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Bracketology: Bulldogs, Pioneers appear headed for possible NCAA tournament rematch

Minnesota Duluth is projected to be heading to Denver's regional in Loveland, Colorado, for the 2022 NCAA men's hockey tournament this week.

Western Michigan vs. Minnesota Duluth
Minnesota Duluth captain Noah Cates (21) hoists the trophy after winning the championship game of the 2022 NCHC Frozen Faceoff on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jim Rosvold / The NCHC
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DULUTH — The Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team upset NCHC co-regular season champion Denver 2-0 on Friday at Xcel Energy Center in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals en route to winning its third conference postseason title since 2017 on Saturday via a 3-0 victory over Western Michigan in St. Paul .

Now prognosticators, including the News Tribune's own, have the Bulldogs and Pioneers on track for another possible rematch this week in the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA will officially announce the Division I men's hockey bracket at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU, assuming the programming before that ends in a timely fashion. That programming is the NCAA women's hockey national championship featuring Minnesota Duluth and Ohio State . Puck drop for that game is at 3 p.m.

The Bulldogs men's and women's hockey programs are attempting to both make the Frozen Four for a second consecutive season after the women reached the Frozen Four in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the men in Pittsburgh last year.

With all of the conference championships having been awarded — including one that was celebrated twice in one night — and the final Pairwise rankings (via CollegeHockeyNews.com) locked in, here is the projected bracket of News Tribune college hockey reporter Matt Wellens.

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The automatic bids for conference tournament champions went to Minnesota Duluth (NCHC), Michigan (Big Ten), Minnesota State (CCHA), Massachusetts (Hockey East), Harvard (ECAC) and American International (AHA).

Allentown, Pennsylvania (March 25-27)
1. Michigan vs. 16. American International
8. Quinnipiac vs. 10. St. Cloud State

Loveland, Colorado (March 24-26)
4. Denver vs. 13. Massachusetts-Lowell
5. Minnesota Duluth vs. 12. Michigan Tech

Albany, New York (March 24-26)
2. Minnesota State vs. 15. Harvard
7. North Dakota vs. 9. Notre Dame

Worcester, Massachusetts (March 25-27)
3. Western Michigan vs. 14. Northeastern
6. Minnesota vs. 11. Massachusetts

Explanation

Placing the No. 1 seeds in regionals is a challenge this year, with the exception of Denver, because the Pioneers are the host in Loveland. With the top seven teams all from the West, and nine of the top 10 teams from the West, and three of the regionals all being in the East, we're basically guessing as to where the other top three seeds will be sent. This continues to be my best guess — that the No. 1 overall seed will go to the theoretical "Midwest" regional in Allentown, and that the lowest No. 1 seed not named Denver will go to Worcester, where Massachusetts teams will be shuffled to for attendance reasons.

When you lay out the bracket, you get just one intraconference matchup to break up between the NCHC's North Dakota and St. Cloud State. I've seen this done a number of different ways, however, the simplest is just to swap SCSU with Notre Dame. Swapping SCSU and UMass hurts attendance in Worcester, while swapping Minnesota and North Dakota hurts bracket integrity to a greater degree. Also, North Dakota fans will travel anywhere, so Albany could use their support.

Roundup

Here's what others are projecting across college hockey:

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  • Adam Wodon of College Hockey News came up with the same final bracket as I did, as did CHN's Mike McMahon, though both hedge their bets.
  • USCHO.com is sending the second overall seed, Minnesota State, to Worcester for a regional that features North Dakota, Massachusetts and Harvard.
  • Nate Wells has the scenario I talked about above, where there is just one Massachusetts team in Worcester.

We'll find out who is right Sunday night at 5:30 p.m.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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