By Mick Hatten
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — With the PairWise Rankings so in tune with the criteria that the NCAA Division I men’s hockey committee uses to select its 16-team tournament, there was not a lot of drama involved Sunday, March 24, with which teams would be in the West Regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D.
With regional host North Dakota knocked out of the NCAAs, top-ranked St. Cloud State (30-5-3) was a cinch to be the No. 1 seed in the West. Atlantic Hockey champion American International (22-16-1) is the team with the lowest PairWise Ranking (No. 31) in the tournament, so it was no surprise that the Yellow Jackets would be the Huskies’ first round opponent.
Denver (22-11-5) is No. 8 in the PairWise and Ohio State (20-10-5) is No. 9, so that went by the book as to the other two teams in the West.
The one wrinkle to the announcement in the West is that St. Cloud State plays American International (Mass.) at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 29 (ESPN3). The early game in the region is the game between Denver and Ohio State at 3 p.m. (ESPNU).
In the other three regionals, the top seed is playing in the early game. This is pretty standard because, the thinking goes, the top seeds get the extra few hours of rest for the region championship game if they win.
“Yeah, I am a little surprised and I thought we’d get the early (game),” Huskies head coach Brett Larson said. “It is what it is.
“The one nice thing about the early game is that you don’t have to worry about the game before you going into overtime. That’s probably the only issue with the later (semifinals) game. For us, it doesn’t matter. We’ll prepare for it like any other game.”
It is not, of course, any other game and the national tournament is a win-or-go-home tournament. St. Cloud State was the top overall team in last year’s tournament and got beat 4-1 by Air Force in the opening round. The Huskies were the No. 1 seed in the West Regional in 2016 and got beat 5-4 in overtime by Ferris State.
St. Cloud State has eight seniors on its roster who have been members of all three of those top-ranked regional teams. Those previous NCAA experiences have helped ground the Huskies about such things as being picked to win the tournament this year by ESPN’s color analyst on the selection show.
“Both of those (losses), obviously, hurt and sucked for us seniors,” said Huskies senior wing Patrick Newell, a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. “Those were tough games.
“You can’t take anything for granted. In these one-and-done situations, anything can happen. One thing that is nice about our team this year is that we’ve shown that we can handle some adversity.”
Some statistics prove Newell’s point. This season, St. Cloud State is 12-3 when the opponent scores first, the Huskies have not lost back-to-back games all season and have won seven games in which they have, at one point, trailed by two goals.
Those are things that St. Cloud State is well aware of. And Larson was an assistant coach at Ohio State (2013-15) and the Huskies swept a conference series against Denver on Nov. 9-10 in St. Cloud, so those teams are known entities. What does St. Cloud State know about American International, which won the Atlantic’s regular season and postseason tournament titles?
“They’ve got some skill and they play with speed and we know that sounds like a lot of teams in our league,” Larson said. “We’re going to have to prepare like we’ve been preparing.
“I’m saying that without seeing any video, just getting a couple comments from people. We’ll start watching video (Monday) morning.”
The teams have one common opponent this season. St. Cloud State beat Robert Morris 5-2 on Jan. 5 in the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Yellow Jackets play in Robert Morris’ conference and went 2-1 against them. The last time American International played Robert Morris was in the semifinals Atlantic tournament, a 3-2 win for the Yellow Jackets in overtime.
American International beat Niagara 3-2 in overtime for the Atlantic playoff title and is playing in its first NCAA tournament.
The winner of the West Regional advances to the Frozen Four, which will be played April 11-13 in Buffalo, New York. The winner of the West plays the winner of the Northeast Regional in the national semifinals.
Here’s a quick look at the other regionals:
Defending national champion Minnesota Duluth (25-11-2), which beat St. Cloud State 3-2 in double overtime for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff title Saturday, is the top seed in the Midwest, which is being held in Allentown, Pa. The Bulldogs open with Bowling Green (25-10-5) at 3 p.m. March 30 (ESPNU).
The other semifinal in the West has independent Arizona State (21-12-1) making its first national tournament appearance and playing ECAC regular season champion Quinnipiac (25-9-2) at 6:30 p.m. March 30 (ESPN3). The Midwest championship game will be at 5:30 p.m. March 31 (ESPN2). The winner of the Midwest plays the champion from the East Regional in the national semifinals on April 11.
WCHA regular season and playoff champion Minnesota State-Mankato (32-7-2) is the top seed in the East and the No. 3 overall seed in the tournament. Congratulations, Mavericks, you get to play Providence (22-11-6) in the opening round at noon March 30 in … Providence, R.I. (ESPNews) The Friars, who tied for second in Hockey East in the regular season, are the closest school in the regional and the NCAA typically likes to keep the closest teams in those regions for attendance purposes.
The winner of that game will face the winner of the other semifinals game between the Cornell (20-10-4) and Hockey East’s Northeastern (27-10-1). That semifinals game will be at 3:30 p.m. March 30 (ESPNews). Cornell took second in the ECAC tournament and Northeastern won Hockey East’s tournament. The East Regional championship game will be at 3 p.m. March 31 (ESPN2).
Hockey East regular season champion Massachusetts (28-9-0) is the top seed in the Northeast and plays Harvard (19-10-3) at 2 p.m. March 29 (ESPN2) in the opening round in Manchester, N.H. Big Ten tournament champion Notre Dame (22-13-3) plays ECAC tournament champion Clarkson (26-10-2) at 5:30 p.m. March 29 (26-10-2). The Northeast Regional championship game will be at 5:30 p.m. March 30 (ESPNU).
2019 NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament
At Fargo, N.D.
- 1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. AIC, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
- 8. Denver vs. 9. Ohio State, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
At Manchester, N.H.
- 4. Massachusetts vs. 13. Harvard, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
- 5. Clarkson vs. 12. Notre Dame, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Semifinal winners, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
At Providence, R.I.
- 3. Minnesota State vs. 14. Providence, noon (ESPNews)
- 6. Northeastern vs. 11. Cornell, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNews)
- Semifinals winners, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
At Allentown, Pa.
- 2. Minnesota Duluth vs. 15. Bowling Green, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
- 7. Quinnipiac vs. 10. Arizona State, 6:30 p.m. (WatchESPN)
- Semifinal winners, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)