Time flies, doesn’t it? We have arrived at the final rankings of the season, where we find nine of the 26 western teams already eliminated (including, unfortunately, Michigan Tech). In a year full of parity, we amazingly had only one playoff series go to three games: Wisconsin vs. Penn State. This week, we have cut the power rankings to only the 17 teams that remain and we look at their chances at making the tournament as well as general thoughts on how they are playing. As it stands, 10 teams have a 97% chance or higher to make the national tournament, including six on this list. Only Atlantic Hockey has no team within that top ten, leaving five open spots for everyone else left. It should be a fun few weeks ahead for college hockey fans!
The “Don’t Really Stand a Chance” Tier
17. Miami (LW: 22) 0% at-large chance, 0.1% chance overall
16. Nebraska-Omaha (LW: 21) 0% at-large chance, 0.2% overall
Neither of these teams should be given much of a shot against St. Cloud and Duluth in the first round of the NCHC tournament. It has been a rough season at the bottom of the best conference in the sport.
The “Don’t Bet Any Money on Them” Tier
15. Northern Michigan (LW: 16) 0% at-large chance, 14% overall
Northern had their hands full against an Alaska team that battled every second of last week’s series. Now they get to host a BGSU team that needs to win the series (and get some help) to earn at at-large bid. Northern may be hosting this series, but I’m not sure they should be considered the favorites.
14. Lake Superior State (LW: 14) 0% at-large chance, 11% overall
The Lakers took care of business against Bemidji State but face fierce competition in Mankato. Lake State had a great season and made a serious run at an at-large bid before falling off slightly at the end of the season. Now to make the tournament they will have to pull off a shocking upset against a team that is a ridiculous 18-1-0 at home.
13. Penn State (LW: 12) 0.4% at-large chance, 21% chance overall
Penn State threw away Friday night’s game because of a horrid last-minute goal allowed by Peyton Jones. I preached most of the season about the inadequacy of his netminding, and it seemed it would be their final downfall. Yet, Jones redeemed himself enough to hold onto an overtime win in the decisive game 3 to keep their season alive. Still, the defense and goaltending will probably not do enough to get this team wins at both Ohio State and either Notre Dame or Minnesota. It would be as improbable as them winning three games in three nights under the old Big Ten Tournament format. Which, of course, they did two years ago so who knows!
12. Bowling Green (LW: 11) 20% at-large chance, 42% chance overall
Bowling Green is a team desperate to make it back to the NCAA tournament and much has been made of their decades-long drought. A disappointing 2019 has left them on the wrong side of the bubble and now have to win a series in the upper peninsula against Northern. Getting through that would only give them a winner-take-all against, most likely, Minnesota State. This is an uphill battle but winning this series might be enough to get them into the tournament even with a championship game loss.
The Potentially Dangerous Tier
11. Western Michigan (LW: 10) 60% at-large chance, 68% chance overall
Western has gone from a near-lock to make the tournament to firmly on the bubble, thanks in large part to being swept at home by Colorado College a few weeks ago. Now, the Broncos get the chance to avenge those losses immediately in the NCHC quarterfinals when CC comes to town. It seems likely that they need to win this series to make the tournament, but with how well the Tigers are playing, that is anything but a foregone conclusion. This is the most interesting series of the entire weekend.
10. Colorado College (LW: 13) 0% at-large chance, 2% chance overall
CC is riding high after sweeping rival Denver and winning the Gold Pan for the first time in five years. Everything seems to be coming up Tigers: the most important trophy in Colorado hockey and now a series against a team that they know they can beat, even on the road. CC has next to no chance of making the tournament, but as I’ve said numerous times in this space, they are the biggest what-if team of the year: they are good enough to play with anyone in the country, so if they win four more games to make the national tournament, everyone should consider them a serious threat.
