NCAA Conference Tournament Preview
The CCHA, Atlantic Hockey, ECAC and Big Ten all begin their conference tournaments this weekend, while the NCHC and Hockey East wrap up their regular seasons.
After missing the rankings the last few weeks, let’s dive right into conference tournament previews:
5) Sacred Heart
6) Air Force
10) Holy Cross
First Round (Campus Sites -- Best of Three) - March 4-6
No. 10 Holy Cross at No. 7 Mercyhurst
It would be easy to look at the records of both Holy Cross and Mercyhurst and ignore this series, but both teams come into the weekend playing well.
February was Holy Cross’ best month of the season, going 6-3 after entering the month with six wins total.
The Lakers enter the postseason with wins in five of their last six including wins over AIC and a sweep of Canisius. Carson Briere, son of former NHL’er Danny, leads Mercyhurst with 11 goals and 25 points.
Prediction: Mercyhurst in three
No. 9 Bentley at No. 8 Niagara
It’s been a strange season for Bentley who led Atlantic Hockey at the holiday break. But since, the Falcons have struggled going 2-11-2 in 2002. Senior goalie Evan DeBrouwer could be the difference for the Falcons who during a seven-game win streak form Nov. 19 through Jan. 21 was one of the nation’s hottest goalies.
Niagara hasn’t won in regulation since early February, but played well last weekend against AIC, taking both games to overtime and winning in the extra frame on Friday.
Prediction: Bentley in three
1) Minnesota State
2) Michigan Tech
3) Bemidji State
4) Lake Superior State
5) Northern Michigan
6) Bowling Green
7) Ferris State
8) St. Thomas
Quarterfinals (Campus Sites -- Best of Three) - March 4-6
No. 8 St. Thomas at No. 1 Minnesota State
The nation’s top team hosting a team playing in their first D-I conference tournament seems a bit unfair, but a matchup that was expected from the start of the season, nonetheless.
The Mavericks are loaded with talent from the net on out and will have no issues with St. Thomas this weekend. Minnesota State outscored St. Thomas 26- 2 in the four times they met this season.
For the Tommies, this season was all about laying the foundation as a new D-I program, going through their first season at the D-I level. There’s no denying that St. Thomas improved as the year went on, becoming a more competitive team as the year grew.
Prediction: Minnesota State sweep
No. 7 Ferris State at No. 2 Michigan Tech
I really like the way the Huskies are playing entering the postseason, they’ve lost just twice in regulation since Dec. 4. Senior forward Brian Halonen has been one of the Huskies most consistent forwards, leading the team in goals with 21 and points with 44.
After a tough start to the season for Ferris State, they’ve been better in 2022 altogether, however, still struggling after a one-win February. The two teams met a few weeks ago and Ferris State made things tough on Tech, taking both games to overtime.
Prediction: Michigan Tech sweep
No. 6 Bowling Green at No. 3 Bemidji State
To me, this series has upset written all over it. I liked what Bemidji State did in the first half of its season, but the Beavers have struggled of late, with three wins in their last 11. Two of those three coming against St. Thomas.
Like Bemidji, Bowling Green is struggling entering the playoffs with just one win the month of February. But with nothing to lose and the pressure on Bemidji to win at home, Bowling Green could be the upset of the opening round.
Prediction: Bowling Green in three
No. 5 Northern Michigan at No. 4 Lake Superior State
The CCHA series I am the most excited about is this one. Lake State enters the playoffs with one loss in their last five, coming off a big sweep of Bowling Green to secure home-ice in the series. Lake Superior took three of four from Northern Michigan in the regular season.
If you’re not familiar with Northern Michigan and their style of play, they're a fun team to watch. They do a lot of the little things the right way and are going to be a tough out.
Prediction: Northern Michigan in three
3) Notre Dame
4) Ohio State
6) Penn State
7) Michigan State
Quarterfinals (Campus Sites -- Best of Three) - March 4-6
#7 Michigan State at #2 Michigan
We know the names and the talent that Michigan has to offer. Now, it’s time for the Wolverines to put it all together. Thanks to Minnesota’s play down the stretch, Michigan finishes as the second seed, forcing them to play an opening round series.
It’s been a difficult season for Michigan State, one where not much went right for the Spartans. While on paper, Michigan State doesn’t have much of a chance, but there’s a reason why they play the games, right? Add in the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry and anything really can happen.
Prediction: Michigan sweep
#6 Wisconsin at #3 Notre Dame
Nationally, I feel that Notre Dame has not gotten the respect it deserves. The Irish are rolling, winning eight of nine in February, their lone loss to Wisconsin. Junior Max Ellis has been outstanding, leading Notre Dame in goals (16) and points (28).
Wisconsin comes into the playoffs with just one win in their last 10 games, outscored 51- 18 in that span. The Golden Gophers are also coming off a weekend that saw them fail to score in a pair of shutouts against Minnesota.
Prediction: Notre Dame sweep
#5 Penn State at #4 Ohio State
Despite losing their last four games, I am all-in on Ohio State. Picked to finish last in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Buckeyes have been proving doubters wrong all season. The Buckeyes are young with three of their four leading scorers as freshmen. Bruins prospect Mason Lohrei may the be most fun to watch of the bunch.
February was a tough month for Penn State with just one win in six tries. As tough as their season has been, they’ve proven to be able to win big games, earning wins against teams like Minnesota and North Dakota during the season.
Prediction: Ohio State in three
8) St. Lawrence
First round (Campus Sites -- Best of Three) - March 4-6
No. 12 Yale at No. 5 Colgate
The drop off from the top four teams in the ECAC to the rest of the bunch is significant which should make for a fun ECAC tournament. Colgate finished the season strong, going 7-2 in February. Junior Colton Young finished the season with four points in his last three games, leading the Raiders in goals with 13 and points with 29.
Yale showed some promise in the second half of February, winning three of its last five after a seven-game losing streak. While Colgate certainly presents a challenge for the Bulldogs, a series win is a possibility.
Prediction: Colgate in three
No. 11 Dartmouth at No. 6 RPI
RPI has struggled to string together back-to-back wins this season, failing to win in consecutive games since Dec. 4 and Dec. 10. Senior Ture Linden is RPI’s biggest offensive weapon, leading the team in goals (17) and points (32).
Dartmouth has just three wins since the beginning of 2022, all three of those coming in February. Scoring goals has been an issue for Dartmouth as they're home to one skater with 10 or more goals.
Prediction: RPI sweep
No. 10 Princeton at No. 7 Union
After three straight losses, Union finished the season strong with wins over Harvard and Dartmouth and hope to ride that momentum into the playoffs. After longtime head coach Rick Bennett stepped down earlier this season, this will be Union’s first playoff series with John Ronan behind the bench.
After a 3-1-1 start to the season, things went south for Princeton. They entered February with five wins, picking up three more in the month. However, losses in six straight sends the Tigers into the playoffs on a sour note. In those six losses, the Tigers were shutout in three of those.
Prediction: Union sweep
No. 9 Brown at No. 8 St. Lawrence
This could be a very unique series as both Brown and St. Lawrence rank in the bottom four of goals scored per game. Maybe we can a bunch of 1-0 games, maybe we get wild and get a bunch of 6-5 games?
Prediction: Brown in three