DENVER TOP SEED IN NCAA TOURNAMENT
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