So while I hear rumors that other college sports hold championship tournaments in the spring, we all know that the only one people really pay attention to is Division I NCAA College Hockey. Since there are only 59 Division 1 teams, a 16 team single elimination tournament suffices: four regionals followed by a Frozen Four for the four victors. This year the Frozen Four is in Pittsburgh.
My alma mater the Yale Bulldogs have never made the Frozen Four, well at least not since such a thing really existed. Indeed, although they started playing hockey in 1895, Yale has only played in the NCAA tournament once before 2009, in 1952. (That was sort of a Frozen Four, but only four teams were in the tournament. Yale finished 3rd.)
Like the Atlanta Braves, however, the program has risen up, making the NCAA field in 2009, 2010, 2011 and, after a stumble last year, are almost surely going to make it again this year. Also like the Braves, however, they have knocked on the door in those three tournaments without quite breaking through, losing the last two times to the eventual champion. Like baseball, the playoffs are a crapshoot.
One of the interesting things to a math geek about hockey is that tournament invitations come from a complex mathematical formula rather than from the head-scratching deliberations of a committee. Thus, when you’re on the bubble, you know it, and you know exactly what you need to do to get in. Amazingly, although Yale has only two games left to play (the ECAC Conference Tournament this weekend in Atlantic City) through brute force enumerations of the formula for all 18 games remaining in the various conference tournaments, we know that Yale will finish somewhere between #3 and #18. While they aren’t yet assured of a spot, the odds are really, really good. (Almost like having an insurmountable lead over the Cardinals in Septem… oh, never mind.)
Nicely for a Braves fan, the playoff season occurs just as spring training is driving you crazy. So I’ll be going to the ECAC Championships this weekend in Atlantic City to see Yale play: Friday night and either Saturday afternoon (the consolation game) or Saturday night (the ECAC Championship). Unless you have another rooting interest, I hereby nominate the Yale Bulldogs as the Atlanta Braves of College Hockey.