Projecting the NCAA men's hockey tournament field

With Yaniv Perets at or near the top of every statistical category for goalies, Quinnipiac's 24-3-3 record is the best in the country. Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire

With the selection of the NCAA men's hockey tournament about a month away and the Frozen Four less than 50 days away, the field of 16 is taking shape.

Of course, things still can change over the homestretch of the regular season and particularly with the conference tournaments which begin March 3, where teams off the radar could earn automatic NCAA bids.

The NCAA field includes the winners of the six conference tournaments -- Atlantic, Big Ten, CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East and NCHC -- and 10 at-large teams based on the PairWise rankings. The pairings for the NCAA tournament will be announced March 19, with regionals to be held March 23-26 in Allentown, Pennsylvania; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Fargo, North Dakota; and Manchester, New Hampshire. The Frozen Four will be held April 6-8 at Tampa, Florida.

Here's a look at where the NCAA field stands, with teams listed in order of the PairWise rankings as of Feb. 16. We've included the top 16 teams (there is a tie for 15th place) plus the leader in the Atlantic, who sits outside the top 16 but is projected to get the league's automatic bid.

In addition to a look at each team's résumé, we've included a comment on each team by ESPN college hockey analyst Colby Cohen. The polls referenced are the USCHO poll, the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and the #Cawlidgehawkey top 16 selected by ESPN's John Buccigross. Records are through Feb. 16.

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1. Minnesota (21-8-1, 15-4-1 Big Ten)

Polls: 2/2/2

Key results: 3-1 vs. Michigan; 4-0 vs. Michigan State, outscoring Spartans 25-6

What's ahead: Two games at Penn State; two vs. Ohio State

Numbers to know: Minnesota freshmen Jimmy Snuggerud (1.33) and Logan Coley (1.31) are both in the top 10 nationally in points per game.

Cohen's take: The Gophers have to be the favorite to win it all. Minnesota has been a dominant force all season and boasts not only one of the nation's best and highest-scoring offenses, but also a very stingy defense, with guys like Brock Faber and Jackson LaCombe leading the way.

2. Quinnipiac (24-3-3, 16-2 ECAC)

Polls: 1/1/1

Key results: 1-1 vs. Cornell; 2-0 vs. Harvard, outscoring Crimson 7-1

What's ahead: Single games vs. Yale, vs. Brown, at Union, at RPI

Numbers to know: Since back-to-back losses in mid-January, Quinnipiac has won six in a row with four shutouts, outscoring its opponents 24-5. The Bobcats lead the nation with a 2.23 scoring margin.

Cohen's take: The Bobcats' record speaks for itself: 24-3-3, which is the best winning percentage in the NCAA. Will this finally be the year they hang a national title banner? That remains to be seen, but they sure have the goaltending to do so, giving up just 1.67 goals per game. Sophomore Yaniv Perets leads or is near the top in every statistical category, with a 1.60 GAA and .926 save percentage.

3. Michigan (20-9-1, 12-8-0 Big Ten)

Polls: 4/4/3

Key results: 1-1 vs. BU; 2-0 vs. Western Michigan; 1-0-1 vs. Harvard; 1-3 vs. Minnesota

What's ahead: Home-and-home with Ohio State; two vs. Notre Dame

Numbers to know: Michigan has won seven straight, including an overtime win over Minnesota, and is averaging 5.43 goals per game during that streak.

Cohen's take: This team might have two of the three Hobey Baker finalists in sophomore Luke Hughes (16 points in his past seven games) and freshman sensation Adam Fantilli (leading the nation with 1.88 points per game). Michigan is playing as well as anyone, and after a disappointing Frozen Four loss to Denver in the semifinals last year, the Wolverines should be hungry to hang another banner in Ann Arbor.

4. Denver (23-7-0, 14-4-0 NCHC)

Polls: 3/3/4

Key results: 1-3 vs. St. Cloud State; 1-1 vs. Omaha

What's ahead: Two games vs. Minnesota-Duluth; two at Western Michigan; home-and-home with Colorado College

Numbers to know: Denver is sixth in the country in scoring offense and fifth in scoring defense. Only Quinnipiac (fifth and first) is better.

Cohen's take: The reigning national champs have been hanging around the top five all season thanks to their skill, experience and coaching. With this mix of talent and David Carle behind the bench, you can never sleep on the Pioneers, and I think they have as good a chance as anyone this spring.

5. Penn State (19-10-1, 9-10-1, Big Ten)

Polls: 7/7/7

Key results: 1-3 vs. Michigan; 1-1 vs. Minnesota; 1-2-1 vs. Michigan State

What's ahead: Two games vs. Minnesota; two vs. Wisconsin

Numbers to know: Special teams have been an issue for Penn State. The Nittany Lions rank 47th in penalty-kill percentage and 46th in power-play percentage. They have just 17 power-play goals (only five teams have fewer).

Cohen's take: After one of the nation's hottest starts, the Nittany Lions have cooled off in the second half and are 2-4 over their past six games. Despite their struggles, their hot start has kept them in a comfortable PairWise position. Guy Gadowsky's bunch will need to rev up the offense for a challenging Big Ten postseason.

