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Evan Marinofsky | NCAA.com | January 21, 2022

2022 NCAA men's hockey tournament bracket predictions, 2 months to selections

2022 men's hockey bracket predictions, 2 months to selections

The 2021-22 men's college hockey season is a little over halfway through — and it's been a good one. A great one, actually. It's gone by quick, however, and we're only two months away from tournament selections. 

Yes, we've seen some dominant performances from certain schools. But the reality is that the top 20 teams have all been fairly close to one another every week. It's produced some incredible entertainment and will continue to do so for the rest of the season. 

As fun as the rest of the season will be, let's simulate all of that and get to the big entertainment: the national tournament. 

I predicted the NCAA bracket back on Oct. 13, so if you'd like to go back and see where I was right (and wrong), feel free. I actually wasn't too far off in this round of predictions from the ones done two weeks into the season. 

RANKINGS: Check out the latest USCHO poll

Before we dive into the predictions, let's take a look at the rules I followed. There are 16 teams in the Division I men's ice hockey bracket. Six make it by winning their conference. Those six conferences are the Atlantic Hockey Association, Big Ten, CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East and NCHC. The remaining 10 are at-large bids selected through win-loss record, head-to-head wins, strength of schedule and RPI. The best way to look at this is through PairWise. The committee also focuses on the experience of the student-athletes and making sure they're playing in front of fans. 

One thing that impacted picking teams for the tournament was the Olympics. Fifteen current college hockey players will be heading to Beijing for Team USA alone. That's not even including players like Michigan's Owen Power and Kent Johnson for Team Canada. 

When it came to making each regional, I had to make sure if a host institution qualified, they were playing at that regional. After that came ensuring no teams from the same conference played each other in the first round. 

Let's dive into the bracket.

2022 NCAA men's hockey bracket predictions, 2 months until selections

Here are my top four seeds: 

  1. Minnesota State 
  2. Michigan 
  3. Quinnipiac 
  4. Western Michigan 

The first two here were pretty easy choices. The second two were a bit more difficult. 

Minnesota State has been the best all-around team in college hockey this season. They lead the nation in goals scored (108) and are top-five in goals against (34). Junior forward Nathan Smith leads the country in points with 37 and is a favorite for the Hobey Baker Award at season's end. Along with that, the Mavericks are stingy defensively and star goalie Dryden McKay is one of the best, and most experienced, netminders in the nation.

Michigan has the firepower and has consistently been a top-five team all season long. Yes, the Wolverines are young. But when that lineup is in fifth gear, they're almost impossible to stop. Even after missing star players to the World Juniors, they rank second in goals for with 96. The Olympics will hit Michigan's lineup hard, but I predict it will do fine with the players it still has and be the No. 2 overall seed. 

Quinnipiac and Western Michigan were a bit tougher. In my estimation, Quinnipiac is easily one of the best teams in the country. But is it in the eyes of the committee? The Bobcats are in the ECAC, which hurts in PairWise when up against teams in the Big Ten, NCHC or Hockey East. Nevertheless, the Bobcats are dynamic offensively and shut down opponents defensively. They've only allowed a whopping 21 goals which is good for fewest in the nation. They don't allow shots, and when they do, first-year goalie Yaniv Perets is there to stop them.

OLYMPICS SZN: Read about the careers of the 15 current college hockey players going to Beijing 

As for Western Michigan, this wasn't a tough choice because of PairWise. It was tough because the NCHC is tough. For the remainder of the season, the NCHC is going to be a cage fight and picking the team to come out on top is difficult. I went with Western Michigan. The Broncos have been terrific against ranked opponents this season and not that this is everything, but they are the tallest and heaviest team in college hockey. That could come in handy in bruising conference play. 

Conference winners 

  • Atlantic Hockey Association: AIC
  • Big Ten: Michigan 
  • CCHA: Minnesota State
  • ECAC: Quinnipiac 
  • Hockey East: UMass Lowell 
  • NCHC: Western Michigan 

Let's break down the bracket by regional. 

Regional No. 1: Allentown, PA 

  1. Minnesota State 
  2. Minnesota Duluth 
  3. Cornell 
  4. AIC

As stated earlier, Minnesota State enters this tournament as the best all-around team in the nation. AIC shouldn't be too tough of a first-round opponent for the Mavericks, although the Yellow Jackets are no stranger to upsetting No. 1 seeds — just ask the 2019 St. Cloud State team. 

The more interesting matchup is Minnesota Duluth and Cornell. It can be argued that no team was hurt more by the 2019-20 COVID-19 shutdown than Cornell. The Big Red were 23-2-4 in early March 2020 and had their eyes on the Frozen Four. They didn't even get to play last season due to the Ivy League teams shutting down. In this scenario, they'd face a very good NCHC team in Minnesota Duluth. Cornell is no stranger to having success against NCHC teams — it swept North Dakota at North Dakota back on Jan. 7 and 8. The Bulldogs would be a tough out though. They've been a consistent top-10 team and have star goalie Ryan Fanti in net. This would be an extremely tight, ECAC-NCHC matchup. 

