In a disappointing outing last Saturday, Michigan Tech fell to Bemidji State in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoff semi-finals. The game was very close for the first two periods — it was tied 1-1 after 40 minutes — but then the sled runners fell off for the Huskies just about halfway through the final stanza.
The Beavers got a good bounce on a weak clearing attempt by Tech and went up 2-1. Then the Huskies gave the puck away in front of their own goal (a signature event for this team, it seems) and, down by two with just a bit more than 7 minutes left in the game, Them Dogs were forced to play with abandon to try and close the gap. BSU scored another and then added an empty net goal before Tech scored with a little more than a minute remaining.
With the 5-2 win, the Beavers will head to Mankato next week to take on the big bad Mavericks from Minnesota State. The winner will get an autobid to the NCAA Tournament. If Bemidji loses, their season is over.
And Tech, which fell to 12th in the Pairwise rankings, now has to wait and see what the remainder of the Division I conference’s playoffs bring to see if they will get an at-large bid to the national tournament. The Huskies’ odds for a bid are good, but not certain at this point.
A Bad Time for a Letdown
The JMac was hopping in Houghton on Saturday when the game began — it was nearly sold out even though students were still on spring break. However, Tech’s seeming inability to score when they get chances, something that’s been (ahem) dogging them since the start of February, was again a big part of this loss.
At the same time, Tech was missing three key players due to injury. Captain Alec Broetzman, seen in a soft cast from a hand injury, was not dressed and may not play again this season. Defensive stalwart Tyrell Buckley, also in a cast and with a sling on one arm, is almost certainly gone for the rest of this season. Mad dog forward Ryland Mosley, who is a key part of the Huskies’ energy game, was also not dressed; his prognosis for the next game (assuming there is a next game) is unknown. Finally, last week’s hero Parker Saretsky went down with an injury in the second period.
Nevertheless, there seemed to be something missing beyond the injuries for the Huskies. Part of that is the way the Beavers played — they have a great first line, they forecheck extremely well, and they always seem to come up with goaltending that frustrates Tech. And, most importantly, Bemidji’s best players dominated the game — their top line had a hand in all five BSU goals.
The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
No matter, the regular season is over for the Huskies and Tech has to see what the rest of the leagues do to know their fate in the Big Skate.
The odds for the Huskies are good though. It would take an almost unreal alignment of the stars to keep Tech out of the NCAA tournament. Various simulations put that dire combination of unlikely events at or below the 1% level or so, and the results from the Hockey East and East Coast Athletic Conference playoffs will likely tell the tale. The Huskies could be a lock for the tournament after next Friday’s games, or they may have to wait until Saturday to know where they stand.
In college hockey, unlike college basketball, the choice of tournament teams rarely includes any judgment from a selection committee. Instead, the rules are simple: the six playoff winners (not regular season champions) from each of the conferences get an automatic bid. After those teams are selected, the remaining ten teams, in the order of the Pairwise Rankings, are chosen.
After that, the selection committee then applies the Pairwise Rankings to structure the tournament seeds. Then, and only then, does the committee have leeway, and that arises when teams are assigned to the four regional sites. There will be four #1 seeds, four #2 seeds and so forth. Each four team regional will have a 1, 2, 3 and 4 seed. However, which teams are assigned to which site is a committee choice. Regional games will be played on March 24-27.
First, any team that is hosting a regional will go to that regional; this year, that means Denver, who is likely to be a #1 or #2 seed, will play in Colorado at the Loveland regional. After that, the committee tries to keep travel costs down and, if at all possible, avoid any first round games that pit teams from the same conference. So, teams will end up in Loveland or the other regionals, in Allentown, PA; Worchester, MA; and Albany, NY. The four regional winners will advance to the Frozen Four, which will be played in Boston at TD Gardens, the home of the Boston Bruins, on April 7-9.
It sounds a bit complex, but as far as Tech is concerned, it’s all about how many teams outside of the top 16 Pairwise Rankings win a conference playoff championship. Those are the teams that could squeeze out the Huskies.
In the CCHA, the one possibility is Bemidji State. Atlantic Hockey has no teams in the top 16, so the playoff winner there will take one non-ranked spot. All four remaining National Collegiate Hockey Conference teams are well within the top 16 of the Pairwise, so they won’t “take” a Pairwise slot away from the Huskies.
Only one team in Hockey East is outside of the Pairwise limit, while 3 of the four ECAC teams are outsiders. For Tech to somehow end up on the outside looking in, a lot of upsets would be needed and even the results of the semi-finals in these tournaments would also have to go a certain way.
For Husky Nation, though, any uncertainty at this point is too much. The picture will be clear by Saturday night no matter what.
On Sunday, the NCAA Selection Show will air and we should see Tech in the tournament — and then we will know where they will be playing and who their opponent will be. Now we have to wait and watch.