Michigan isn't playing. Neither is Boston University. And a small school from Connecticut, Quinnipiac, is the top seed in the NCAA hockey tournament, which starts today.
Welcome to college hockey, where tradition doesn't count for nearly as much as a good goalie.
Quinnipiac (27-7-5) comes into the tournament with perhaps the best in Eric Hartzell, a Hobey Baker finalist, who has an impressive 1.52 goals-against average this season. The Bobcats also have a No. 1 ranking for the seventh consecutive week and the fewest losses in college hockey.
But they are far from the hottest -- or most confident -- team on the ice, after going 4-3 in March and losing, 4-0, against Brown in the ECAC semifinals last week before rebounding with a 3-0 shutout against Yale in a consolation game.
Quinnipiac faces red-hot Canisius (19-18-5) Saturday in the first round of the East Region in Providence, R.I.. Those are two of 16 teams to qualify for the tournament. The weekend will produce four regional champions, who will take part in the Frozen Four April 11-13 at Consol Energy Center.
"It's not at all like the basketball tournament," Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. "It's not like [No. 1] vs. 64. [No. 1] vs. 16 is a big difference, and I think in the game of hockey, with the way goaltending is, anybody can beat anybody."
Canisius owns the NCAA's longest active winning streak (eight), including a 7-2 win against Mercyhurst to take the Atlantic Hockey Association title.
"We've been competitive with so many teams," said Golden Griffins goalie Tony Capobianco, who made 34 saves in the AHA final. "So many games could've gone the other way. We had a couple of close losses we could've won. I feel like the guys just started clicking at the right time."
Because Quinnipiac is not, Pecknold brought his players into the film room this week, where they watched games from earlier this season, when they played 21 in a row without a loss.
The idea, he said, was to show them what they did well then, what they aren't doing well now, and how they can regain that earlier form."
Quinnipiac isn't the only team going into the tournament looking to regain some momentum. Minnesota, the top seed in the West, was beaten, 2-0, by Colorado College in the WCHA tournament.
St. Cloud State (WCHA), Miami of Ohio (CCHA), and Niagara (AHA), like Quinnipiac, each won a conference regular-season title this season, but fell in league tournaments. Notre Dame, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, went through a month-long stretch when it was 2-7-1, but was 7-0-2 in its past nine games and won the CCHA tournament title.
Union, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts Lowell, the top seed in the Northeast region, each come in riding six-game winning streaks.
Defending champion Boston College (22-11-4), another favorite out of Hockey East, has been playing the postseason without coach Jerry York, who is recovering from a detached retina. The Eagles hope to have York back behind the bench as they go for their fourth national title in the past six years.
They won't have to face Boston University. The Terriers, who lost Lowell in the Hockey East final, lead a class of big-name teams that did not make the final 16.
Today, Manchester, N.H.
• Mass. Lowell (26-10-2) vs. Wisconsin (22-12-7), 4:30 p.m.
• Denver (20-13-5) vs. New Hampshire (19-11-7), 8 p.m.
Today, Grand Rapids, Mich.
• Yale (18-12-3) vs. Minnesota (26-8-5), 2 p.m.
• North Dakota (21-12-7) vs. Niagara (23-9-5), 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, Providence, R.I.
• Quinnipiac (27-7-5) vs. Canisius (19-18-5), 5:30 p.m.
• Union, N.Y. (21-12-5) vs. Boston College (22-11-4), 9 p.m.
Saturday, Toledo, Ohio
• St. Cloud State (23-15-1) vs. Notre Dame (25-12-3), 1:30 p.m.
• Miami of Ohio (24-11-5) vs. Minnesota State-Mankato (24-13-3), 5 p.m.