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NCAA Hockey Tournament: Who's Riding The Hot Hand?

A look at recent trends among the field of 16

Expect to hear some version of this refrain a lot this week: "It's all about who can get hot for four games." A single-elimination, four game tournament is a pretty bonkers way of deciding a champion in hockey, but it's the system we have—and with so many teams of similar quality, it truly will come down to who can play their best in this short sprint of a tournament.

Of course, the hot hand is no guarantee of success. In 2013, Yale went 5-7 down the stretch and finished 4th in the ECAC tournament, losing to Union and Quinnipiac before going on their epic run to the NCAA title. Also, Minnesota-Duluth was 5-5-3 down the stretch in 2011.

Usually, though, the teams who win their conference tournaments are the teams to look out for. Union in 2014, BC in 2012/2010/2008, BU in 2009, and Wisconsin in 2006 all came in with the momentum of a conference tournament title on their side.

Here's a look at how each team in the field has done since February 6.

East Regional

Team Record GF/Game GA/Game Conference Tournament
Miami 10-4-0 3.64 2.86 Won NCHC Tournament
Denver 8-4-1 3.85 2.85 Third Place, NCHC Tournament
Boston College 5-4-1 2.50 2.30 Hockey East Quarterfinals
Providence 6-4-0 3.10 1.80 Hockey East Quarterfinals

So the Hockey East teams in this bracket come in cold, while the NCHC teams have been looking stout. However, both Providence and BC (especially Providence) have been tighter defensively and arguably have the two most talented goaltenders in the field, so that could be a factor as well. That said, they're going to need to do a lot to slow down the high-flying Miami and Denver offenses.

Northeast Regional

Team Record GF/Game GA/Game Conference Tournament
Boston University 8-3-1 4.42 2.50 Won Hockey East Tournament
Minnesota-Duluth 5-5-2 2.58 2.58 NCHC Quarterfinals
Minnesota 11-3-0 3.86 2.07 Won Big Ten Tournament
Yale 6-3-2 3.00 1.73 ECAC Quarterfinals

BU and Minnesota are two of the hottest teams in the nation right now and would probably both be common picks for a Frozen Four berth if they weren't slapped in to the same regional. My word of caution on the Gophers is that their resurgence has come via walloping the crappy teams in the Big Ten, whereas BU has done it against a Hockey East that may not be great, but is at least good and stout most of the way through.

Yale was actually quite hot down the stretch before Harvard tripped them up in the playoffs. Duluth, meanwhile, has been a picture of mediocrity after looking like a top contender around Christmas time.

Midwest Regional

Team Record GF/Game GA/Game Conference Tournament
Minnesota State 8-2-2 3.58 1.67 Won WCHA Tournament
Nebraska-Omaha 2-5-3 1.70 2.00 NCHC Quarterfinals
Harvard 9-6-1 2.88 2.44 Won ECAC Tournament
RIT 9-2-1 3.92 2.00 Won AHC Tournament

Here's an interesting bracket with three conference tournament champions in it. If you want to talk about a team that might have right to feel aggrieved by its placement, look at Harvard. They stormed through the ECAC Tournament and moved from outside the tournament up to a 3 seed—and got rewarded by being shipped west to be placed in the #1 overall seed's bracket, while the committee bent over backwards to make sure both BC and Providence were east. Attendance matters, unfortunately.

The good news for Harvard is that they face a scuffling Nebraska-Omaha team in round 1. Remember when Omaha was atop the pairwise? It's been a long way down for them since. They look line one-and-dones for the NCAAs.

West Regional

Team Record GF/Game GA/Game Conference Tournament
North Dakota 8-3-1 2.83 2.42 Fourth Place, NCHC Tournament
Michigan Tech 9-2-1 3.50 1.42 Runner-up, WCHA Tournament
St. Cloud State 7-5-0 2.58 2.08 Runner-up, NCHC Tournament
Quinnipiac 7-3-2 2.67 2.08 ECAC Semifinals

North Dakota was looking like a potential slight tournament favorite before they inexplicably went 0-2 at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, including getting smoked by Denver in the consolation game. They're still a team to be reckoned with, but don't look past a pretty solid Quinnipiac team in round one. Michigan Tech looks great on paper, but like with Minnesota State, people have doubts about whether the WCHA teams stack up to the rest. They'll certainly have an opportunity to prove themselves in this bracket.

Looking at the field overall, BU, Minnesota, and both WCHA entrants feel like the "hot hands" to me. Michigan Tech has been the best defensive team down the stretch among tournament entrants, while BU has been (by far) the best offensively. And Minnesota just keeps on winning games.Who looks good to you?