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Chris Peters | NCAA.com | March 18, 2018

Bracketology: A final prediction as four surprises clinch auto bids

On a dramatic conference championship Saturday, four teams that otherwise would not have made the NCAA tournament secured autobids by winning conference titles. Boston University, Princeton, Air Force and Michigan Tech all took the hardware to punch their tickets to the regionals next week. Notre Dame and Denver also won conference championships Saturday, but we already knew they’d be going to the big dance.

We now know the field of 16 that remain on the road to the 2018 Men’s Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn. — we just don’t know where they’re all going just yet. The full bracket will officially be announced Sunday at noon ET on ESPNU. The four No. 1 seeds will be announced on Twitter around 11 a.m. ET.

RELATED: Hobey Baker Award finalists | Frozen Four information

As exciting as Saturday was for teams that earned automatic bids, it was anguishing for others. With the way things played out Saturday, North Dakota, Boston College and Minnesota saw their tournament bubbles burst. Each had a chance to get in on the final day, but the results were not in their favor meaning each of those college hockey heavyweights have seen their seasons come to an end.

RELATED: Full 2018 bracket

The first team to officially secure a spot in the tournament via autobid was Boston University, who beat Providence 2-0. BU needed a win to get in and got 30 saves from sophomore goalie Jake Oettinger to win another Hockey East title. Shortly after the Terriers punched their tickets, Michigan Tech completed a 2-0 win of their own on the road at Northern Michigan to become WCHA tournament champions for the second straight year.

Up next, one of the day’s most dramatic games saw Princeton lose a 1-0 lead with just 6.4 seconds remaining in regulation as Clarkson forced overtime. But Max Becker scored 2:37 into overtime to give Princeton their first ECAC title since 2008 and their first tournament berth since 2009.

Air Force earned a tidy 5-1 win over Robert Morris as goalie Billy Christopoulos made 35 saves in the game. Then Denver skated past St. Cloud State to knock off the NCHC regular-season champs for the tournament title. Notre Dame closed out the night with an overtime winner over Ohio State to sweep the regular-season and tournament titles.

Amazingly, all of the No. 4 seeds in this year’s tournament are automatic qualifiers. The final tournament seeding wasn’t decided until the very last game as Notre Dame’s overtime win knocked out conference foe Minnesota and allowed Minnesota Duluth a chance to get into the tournament.

So now that we know who’s in, we’re going to make our last bracket prediction before the committee puts the finishing touches on the real thing tonight before it gets unveiled Sunday at noon. As a reminder, you can learn more about how the committee makes its decisions here.

THE TOURNAMENT FIELD (conference tournament champions in parenthesis):

1. St. Cloud State
2. Notre Dame (Big Ten)
3. Cornell
4. Ohio State
5. Denver (NCHC)
6. Minnesota State
7. Providence
8. Michigan
9. Northeastern
10. Clarkson
11. Penn State
12. Minnesota Duluth
13. Boston University (Hockey East)
14. Princeton (ECAC)
15. Michigan Tech (WCHA)
16. Air Force (Atlantic Hockey)

Step 1: Placing the seeds

No 1 seeds: St. Cloud State, Notre Dame, Cornell, Ohio State
No. 2 seeds: Denver, Minnesota State, Providence, Michigan
No. 3 seeds: Northeastern, Clarkson, Penn State, Minnesota Duluth
No. 4 seeds: Boston University, Princeton, Michigan Tech, Air Force.

Step 2: Place regional hosts

The only regional host to make the tournament this year is Penn State. That automatically sends them to Allentown, Pa.

Step 3: Avoiding in-conference matchups

In a natural bracket, we would have ended up with two in-conference matchups in the first round. Cornell’s natural opponent would be Princeton, while Denver’s natural opponent would be Minnesota Duluth. That means we have to move around the No.4 seeds and the No. 3 seeds. That comes in the form of Denver and Minnesota State changing spots and Princeton and Michigan Tech flipping.

WEST – Sioux Falls, S.D.

1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. Air Force
8. Michigan vs. 9. Northeastern

Rationale: This is pretty easy. The No. 1 seed gets to go to its closest regional and is pretty much locked in with the No. 16 overall seed. While there are two other Minnesota teams you’d like to see in there potentially, it just didn’t make sense to make the No. 1 overall seed’s road tougher.

EAST – Bridgeport, Conn.

2. Notre Dame vs. 14. Princeton
7. Providence vs. 10. Clarkson

Rationale: Notre Dame was going to have to fly to any regional anyway, so their placement offers the committee a lot of flexibility. Meanwhile, Princeton is only about two hours away from home after flipping here to avoid what would have been a first-round matchup with in-conference foe Cornell. Providence helps on the attendance front here, and Clarkson has a fairly manageable trip to Bridgeport.

MIDWEST – Allentown, Pa.

3. Cornell vs. 15. Michigan Tech
5. Denver vs. 11. Penn State

Rationale: I’ve been leaning towards putting Cornell in Allentown as long as they’ve been in position to be a No. 1 seed. It’s the closest regional to them and with Notre Dame having to fly no matter what, I don’t mind making the bus trip a little shorter for the Big Red. Penn State as host is locked in here and since Denver can’t play Minnesota Duluth, we simply flip them with Minnesota State. Meanwhile, Michigan Tech flipped spots with Princeton to avoid the in-conference matchup with Cornell.

NORTHEAST – Worcester, Mass.

4. Ohio State vs. 13. Boston University
6. Minnesota State vs. 12. Minnesota Duluth

Rationale: Boston University probably gets too nice a pass here for being a No. 4 seed, but with no great way to flex Northeastern back to an Eastern regional, you want to make sure you get one reasonably local team to help fill some seats. That makes for a tougher draw for Ohio State with an opponent essentially on home ice. Meanwhile, Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth each have to go a long way from home, but this allows us to stay a little closer to bracket integrity.

We’re essentially hours away from the committee making their final decision. No matter what they come up with, we’re sure to have another exciting NCAA tournament. If you love college hockey, there’s no better time of year. Good luck to all the teams on the road to St. Paul.