The Michigan hockey team was riding an emotional high yesterday afternoon after defeating its arch rival Michigan State for the first time this season 3-2. It had won the CCHA regular season championship and had captured the CCHA Tournament Championship for the first time in three years.
But all of these accolades would only win Michigan a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the right to play No. 5 seed Saint Cloud in the West Regional, which will be held at Yost Ice Arena this Friday. Despite being a higher seed than Saint Cloud, Michigan is five spots below them in the final USCHO.com poll – released March 11th.
The Wolverines had a chance to receive a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament when they were ranked No. 4 in the pairwise rankings, which mimics the NCAA selection process.
But a loss to Lake Superior State in the first game of the CCHA playoffs plummeted Michigan’s pairwise rankings to No. 10 and all but squandered Michigan’s chances of receiving a bye.
“There is no question that (the loss) affected (our pairwise ranking) – more than anyone could have anticipated,” coach Red Berenson said after watching the brackets announced on ESPN with the team. “We were looking at a bye opportunity and that game just dropped us like a rock and we have to live with that.”
If Michigan defeats Saint Cloud in the first round, it will advance to play the top-seeded Pioneers, who won the WCHA Championship and had been ranked No. 1 for the majority of the season.
Also receiving byes in the first round are New Hampshire, Minnesota and Boston University. Boston University failed to win the ECHA Championship and was ranked No. 6 in the polls, but still received a first-round bye on the strength of a No. 4 placing in the pairwise rankings.
Also aiding the Terriers is a new piece of legislation put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks by the NCAA committee, which aims to keep teams near their campuses. The rule states that any team “under 400 miles from a particular venue cannot choose to fly there,” but must drive instead. In addition, the selection committee aimed to limit the amount of the teams’ travel.
The only schools in the field more than 400 miles from a venue are Minnesota, Saint Cloud , Colorado College and Denver, which are an average nearly 1,000 miles from the nearest regional site – Ann Arbor. This means that all four of these teams could fly to either Ann Arbor or Worcester, Mass. – located an hour outside of Boston.
This legislative measure prevents the previous rule that swapped the bottom two East and West seeds to provide a “national feel” to the NCAA Tournament and added to efforts to keep eastern teams in the East Regional and vice versa.
This alignment allows for the possibility of having four WCHA teams play each other in the second round of the West Regional.
This new rule also adds to the difficulty of Michigan’s task of getting out of a bracket that Berenson considers “the toughest bracket we could possibly be in.”
Saint Cloud, ranked No. 4 in the USCHO.com poll, had been ranked No. 1 earlier this year and is considered one of the top teams in the nation despite having lost its last two games in the WCHA playoffs to No. 10 Colorado College and No. 3 Minnesota.
Michigan upset the second-seeded Huskies in the quarterfinals of last year’s NCAA Tournament 4-3.
“They are a well coached team, they have a lot of great hockey players and we had to battle with them last year,” junior Mike Cammalleri said.
“We had to play one of our best games last year. It took that much to beat them and we can expect the same thing this year.”
Despite being snubbed by the selection committee, the Wolverines were upbeat about their chances next weekend.
“If you do win your Friday game, you are kind of on a role for your Saturday game,” Cammalleri said. “We found that with Ohio State. They were a lot more ready to play than we were this weekend, and we were lucky to get out of that game.”