What needs to happen for UND to get in NCAA tournament?
GRAND FORKS—One streak survived last weekend.
Thanks to the University of North Dakota's Saturday night, March 3, tie against St. Cloud State University, the Fighting Hawks finished in the top half of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and will play a first-round league playoff series at home for the 16th straight season.
It's the longest streak of top-half conference finishes in college hockey by seven years. The only team within a decade of UND's current run is Boston College at nine years.
Now, UND's sights are set on extending two more historic streaks, and they go hand-in-hand.
First, the Fighting Hawks are looking to win a 16th straight, first-round series and advance to the Twin Cities once again to play in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's Frozen Faceoff.
The route there is simple: Win this weekend's best-of-three series with University of Nebraska Omaha (7:38 p.m. Friday, March 9; 7:08 p.m. Saturday; and, if necessary, 7:08 p.m. Sunday in Ralph Engelstad Arena) and UND will be in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center the following weekend.
Second, UND is looking to reach the NCAA tournament for a 16th straight season—the second-longest stretch in college hockey history, only behind the University of Michigan's 22-year run.
If the Fighting Hawks make it, they'll automatically be placed in the West Regional in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The road there is a bit more complicated.
If UND wins the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, it will automatically be in the 16-team NCAA tournament field. If it does not, there's still a path to the NCAAs, but several things will need to happen.
1. UND needs to win its first-round series
For starters, UND needs to win its best-of-three series against Omaha to have any shot at making the NCAA tournament.
If it loses this weekend's series—even in three games—it will doom the Fighting Hawks in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to select the at-large bids for the NCAAs.
2. For better position, UND needs to win in two games
There's a substantial difference between winning the Omaha series in two games and three games.
UND may be able to stay in the top 15 of the Pairwise with a sweep of Omaha and two losses in St. Paul. However, if UND beats Omaha in three games and loses twice in St. Paul, it will almost surely be out.
If UND wins the series in three, Omaha can still re-jump the Fighting Hawks in the Pairwise Rankings if they don't win a game in St. Paul.
3. Watch other tournaments
Atlantic Hockey and the Big Ten have little impact on UND, but fans will want to keep track of Hockey East, ECAC, Western Collegiate Hockey Association and NCHC postseason tournaments. If the favorites win those tournaments, the No. 15 team in the Pairwise will get in.
But if there's one upset winner, UND will need to be in the top 14. If there are two upset winners, UND will need to be in the top 13, which is unlikely unless the Fighting Hawks win the Frozen Faceoff.
So, who do UND fans want to cheer for in Hockey East, the ECAC and the WCHA?
4. Northeastern or Providence in Hockey East
UND will want Northeastern (No. 10 Pairwise) or Providence (No. 12 Pairwise) to win the Hockey East tournament.
Providence hosts Maine and Northeastern hosts the University of Massachusetts in this weekend's Hockey East playoffs. If all of the top seeds advance, Northeastern and Providence would play in the semifinals.
It would benefit UND if Merrimack upset top-seeded Boston College (No. 17 Pairwise) in this weekend's quarterfinals.
5. Cornell or Clarkson in ECAC
UND will want Cornell (No. 3 Pairwise) or Clarkson (No. 8 Pairwise) to win the ECAC.
Cornell hosts Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals this weekend, and Clarkson hosts Colgate.
6. MSU-Mankato in WCHA
UND will want top-seeded Minnesota State University-Mankato (No. 5 Pairwise) to win the WCHA. The Mavericks host Michigan Tech this weekend.
Bowling Green (No. 16 Pairwise) and Northern Michigan (No. 18 Pairwise) play in the other semifinal. UND fans want Northern Michigan to at least take one game from Bowling Green, because the Falcons could still jump the Fighting Hawks in the Pairwise with a sweep and a loss in the championship game.
7. DU, SCSU, Minnesota Duluth or UND in the NCHC
Also, UND needs one of the home teams this weekend in the NCHC to win the Frozen Faceoff.