9. Arizona State (LW: 9) 99.9% at-large chance
ASU continues its long hiatus before Selection Sunday, where their name will definitely be called. Nothing changes for me here: their final weekend in Minneapolis raised questions that cannot go away until they play in the national tournament the final weekend of March. Regardless, it is stunning to be here in mid-March with the nation’s only independent team preparing to play in the NCAAs.
8. Minnesota (LW: 8) 0% at-large chance, 19% chance overall
Minnesota handled Michigan with relative ease on Saturday after their comeback overtime win on Friday. With the Wolverines disposed of, Minnesota goes to South Bend to play a team who finished only one point ahead of in the Big Ten Standings. The Gophers are 3-1 against Notre Dame, including a sweep on the road, making this weekend even more interesting. With the one game format, anything can happen, and Minnesota has been playing great hockey of late. Plus, you probably saw the photos of Mariucci from the Michigan series – they’ll have just as many of their fans at Compton Family Ice Arena as they did last weekend (I kid, I kid). In the end, Minnesota had high expectations for their first season under Bob Motzko but with two more wins, all this season’s disappointments will be forgotten.
7. North Dakota (LW: 6) 13% at-large chance, 16% chance overall
The Fighting Hawks continue to stay alive during a very strange season as they try to avoid missing the tournament back-to-back years. They finally picked up a much-needed sweep against Omaha and now enter a bloodbath in the NCHC quarterfinal against Denver. There is no doubt they need to win this series to make the tournament. If they do, they host the West region and will be placed there, giving them every shot to make the Frozen Four.
6. Notre Dame (LW: 7) 10% at-large chance, 35% chance overall
Notre Dame has struggled to replicate last season’s national championship game run where they were a 1-seed and the favorites to win at the Frozen Four. Now, they sit on the edge of the bubble and not only need a win against Minnesota but also need a ton of help (especially a date with Ohio State the following week) to make it as an at-large. Missing the tournament would be a massive disappointment for a team with dreams of getting back to the national title game.
The National Title Contenders
5. Denver (LW: 4) 99.7% chance overall
Denver will need to regroup from their disappointment against Colorado College in order to fend off North Dakota, who is probably a better team than CC. Denver has been relatively inconsistent all year and showed it against last weekend at a critical time. Now, they have an incredibly difficult matchup just to make the Frozen Faceoff in the Twin Cities the following week. Denver will probably end up as a 2- or 3-seed in the tournament no matter what happens the next two weeks and are certainly able to do damage in the national tournament.
4. Ohio State (LW: 5) 100% chance
Ohio State had the weekend off to rest as the Big Ten teams beat each other up and now get the Jekyll-and-Hyde Nittany Lions who they beat three of four times this year and scored 18 goals in those four games. It is hard to see the clearly superior Buckeyes not hosting the Big Ten championship game, but in a one-game semifinal, anything can happen. OSU is pretty well locked into a two-seed for the national tournament.
3. Minnesota State (LW: 3) 100% chance
MSU waltzed through UAH with ease this weekend, setting up a matchup against Lake State that should be more interesting. This team could not be playing better hockey at the moment: they have not allowed more than one goal since February 9th when they beat Tech 3-2 at Winter Carnival. It seems unlikely that anyone else wins the WCHA at this point.
2. Minnesota-Duluth (LW: 2) 100% chance
I watched most of last weekend’s series between St. Cloud and Duluth, and while Duluth came away empty-handed, it was clear that these were extremely evenly matched teams. Even more notable was just how good both teams looked – they are clearly the top teams in the West, if not in the nation. Mankato might be left out of this conversation a bit unfairly, but until we see them play the other elite teams when they get the chance in March, they sit just beyond the class of the NCHC.
1. St. Cloud State (LW: 1) 100% chance
Not much to be said here that was not said above, except for the fact that they had slightly more finish than Duluth and got what I perceived to be slightly better goaltending: David Hrenak can take this team to the Frozen Four and beyond. After this weekend’s sweep of Duluth, I came away thinking two things: I hope we get this matchup again in the NCHC final and perhaps even once more in the NCAAs.