Commentary: Bulldogs' NCAA tournament streak should remain intact, but where they're slotted is anyone's guess

Matt Wellens, Duluth News Tribune, Minn.
·4 min read

Mar. 21—Minnesota Duluth's 13-game postseason winning streak that dated back to the program's 2018 NCAA championship run came to an end Monday via a loss to St. Cloud State at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

Though an impressive run that included the back-to-back national championships and 2019 Frozen Faceoff title, Scott Sandelin and the Bulldogs wasted little time Monday night mourning the streak's demise.

"The streak is coming to an end," Sandelin said in the postgame. "Got to start a new one."

The Bulldogs should get that chance this week when the 2021 NCAA men's hockey tournament gets underway with regionals in Fargo, North Dakota, Loveland, Colorado, Albany, New York, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. UMD is expected to be among the 16-team field that will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

It would be the Bulldogs' sixth consecutive NCAA tournament berth (seventh if you factor in UMD was a lock for the canceled 2020 tournament). The still two-time defending national champions, who have also appeared in the last three NCAA title games, are 13-3 in the NCAA tournament dating back to 2015.

"It's tough that's over," UMD senior wing Kobe Roth said Monday. His class is 8-0 all time in the NCAA tournament. "My freshman year, we were kind of in the same position, losing the Frozen Faceoff. We'll keep our fingers crossed, hopefully get into regionals here. We've been here before. It only takes four games to win. We just have to turn the page."

Sunday's selection show is shaping up to be the most dramatic in modern college hockey history with the Pairwise rankings system rendered useless by the COVID-19 pandemic. The system traditionally used by the NCAA selection committee to select the 10 at-large teams and seed the entire field relies heavily on interconference play, and that was practically nonexistent this season.

Instead, the NCAA tournament will be selected the old-fashioned way, as it was long, long ago, based on the opinions of six individuals. They are:

— Mike Kemp, associate athletic director, Omaha (chair)

— Derek Schooley, coach, Robert Morris

— Mike Schafer, coach, Cornell

— Jeffrey Schulman, director of athletics, Vermont

— Michael Cross, assistant athletics director, Penn State

— Bob Daniels, coach, Ferris State

There are also two regional advisory committees, an East and West, that provide input on the selection process, but those members do not have a vote.

Here is the criteria the committee will use to select 10 at-large teams and seed the NCAA tournament:

Win-loss record

Strength of schedule

Eligibility and availability of student-athletes for NCAA Championships

Head-to-head results

Quality wins

Home/Away weighting

Some other notes specific to this season:

Teams are not required to have a win-loss record of .500 or better

Teams must play 13 games minimum

Still no interconference matchups in the first round, even if it reduces travel. The exception is if five teams from one league are selected.

This year's NCAA women's hockey tournament was selected in a similar fashion, and what we learned from that is to expect the unexpected. Predicting what the committee will do and how it will interpret the criteria is a lost cause.

So like I did with the women's eight-team field, I'm going turn myself into a one-man selection committee and give you my bracket with the regular season and conference tournaments all said and done.

Here's my 2021 NCAA men's hockey tournament (conference tournament champions in bold):

WEST REGIONAL

Fargo, N.D.

1. North Dakota vs. 4. Lake Superior State

2. St. Cloud State vs. 3. Providence

NORTHEAST REGIONAL

Albany, N.Y.

1. Wisconsin vs. 4. St. Lawrence

2. Michigan vs. 3. Boston University

EAST REGIONAL

Bridgeport, Conn.

1. Boston College vs. 4. AIC

2. UMass vs. 3. Quinnipiac

WEST REGIONAL

Loveland, Colo.

1. Minnesota vs. 4. Nebraska Omaha

2. Minnesota State vs. 3. Minnesota Duluth

Note that instead of seeding teams No. 1 through No. 16 like we would when using the Pairwise, I grouped teams just by No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds, as each bracket is required to have one of each seed. I then tried to place each team as close to home as possible without creating intraconference matchups. My goal was to limit air travel during the pandemic.

Kemp has said in various interviews the committee would like to limit travel during the pandemic. While the NCAA did not put limiting travel in writing, it did list "financial success" among the priorities the committee should consider. Limiting flights would help the bottom line this year, with few fans in the stands this year.

Here are some other bracket predictions from across college hockey:

— Brad Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald

— Adam Wodon, College Hockey News

— Jim Connelly and Jayson Moy, USCHO.com

— Chris Dilks, SB Nation College Hockey

— Chris Peters, Hockey Sense

— Nate Wells, Gopher Hockey Blog

DuluthNewsTribune.com and TheRinkLive.com will have the 2021 NCAA men's hockey bracket posted after it is announced Sunday night. Then check back on Monday when The Rink Live reporters Brad Schlossman, Matt Wellens, Jess Myers, Austin Monteith, Jason Feldman and Mick Hatten get together on TheRinkLive.com podcast to discuss the 16-team NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament field.