NCAA Contenders, Part 1

If you have taken a look at the NCAA Hockey schedule, you might notice that there are no games slated for this weekend, which one might assume as the holiday season is upon us. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how things have shaped up so far this year. The Christmas Break is an interesting time for college hockey because it acts as a half-way mark for the season, as well as a one or two-week break for most teams. This time allows for rest, refocus, and can even throw slumping teams right back on track. As for writers, this is the perfect time to make some bold predictions on the NCAA Hockey Tournament, so let’s get to it! Who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the bubble?

NCHC

Who’s in? – St. Cloud State

The Huskies have played extremely well this season, earning themselves a top ranking in the NCHC, but most importantly, the top position in the Pairwise rankings. Sitting at 12-2-1 overall, there isn’t much this team has done wrong. Considering their two losses came against #2 Denver, as well as one tie with #6 North Dakota, they don’t really have any blemishes. As both of these teams are conference foes, they will need to step up if they want to capture the NCHC crown. At the very least, an at-large bid seems definite at this point.

Runner-Up – Denver

Who’s out? – Nebraska-Omaha

I will probably eat my own words later in the season, but I’m calling the Mavericks to miss the NCAA Tournament. As of this moment in time, they are the definition of a bubble team, sitting 15th in the Pairwise rankings. Unfortunately, they have a very tough road ahead of them on the back half of the schedule. They face North Dakota a total of four times, as well as a series with St. Cloud State and Denver. They could rise to the occasion, but their current conference record of 2-6-0 doesn’t give me much confidence that they will.

Runner Up – Minnesota-Duluth

Who’s on the bubble? – Western Michigan
Western Michigan is looking good right now, with a 10-8-1 overall record. As a result of competing in the NCHC, their wins typically give them a big boost, while losses usually come against ranked teams and don’t bump them down too far. They need to take care of business in the second half, in which they play ten games against opponents in the bottom half of the NCHC. Unfortunately, they also have to deal with four games against St. Cloud State, which could be an issue.

Runner-Up – Miami

WCHA

Who’s in – Minnesota State

The Mavericks are the team to beat in the WCHA. This program has been ahead of the competition for the past several years and continues to show it this season. Their only losses came against #1 St. Cloud State, a talented Bowling Green team, and capable Northern Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth squads. This offense is very deadly, only being shutout once, while posting five or more goals on eight occasions. Even if another WCHA squad rises to the occasion and defeats them in the conference tournament, the Mavericks currently come in at 6th in the Pairwise rankings.

Who’s out? – Alaska-Anchorage

Who to choose from in the WCHA? In all honesty, there are probably five or six teams already theoretically out of the NCAA Tournament, unless they would manage to win the conference’s automatic bid. Let’s just go ahead and pick on Alaska-Anchorage. I hate to kick a team while they’re down, but the Seawolves are dead last in the Pairwise rankings, not to mention the WCHA standings. They will likely miss the WCHA Playoffs entirely, meaning an early end to their season. They have only won one game on the season, coming against Lake Superior State. Oddly enough, they battled to a 1-1 tie with North Dakota to open up the season, but it has gone downhill for them ever since. Unfortunately, there are always  to rumors about the Alaskan NCAA programs being eliminate due to their high travel costs. Hopefully this season doesn’t do any permanent damage to their longevity.

Runner-Up – Lake Superior State

Who’s on the bubble? – Bowling Green

I still don’t know what to make of this Falcon team. When they show up, they are good. The goalie tandem of Eric Dop and Ryan Bednard has been nearly unstoppable at times. The big question mark is their offensive ability. They have six ties on the season, which begs the question, are they capable of finishing off opponents late in the game? Outside of their one non-conference game with Western Michigan, they are unlikely to face a ranked opponent the rest of the regular season. They also have a great opportunity to ring in 2018 with some confidence, as they are participating in the Great Lakes Invitational. If they can take advantage of their strength of schedule and get a streak going, they have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990. They are currently 18th in the Pairwise rankings.

Runner-Up – Northern Michigan

ECAC Hockey

Who’s in? – Clarkson

The Golden Knights have been a bright surprise for this conference. In their previous campaign, they finished 18-16-5, which is fairly respectable. Turn the page to their current campaign and they are just three wins away from that mark, with fifteen games yet to be played. With just three losses on the season, all of those being in nonconference play, Clarkson is in great position to finish in the top sixteen teams in the nation, as well as win the ECAC Hockey Championship(s).

Runner-Up – Cornell

Who’s out? – Quinnipiac

As with the WCHA, there are several teams that fit into this category, but let’s go with a team that technically still has a chance, but one I think won’t be invited to the big dance. If you read my Beginners Guide to NCAA Hockey, you know that I actually chose the Bobcats as my pre-season favorites, but boy I was wrong. Then again, most writers picked Harvard and they were wrong too, but I digress. Quinnipiac has struggled so far this season, early just a 6-10-2 record overall, with only three conference wins. Now other ECAC Hockey teams have had it tough, including RPI and Dartmouth, but the Bobcats had so much potential. For them to be 47th in Pairwise rankings is pretty deflating, and I don’t think they find the momentum they need after the break.

Runner-Up – Dartmouth

Who’s on the bubble? – Harvard

Alright, time to talk about Harvard again. The team that was once ranked in the top ten has now found themselves fallen from good graces. The Crimson have started the season 4-5-1 and need a big rebound heading into the second stretch of their schedule. The reason why I consider them a bubble team is because this is something that they are capable of. They are on a two-game winning streak, but they need to continue this momentum if they expect to be playing more hockey in March. While they do sit at 36th in the Pairwise rankings, I think the Crimson have an outside shot at getting hot at the right time and taking their conference’s automatic bid.

Runner-Up – Colgate