Alright, here we go.
(1) St. Cloud over (4) Air Force
Cloud is just better. Air Force was up and down all season, but in their comparable OOC game (@Denver) they got slaughtered 6-0. I don’t think it’ll be this bad – goalie Billy Christopoulos has been playing out of his mind lately – but the Huskies’ fourth-ranked offense is just going to be too much for the Falcons.
(2) Minnesota State over (3) Minnesota Duluth
These two teams actually met in OOC, splitting, with the home team winning both games. So it’s basically a coin flip. Mankato has been the most underrated team in the country this season in my opinion, with a powerful offense (most goals per game in the nation) and stellar defense (4th in GAA) and the best CF% in the nation. I think that gets you past a UMD team that made the tournament by the skin of their teeth, especially with an added week of rest after losing the WCHA semis to a white-hot Michigan Tech.
(2) Minnesota State over (1) St. Cloud
This is another coin flip. The road team won both games in OOC. The stats say Mankato; even though they did play inferior competition, until that WCHA semifinal they had lost just one game in 2018 (a 5-0 loss in a trap game at Alaska). I wasn’t convinced by SCSU’s NCHC tournament (barely escaping Miami, then scraping by North Dakota in OT before getting crushed by Denver in the final). Granted I could hold that against Mankato as well, but I’ve been high on them all year.
(4) Princeton over (1) Ohio State
34, 36, 43, 54, 58. That is the final Pairwise ranking of Ohio State’s OOC opponents. They have not had a test all season, so I’m not convinced by their (superior) underlying numbers. I’m not counting the Big Ten as a test because most of those teams played only cupcakes in OOC, so we don’t know how actually good they really are because their RPI is inflated by winning gimmes, and as you’ll see I expect to see them exposed as paper tigers. Meanwhile, Princeton is hot after knocking off the top 3 seeds in the ECAC en route to a tournament title, and their OOC includes two ties against St. Cloud. I’m riding the hot hand. Also, they have the third-best offense in the nation, and that matches up interestingly with the sixth-best defense in the nation (though again, consider their foes…)
(2) Denver over (3) Penn State
Denver played Penn State off the ice last year in the NCAAs, and Penn State came in on fire after winning the B1G and hanging 10 on Union in the first round. They’re not that hot this year and Denver is the hot hand now. Penn State will have essential home ice playing in Allentown, but Denver’s just flat-out better; despite Guy Gadowsky being known for a “SHOOT THE PUCK FOREVER” style of offense and PSU’s cupcake OOC, Denver actually had better possession metrics, and give me Tanner Jaillet over Peyton Jones any day. They’ve been there before.
(2) Denver over (4) Princeton
Denver’s just flat-out better. Princeton arrived ahead of schedule, and their future is bright. But the Pioneers have the talent and experience to head back to the Frozen Four.
(1) Cornell over (4) Boston
This regional in Worcester is interesting in that I think three of the teams could get out of the conference. BU is hot, going seven unbeaten to end the season, but Cornell has been stupendous all year with their defense and goaltending despite losing to a hot Princeton in the ECAC semis. BU actually has better underlying numbers, but I think Mike Schafer should be able to out coach David Quinn, and the goaltending should see Cornell through.
(3) Northeastern over (2) Michigan
We all know how much of a dumpster fire this UVM men’s season was. Guess who Michigan’s best win against a non-B1G team was? Yup, the Wolverines are another paper tiger and one that went 0-5 against a team in conference that wasn’t even #1 (Ohio State), and who got outplayed in both of their “quality” OOC games (losing 3-0 to Clarkson and 6-4 to Bowling Green, and the only reason that was that close was because BG took their foot off the gas with a comfortable lead). Northeastern’s offense is lethal, especially on the PP, and Michigan can’t kill penalties and gave up more goals per game than UVM did this year. And unlike 2016, the Huskies actually have a goalie that can make a save in Cayden Primeau. Both have similar underlying numbers but…just take the freaking Huskies, seriously, Michigan is criminally overrated.
(1) Cornell over (3) Northeastern
Coin flip. Elite offensive team (Cornell has the lowest GAA) vs. elite defensive team (Northeastern has the 5th most goals per game). Similar underlying numbers. I’m leaning defense here, so that’s why I’m going with Big Red to punch their ticket to Minneapolis. But any of Cornell, Northeastern, or BU could make the Frozen Four and make an impact.
(4) Michigan Tech over (1) Notre Dame
Oooooh, this is my hottest take. Notre Dame is ripe for an upset, riding a PDO bubble and being a net-negative possession team (Tech is about 50-50). In addition, Tech is hot, beating two very good teams (Mankato and Northern Michigan) in the last two rounds of the WCHA tournament. If Cale Morris wasn’t posting a stupid .946, and was closer to average, you would not be considering the Irish as a title contender or even a tournament team. And Tech’s shown they can beat elite goaltending after lighting up Michael Bitzer (you know, the guy who’s posted the second most shutouts in NCAA history) in the WCHA quarters. And they’ve got hot goaltending, as after replacing an injured Devin Kero, ex-UVM keeper Packy Munson has a .968 in the WCHA semis and final, and was also huge early in the season in helping Tech win the Ice Breaker. That’s clutch. Oh, and Tech’s played the whole postseason on the road, which will benefit them at a neutral site more than Notre Dame playing at home.
(2) Providence over (3) Clarkson
Providence to me is a boom or bust team depending on how Hayden Hawkey plays. If he’s even passable, the Friars could win it all with stupendous underlying numbers and a balanced roster. If he’s bad, and he has been at times this year, they’re cooked. They did go 0-2 against Clarkson in the regular season, but Clarkson ended their regular season in a death spiral after their PDO bubble popped. Jake Kielly is an amazing goalie, but if he’s not playing at an elite level Clarkson is likely screwed, and you could tell that for most of 2018, he’s been experiencing burnout. I expect that to continue in the NCAAs.
(2) Providence over (4) Michigan Tech
Road ends here for Cinderella Tech. Notre Dame has a PDO bubble and underwhelming underlying numbers. Providence has neither. The Friars will get more chances and not have to rely on goaltending as much as the Irish, and that should be enough to see them through unless Munson plays the game of his life.
Denver over Minnesota State
I went back and forth on this one. I think the Pioneers’ big-game experience is going to pay huge dividends. This is where having a set bracket sucks because I think this would be a hell of a national championship game – these two and St. Cloud are honestly my three most likely title picks.
Providence over Cornell
Okay, this one’s just gut feeling. Plus the fact that Cornell lost in the ECAC semifinals to Princeton. Can’t really back it up with evidence or stats…
Denver over Providence
Yes, the Pios repeat. They have a better balance than Providence and more reliable goaltending, and unlike the Friars have proven they can come up big on the big stage (crushing St. Cloud in the NCHC final this year and winning the natty last year, while PC lost the Hockey East final to BU and got beat 3-0 by Harvard in the NCAAs last year after being crushed in the Hockey East Octofinals).