Finally, the bracketology that I've really been waiting for!

If you've listened to The Drive at any point, it's probably been made clear that I am a hockey addict. I grew up playing it, watching it, going to see it live and, most importantly, talking about it. It's a sport I wish more people would get behind, but it's also a sport that has its flaws.

2021 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship
Last year's national champion, UMass / Getty Images
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Either way, I enjoy it, so when March Madness comes around for basketball fans, I choose to look a week or two down the line, for when the madness hits the ice, and the NCAA Hockey Tournament begins.

This year, as it has many years, one of the NCAA hockey regional tournaments will be played in Albany, New York, at the MVP Arena. This year, ECAC Hockey has chosen Albany as its "host site", and will welcome four of the best college hockey teams in the nation to the Capital Region this weekend.

With that all being said, here is who is playing, and who I believe will win.

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No. 1 Seed: Minnesota State Mavericks

To put it bluntly, Minnesota State is stacked, and has as good of an opportunity as anyone in the nation, to win a national title.

The Mavericks finished their conference season with a record of 23-3, good for 67 points, 13 more than the second place team. They won their conference championship in overtime, and are poised for a deep run.

2021 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Semifinals
Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay / Getty Images
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Goaltender Dryden McKay has has the second-best statistical season of any goalie in the nation, and the team boasts two of the top three point-scorers in the nation on offense, in Nathan Smith and Julian Napravnik.

Look out for them this year.


No. 2 Seed: North Dakota Fighting Hawks

In the two seed, a team that has done a remarkable job with a very young roster, in North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks finished in a tie for the top position in their conference during the regular season, but were upset in the NCHC semifinals by a good Western Michigan team, and now find themselves in Albany.

Ice Hockey - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 8
Fighting Hawks' Jake Sanderson with Team USA / Getty Images
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North Dakota doesn't do anything exceptionally well (19th best offense, 21st best defense), but is very consistent, and can surprise a number of teams. They have the pedigree of a champion, and a very solid defensive prospect in Jake Sanderson.


No. 3 Seed: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame had a stellar finish to the season under Jeff Jackson, finishing with a conference record of 17-7. They lost in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, but because of that, are well-rested heading into the tournament.

Is that a benefit, or a detractor? It's hard to say, exactly.

2018 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships - Semifinals
Notre Dame went to the national final in 2018 / Getty Images
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One thing is for sure, however: the team can defend. They have the 6th-best scoring defense in the nation, and defend well in front of solid starting goaltender, Ryan Bischel.


No. 4 Seed: Harvard Crimson

Not to be outdone, Harvard may be one of the better dark horses in the tournament. If they had not lost top offensive players Nick Abruzzese and Sean Farrell to the U.S. Olympic team, then they may not be a No. 4 seed in this tournament.

Ice Hockey - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 6
Nick Abruzzese with Team USA / Getty Images
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Harvard's youth may be its biggest weakness, but a taste of the tournament will benefit young players so much. Not only that, but they stunned Quinnipiac in the ECAC Finals in overtime over the weekend, so, they've shown they can beat any team regardless of record or talent.


Who Will Win in Albany, New York This Year?

No. 1 Minnesota State vs. No. 4 Harvard (Thursday, 3/24 at 12PM): Minnesota State

Harvard is a sneaky future bet to win next year's national title. In my mind, they need one more year of development. Minnesota State is loaded, plainly and simply put. They do everything well, and are nationally-ranked in every major category. I'll take Minny and run.

No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (Thursday, 3/24 at 6PM): Notre Dame

I'm taking Notre Dame in an upset in this one, and here is why. Both teams had to play against a few national superpowers this season, so both are battle-tested. Both were also bounced in their league semifinal match-ups, and come into this game with something to prove.

I'm just not as confident in North Dakota's goaltending, and that is where I give the edge to Notre Dame. Starting goalie Zach Driscoll has a .907 save percentage, and his backup is far below that, at an .879 clip.

Notre Dame has the 10th-best scoring offense, and I believe they can capitalize in this game.

Regional Final: No. 1 Minnesota State vs. No. 3 Notre Dame: Minnesota State

The Frozen Four will begin on Thursday, April 7th, at TD Garden in Boston, MA. National semifinal games will be played at 5PM and 8PM. The national championship will be on Saturday, April 9th, at 8PM.

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