It's conference tournament time in men's college hockey, and we'll know Saturday night which six teams have secured automatic berths in the NCAA tournament by winning their league's postseason event. And on Sunday night, the 10 at-large spots and national tournament assignments will be revealed. Here's where things stand in each of the conference tournaments:
Big Ten: The semifinals will be played Monday, and there's been one mild upset and a near miss so far. Fifth-seeded Penn State overcame a 2-0 deficit and rolled past Notre Dame 6-3. That moved the Nittany Lions into Monday's 3:30 p.m. semifinal against regular-season champion Wisconsin, which had a bye. The near miss was the Gophers' 2-1 overtime win over last-place Michigan State in a game the Spartans led 1-0 entering the final five minutes of the third period. The Gophers will face Michigan, which blanked Ohio State 4-0, in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal. Wisconsin, the Gophers and Michigan would seem to be safely in the NCAA field, while Penn State would need to win the automatic bid to make it. Projected NCAA bids: Three.
NCHC: Top-seeded North Dakota will meet No. 5 seed Denver, which edged Nebraska Omaha 5-4, in Monday's 7 p.m. semifinal. In the 3 p.m. semi, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State will meet for the seventh time this season. How many teams will the NCHC place in the NCAA tournament? North Dakota, St. Cloud State and UMD should be in. Both Denver and Nebraska Omaha can make solid arguments, so five teams from the NCHC is possible. Projected NCAA bids: Four.
WCHA: In the best-of-three quarterfinals, Minnesota State Mankato, Lake Superior State and Bemidji State posted sweeps, while No. 6 seed Northern Michigan ousted No. 3 Bowling Green in three games, severely damaging the Falcons' NCAA hopes. The semifinals and final shift to Mankato on Friday, where the Mavericks play Northern Michigan, and Bemidji State faces Lake Superior State in what has the feel of a game in which the winner will secure an NCAA berth. Can three WCHA teams make the NCAA field? It's more possible than probable. Projected NCAA bids: Two.
Hockey East: Boston College and Massachusetts won quarterfinals, as expected, while Providence hammered Connecticut 6-1 and UMass-Lowell edged Boston University 2-1. In Wednesday's semifinals, Lowell meets Boston College, and Providence faces Massachusetts. B.C., UMass and B.U. should make the NCAA field, and Providence is the top candidate to be the fourth Hockey East team. If five from the league make it, look for either Connecticut or Northeastern. The title game is Saturday. Projected NCAA bids: Five.
ECAC: The league had only four teams playing this season, and now Clarkson, which had a solid shot to make the NCAA field, dropped out because of COVID-19 issues. That leaves Colgate and St. Lawrence meeting in a semifinal on Thursday, with the winner facing Quinnipiac in the final on Saturday. Projected NCAA bids: One.
Atlantic Hockey: Regular-season champion American International faces Niagara, and Canisius plays Army in Friday's semifinals. Barring an upset, American International appears to be the only AHA team that will be in the NCAA field. Projected NCAA bids: One.
With a lack of cross-conference play to compare teams from different conferences like the PairWise Ratings accomplishes in non-COVID years, subjectivity will play a key role when the NCAA men's hockey committee fills the field. Using a subjective poll – mine – here's a look at what the 16-team field might look like:
The Top 16
1. Boston College (17-4-1): Wild draft picks Matt Boldy, Jack McBain and Nikita Nesterenko have combined for 24 goals, 40 assists.
2. North Dakota (19-5-1): Fighting Hawks face a dangerous Denver team in NCHC semifinals.
3. Wisconsin (19-8-1): Badgers on a 10-1-1 roll, face Penn State in Big Ten semis.
4. Minnesota State Mankato (20-3-1): Mavericks had to work to sweep Ferris State.
5. Gophers (21-6): Found a way to turn back Michigan State's upset bid.
6. Michigan (15-9-1): Wolverines get another shot at Gophers in Big Ten semifinals.
7. St. Cloud State (16-9): Huskies get another date with UMD in NCHC semifinals.
8. Massachusetts (14-5-4): Minutemen on a 6-0-2 run.
9. Minnesota Duluth (14-9-2): Bulldogs had great escape vs. Western Michigan.
10. Boston University (10-4-1): Terriers fell 2-1 to Lowell in Hockey East tourney.
11. Quinnipiac (17-6-4): Bobcats have a bye into ECAC final.
12. Providence (11-8-5): Friars roll over Connecticut in Hockey East tourney.
13. Denver (10-12-1): With no .500 eligibility rule this year, Pioneers have a shot.
14. Bemidji State (15-8-3): Beavers sweep Tech, face Lake Superior State in WCHA semis.
15. Connecticut (10-11-2): Huskies own a win, tie and OT loss vs. Boston College.
16. American International (13-3): Yellow Jackets end long hiatus on Friday in AHA quarters.
Outside, looking in: Nebraska Omaha, Bowling Green, Lake Superior State, Notre Dame.
With the 16 teams picked, it's time to fill the regionals. First-round intraconference matchups are to be avoided, and the NCAA committee would like to limit the number of flights needed. There are two regional hosts in the field. North Dakota automatically goes to Fargo, and Denver goes to Loveland, Colo.
East Regional, Bridgeport, Conn.
1. Boston College vs. 16. American International
8. Massachusetts vs. 11. Quinnipiac
Midwest Regional, Fargo
2. North Dakota vs. 14. Bemidji State
5. Gophers vs. 9. Minnesota Duluth
Northeast Regional, Albany, N.Y.
3. Wisconsin vs. 15. Connecticut
6. Michigan vs. 10. Boston University
West Regional, Loveland, Colo.
4. Minnesota State vs. 13. Denver
7. St. Cloud State vs. 12. Providence
There it is. There are no intraconference first-round matchups, but there is a chance to keep teams closer to home. First, I'll move Bemidji State to Fargo and Connecticut to Albany. Then there's a three-way move in the No. 3 seeding group, with Quinnipiac going to Bridgeport, Minnesota Duluth moving to Fargo and Boston University going to Albany. To avoid an All-NCHC first-round matchup, St. Cloud State moves to Loveland, and the Gophers go to Fargo to face UMD.