Michigan isn’t playing. Neither is Boston University. And a small school from Connecticut, Quinnipiac, is the top seed in this year’s NCAA hockey tournament, which gets under way today.
Welcome to college hockey, where tradition doesn’t count for nearly as much as a good goalie.
Quinnipiac (27-7-5) comes into the tournament with perhaps the best in Eric Hartzell, a Hobey Baker finalist, who has an impressive 1.52 goals-against average this season. The Bobcats also have a No. 1 ranking for the seventh consecutive week, and the fewest losses in college hockey.
But they are far from the hottest — or most confident — team on the ice, after going just 4-3 in March and losing 4-0 to Brown in the ECAC semifinals last weekend. They rebounded with a 3-0 shutout of Yale in the consolation game, but still there are questions about the team’s finish.
Quinnipiac faces red-hot Canisius (19-18-5) in the first round of the East Regional in Providence, R.I., Saturday. Those are two of 16 teams to qualify for the tourney. The weekend will produce four regional champions, and then the Frozen Four is April 11-13 in Pittsburgh.
“It’s not at all like the basketball tournament,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “It’s not like one vs. 64. One vs. 16 is a big difference and I think in the game of hockey, with the way goaltending is, anybody can beat anybody.”
Canisius comes into the matchup with the NCAA’s longest active winning streak, eight, including a 7-2 win over Mercyhurst to take the Atlantic Hockey title.
“We’ve been competitive with so many teams,” said Golden Griffins goalie Tony Capobianco, who made 34 saves in the AHA final. “So many games could’ve gone the other way. We had a couple of close losses we could’ve won. I feel like the guys just started clicking at the right time.”