In an action-packed sports weekend, men’s and women’s March Madness, NBA action, NHL action and NFL trades, one event stayed slightly under the radar: the NCAA Division I Hockey Selection Show.
The selection show, held on ESPNU on Sunday, March 20th, is where teams and fans alike find out the bracket for the upcoming tournament. Sixteen teams compete for a chance to make the final Frozen Four weekend and a chance at college hockey glory.
Notre Dame has been seeded No. 3 in the Albany region and a challenging path awaits the Irish.
The Way of Notre Dame
The Irish are coming off a narrow loss to Michigan, 1-2. The Irish are currently one of the best defensive teams in the country, conceding 2.11 goals per game. Notre Dame has the ability to hit opponents in many ways. The 2.11 goals allowed show their suffocating defense and the Irish thrive on penalties. Offensively, the Irish have a lot of depth. Five players scored more than 10 goals for Notre Dame, and two other skaters dished out 20 assists. When they’re on, they’re a tough team to beat. But the Irish have also suffered blowout losses, including 5-1 wins against Minnesota and 4-1 wins over Ohio State. They went 2-5 in seven games in which they gave up more than 4 goals. This is what makes picking games for Notre Dame so difficult. They’re one of those teams that could win the whole thing or get eliminated after the first round.
For Notre Dame, they start the tournament with a game against North Dakota and most likely in the second round against Minnesota State. While the odds of the Irish beating the Mavericks aren’t that great, let’s say the Irish survive and thrive.
In my opinion, their most likely opponent would be Minnesota. Minnesota defeated ND 3-1 in the season series by a seven goal aggregate lead. Let’s say again, Notre Dame advanced where, based on seeding, they would face Michigan in the national championship.
In the regular season, Notre Dame defeated Michigan 4-0 (14-8 goal difference), but two of those games went into overtime. And in the Big 10 playoffs, Michigan beat Notre Dame. But victory is definitely possible. Notre Dame’s ceiling, evidenced by four wins over Michigan, is good enough to win the tournament. However, inconsistencies or a cold spell could also cause the Irish to leave quickly.
Having looked at the path of Notre Dame, here is an analysis of the group as a whole.
The number one seed overall was Michigan, a selection that shouldn’t have surprised anyone. They’ve been a great side all season and enhanced their comprehensive resume with a strong performance in the B10 tournament, a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Her opponent, the 16th overall seed, is the conference champion of Atlantic Hockey, American International. This was the third consecutive conference championship for the Yellow Jackets, who defeated the Air Force 7-0.
Next up is Quinnipiac, 8th overall. Quinnipiac is one of the best defensive teams in the country, right now 1.05 goals conceded per game. Their performance on the defensive end of the ice is due in large part to Yaniv Perets’ goaltenders (0.949 percent saving throw). The Bobcats are by no means easy.
Her opponent is ninth place overall, St. Cloud State. The Huskies have a top six offensean average of 3.58 goals per game thanks largely to senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (17 goals 18 assists) and youngster Jami Krannila (15 goals and 15 assists). The Huskies also boast the best power play offense in the country .315%
On the other side of the bracket is number two overall and a team that is possibly the most complete in hockey. While I thought Minnesota State would be the first seed, Michigan’s performance in the conference playoffs was enough to put them past Minnesota State. Make no mistake though, the Mavericks are a deadly team, the only team with a top 2 scoring offense and defense (4.17, 1.27). The RPI difference (Rating Percent Index) between Michigan and the state of Minnesota was 0.0007. The difference between the state of Minnesota and Western Michigan, the third best team by RPI, is 0.0291. Only a hair separates Michigan and Minnesota.
Her opponent and 15th overall is Harvard, who won an automatic bid by defeating Quinnipiac 3-2 in OT. Harvard is a hot team, having won 10 of their 14 since February. Expect the Crimson to have poor defense as they make the nation’s top-10.
Also in the quadrant is No. 7 North Dakota, who lost 4-2 to Western Michigan in the NCHC semifinals. The Fighting Hawks have a record of 23-13-1 this season and are 7th in the country by RPI (.5720).
Western Michigan came up short in the NCHC conference championship game, losing 3-0 to Minnesota-Duluth. However, the Broncos are still one-goers, which should tell you something about the strength of their season overall. The Broncos have a top-four scoring offense in the country (3.68 goals per game) owed in large part to Ethen Frank, who leads the nation at goals (26) and goals per game (0.72).
The Broncos’ first-round opponent will be No. 14 Northeastern. The Huskies have the third best defense (1.74 goals are allowed per game). Northeastern also has a top 10 goaltender in Devon Levi (0.694 percent) and a top 3 goalscorer in the country in Aidan McDonough (0.65 goals per game).
Also in the quadrant are the Golden Gophers, the B10 regular season champions, and the tournament runners-up. Minnesota is a great team (They rank 6th by RPI at 0.5773) and in the most recent USCHO.com poll they placed second overall and even earned first place.
Across from the Gophers is Massachusetts 11th University. The Minutemen made it into the NCAA Tournament by winning the Hockey East Conference and defeating UConn 2-1 in OT. According to RPI, UMass is ranked 11th in the country (.5584)
The last number ones are the Denver Pioneers. Denver lost to eventual NCHC champions in Minnesota Duluth but is still a force to be reckoned with. At 4.38 goals per game, the Pioneers have the top scoring team in the country.
The Pioneers meet 13th-seeded UMass Lowell River Hawks. The Hawks are a great defensive team, conceding just over two goals a game, largely due to goaltender Owen Savory, who has the fourth-best save rate in the country (.750).
The No. 5 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, winners of the NCHC, are a stellar defensive team (10th in the country at 2.27 goals conceded). I could rightly see the Bulldogs winning this quadrant. They drew 2-2 in the regular-season series but beat them 2-0 in the conference playoffs. You just have to beat your first round opponent.
Opposite the Bulldogs are the Michigan Tech Huskies. Tech is another great defensive team, ranking fourth in goals conceded (a flat two goals conceded per game) and an excellent power play percentage (0.273%), which is good enough for second place in the country.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.