Defending champion Wisconsin doesn't qualify

Selection Sunday is beginning to look like Groundhog Day for the Gophers.

Last year Minnesota was the No. 1 seed in the West Region and had to face Atlantic Hockey champion Holy Cross in the first round. The second-round game was supposed to be against the winner of Michigan-North Dakota for a berth in the Frozen Four.

Somebody forgot to tell the Crusaders, who posted a 4-3 overtime win and ended Minnesota's season.

Fast forward 51 weeks, put Air Force in place of Holy Cross, and welcome to the West Region draw. Again.

The Gophers, the top overall seed in this year's NCAA tournament, find themselves with the 2007 AHA champion Falcons in next Saturday's first-round game in Denver, with the Wolverines-Fighting Sioux winner waiting on Sunday.

"We made some decisions to put top seeds in areas that we felt would be advantageous not only to them, but to their fans and of course the venues," Division I men's ice hockey committee chair Marty Scarano said Sunday. "I think some of the venues really have some attractive matchups that people can relate to.

"I think we accomplished all that we set out to do, which is be fair to the seeds, try to keep travel to a common sense coefficient, create interest among the fan base in the venues and not to disadvantage the athletes too much -- if at all."

When the pairings for the 2007 NCAA Tournament were announced on ESPN2, the No. 1 seeds went in order to Minnesota (Denver), Notre Dame (Grand Rapids), Clarkson (Rochester, N.Y.) and New Hampshire (Manchester, N.H.).

The automatic bids for this year's tournament went to the conference champions from Atlantic Hockey (Air Force), College Hockey America (Alabama-Huntsville), CCHA (Notre Dame), ECACHL (Clarkson), Hockey East (Boston College) and the WCHA (Minnesota).

Only the Gophers and Fighting Irish doubled as regular season and conference tournament champions.

The 10 at-large bids went to Boston University, Maine, Massachusetts, Miami (Ohio), Michigan, Michigan State, New Hampshire, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and St. Lawrence.

Defending champion Wisconsin (19-18-4) failed to qualify for the tournament, while Air Force, UAH and UMass will all be making their first NCAA appearance.

Regional play begins Friday and Saturday in Rochester, N.Y. (East), Grand Rapids, Mich. (Midwest), Manchester, N.H. (Northeast) and Denver (West). By next Sunday night, the Frozen Four field will be determined and then played at St. Louis' Scottrade Center on April 5 (ESPN2) and 7 (ESPN).

The conference breakdown for the tournament has five teams from Hockey East, four teams from the CCHA, three from the WCHA, two teams from the ECAC and one each from Atlantic Hockey and College Hockey America.

Some interesting second-round matchups could include a couple of rematches from conference championships played Saturday night. In the Northeast, UNH and BC could meet again on the heels of the Eagles' 5-2 win in the Hockey East championship. And top seed Minnesota, a 3-2 overtime winner against North Dakota in the WCHA title game, can't be happy about the prospect of facing the Fighting Sioux again a week later.

"For better or for worse, all of us meet in April to talk about this system that we've invoked," Scarano said. "It was basically unanimous last year with the coaches that they like the system, that they accept the system.

"Anybody could argue that the numbers are misleading and that some of these teams don't represent exactly where they end the year. But we are wedded to that system right now and the committee feels strongly that we want to adhere to that."

The biggest example of that is Maine.

The Black Bears, who come in having lost four in a row and six of their last eight, qualified for the NCAAs for a ninth consecutive year thanks in large part to a strong early season showing that included a win at Minnesota (in St. Paul) and a sweep at North Dakota back in October.

On the other end of the spectrum is Boston College. The Eagles, left for dead a month ago, haven't lost since the Beanpot final on Feb. 12 and come in having won 10 in a row.

That's a far cry from last season when BC finished the regular season on a 1-5-1 skid and then got hot in the postseason and came within one game of winning a national title.

"We just kind of caught fire last year," BC coach Jerry York said. "You want to be as hot as you can, but we all understand it's one and done. The 1 seed doesn't guarantee much. You'll play one of the top teams in the country, regardless, so I'm not as concerned about the seeding."

More important to the Eagles is the feeling in the dressing room and tapping into the positives of last season's postseason run.

"It's a special thing going right now; we have great camaraderie," BC captain Brian Boyle said. "It wasn't a flick of the switch, it was gradual. We weren't that hot coming in last year, but we got hot in the tournament -- and other teams can do that too."

Just ask Minnesota.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.