Selections for the 2022 DI men's college hockey tournament will be released in 10 days. After an action-packed regular season, we're that close to tournament selections.
It's hard to predict what will happen in conference playoffs between now and then, but there are six teams who I'd deem as favorites for the tournament: Minnesota State, Michigan, Denver, Minnesota, Western Michigan and North Dakota.
The rest of the spots are up for grabs and since those teams aren't technically favorites, they're dark horses — squads who might end up a No. 3 or 4 seed, but go on a deep run. The first few teams mentioned below could even be No. 2 seeds. Still, I'd consider those programs to be dark horses.
RANKINGS: The penultimate Power 10 before selections
If these seven teams make it, they're most likely to cause fits for those favorites listed above.
St. Cloud State
It’s hard to be a dark horse team when you were just in the national championship game last year. But with the level of talent and competition in the NCHC, St. Cloud State enters this year’s tournament as a dark horse.
Sam Hentges' 5th goal in 6 games since returning from the Olympics gives the #Huskies a 1-0 lead! 👊#GoHuskies | #HuskyHockey 🏒 pic.twitter.com/TZrJuBJS1I— St. Cloud State Men's Hockey (@SCSUHuskies_MH) March 6, 2022
The Huskies have all the ingredients to go deep. The veteran core of forwards Kevin Fitzgerald, Jami Krannila, Easton Brodzinski, Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker and defenseman Nick Perbix are hungry to get back to the final after coming oh-so-close to going the distance last spring. Playing in the NCHC means St. Cloud State should have no issue with the level of competition in the tournament.
You know what's even harder than calling a team in last year's national championship game a dark horse? Calling the team who actually won last year's national championship game a dark horse. UMass even opened this season at No. 1 in the USCHO poll.
The Minutemen endured some early-season struggles and a plethora of midseason injuries, which knocked them down a few spots in the rankings. Still, they survived all of that and finished the season one point away from winning the Hockey East regular-season title. Led by senior forward Bobby Trivigno, UMass has most of last season's winning squad still intact. They're a threat to the teams at the top.
The Bobcats were ranked near the top of college hockey all season long. It wasn't until they lost three of five games between Feb. 12 and Feb. 25 that they began to slip from the No. 2 spot in the USCHO poll. Another reason as to why they're a dark horse is due to playing in the ECAC.
None of that matters when looking at the complete body of work from the Bobcats. Defensively, they were the best team in hockey. They've only allowed 34 goals in 36 games played this season. Averaging less than a goal against per game is stunning. That's in large part due to the outstanding play of first-year goalie Yaniv Perets who owns the best goals-against average (0.82) and save percentage (.955) in all of college hockey. If Perets stays hot, the Bobcats will be a force in the tournament.
Minnesota Duluth may have tied St. Cloud State for fourth place in the NCHC, but the Bulldogs are a team who could do serious damage come tournament time.
POLL: Check out the latest USCHO poll
The Bulldogs posted a whopping 11 wins over ranked squads this season, which is why despite their 17-15-4 record, they rank No. 11 in PairWise. In net, junior goalie Ryan Fanti has been stellar this season, posting a 1.97 GAA — good for eighth in the country. Their offense doesn't have the flash of teams like Minnesota State, Michigan and Denver, but the Bulldogs got consistent production from players such as sophomore Blake Biondi, fifth-year Kobe Roth and junior Quinn Olson.
While Perets has the best numbers, the best all-around goaltender this season was sophomore Devon Levi. In 29 games, Levi has the second-best save percentage (.953) and third-best GAA (1.45). Once the calendar flipped to 2022, Levi had three games in which he had to make 40 or more saves. One of those was a 60-save — yes, sixty saves — win against UConn on Feb. 25.
Great work by Devon Levi and the rest of the #HowlinHuskies PK to keep this puck out here. Still 6-1. pic.twitter.com/ZuVTBHW6lC— Northeastern Men’s Hockey (@GoNUmhockey) March 5, 2022
If Northeastern makes the tournament, it's likely to be a No. 3 or 4 seed. That means the Huskies would face one of the best teams in the country. It would surprise no one if the Huskies went on a run, upsetting teams in their path. The biggest reason for the upsets: Levi.
It's never a bad idea to end the regular season scorching hot. That's exactly what Notre Dame did, winning eight of its final nine conference games. In those eight wins was a victory over Minnesota and a sweep of Michigan. Pretty good, right?
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The Fighting Irish have all the ingredients of a really good team. They're top-10 in both goals for (125) and goals against (78). Led by junior Max Ellis, sophomore Ryder Rolston and senior Spencer Stastney, they own one of the league's most balanced scoring attacks with seven different players with over 20 points. In net, senior Matthew Galajda owns the country's seventh-best save percentage (.930) and ninth-best GAA (1.98).
Levi has garnered most of the headlines regarding goaltending in Hockey East, and rightfully so. But not to be forgotten is UMass Lowell goalie Owen Savory. He ranks sixth in the nation in GAA (1.84) and 10th in save percentage (.928).
The River Hawks are tied for fifth in the nation in goals against per game at 2.1. Like Northeastern, due to an elite goalie and a terrific defense, it's entirely possible for UMass Lowell to quell a high-flying offense in the first round of the tournament and advance.
That's the beauty of the big dance.