MEN'S HOCKEY: It's anybody's game at NCAA tournament
Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Miami, Quinnipiac and Niagara all won regular-season conference titles this season.
None of them even made their league's playoff championship game.
That's what kind of year it has been in college hockey.
Perhaps this year, more than any other, the national championship is up for grabs. When the NCAA tournament begins this weekend in Grand Rapids, Mich., Toledo, Ohio, Providence, R.I., and Manchester, N.H., it's nearly impossible to pick out the favorites.
The University of Wisconsin, which has lost just five times in the last 30 games, is a No. 4 seed. So is St. Cloud State University, which won the MacNaughton Cup as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association champion.
Notre Dame was on the tournament bubble Saturday, facing a real possibility of missing the NCAAs. Yet the Irish, who went 1-6 in January, ended up as a No. 1 seed.
The most dominant teams in the nation this season have been Quinnipiac and Minnesota, the top two overall seeds in the NCAAs.
Yet the Bobcats lost to American International and the only league sweeps Minnesota managed this season came against the two worst teams in the WCHA.
"I think just about anybody in the field this year could win it," Gopher coach Don Lucia told the Minnesota Daily. "College hockey has been kind of all over the map this year."
The postseason tournaments showed that.
The top two seeds in the WCHA tournament both got knocked out in their first games at the Final Five. The winner of the tournament was Wisconsin, which needed the automatic bid in order to reach the NCAA tournament.
It was the first time in at least 20 years that the Final Five champion was a team that needed the auto bid in order to make the NCAAs.
Atlantic Hockey and the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference also had upset winners, while Michigan and Boston University nearly turned the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Hockey East upside down.
As it stands, there are as many Atlantic Hockey teams in the tournament as CCHA teams. There are as many from the ECAC as Hockey East.
And half of the WCHA will vie for a spot in Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four.
North Dakota knows first-hand how razor-thin the margin of error was this season.
If Rocco Grimaldi or Danny Kristo's shots off the post in overtime against the Gophers went post-and-in, UND would have won the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA champion.
However, if UND didn't score its two extra-attacker goals this season -- one against Colorado College and one against Alaska Anchorage -- it would have finished sixth and missed the NCAA tournament altogether.
Alas, UND is in the tournament and may have just as good of a shot as anyone to bring home the top prize.
"If you lose, you go home," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "There's a different edge to it. Everything's on the line. This is what you build your entire season toward. This is what you work so hard for. The regular season is to build for the national tournament. You put all of your effort into each and every night."
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