Quinnipiac leads NCAA hockey field

In a college hockey weekend that said goodbye to one of its oldest conferences, it's somewhat fitting that a relative newcomer was welcomed as the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament.

Quinnipiac, along with Minnesota, UMass-Lowell and Notre Dame, in that order, were awarded No. 1 seeds for the 2013 NCAA men's hockey tournament. The pairings were announced Sunday night on ESPNU.

The automatic bids for this year's tournament went to the conference tournament champions from Atlantic Hockey (Canisius, 19-18-5), CCHA (Notre Dame, 25-12-3), ECAC (Union, 21-12-5), Hockey East (UMass-Lowell, 26-10-2) and the WCHA (Wisconsin, 22-12-7). UMass-Lowell doubled as the only regular-season champion.

The 11 at-large bids went to Boston College (22-11-4), Denver (20-13-5), Miami (24-11-5), Minnesota (26-8-5), Minnesota State (24-13-3), New Hampshire (19-11-7), Niagara (23-9-5), North Dakota (21-12-7), Quinnipiac (27-7-5), St. Cloud State (23-15-1) and Yale (18-12-3).

The conference breakdown for the tournament has six teams from the WCHA, three each from ECAC and Hockey East, and two each from Atlantic Hockey and the CCHA.

Defending national champion Boston College is the No. 2 seed in the East Region and will try to become the first repeat winner since Denver in 2004-05. BC 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 try to defend their national championship.

"We're still alive and we're still playing," senior forward Pat Mullane said.

Michigan, which lost to Notre Dame in the last-ever CCHA championship game on Sunday, saw its 22-year streak of NCAA appearances come to an end. That leaves North Dakota, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, with the longest active streak at 11 seasons.

Quinnipiac, making only its second NCAA tourney appearance, enters the national tournament with the fewest losses (7) and is the top seed in the East Region, where it will face Canisius. The Bobcats are just 4-3-1 in their past eight games after enjoying an 18-0-3 run from Nov. 9 through Feb. 9. Quinnipiac's only other trip to the NCAA tournament was back in 2002 and resulted in a 6-1 first-round loss to Cornell.

The West Region No. 1 seed is Minnesota, a tradition-rich program which has more NCAA tournament wins (52) than any other school. The Gophers are seeking back-to-back Frozen Four trips and their first national title since 2003.

UMass-Lowell, the top seed in the Northeast Region, is making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance but has never been seeded higher than a No. 3. And Notre Dame, which is making its fifth NCAAs appearance in the past seven years, is No. 1 in the Midwest Region.

"I think there's a time where you have to say 'Why not Lowell?' And I think that's this year," said River Hawks coach Norm Bazin, who played for this program when it lost to BU in the 1994 Hockey East title game. "It was very important because I think there's a lot of skeptics out there and there's certainly a lot of detractors that felt we were going to come up short again."

Canisius will be making its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance and Minnesota State qualified for just the second time in school history and its first since 2003.

Four of the 16 schools entering NCAA play have current winning streaks of at least five games, led by Canisius' eight-game run. Union (six), Wisconsin (six) and UMass-Lowell (six) are also hot and Notre Dame has a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2) as national tournament play begins.

Regional play begins Friday and Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich. (West Regional), Manchester, N.H. (Northeast), Providence, R.I. (East), and Toledo, Ohio (Midwest). The Frozen Four will be played at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., on April 11 (ESPN2HD) and April 13 (ESPNHD).

The East and Midwest Region winners will meet in one national semifinal and the Northeast and West Region winners will face off in the other Frozen Four semifinal April 11.

David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.