3 Questionable Omissions From The NCAA 2018 Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament

3 Questionable Omissions From The NCAA 2018 Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament

The NCAA ice hockey committee has made the selections for the tournament—did they make any mistakes?

Mar 20, 2018 by Hunter Sharpless
3 Questionable Omissions From The NCAA 2018 Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament

 By Jacob Messing

With conference tournaments wrapped up and select teams taking home various hardware, the time has come for college hockey to buckle down for the biggest trophy of them all: the national championship.

On Sunday afternoon the NCAA announced its field of 16 teams for the 2018 Men’s Division I Ice Hockey Tournament, and there are a few notable exclusions—including the once-perennial powerhouse Minnesota Golden Gophers.

As conference champions, Notre Dame (Big Ten), Princeton (ECAC), Boston University (Hockey East), Denver (NCHC), Michigan Tech (WCHA), and Air Force (Atlantic Hockey) each earned an automatic bid.

The conference titles from Princeton, Michigan Tech and Air Force didn’t make the selection committee’s job easy as the three ranked No. 18 (per the RPI), 21, and 27, respectively, in the highly regarded PairWise Rankings.

With three teams ranked outside the top 16 earning automatic bids, Minnesota (12), North Dakota (14), and Boston College (16 per RPI) was each cut from contention.

But the PairWise isn’t the end-all, be-all of tournament selection, and these three worthy teams have found their seasons ending early.

1. Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Gophers failed to reach 20 wins for the first time since 2010-11, causing them to miss the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Four straight losses to end the season could have been the dagger for Minnesota, coincidentally their worst stretch of the season. The streak dropped them in the PairWise Rankings, but even with a 12th-place finish, the odds looked good.

The Gophers closed the season 19-17-2, finished fifth in the Big Ten, and watched all four teams ahead of them earn a bid to the national tournament.

“Last night, I was as disappointed as I’ve ever been,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia told Randy Johnson of the Star Tribune on Sunday afternoon.

In the end, it was a perfect storm of conference winners that held the Gophers out of contention, but Lucia is probably planning on a tournament return next year as his squad returns many of its top young players, including the top five leading scorers.

2. North Dakota Fighting Hawks

The Fighting Hawks have drawn a few comparisons to Minnesota, as the annually competitive team has hit a bump in the road.

The turbulence comes after a 14th-place finish in the PairWise Rankings, which isn’t ideal, but was at least a comfortable spot for a 17-13-10 team. The Hawks have missed the national tournament for the first time in 16 years, which was also the last time they failed to reach 20 wins.

The Hawks claimed third place in the only conference that hosts a consolation game, which looked like it offered some support ahead of Sunday’s selection process.

“There’s always been speculation about keeping or not keeping it,’’ North Dakota coach Brad Berry told Johnson on Saturday night. “Tonight, I’m glad we had it.”

Like Minnesota, the Hawks’ top five scorers are eligible to return in 2018-19, as Berry looks to get the school back on the winning track Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol established before joining the NHL in 2015-16.

3. Northern Michigan University Wildcats

Ranked No. 20 per the RPI tiebreaker, the Wildcats lost to Michigan Tech on Saturday for the WCHA Conference title, barely missing out on the national tournament.

The national tournament snub, plus the first-round conference tournament loss, combined for a bitter end to a strong season—Northern Michigan went 25-15-3 on the year after seven seasons below 20 wins.

“It’s just too bad that somebody’s season had to end tonight,” Wildcats coach Grant Potulny told Ryan Stieg of the Daily Press on Saturday night. “I thought it was a great hockey game. It was two very good teams competing and playing to the best of their abilities. Tonight, it was just one bounce that didn’t go our way.”

Potulny knew his team’s chances of a national tournament bid relied heavily on the WCHA title, which slipped through the Wildcats’ fingers. Their team was fueled by some of the nation's best, but loses three of their top six scorers in the summer. They make take a step back in 2018-19.

Have a question or a comment for Jacob? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.