Regional No. 2: Albany, NY 

  1. Michigan 
  2. UMass
  3. North Dakota 
  4. Northeastern 

You love upsets; I love upsets. Heck, we all love upsets. If there's a big potential upset in this bracket prediction, it's in Albany, NY with the Michigan-Northeastern matchup. 

It's hard to pick against Michigan. By the time the tournament rolls around, the Wolverines should have all their players back from the Olympics, so they'll be a full squad. They have the most lethal offensive attack on paper in the country. The line of sophomores Kent Johnson, Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson can consistently be counted on to capitalize on even the smallest mistakes made by opponents. But then there's sophomore goalie Devon Levi for Northeastern. He is the closest possible thing to a brick wall. He leads the nation in save percentage (.955) and ranks third in GAA (1.31). If there's anyone who could stand on their head and stop Michigan, it's Levi. 

LATEST RANKINGS: Here's the most recent Power 10

The UMass-North Dakota matchup isn't one to be overlooked. That, too, is one of the best games in this bracket prediction. On one side, there's UMass defending its national championship from last spring. On the other is North Dakota — one of the top teams in the NCHC and battle-tested. It wouldn't be a huge surprise to see this regional produce a No. 3 vs. No. 4 seed in the second round. 

Regional No. 3: Worcester, MA 

  1. Quinnipiac 
  2. St. Cloud State 
  3. UMass Lowell 
  4. Ohio State 

Quinnipiac and Ohio State facing off would be a battle of the strengths. The Buckeyes rank sixth in the nation in goals for with 87. While they don't sport any of the leading point-getters in college hockey, they have depth, which is especially important during this time of year. Led by freshman forward Georgii Merkulov, senior forward Jake Wise and freshman defender Mason Lohrei, Ohio State has 13 players in double digits for points. The Bobcats rank first in the nation in goals against with 21. They're known for their ability to hold opponents to extremely low amounts of shots. Their 16.28 shots allowed per game is easily best in the country. 

As for the other matchup, St. Cloud State enters with tons of experience. This is a group motivated by the 2019 loss to AIC and last season's national championship loss to UMass. It's hard to imagine a veteran core of graduate student Kevin Fitzgerald, redshirt senior Easton Brodzinski and seniors Nolan Walker, Nick Perbix, Sam Hentges and Micah Miller being bounced in the first round. But taking down the River Hawks won't be easy. UMass Lowell is top-five in goals against (34) due to outstanding play in net by senior goalie Owen Savory. He's third in the nation in save percentage (.940) and fifth in GAA (1.52). Betting against a great goaltender in the playoffs is usually a bad idea. 

Regional No. 4: Loveland, CO 

  1. Western Michigan 
  2. Denver 
  3. Minnesota
  4. Notre Dame 

Of the regionals, this is one that could be very close. Western Michigan has enjoyed a lot of success this season with senior Drew Worrad, graduate student Ethen Frank, senior Michael Joyaux and junior Ronnie Attard leading the way. Junior goalie Brandon Bussi has also been massive for the Broncos. While Western Michigan has been one of the more highly touted teams in college hockey, Notre Dame has been sneaky good this season. Similarly to Big Ten rival Ohio State, the Fighting Irish get a lot of depth scoring with 12 players racking up double digit point totals. Notre Dame has split its net, giving time to both Matthew Galajda and Ryan Bischel. Both have been superb. The Fighting Irish also swept Michigan earlier this season, so they have no issue taking down highly-ranked teams. 

Denver and Minnesota is an interesting one because both could've been ranked higher. At the time of writing, Denver is No. 3 in the country according to PairWise. The Pioneers have a real case to be a No. 1 seed and could easily do it. An interesting stat that places Denver in the top grouping of teams in college hockey: It ranks third in the nation in even strength Corsi For at 60.3 percent (shot attempts for at even strength). Minnesota was a team I picked to be a No. 1 seed at the start of the season. Due to inconsistency throughout the first half and losing star goalie Jack LaFontaine to the NHL, I have them entering the tournament as a No. 3 seed. Denver's offense, which ranks fourth in the nation in goals for with 93, is led by a nice blend of older and younger players such as junior Bobby Brink, freshman Massimo Rizzo, sophomore Carter Savoie, senior Brett Stapley and freshman Carter Mazur. Minnesota is led by Olympians Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies. Both Meyers and Knies have been top point-getters for the Golden Gophers this season, as they've averaged over a point-per-game each. 

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