The NCAA announced the 16 team field and the pairings for the 2021 NCAA Hockey Tournament on Sunday. The Big Ten Tournament Champion Minnesota Golden Gophers were expected to receive a #1 seed and they did. The Gophers are the #1 seed in the West Region and will open up play against Omaha on Saturday night. Minnesota-State is the #2 seed and Quinnipiac is the #3 seed. They are the #3 overall seed in the field.
The Gophers and Omaha will be the nightcap in Loveland on Saturday facing off at 8 PM central on ESPNU. The MSU-Mankato and Quinnipiac game will face off at 3 PM Central and will only stream on ESPN3 and Watch ESPN. The #1 seed normally gets the earlier game in the day to give them more rest time, but the Gophers will play the late game on Saturday purely because the NCAA and ESPN need to have Minnesota on TV for their rating potential.
As expected North Dakota was given the #1 overall seed and will play in the Fargo Region as the host. They will face American International in the first round with arguably the most interesting 2vs 3 matchup in Fargo as Michigan will face off against Minnesota-Duluth.
Boston College is the #2 overall seed and is the #1 seed in Albany, They get the surprise team in the tournament, their former Hockey East rival in Notre Dame who sneaks in as the final team in the field. St. Cloud State is the #2 seed in the regional and will get Boston University in the first round.
The final regional is in Bridgeport, Connecticut where Wisconsin was awarded the final #1 seed. They will face Bemidji State in the first round, while #2 seed UMass will face #3 Lake Superior State.
The full bracket is below:
A few quick observations:
- First for the first and only time, all five schools in Minnesota have made the NCAA Tournament. Beginning next year that list goes to six with the addition of St. Thomas as a Division I hockey school. The possibility of an All-Minnesota Frozen Four is possible if everything goes right.
- Notre Dame sneaks in as the final team in the field. They got a gift when ECAC Tournament Champion St. Lawrence announced they would need to pull out of the tournament after their head coach tested positive for COVID. Quinnipiac stepped in as the auto-bid from the ECAC and Notre Dame got in as the final team in the field.
- The NCAA pretty much treated this like a normal tournament ignoring any potential COVID related travel issues. There were rumors the NCAA would try and limit travel for schools and keep them as close to home and bussing to schools as possible. That didn’t happen. There will be 11 flights out of 16 teams in the first round, making this a pretty even field through all the brackets.
- That said...on paper it sure looks like the final #1 seed Wisconsin got the easiest path. Bemidji State is a decent team, but they were the third team from the WCHA to get in. Omaha is probably a tougher draw than the Beavers, and North Dakota got AIC who while they may be the Atlantic Hockey auto-bid winner, they won a game as a #4 seed in 2019. The committee obviously ranked UMass the Hockey East winner as the #5 overall seed compared to Minnesota-State Mankato, which is why the Mavericks are in Loveland with the Gophers. If Wisconsin plays their game, they should easily be in the Frozen Four.
- Looking far far ahead, there is the potential of a 2012 rematch of a Minnesota/BC Frozen Four semifinal if they both get there. Minnesota wouldn’t see either Wisconsin or Michigan until the NCAA title game, same with North Dakota.
- The west regional is loaded with star goalies. Besides Jack LaFontaine, Minnesota State has Dryden McKay who leads the nation with 8 shutouts this season and is a Hobey Baker Finalist along with LaFontaine. He has had some stinkers this season though including giving up four goals and getting yanked in a WCHA semifinal loss to Northern Michigan last Friday. Quinnipiac has Keith Petruzzelli who is also a Hobey Baker Finalist and has a 1.83 goals against average. There could be a lot of low scoring games in this regional.
We will have a much more in-depth preview of the West Regional later this week, but from a high view if the Gophers can play up to their potential, this is a fine draw and they should find themselves in PIttsburgh. Struggle to score like they did against Michigan State and they season will be over before April arrives.