A year ago as college men's hockey teams closed their regular seasons and prepared for conference tournament play, Mike Hastings and Tom Serratore each had a good idea where their teams stood in terms of making the NCAA tournament.
Hastings' Minnesota State Mankato team was in line for a No. 1 NCAA regional seed, while Serratore's Bemidji State squad sat on the NCAA bubble for a spot in a national tournament that ultimately was scuttled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And if Hastings and Serratore needed confirmation, they only had to consult the PairWise Ratings, the comparison formula the NCAA uses to pick and seed its 16-team tournament field.
This season, with COVID-19 prompting teams to largely play games within their conference, the PairWise has been rendered useless when trying to compare teams from different leagues. Instead, the NCAA Division I men's ice hockey committee will use some PairWise components to compare teams within conferences, but ultimately it will rely on subjectivity to fill the field.
Hastings had scheduled series against St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth, and the Mavericks were to play in the Ice Breaker tournament in Duluth that included UMD, the Gophers and Providence. All those, of course, were wiped out.
"I've got a tremendous amount of respect for our league because it beats you up, year-in and year-out, but the one thing you do get a taste of when you go outside the conference to play nonconference games, it gives you a little more of a barometer of where you're at,'' Hastings said. "We haven't been able to do that.''
Serratore, whose team travels to Mankato for Thursday's opener of a home-and-home series, agreed with Hastings.
"It's tough for everybody because you don't know what you don't know right now,'' Serratore said. "All we know is our league this year. We have an idea about the teams outside our conference, but you don't know until you play them.''
Bemidji State can bolster its NCAA case with a good showing during a six-games-in-11-days stretch that begins with Minnesota State and includes home series against Lake Superior State and Alabama Huntsville.
The NCAA field will consist of one automatic bid from each of the six conferences — Atlantic Hockey, Big Ten, ECAC, Hockey East, NCHC and WCHA — and 10 at-large bids. Here is a look at the teams likely in the mix for the tournament and a projection of each conference:
NCAA bids: 3
Safely in: Minnesota (19-5), Wisconsin (15-8-1)
Likely in: Michigan (12-8)
Comment: There is clear separation between the Big Ten's top three and fourth-place Notre Dame (10-12-2), which likely would need to win the conference tournament to get in the NCAA field.
NCAA bids: 4
Safely in: North Dakota (17-4-1), St. Cloud State (14-8)
Likely in: Minnesota Duluth (12-8-2), Nebraska Omaha (13-8-1)
Comment: Nebraska Omaha, swept by a combined 11-2 at North Dakota last week, has two more games against the Fighting Hawks, so the Mavericks could end up on the bubble.
NCAA bids: 2 or 3
Safely in: Minnesota State Mankato (15-2-1)
On the bubble: Bowling Green (17-8-1 with a game Wednesday night), Bemidji State (9-6-3), Michigan Tech (15-8-1), Lake Superior State (12-5-3)
Comment: One and possibly two of the bubble teams should get in. Bowling Green has cooled since a 12-1 start. Bemidji State just swept two at Michigan Tech, is 3-1 vs. Bowling Green and owns a win and tie against Minnesota State.
NCAA bids: 4
Safely in: Boston College (15-3-1), Boston University (9-2), Massachusetts (12-5-3)
On the bubble: Northeastern (9-6-2), Providence (9-7-4), Connecticut (8-9-2)
Comment: This weekend's series between Northeastern and Providence will be key in the battle for a likely fourth NCAA bid from Hockey East.
NCAA bids: 1 or 2
Likely in: Quinnipiac (14-5-4)
On the bubble: Clarkson (9-7-4)
Comment: Quinnipiac, 8-1-3 in its past 12 games, should make the 16-team field regardless of its ECAC tourney finish. Clarkson could be in the mix for one of the final at-large spots.
NCAA bids: 1
Likely in: American International (13-3)
Comment: The Yellow Jackets are in line to be an NCAA tournament spoiler.