NCAA Hockey Tournament 2012: Dissecting Conference Tourney Weekend

There are 20 NCAA hockey teams still playing in the final weekend of the conference season. Eight of them cannot get an at-large bid to the National Tournament, and thus must win their conference tournaments if they want their seasons to continue.

Each of the four remaining Atlantic Hockey schools -- Air Force, Mercyhurst, Niagara and RIT -- are in that boat, as are Bowling Green in the CCHA, Providence in Hockey East, and both Harvard and Colgate in the ECAC. For them, it's literally win or go home.

Western Collegiate Hockey Association

There are nine teams across the nation who have essentially clinched tourney bids, but their final seeding is still to be determined. North Dakota, currently penciled in at No. 9, cannot finish worse than 12th -- the lowest number of at-large bids -- if they lose Friday against Minnesota and everything goes against them throughout the weekend. Conversely, the Fighting Sioux could finish in the top four and be one of the No. 1 seeds if they win the WCHA Final Five.

Regardless of who wins the WCHA Tournament, the winner will most likely be the top seed at one of the four regionals; likely in St. Paul, Minn. The Golden Gophers, as the host of the West Regional, will play there no matter what seed they wind up.

Hockey East

Out in Hockey East, the team with the most to worry about is the loser of Maine vs. Boston University. The Black Bears, who sit in tenth entering the weekend, would drop to No. 12 or No. 13 should they lose that game, and they'd have to wait through the remaning games before learning their NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday. Boston University is in regardless of their Hockey East tournament performance, but the Terriers can finish anywhere from a No. 1 seed if they win to likely being a No. 3 seed if they lose to Maine.

ECAC Hockey

Presently No. 13 in Pairwise, ECAC Hockey contender Cornell still controls their destiny if they defeat Harvard on Friday night in that conference's semifinals. If they lose, the Big Red can still get in if they defeat the loser of Union vs. Colgate in the third-place game, but two losses or a loss and tie will leave them on the outside looking in. Union is in regardless of this weekend and is playing for a No. 1 seed, and should they win the ECAC tournament in Atlantic City, they'll have about a 75-percent chance of picking up that spot.

Central Collegiate Hockey Association

Like the ECAC, all four CCHA teams are guaranteed two games -- all other conferences have eliminated their third-place games. Western Michigan, Michigan State and Northern Michigan are all on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but WMU is the only one who find themselves playing in Detroit during the conference tournament.

Michigan State and NMU fans are pulling for a pair of Broncos losses as a result, and if Bowling Green were to win the tournament and grab an auto-bid, it would be devastating to each. Western Michigan gets closer to a tournament berth if they defeat Miami on Friday afternoon, but sitting at No. 15 in the Pairwise, their only guarantee is to win both games.

Michigan State also comes close to clinching a spot if there are no upsets throughout any of the games Friday night. Despite not playing in Detroit over the weekend (the Spartans were swept by Miami in the CCHA quarterfinals), they hold the tiebreaker over Western Michigan and have a better chance of staying in the at-large mix.

Northern Michigan's hopes, meanwhile, were essentially dashed when they lost to Bowling Green in the CCHA first round. The Wildcats need a number of games to go their way and will be eliminated from postseason contention if either Western Michigan or Cornell wins Friday.

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