Well folks, we have arrived at the penultimate power rankings for this season. The postseason begins this weekend for two of three western conferences, so by this time next week, seven more teams will have joined Ferris State and Alaska-Anchorage on the golf course. These rankings received a real shake-up, with a re-evaluation at the top. Once again, neither record nor Pairwise rankings dictate this list. Rather, the key factor is being the scary to play at the present. Finally, I am once again including for relevant teams the chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
Looking at the national landscape, the WCHA did not help itself this week with Bowling Green losing to Alabama-Huntsville and Lake State losing to Ferris State, while the Big Ten made moves to give itself a chance at multiple bids. The NCHC held firm at the top of the Pairwise, although Western Michigan is putting the league at serious risk of only having three teams in the national tournament. With this being the last weekend of having (nearly) every team still playing, this will be one of the busiest weekends of the season. Now, on to the rankings.
The Eliminated Tier
26. Alaska-Anchorage (LW: 26)
25. Ferris State (LW: 24)
The Not-Yet Eliminated Tier
24. Alabama-Hunstville (LW: 25)
23. Alaska (LW: 23)
The “Can Ruin Someone’s Pairwise by Going to Game 3” Tier
22. Miami (LW: 20)
21. Nebraska-Omaha (LW: 22)
20. Michigan Tech (LW: 19)
19. Bemidji State (LW: 18)
18. Michigan State (LW: 17)
The Bid Stealer Tier
17. Wisconsin (LW: 21)
16. Northern Michigan (LW: 16)
15. Michigan (LW: 12)
14. Lake Superior State (LW: 13)
13. Colorado College (LW: 14)
12. Penn State (LW: 15) 16% at-large chance, 31% overall
11. Bowling Green State (LW: 9) 16% at-large chance; 33% overall
10. Western Michigan (LW: 7) 39% at-large chance; 45% overall
Western has struggled since their sweep of Denver in late January. Each of the last two weeks the Broncos have allowed 8 goals on Saturday night, raising questions as to their focus and conditioning. Western allowed 12 goals in the final four periods of last week’s series against St. Cloud State, but they have a chance to regroup at league-worst Miami, a school that is 50th in the country in goals per game. If they cannot figure out the defense and goaltending fast, they are in serious jeopardy of missing the tournament.
The National Tournament Potential Tier
9. Minnesota (LW: 11) 0% at-large chance
The Gophers are a bit of an outlier in this tier, but it appears they are peaking at the right time. Minnesota torched an uninspired Arizona State team at Mariucci but find themselves ranked just behind the Sun Devils because ASU’s best player, Johnny Walker, was out for the weekend. Still, the Gophers have to be riding high and now host a Michigan team that will have to quickly get over blowing their chance at a home series in the Big Ten tournament. I like the Gophers to move on to the semifinals, where their goaltending and “BMW” line of Nathan Burke, Blake McLaughlin and Sammy Walker could absolutely turn them into a bid-stealer in the Big Ten.
8. Arizona State (LW: 6) 100% at-large chance
Arizona State will be in the national tournament when it is released in late March, but they did anything but inspire confidence in their Cinderella run after getting crushed by Minnesota. Still, missing the top goal scorer in the nation allows for them to consider last weekend forgettable. Either way, they get three-plus weeks off to get healthy and scout potential matchups. ASU will almost certainly be a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
7. Notre Dame (LW: 10) 19% at-large chance; 36% overall
Notre Dame earned a split against Penn State and, thanks to Michigan’s goose egg at Wisconsin, has the 2-seed in the Big Ten tournament. Hosting Michigan State in the quarterfinals sounds great, but their precarious position in the Pairwise (15th) gives them no room for error against the Spartans. Getting to the Big Ten title game would probably be enough for them to get an at-large bid but anything less is likely to keep them out.
6. North Dakota (LW: 8) 11% at-large chance; 14% overall
The Fighting Hawks are a longshot for the national tournament, thanks in large part to being swept at 52nd-ranked Canisius in January. That weekend is the difference between being top ten and their current spot at 20, but the schedule is favorable: a home series against Omaha and then most likely a series against ice-cold Western Michigan in the NCHC quarterfinals. Four wins in the next two weeks would give them a real shot at making the tournament.
5. Ohio State (LW: 5) 100% tournament chance
The Buckeyes have not impressed much lately, picking up only one win (not counting 3×3 OT/Shootout wins) in the last three weeks. Still, their strong start to the season was enough to guarantee a tournament bid and the Big Ten Regular Season title, but they need a strong showing the next few weeks to show that they belong in the top tier of teams.
The 1-Seed Contender Tier
4. Denver (LW: 3) 25% chance at a 1-seed
Denver moving down is not an indication of any lack of faith regarding the Pioneers as they are the same steady team as they have been all year. The goaltending has not missed a beat this year after losing Tanner Jaillet. In fact, Devin Cooley may be just as good or better, sporting a .932 save percentage while splitting time with Filip Larsson. Still, this team does not have the same firepower up front that last year’s team or the 2017 National Championship team had: this year’s edition is only 26th in the country in goals per game. Denver is a defense first team that is potentially vulnerable if they run into a hot goaltender.
3. Minnesota State (LW: 4) 65% chance at a 1-seed
Minnesota State slides into the number three spot here because everything is set up for them to have a 1-seed and favorable matchups the rest of the season. They are the most likely team in the country to win their conference tournament, giving them every opportunity to enter the NCAA’s on a hot streak. I think this can be the year they break through in the tournament.
2. Minnesota-Duluth (LW: 2) 67% chance at a 1-seed
Duluth swept Miami at home last week, scoring ten goals in the process. While they have been extremely consistent of late, goaltender Hunter Shepherd gave up five goals on 18 shots on Saturday night. His .915 save percentage is not top 40 in the nation and the worst of any of the Pairwise top six teams’ starters. The Bulldogs are good enough to not need elite goaltending every night, but this could be their weakness in March.
1. St. Cloud State (LW: 1) 100% chance at a 1-seed, 97% chance at #1 overall
St. Cloud has a 1-seed locked up and is almost certain to finish number one overall in the country. They are running on all cylinders as they manhandled Western Michigan last weekend. The season ends at home with Duluth coming to visit, a matchup that could be seen again at the Frozen Four.