University of St. Thomas
Off their 10-14-2 conference record, St. Thomas finished in seventh place in the CCHA standings with 32 points, an 18-point improvement to where they finished in their inaugural 2021-22 season in Division I hockey.
This seventh-place finish led to a first-round quarterfinal matchup against the No. 2 seeded Michigan Tech Huskies, a team the Tommies went 1-3-0 against during the regular season. Game one of the best-of-three series in Houghton, Mich. saw a tightly fought battle that resulted in a tough 1-0 loss for St. Thomas, with Michigan Tech's lone goal coming in the third period and goaltender Blake Pietila recording a 30-save shutout.
Game two on Saturday, March 4th, was another close finish but a high-scoring affair, with St. Thomas, unfortunately, coming out on the wrong side of the 5-4 final, resulting in the conclusion of their playoffs and season. The Tommies' Mack Byers put the team ahead 1-0 before the Huskies responded with four unanswered goals to make it 4-1.
Partially through the third period, the Huskies were again ahead three goals at 5-2, with St. Thomas battling until the end to make it 5-4, but the comeback ultimately fell short.
Mack Byers, St. Thomas
Bemidji State University
Rounding out the regular season with a split at St. Thomas, the Beavers found themselves in fifth place in the CCHA standings, resulting in a round one matchup on the road against the Northern Michigan Wildcats.
Bemidji State tied Northern Michigan in the standings with 39 points; however, the Wildcats won the tiebreaker due to having more conference regulation wins, with the teams going 2-2-0 in their two series during the regular season.
Down the stretch, the Beavers went 4-6-0 in their last 10 games heading into the playoffs, and that poor run of form showed in game one against Northern Michigan, with the Beavers skating to a 7-3 loss. It was a close game into the early stages of the third period when the Beavers tied it up 3-3, with Northern Michigan going on to tally four unanswered goals on the way to their comfortable victory.
The Beavers needed to win game two to keep their season alive and force a game three but came up short, losing 2-1 in overtime. This low-scoring battle saw each team tally a goal in the second period before David Keefer scored in overtime to move Northern Michigan onto the semifinal round, with Bemidji State outshooting the Wildcats 36-23 in the loss.
This marks the first time the Beavers fell in the first round of the playoffs since the 2018-19 season.
Lleyton Roed, Bemidji State
University of Minnesota Duluth
Concluding the regular season with 33 points in the NCHC standings led to a No. 5 placement for the Bulldogs in the playoff bracket, resulting in a quarterfinal matchup against the No. 4 seeded St. Cloud State Huskies in St. Cloud. This matchup marks the second consecutive season in which these two teams met in the quarterfinals with the exact same seeds. Additionally, these two teams closed out the regular season playing each other, with both teams claiming a win, but the Bulldogs coming out ahead in the overall season record with three wins out of four.
Game one of the best-of-three series saw the Huskies win 3-1, with two goals from Micah Miller helping the Huskies to victory. Game two saw the Huskies jump out to an early 1-0 lead before the Bulldogs tallied five unanswered goals, sailing to a comfortable 5-1 win and forcing a third game on Sunday, March 12th.
After a scoreless first period, Luke Loheit put the Bulldogs ahead 1-0 early in the second period before the Huskies responded, scoring three goals in a span of six minutes to lead 3-1 at the second intermission. St. Cloud then held Minnesota Duluth off the scoresheet in the final frame, winning the series and ending the Bulldogs' season.
Excluding the 2020 tournament that was canceled due to COVID-19, this marks the first time since the 2013-14 season that Minnesota Duluth did not earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Jesse Jacques, Minnesota Duluth
Minnesota State University
Since the new year, Minnesota State went 11-3-0 to close out the regular season, finishing in first place in the CCHA standings by a narrow two-point margin over Michigan Tech.
That top placement led to a quarterfinal matchup against the No. 8 seed Lake Superior State Lakers, with the Mavericks sweeping that best-of-three series, winning game one 6-1 and game two 2-1.
Next, the semifinal round saw the Mavericks square off against the Ferris State Bulldogs in a single-elimination game. While these two teams went 2-2-0 in their two series during the regular season, the Mavericks cruised to a 7-2 win in this semifinal battle, outshooting the Bulldogs 39-21.
The championship game saw No. 4 seed Northern Michigan travel to Mankato. The home team found themselves down 2-0 in the third period with under three minutes to go in regulation. With their goaltender pulled, the Mavericks could notch two late goals from Ondrej Pavel and Christian Fitzgerald to force overtime. In overtime, with the momentum on their side, it took the Mavericks only 1:08 to score the game-winner, completing the 3-2 comeback win while securing the Mason Cup and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Campbell Cichosz, Minnesota State
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud State concluded their regular season with a record of 2-5-3 in their final 10 games, resulting in a fourth-place finish in the NCHC standings and round one matchup against Minnesota Duluth. As stated above, although they were not heading into the playoffs on a high note, the Huskies still found a way past the Bulldogs, winning two of three games to reach the Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center.
Next came a semifinal matchup against the No. 6-seeded North Dakota Fighting Hawks, with the winner moving on to the conference championship game against the No. 7-seed Colorado College. Down 2-1 heading into the third period, St. Cloud tied it at 2-2 via a Jami Krannila goal, and the game eventually went to overtime. In overtime, Krannila feathered a beautiful pass to Zach Okabe, who buried it, winning 3-2 and sending St. Cloud to the title game.
The championship game saw a more straightforward victory for the Huskies, with the team outshooting the Tigers 26-17 on their way to a 3-0 victory and the second NCHC title in the team's history.
Off their conference tournament win and No. 6 placement in the final Pairwise rankings, the Huskies earned a No. 2-seed in the Fargo region of the NCAA tournament, with a first-round matchup against Minnesota State on Thursday, March 23rd.
Zach Okabe, St. Cloud State
University of Minnesota
Off their strong conference play that led to a record of 19-4-1, the Minnesota Gophers finished in first place in the Big Ten standings with 57, 19 more points than the second-place finisher. That placement led to a first-round bye and secured home-ice advantage for the entirety of the Big Ten tournament. The only drawback was a lack of play from their last regular season game on February 25th to their first playoff in the semifinal round on March 11th.
That semifinal matchup ended up being against the No. 5 seeded Michigan State, a team the Gophers went 4-0-0 against during the regular season with a combined score of 25-6 in those four games. This playoff matchup followed a similar pattern to the regular season, with Michigan State jumping out to an early 1-0 lead before it was all Minnesota, with the Gophers scoring five unanswered goals to win 5-1 and move on to the championship game. The title game paired the Gophers against No. 2 seed Michigan on March 18th, with an expectation that it would be a hard-fought battle similar to when these two teams last met in the regular season.
It ended up being just that, with four lead-changes before the Wolverines came out victorious, narrowly winning 4-3 to claim the tournament trophy. While disappointing, the Gophers still closed out conference play with the No. 1 spot in the final Pairwise rankings, resulting in the No. 1-seed in the Fargo region of the NCAA tournament.
Logan Cooley, Minnesota