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Patrick Donnelly | The Associated Press | March 21, 2023

The Division I men's ice hockey tournament selection process, explained

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The Division I men's ice hockey tournament is a 16-team single-elimination bracket competing for the national championship.

Six teams receive automatic bids by winning their conference tournaments, while the remaining 10 teams are selected on an at-large basis by the committee. More on that in a second.

Selections are slated for Sunday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET. The show will air live on ESPNU and ESPN+ (subscription required).

Here's a full breakdown of how selections work for the DI men's ice hockey championship:

Automatic qualifiers

The six conferences that receive automatic bids are: Hockey East, ECAC Hockey, Big Ten, NCHC, CCHA and Atlantic Hockey (AHA). The six winners of their respective conference tournaments will automatically enter the 2023 Division I men's hockey tournament. 

At-large bids

After part of the field is determined via conference championships, the remaining 10 teams are awarded at-large bids by the selection committee.

Here is who currently makes up the committee:

  • East Region (Hockey East): Jeffrey Schulman, University of Vermont athletic director (chair)
  • East Region (Atlantic Hockey): Rich Gotkin, Mercyhurst head coach
  • East Region (ECAC): Tim Troville, Harvard senior associate athletic director
  • West Region (NCHC): Scott Sandelin, Minnesota Duluth head coach
  • West Region (CCHA): Bob Daniels, Ferris State head coach
  • West Region (Big Ten): Josh Richelew, Michigan sport administrator

According to the 2022-23 pre-championship manual, to be eligible during the at-large process, a program must have a won-lost record of at least .500 and must have scheduled a minimum of 20 games against Division I competition. 

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The committee also takes into account strength of schedule, the availability/eligibility of student-athletes for NCAA championships and the Rating Percentage Index (RPI).

The RPI is determined through three variables: a team's won-lost record (25 percent), opponents' winning percentage (21 percent) and opponents' opponents' winning percentage (54 percent), which helps determine strength of schedule.

The manual notes, "If the points awarded in the RPI for a win in a postseason conference tournament game are fewer than the average regular-season RPI point value per game, then points awarded for the postseason tournament game will be deleted. This is being done so that an institution is not penalized for a win in a postseason conference tournament by having its overall RPI decrease. This same policy also applies to the regular season."

Head-to-head competition, results versus common opponents, the quality wins bonus (QWB) and home/away weighting are also factored in. ​​​​​​

In the selection process, the committee also has the right to evaluate teams based on the relative strength of their conferences, using the overall conference RPI and conference comparisons. 

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Each of the above criteria carries one point, aside from head-to-head competition, "which will carry the number of points equal to the net difference in the results of these games (e.g., if Team A defeats Team B three out of four games, Team A would receive two points in the selection process)." In the comparisons between teams, the team with the most points will be selected. If there is a tie, the RPI is the determining factor. 

It’s important to note that the PairWise rating, which outlets like the USCHO and College Hockey News compile, is not the same thing as the RPI. The PairWise is used to mimic the committee’s process, comparing teams via the RPI, records against common opponents and head-to-head competition. A team receives a point for each comparison it wins. The PairWise rankings you see are a result of the total comparisons won, and ties are settled by the RPI.

The committee has its own rankings, but the USCHO says of its calculation, “to the best of our knowledge, when one sees the PairWise rankings, it essentially sees the same data the committee sees.” Here are the USCHO’s and College Hockey News’ own explanations of their systems.

No media or coaches polls are used in the process.

Tournament format

The Division I men's hockey tournament is single elimination. 

The top four teams in the field are awarded the No. 1 seeds, the next four the No. 2 seeds, the next four the No. 3 seeds and the final four the No. 4 seeds. 

Programs that are hosting regionals and qualify for the tournament will be placed at home. Then, the committee fills in the rest of the bracket. 

The committee tries to steer away from matchups between teams from the same conference while also maintaining bracket integrity. If five or more teams from one conference make the tournament, then the pairing process according to seed will be the priority. 

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Teams can be placed in a regional to help attendance, reduce travel expenses, avoid potential conference matchups, etc. 

Here are the dates and venues for the 2023 men's ice hockey tournament:

Round City Venue Dates Host
Regional Allentown, PA PPL Center March 24 & 26 Penn State
Regional Manchester, NH SNHU Arena March 23 & 25 New Hampshire
Regional  Bridgeport, CT Total Mortgage Arena March 24 & 26 Yale
Regional Fargo, ND Scheels Arena March 23  & 25 North Dakota
Frozen Four Tampa, FL Amalie Arena April 6 & 8 Wisconsin

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