The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Mike Chambers and Terry Frei

The Denver Pi­o­neers are headed to Cincin­nati to be­gin their 10th con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance in the NCAA hockey tour­na­ment.

As it turned out, los­ing 1-0 to North Dakota and see­ing its 13-game win streak end in the semi­fi­nals of the Na­tional Col­le­giate Hockey Con­fer­ence’s Frozen Face­off didn’t cost DU any­thing in the na­tional pic­ture.

Af­ter beat­ing West­ern Michi­gan 3-1 to fin­ish third in the four-team NCHC Tour­na­ment in Minneapolis, de­spite hold­ing out their top play­ers, the na­tion­ally No. 1ranked Pi­o­neers (29-7-4) were an­nounced Sun­day as the NCAA Tour­na­ment’s No. 1 over­all seed and will open against No. 16 seed Michi­gan Tech in the Mid­west Re­gional semi­fi­nals at Cincin­nati’s U.S. Bank Arena at 11 a.m. MDT on Satur­day.

The Huskies (23-14-7) are 27th in the PairWise Rank­ings but re­ceived an au­to­matic bid for win­ning the West­ern Col­le­giate Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion Tour­na­ment.

“I’m glad they kept the No. 1 seed out West, and I thought the (se­lec­tion) com­mit­tee did an ex­cel­lent job of keep­ing the bracket in­tegrity,” DU coach Jim Mont­gomery said af­ter the seeds and bracket were an­nounced. “They ex­e­cuted it. They pro­tected the higher seeds.”

If the Pi­o­neers de­feat Michi­gan Tech to reach 30 vic­to­ries for the first time since the 2004-05 sea­son, they will play the Penn State-Union win­ner in the Mid­west Re­gional ti­tle game Sun­day, with a berth in the Frozen Four in Chicago (April 6-8) at stake.

If the Pi­o­neers lose to Michi­gan Tech, it’ll be one of the big­gest up­sets in NCAA his­tory.

“We don’t worry about out­comes at Denver,” Mont­gomery said. “We worry about the process, and if our process is good our out­comes are usu­ally good.”

At­lantic Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion cham­pion Air Force (26-9-5) also is in the 16-team field. The Fal­cons play West­ern Michi­gan in the East Re­gional semi­fi­nals in Prov­i­dence, R.I., on Fri­day. The Fal­cons re­ceived an au­to­matic bid as cham­pi­ons of the AHA Tour­na­ment, but they have climbed to 12th in the PairWise Rank­ings and would have re­ceived an at-large bid if they hadn’t won their league tour­na­ment. They will make their sixth NCAA Tour­na­ment ap­pear­ance since 2007 but first since 2012.

“We knew we would get back to this point. It was part of our busi­ness plan,” Air Force coach Frank Ser­ra­tore said in a news re­lease. “But this hap­pened one year early. We only have three se­niors, but what an amaz­ing group we have. They found a way to get it done. We have only scored five goals the last three games and won all three. We did it with a de­fense, special teams and a great group of play­ers and coaches in our pro­gram.”

DU will be try­ing to make a re­peat trip to the Frozen Four. Last year, DU beat Boston Univer­sity 7-2 and Fer­ris State 6-3 in the West Re­gional in St. Paul, Minn., then lost 4-2 to even­tual na­tional cham­pion North Dakota in the Frozen Four semi­fi­nals in Tampa, Fla. The pre­vi­ous year, DU was elim­i­nated in the quar­ter­fi­nals by Prov­i­dence. And in Mont­gomery’s first DU sea­son, 2013-14, the Pi­o­neers lost to Boston Col­lege in the first round. If the tra­jec­tory of Mont­gomery’s pro­gram con­tin­ues, DU will play for the na­tional ti­tle April 8.

“Go­ing east was the one thing we wanted to avoid,” Mont­gomery said. “We didn’t want to go to Manch­ester (N.H.) or Prov­i­dence, be­ing from the far­thest point west. Travel is eas­ier on the body, and prepa­ra­tion time is ex­tended. But noth­ing is easy when you come to the NCAA Tour­na­ment. Michi­gan Tech is a re­ally good hockey team. Mel Pear­son has done great things with that pro­gram in six years there, and Union just won a na­tional cham­pi­onship (in 2014), and Penn State is a pro­gram that has ac­com­plished so much in just five years, hav­ing al­ready won the Big Ten cham­pi­onship.”

Min­nesota Du­luth, Har­vard and Min­nesota are the other No. 1 re­gional seeds.

Hen­rik Borgstrom, a fresh­man for­ward from Helsinki try­ing to score against Colorado Col­lege goal­tender Alex Le­clerc at Mag­ness Arena last month, will take 21 goals and 38 points into DU’s NCAA Tour­na­ment opener Satur­day. Andy Cross, Denver Post file

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