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Three Minnesota teams in line for No. 1 NCAA seeds

How’s the State of Hockey when it comes to NCAA men’s hockey a week before Selection Sunday? Pretty darn good.

After a successful weekend for St. Cloud State, Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth, all three are in line to be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies are No. 1 in the PairWise Ratings, which mimic the formula that the NCAA uses to pick and seed its 16-team field, while the Mavericks are No. 3 and the Bulldogs No. 4. If all three remain in the top three of the PairWise through Saturday's conference tournament championship games, they cannot be placed in the same NCAA regional.

According to College Hockey News’ PairWise Probability Matrix, which runs simulations of all results of the remaining games, St. Cloud State will be the No. 1 overall seed, Minnesota State has a 99 percent chance of being one of the four No. 1 seeds and Minnesota Duluth has a 96 percent chance of being a No. 1 seed. Massachusetts, No. 2 in the PairWise, also has a 100 percent chance at being a No. 1 seed, the matrix predicts.

Here’s the situation for each of the three Minnesota teams:

* St. Cloud State (29-4-3): The Huskies swept Miami (Ohio) over the weekend to advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff as the No. 1 seed on Friday and Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. St. Cloud State’s matchup in St. Paul isn’t known yet because No. 6 seed Colorado College and No. 3 seed Western Michigan will play a decisive third game of their playoff series on Monday in Kalamazoo. If Western Michigan wins, the Huskies will play No. 4 seed Denver, and No. 2 seed Minnesota Duluth will face Western Michigan. If Colorado College wins, the Huskies will face the Tigers, and UMD will meet Denver.

In the NCAA tournament, St. Cloud State, as the No. 1 overall seed, will be placed closest to home. That means the Huskies will be in the West Regional in Fargo, and they’ll face the No. 16 overall seed, likely the Atlantic Hockey tournament champion. The only chance St. Cloud State had of not being place in Fargo ended with North Dakota’s series loss to Denver. Had the Fighting Hawks made the NCAA tournament, they would have been placed in Fargo because they are the regional host, and the Huskies would have been moved to avoid a first-round intraconference matchup.

* Minnesota State (31-7-2): The Mavericks swept Lake Superior State 2-1 and 2-0 and will be host to Bowling Green on Saturday night in the WCHA championship game. With a win, Minnesota State would have a chance to move up to the No. 2 overall seed, if Massachusetts loses in the Hockey East tournament. The PairWise matrix gives the Mavericks a 25 percent chance to be No. 2 overall, a 49 percent chance to be No. 3 and a 26 percent chance to be No. 4.

* Minnesota Duluth (23-11-2): The defending national champion Bulldogs swept Nebraska Omaha to reach the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. The PairWise matrix gives them a 9 percent chance to be the No. 2 overall seed, a 24 percent chance to be No. 3 overall and a 64 percent chance to be No. 4. The only team that could bump UMD from a No. 1 seed is Denver, if the Bulldogs lose twice and the Pioneers win the NCHC tournament. Brown’s two-game sweep of PairWise No. 5 Quinnipiac in the ECAC tournament gave UMD’s hopes for a No. 1 seed a significant boost.

Hamline's successful season ends with loss in D-III women's title game

The differing emotions play out after every championship game, but they still are striking.

Kassi Abbott was enjoying her moment in the spotlight, the Plattsburgh State goalie finding a place on the news conference table to proudly display the baseball cap declaring her team NCAA Division III hockey champions. To Saturday’s victor went the spoils.

Ten minutes earlier at St. Thomas Ice Arena, tears fell from Leah Schwartzman’s eyes and the Hamline senior captain’s voice cracked when dissecting the Pipers’ successful season that ended with 4-0 loss to Plattsburgh State in the women’s Frozen Four final.

“Every single girl on our team believed it this year. We never doubted each other, regardless of what everyone else was thinking,’’ Schwartzman said. “It meant a lot to for us to be in this position. We worked so hard all year, and I’m just so proud of the whole team. We’ve come a long way.’’

Hamline (23-4-3) became the first MIAC team to reach the NCAA title game but couldn’t deliver the school its first NCAA team championship in any sport. Instead, Plattsburgh State (29-2) won its seventh national championship and fifth in the past six years. The Cardinals contested passes, won puck battles and efficiently countered Hamline’s speed. When the Pipers had chances to score, including on a breakaway by national player of the year Bre Simon, Abbott was there to make the save.

“I’m proud of our season, proud of getting to the national championship game,’’ Hamline coach Natalie Darwitz said. “We just didn’t have our game today. We just never got into our rhythm. … It’s a tough pill to swallow.’’

That wasn’t the case Friday night, when the fourth-ranked Pipers beat No. 1 St. Thomas 3-0 in an all-Minnesota semifinal by storming the Tommies from the start. Five minutes before the game, St. Thomas announced that its All-America goalie, Kenzie Torpy, wouldn’t play because of a knee injury suffered during Thursday’s practice.

Hamline quickly took advantage, with Becca Zarembinski sniping a shot past Tommies freshman goalie Eryn Cooley 1:35 into the game and Simon scoring on a rebound 50 seconds later. Cooley was sharp the rest of the way, making 29 saves, but St. Thomas couldn’t overcome Hamline’s speed and the jolt of losing Torpy.

“She tried to come out in the morning skate today but couldn’t go,’’ Tommies coach Tom Palkowski said. “It was hard to look her in the eye and see the devastation she had.’’

A day night later, Hamline wore that emotion, but the future looks bright for the Pipers. Darwitz inherited a team that went 6-17-2 in 2014-15 and has guided steady improvement, including an NCAA third-place finish last year and now a runner-up showing. Led by Simon, Hamline returns seven of its top eight scorers, plus freshman goalie Jaela O’Brien.

“To look back and Hamline’s at the bottom of the polls nationally, and four years later we’re in a national championship game,’’ Darwitz said. “We’ve come a long way in the program.’’

Editor's note: Photo courtesy Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

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