6. Boston University (20-8-0, 14-4-0 Hockey East)

Polls: 5/5/5

Key results: 1-1 at Michigan; 1-2 vs. Northeastern; wins over Harvard and Cornell

What's ahead: Home-and-home with Merrimack; two games at Vermont; home-and-home with Providence

Numbers to know: BU is second in the country with 4.11 goals per game. Senior Matt Brown and freshman Lane Hutson are third and fourth in points per game with 1.41 and 1.38 respectively.

Cohen's take: What a difference a year makes. The first-year coaching staff headed by Jay Pandolfo and assistants Joe Pereira and Kim Brandvold has BU reenergized, with the Terriers' sights set on the Frozen Four. From goaltender Drew Commesso, a member of the U.S. Olympic team last year, on out, this is one of the deepest teams that we have seen on Commonwealth Avenue in a long time.

7. St. Cloud State (18-8-2, 10-6-2, NCHC)

Polls: 6/6/6

Key results: 3-1 vs. Denver; 1-1 vs. Minnesota; 1-1 vs. Western Michigan; 2-0 vs. Minnesota State

What's ahead: Two games at North Dakota; two at Omaha; two vs. Minnesota-Duluth

Numbers to know: St. Cloud State has a pair of goalies among the top 12 in the country in goals against. Junior Dominic Basse (1.99) and senior Jaxon Castor (2.09) both have been stellar in what has been pretty much an even split in net.

Cohen's take: The 2021 runner-up Huskies are loaded with upperclassmen from their last Frozen Four run, and the likes of Jami Krannila, Zach Okabe and Veeti Miettinen are looking for another kick at the can. NCHC teams are battle tested, so don't sleep on the Huskies.

8. Western Michigan (19-10-1, 11-6-1 NCHC)

Polls: 8/8/9

Key results: 0-2 vs. Michigan (both one-goal games); wins over Northeastern and Michigan Tech; 1-3 vs. Omaha

What's ahead: Two games vs. Colorado College, two vs. Denver, two at Miami

Numbers to know: Senior Jason Polin continues to lead the nation with 24 goals in 30 games. He scored eight in a three-game stretch in December and January.

Cohen's take: The nation's highest-scoring team (4.17 goals per game) has only one loss in 10 games since Dec. 27, and with head coach Pat Ferschweiler looking to build off last year's NCAA appearance, I think Western will continue its scorching-hot second half with a trip to Tampa within reach.

9. Ohio State (17-11-2, 10-9-1 Big Ten)

Polls: 10/9/8

Key results: 1-1 vs. Minnesota; 2-2 vs. Michigan State; 1-1 vs. Michigan; 1-1 vs. Penn State

What's ahead: Home-and-home with Michigan; two games at Minnesota

Numbers to know: The Ohio State penalty-kill unit has been remarkable. Not only does it have an 89% success rate, the Buckeyes have nine short-handed goals, the most in the country.

Cohen's take: For starters, OSU will always be well coached and disciplined on defense with Steve Rohlik at the helm. The Buckeyes have been very solid all season, with the nation's top penalty kill and a top-20 power play. Mason Lohrei, a second-round pick of the Boston Bruins, is a good reason to tune in when the Buckeyes take the ice.

T10. Cornell (16-7-2, 13-4-1 ECAC)

Polls: 11/11/11

Key results: 1-1 vs. Quinnipiac; 0-2 vs. Harvard; win over UConn; loss at BU

What's ahead: Single games vs. Clarkson, vs. St. Lawrence, at Brown, at Yale

Numbers to know: The Big Red have the most potent power play in the country, converting at a .305 clip. Dalton Bancroft, part of Cornell's strong freshman class, leads the way with five PPG on the season.

Cohen's take: It seems Cornell never gives up many goals, and this season is no exception. The one main difference this season, however, is the Big Red are a top-10 scoring team as well. When you marry the two, you have a legitimate contender.

T10. Harvard (17-6-2, 14-4-0 ECAC)

Polls: 9/10/10

Key results: 0-1-1 at Michigan; 1-0-1 vs. Northeastern; overtime loss at BU; 2-0 vs. Cornell; 0-2 vs. Quinnipiac

What's ahead: Single games vs. Union, vs. RPI, at St. Lawrence, at Clarkson

Numbers to know: The Crimson have experienced plenty of late-game pressure, going 6-1 in games decided in overtime. They also have two shootout contests, beating Michigan and losing to Northeastern in the Beanpot final.

Cohen's take: Another year, another Teddy Donato-coached team in the top 10 in the country. Harvard has more NHL draft picks (15) than any team in the country, and the Crimson's "big three" of Sean Farrell, Matthew Coronato and Henry Thrun look to lead Harvard back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2017.

12. Michigan Tech (21-8-4, 14-6-4 CCHA)

Polls: 12/13/12

Key results: 1-0-1 vs. Minnesota State; wins over Michigan State and BU; loss to Western Michigan

What's ahead: Two games at Minnesota State

Numbers to know: Senior goalie Blake Pietila is fifth in the country in both GAA (1.98) and save percentage (.928), while logging the second-most minutes (1,817).

