The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are about to wrap up their regular season hockey schedule this weekend when they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. The following weekend, the Irish will take part in the beginning of the Big Ten tournament.
So what about the NCAA tournament? Last year, the Irish went all the way to the championship game in the Frozen Four where they ultimately lost to Minnesota Duluth. To have that kind of success this year (with ultimate suffering) the Irish will need a miracle — much like Minnesota Duluth got last year.
THE BIG TEN
The Irish are currently tied at #3 in the Big Ten with the Michigan Wolverines. Minnesota is sitting at #2, but the Gophers have played all of their conference games already. Michigan plays their weekend series against Wisconsin. The Big Ten is so tight after conference leader Ohio State, that if 5th place Penn State sweeps the Irish this weekend... they will finish #2.
The winner of the conference tournament will advance to the NCAA tournament with an automatic qualifying bid. This would be the best way for the Irish. Last year, Notre Dame won both the regular season and the conference tournament.
THE NCAA TOURNEY
The NCAA Tournament consists of 16 teams. There are 6 auto bids for the conference winners of:
- Hockey East
- Atlantic Hockey
- Big Ten
It then comes down to 10 at-large bids, but the committee isn’t really picking teams since they base it off of the Pairwise rankings. Currently, the Irish are sitting right outside of that top 16 with the #17 Pairwise Ranking.
NOT IMPOSSIBLE BUT ALSO NOT PROBABLE
The thing is, if there are some upsets in the conference tournaments it may still push the Irish further down the list of teams that could get into the top 16. Like, if Minnesota goes out to Arizona State and sweeps them this weekend, and Notre Dame sweeps Penn State — would that be enough to see the Irish squeak up a spot? (The answer is probably not).
A NCAA bid isn’t impossible, and the hope of one certainly makes this next month of college hockey really exciting. WATCH IT.