State. No matchups within this bracket need to be changed to avoid intraconference contests in the first round, but with just five teams from the Northeast in the field, three of which are in the West or Midwest regionals, it’s possible that the committee could make some adjustments to aid attendance.

Sending Ohio State, which is flying no matter what, to the West Regional and bringing Boston University back to the Northeast Regional, just 44 miles from campus, would switch the No. 13 and No. 14 teams in the bracket and certainly boost attendance in Worcester.

UMass and St. Cloud State are also one spot apart on the S-Curve and bringing the Minutemen to Albany, rather than Allentown, would also serve to aid the East Regional. St. Cloud State will be forced to fly no matter its placement, while UMass is approximately 100 miles from the East Regional, rather than 265 miles from Allentown.