UMass Lowell won the Hockey East championship on Saturday night by defeating Boston College at TD Garden. It won’t have to go far to contend for the Frozen Four.
The River Hawks will have what amounts to home-ice advantage in the Northeast Regional of the NCAA tournament, drawing the No. 2 seed in Manchester, N.H. With their third conference tournament title in five years and one year after they nearly made the Frozen Four, that’s something that might create Tsongas Arena North for a team considered among the favorites.
Northeast Regional, Manchester, N.H.
• UMass Lowell vs. Cornell, noon EDT Saturday, ESPN3
• Minnesota vs. Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, ESPNU
• Regional championship, 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, ESPNU
“Whenever you can include your fan base in your experience, it’s a huge bonus,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “To bring the fans to Manchester, N.H., is going to be a lot of fun.”
That’s one way of putting it because the field they’re going to play among might be anything but fun. UMass Lowell draws ECAC Hockey runner-up Cornell in the first round, while top-seeded Minnesota takes on Notre Dame in the other first-round matchup.
“We have a lot of homework to do in the next few days,” Bazin said of his team’s selection. “But after we do due diligence, we know we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game if we’re going to have an opportunity for success.”
Minnesota returns to the national tournament for the 37th time after a one-year hiatus last season. With 23 wins on their resume, including a 14-5-1 record in the Big Ten, the Golden Gophers earned one of the top four seeds, their first since 2014. It’s also the seventh time they’ve earned a top seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003.
In 2014, they rolled through Robert Morris and St. Cloud State as the No. 1 overall seed, outscoring their regional competition by an 11-3 count. They eventually made the national championship game, where they lost to Union. This year marks their second straight tournament appearance in Manchester; they qualified in 2015 as the No. 3 seed but lost to Minnesota Duluth in the first round.
The Gophers will meet Notre Dame, which lost to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals. The Fighting Irish earned the No. 4 seed through their 21-11-5 record, which included a 5-1-2 run at the end of the regular season. After dispatching Providence in a sweep in the Hockey East playoffs, they dropped a 5-1 defeat to the River Hawks in Boston.
It’s the second straight trip to the tournament for Notre Dame, which has made an NCAA field eight times in the last 10 years. The Irish found themselves in Cincinnati last season, where they lost in overtime to Michigan. Though a consistent name in the regionals this century, they’ve advanced to only two Frozen Fours, losing in the semifinals to Minnesota Duluth in 2011 and in the national championship to Boston College in 2008.
The regional also represents an interesting cross-section for the club. Competing for the final time under the Hockey East banner, Notre Dame will play in New Hampshire against Minnesota, a future conference opponent starting next year in the Big Ten.
Rounding out the field is Cornell. Although this year represents its 20th trip to the tournament, it’s the first since 2012. The Big Red, who have seven Frozen Four appearances, have won a regional only once since 1980. They won the East Regional in 2003 in the first year of the 16-team format.
This is the first time the Big Red are a No. 3 seed since the 2009 Midwest Regional; they won their first game before falling to Bemidji State in the regional final that season.
ECAC runners-up this year to its archrival Harvard, Cornell lost on Saturday to the Crimson 4-1. But it ended the regular season as one of the hottest teams in college hockey, going undefeated in February with a 6-0-3 record.
After losing Game 1 to Clarkson in the ECAC quarterfinals, the Big Red rallied for a pair of one-goal wins before beating Union 4-1 in the semifinals.