Commentary: Bulldogs' NCAA tournament streak should remain intact, but where they're slotted is anyone's guess

Matt Wellens, college hockey writer at the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live, shares what his NCAA bracket would look like if he were the committee.

Minnesota Duluth players take the ice for practice at the 2019 NCAA Midwest Regional at PPL Center in Allentown, Pa. Clint Austin / File / News Tribune

Minnesota Duluth’s 13-game postseason winning streak that dated back to the program’s 2018 NCAA championship run came to an end Monday via a loss to St. Cloud State at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

Though an impressive run that included the back-to-back national championships and 2019 Frozen Faceoff title, Scott Sandelin and the Bulldogs wasted little time Monday night mourning the streak’s demise.

“The streak is coming to an end,” Sandelin said in the postgame. “Got to start a new one.”

The Bulldogs should get that chance this week when the 2021 NCAA men’s hockey tournament gets underway with regionals in Fargo, North Dakota, Loveland, Colorado, Albany, New York, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. UMD is expected to be among the 16-team field that will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.


Alex Iafallo, right, of Minnesota-Duluth gets past Patrick Harper of Boston Univerity to score during their NCAA West Regional final hockey game Saturday, March 25, 2017, in Scheels Arena, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Alex Iafallo, right, of Minnesota Duluth gets past Patrick Harper of Boston University to score during an NCAA West Regional final on Saturday, March 25, 2017, at Scheels Arena in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / File / The Forum

It would be the Bulldogs’ sixth consecutive NCAA tournament berth (seventh if you factor in UMD was a lock for the canceled 2020 tournament). The still two-time defending national champions, who have also appeared in the last three NCAA title games, are 13-3 in the NCAA tournament dating back to 2015.

“It’s tough that’s over,” UMD senior wing Kobe Roth said Monday. His class is 8-0 all time in the NCAA tournament. “My freshman year, we were kind of in the same position, losing the Frozen Faceoff. We’ll keep our fingers crossed, hopefully get into regionals here. We’ve been here before. It only takes four games to win. We just have to turn the page.”

Sunday’s selection show is shaping up to be the most dramatic in modern college hockey history with the Pairwise rankings system rendered useless by the COVID-19 pandemic. The system traditionally used by the NCAA selection committee to select the 10 at-large teams and seed the entire field relies heavily on interconference play, and that was practically nonexistent this season.

Instead, the NCAA tournament will be selected the old-fashioned way, as it was long, long ago, based on the opinions of six individuals. They are:

  • Mike Kemp, associate athletic director, Omaha (chair)
  • Derek Schooley, coach, Robert Morris
  • Mike Schafer, coach, Cornell
  • Jeffrey Schulman, director of athletics, Vermont
  • Michael Cross, assistant athletics director, Penn State
  • Bob Daniels, coach, Ferris State

There are also two regional advisory committees, an East and West, that provide input on the selection process, but those members do not have a vote.
Here is the criteria the committee will use to select 10 at-large teams and seed the NCAA tournament:

  • Win-loss record

  • Strength of schedule

  • Eligibility and availability of student-athletes for NCAA Championships

  • Head-to-head results

  • Quality wins

  • Home/Away weighting

Some other notes specific to this season:

  • Teams are not required to have a win-loss record of .500 or better

  • Teams must play 13 games minimum

  • Still no interconference matchups in the first round, even if it reduces travel. The exception is if five teams from one league are selected.

This year’s NCAA women’s hockey tournament was selected in a similar fashion, and what we learned from that is to expect the unexpected . Predicting what the committee will do and how it will interpret the criteria is a lost cause.


So like I did with the women’s eight-team field , I’m going turn myself into a one-man selection committee and give you my bracket with the regular season and conference tournaments all said and done.

Here’s my 2021 NCAA men’s hockey tournament (conference tournament champions in bold):


Fargo, N.D.

1. North Dakota vs. 4. Lake Superior State

2. St. Cloud State vs. 3. Providence


Albany, N.Y.


1. Wisconsin vs. 4. St. Lawrence

2. Michigan vs. 3. Boston University


Bridgeport, Conn.

1. Boston College vs. 4. AIC

2. UMass vs. 3. Quinnipiac


Loveland, Colo.


1. Minnesota vs. 4. Nebraska Omaha

2. Minnesota State vs. 3. Minnesota Duluth

4096853+MSU MHock vs UMD Main.jpg
Jackson Forderer / Mankato Free Press Minnesota Duluth's Karson Kuhlman (20) slides through the crease after scoring a breakaway goal past Minnesota State-Mankato goalie Connor LaCouvee in the second period Friday night in Sioux Falls, S.D. UMD rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win the NCAA West Regional semifinal 3-2 in overtime.

Note that instead of seeding teams No. 1 through No. 16 like we would when using the Pairwise, I grouped teams just by No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds, as each bracket is required to have one of each seed. I then tried to place each team as close to home as possible without creating intraconference matchups. My goal was to limit air travel during the pandemic.

Kemp has said in various interviews the committee would like to limit travel during the pandemic. While the NCAA did not put limiting travel in writing, it did list “financial success” among the priorities the committee should consider . Limiting flights would help the bottom line this year, with few fans in the stands this year.

Here are some other bracket predictions from across college hockey: and will have the 2021 NCAA men's hockey bracket posted after it is announced Sunday night. Then check back on Monday when The Rink Live reporters Brad Schlossman, Matt Wellens, Jess Myers, Austin Monteith, Jason Feldman and Mick Hatten get together on podcast to discuss the 16-team NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament field.

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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