Cohen's take: The CCHA's leader of the pack is putting together a very solid season. The Huskies are as hot as anyone with a 10-2-1 record since the calendar turned to 2023. They have a few very good nonconference wins, including beating BU in Arizona, and seem to be in a good position to make the NCAA field regardless how they fare the conference tournament. But my guess is a date between them and Minnesota State in the CCHA championship game is ahead.

13. Minnesota State (19-10-1, 14-7-1, CCHA)

Polls: 13/12/13

Key results: 1-1 vs. Minnesota; 0-2 vs. St. Cloud State; 0-1-1 vs. Michigan Tech

What's ahead: Two games at Bemidji State; two vs. Michigan Tech

Numbers to know: With its typical rock-solid blue line, Minnesota State is No. 3 in the country in scoring defense. Sophomore Keenan Rancier (1.94 GAA) has started 20 of the Mavericks' 30 games. The Mavs also are the nation's best team in faceoffs (.588 win percentage).

Cohen's take: After last year's disappointing loss in the national title game, the Mavs aren't sitting back. They're 9-0-1 in the new year, and with the masterful Mike Hastings behind the bench, this fast and physical group will be a tough out in the NCAA tournament.

14. Michigan State (15-15-2, 9-11-2 Big Ten)

Polls: 17/14/14

Key results: 2-2 vs. Ohio State; 1-3 vs. Michigan; 0-4 vs. Minnesota; 2-1-1 vs. Penn State

What's ahead: Two games at Wisconsin

Numbers to know: The Spartans have been prone to giving up goals in bunches, allowing four or more in 12 games this season. Even so, goalie Dylan St. Cyr has the second-most saves in the country.

Cohen's take: New head coach Adam Nightingale and associate head coach Jared DeMichiel have done a phenomenal job reinvigorating the Spartans this season. They've had their ups and downs, but they have hung around the top 15 all year in a very difficult conference. The Big Ten tournament will be key for the Spartans' tournament chances.

T15. Northeastern (14-10-5, 11-5-3 Hockey East)

Polls: 16/16/15

Key results: 2-1 vs. BU; 0-1-1 (with shootout win) vs. Harvard; losses to Western Michigan, Union, Sacred Heart and Bentley

What's ahead: Single game at Vermont; home-and-home with UMass; home-and-home with UMass-Lowell

Numbers to know: Northeastern is 6-1-2 with two shootout wins since resuming Hockey East play after the holiday break.

Cohen's take: Two words, Devon Levi. NU and its goalie (.930 save percentage) are coming off a dominating performance in beating BU and Harvard to win the Beanpot, and they are going to need to continue to win games because of PairWise-sapping losses to Union, Sacred Heart and Bentley. The Huskies might need a solid run in the Hockey East playoffs to secure a spot in the NCAA field.

T15. Notre Dame (14-14-4, 9-10-3 Big Ten)

Polls: 19/18/NR

Key results: 1-1 vs. Western Michigan; 1-2-1 vs. Michigan State; 0-2 vs. Minnesota; 1-1 vs. Michigan; 2-1-1 vs. Ohio State; 2-2 vs. Penn State

What's ahead: Two games at Michigan

Numbers to know: Goaltender Ryan Bischel has 1,015 saves -- 111 more than any other goalie in the country -- and has saved the Irish's season in the process. He also has played more minutes than any other goalie (1,883).

Cohen's take: It's been a very up-and-down season for Notre Dame, and the veteran group is going to need a strong run in the Big Ten tournament to solidify its NCAA standing. With Landon Slaggert heating up at the right time, Jeff Jackson's Irish might well have a late-season push in them.

20. RIT (19-10-1, 15-6-1 Atlantic)

Polls: NR/NR/NR

Key results: 0-2 vs. Penn State; 2-0 vs. AIC; 2-0 vs. Sacred Heart

What's ahead: Two games vs. Bentley, two vs. Air Force

Numbers to know: Since making the transition from Division III to Division I in hockey in 2005-06, RIT has never finished in the top 20 in the PairWise rankings, even in 2009-10, when the Tigers made the Frozen Four.

Cohen's take: The front-runner to capture the Atlantic Hockey automatic bid has a great record at 19-10-1, but strength of schedule always comes into question in the Atlantic. Led by sophomore forward Carter Wilkie, the Tigers are going to need to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA field.

On the bubble

Omaha (17th in PairWise; 15-10-3, 10-6-2 NCHC)

UConn (T18th in PairWise; 17-10-3, 11-8-2 Hockey East)

Alaska (T18th in PairWise; 16-10-2)

Based on the strength of the remaining schedules, Omaha, with two games against St. Cloud State plus the NCHC tournament, has the best chance in this group of sneaking into the field. (Remember, we included 17 teams above, with Northeastern and Notre Dame tied in the PairWise rankings for the final at-large bid, so at least one of them could fall back to the wrong side of the bubble as well.)

Of course, there also will be potential bid stealers lurking as conference tournament champions are decided, with Hockey East in particular a league to keep an eye on.

A further potential complication for Michigan State and Notre Dame: Teams below .500 are ineligible for at-large berths.