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The NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship bracket was announced Sunday morning and Hockey East will see three teams in the 16 team field. Boston College, the Hockey East tournament champions will be a number one seed in the Northeast Regional in nearby Worcester. New Hampshire, the Hockey East regular season champs, will be the East’s third seed in Albany. Finally, Vermont, which just made the cut after finishing eighth in the balanced league, drew the fourth seed in the West Region in St. Paul.
BC will play Alaska-Fairbanks in the first round on Saturday. The opponents are about as far apart as possible geographically, 4,500 miles. North Dakota and Yale face off in the other semi with the winners facing on Sunday to go to the Frozen Four in Detroit. Looking past the first round, BC may possibly face North Dakota in the Regional Final.
The Eagles and Fighting Sioux have a rich postseason history. They first met in the playoffs in 1963 in a National Semi with the Sioux victorious. The Eagles got revenge in 1965′s National Semifinal. The teams played for the National Championship in 2000 and 2001 with North Dakota winning the first and BC getting revenge in the rematch. North Dakota beat the Eagles in the 2005 East Regional Final and BC beat North Dakota in three straight Frozen Fours from 2006 through 2008. (The Eagles went 1-2 in those subsequent Championship games, winning in 2008.)
BC is the fourth overall number one seed, so their Northeast Region winner will face the winner of the Midwest Region in Fort Wayne in Saturday-Sunday action. Miami is this group’s number one seed, the overall top seed in the tournament. They will face the University of Alabama-Huntsville, College Hockey America’s tournament champion and the only tournament team with a sub-.500 record. The CCHA and CHA will do battle in the other semifinal here as well with Bemidji State and Michigan facing off.
The CHA has only four teams and will disappear after this season. Six teams are needed to maintain the autobid, though the NCAA granted the league a grace period from the rule through this season after two schools in the league dropped hockey. Two teams departed for the AHA and Bemidji State will join the WCHA (where its women play). That brought the WCHA to 11, so they re-acquired Nebraska-Omaha from the CCHA, dropping that league to 11. UAH applied to the CCHA to make 12, but the CCHA denied their bid, leaving them as an independent next season. UAH will certainly have revenge on their mind when they face off against Miami and possibly Michigan should they win.
The Wildcats and their fans can drive to the East Regional, but their opponent will be even closer Cornell on Friday. The Big Red finished second in the ECAC by a point, but made their statement in the league playoffs. Goalie Ben Scrivens has not allowed a goal in the last three games and allowed only one in the four games in the playoffs. UNH scuffled down the stretch, especially struggling on the road. However, they lost two games to one on home ice to Vermont in the quarterfinals, winning 7-4 and then dropping two 1-0 games.
Denver is the top seed, and second overall, in the region and will face RIT. It is possible that the Pioneers will have to go through two New York teams in Albany despite being the top seed in the Region. With no region near Denver this season, the Pioneers were looking at a flight anyway, despite their rank, and could end up with two “road” games.
The Catamouts are the third and final Hockey East team and are the 14th overall seed in the tournament, beating out only the two autobids who otherwise would not have qualified (RIT and UAH). One other upset in a conference tournament would have left the Green Mountain Boys at home. They will draw the West Region’s top seed Wisconsin, also on Friday. St. Cloud State and Northern Michigan face off in the other semifinal.
If you want prediction, I like BC to advance out of its semi to face North Dakota in another playoff game. UNH will have a tough time getting past Cornell who is among the hottest teams in the country right now and Scrivens especially is playing so well. Vermont goalie Rob Madore can shut down anyone on any given day, but the Catamounts struggle offensively. Wisconsin has too much for Madore to carry them by. So, Hockey East will ride with BC this season, it looks like. However, the league is the two time defending champion (BC in 2008, BU in 2009).