With conference championship games concluding yesterday, the NCAA postseason is now ready to begin. With all possible data available to the selection committee, the field and regionals have been announced as the road to Boston and the 2022 Frozen Four begins this upcoming week:
1. Michigan (Big Ten Champion)
9. St. Cloud State
16. AIC (Atlantic Champion)
2. Minnesota State (CCHA Champion)
7. North Dakota
10. Notre Dame
15. Harvard (ECAC Champion)
3. Western Michigan
11. UMass (Hockey East Champion)
5. Minnesota Duluth (NCHC Champion)
12. Michigan Tech
13. UMass Lowell
The stage is now set for what should be a very competitive national tournament. Given that only Harvard was a surprise conference champion, taking the ECAC from favorite Quinnipiac and in the process knocking Clarkson from NCAA Tournament contention, the field is essentially the best of the best (plus the Atlantic champ). Ohio State was the odd man out, but Harvard were themselves a fringe top-20 team and are no easy out for Minnesota State, who much rather would have retained the No. 1 seed and a matchup with AIC.
Instead, it is preseason favorite Michigan who enters the tournament where many expected them to be: at the top. While Quinnipiac sat near the top of the NCAA rankings for much of the season and should have the bulk of the fan support in Allentown and St. Cloud was in the National Championship game last season, the path to the Frozen Four looks relatively straightforward for the Wolverines.
The same cannot be said for Western Michigan as they enter what looks to be the most difficult region in Worcester. The Broncos will face Hockey East regular season champion Northeastern in their first match-up and, if they advance, will face either Hockey East tournament champion UMass, the defending National Champion, or Minnesota, a team that had a strong case for a top seed of their own. With two teams with local support and one team with an axe to grind, WMU has a tall task ahead of them to advance to the Frozen Four.
If Minnesota-UMass isn’t the best first round match-up, then that honor belongs to North Dakota-Notre Dame. The selection committee acknowledged that the Irish were bumped down a spot to avoid inter-conference competition in the first round, creating a more difficult battle than they or the Fighting Hawks likely expected. Minnesota State awaits the winner. In the second round, a potential NCHC clash between Denver – the only true home team – and Duluth would be a highlight, though underrated Michigan Tech and UMass Lowell will look to prevent such a game from occurring.
Get your brackets ready, the tournament gets underway on Thursday in Albany and Loveland and Friday in Allentown and Worcester.