ST. PAUL -- Made the trip over to the Capital City for the Wild and Carolina Hurricanes in a matinee. First off, it's weird to see anything but the Wild logo at center ice in this building, but the Big Ten is front and center ahead of the title game Saturday night between Minnesota and Michigan.
More on that in a second.
Of course, we're back at Target Center for the NCHC final later, as UMD does battle with St. Cloud State for a fifth time this season. The Bulldogs lead the season series 2-1-1 after sweeping the Huskies on the road at the end of February. That's largely an insignificant note at this moment, because the stakes are both extremely high and very simple for UMD Saturday night.
With other results from Friday's conference tournament games, UMD's path to the NCAA Tournament -- or to elimination from said tournament -- is quite simple. The Bulldogs qualify automatically as NCHC playoff champion with a victory. #JustWinBaby, and they're in.
Now, with that win, the final seed for UMD would still be up in the air. Remember, this tournament is done by the book. The teams that get in are ranked 1-16 and seeded in appropriate bands. In other words, 1-4 are No. 1 regional seeds, 5-8 No. 2 seeds, and so on. I would expect a win to jump UMD into a No. 3 regional seed, probably 11th overall. I've seen scenarios where UMD jumps to tenth overall, but 11th is more likely with an NCHC title. That would be a No. 3 regional seed and a likely ticket to either Albany or Worcester, depending on who ends up getting the third No. 1 seed (way up in the air right now).
Also in play there is the glut of Hockey East teams likely in the tournament (five for sure, and six if Northeastern squeezes in). That could mean a possible all-Hockey East first round matchup somewhere, as it may prove too cumbersome to make the moves necessary to get around it.
(The committee has the ability to create a "conference" matchup in the first round if one can't be avoided.)
If UMD loses, it could get messy for the Bulldogs.
A UMD loss combined with a loss by either Northeastern to UMass-Lowell in Hockey East or Minnesota to Michigan in the Big Ten would not hurt UMD's chance of getting in. If UMD were to lose and Northeastern AND Minnesota won, the Bulldogs would slide out of the field.
So in short, root for UMass-Lowell and Michigan if you must, but most importantly, let's hope UMD takes care of business on the other side of the Mississippi River.