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More Mayhem on the Way in the NCAA D-III Men

By Scott Lowe – w/Chris Sugar of @D-III Hockey News

Mayhem is what happens when unranked teams that otherwise wouldn’t have qualified for the NCAA Championship upset highly ranked teams that were counting on getting in during conference-championship play.

When those upsets happen and teams that otherwise would not have been part of the championship field find their way into the Big Dance, all of the sudden teams that had been planning on continuing their seasons and pursuing a national title are knocked out.

This year, three potential qualifiers were eliminated from conference tournaments without claiming their league’s automatic bid, effectively eliminating other teams that would have been invited had everything held to form. The mayhem created by those upsets extends beyond just three teams in the 36 or so hours leading up to the selection show, however, as many teams with postseason aspirations of any sort are forced to look in the mirror and face the reality that their seasons likely are over.

In NCAA Division III men’s college hockey this year, mayhem takes the form of SUNY Cortland, St. Olaf and to a lesser degree, Endicott.

Endicott, which captured the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) championship a year ago and ultimately advanced to – and hosted – the Frozen Four, seemed poised to receive an at-large berth regardless of its showing at the CCC Championship this year. That potential berth became a reality after the No. 11 Gulls won the CCC title, 2-1, thanks to a third-period goal against a Salve Regina team that had upset regular-season champ and No. 10 Curry, 7-2, in the semifinals. 

As it turned out, Curry was a lock to get in and received an at-large bid Monday when the tournament field was announced.

Cortland earned its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament with a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against host SUNY Plattsburgh to capture the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) championship. Plattsburgh was No. 12 in the Pairwise Rankings used to determine postseason bids, so with a little simple math it’s not hard to figure out that losing left them on the outside looking in at the 13-team field.

Then, for the second time in three years, St. Norbert disturbed the peace and upset its way to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) championship as the No. 5 seed, upsetting fourth-seeded St. Mary’s, top-seeded Augsburg and second-seeded Bethel.

There was another smaller conference-tournament upset, too, in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA), as No. 6 St. Norbert beat No. 3 Adrian, 3-1, in the championship game. Both Adrian, an NCAA finalist last year and the 2022 national champion, and St. Norbert likely would have gotten into this year’s tournament regardless of the outcome of that game. 

So, D3 men’s hockey Championship week, as usual, was peak March Mayhem, and that leads us to the start of the 2024 NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championship.

The championship tournament consists of 13 teams; nine conference champions earned automatic bids, with the other four participants receiving at-large berths. The top-three seeds receive a bye into the quarterfinals, while the other 10 qualifiers go to battle in opening-round tilts.

The following conference champions received automatic bids to the 2024 championship (with D-III Hockey News rankings):

No. 1 Hobart (NEHC, 25-2-1)

No. 2 Trinity (NESCAC, 23-3-1)

No. 4 Utica (UCHC, 23-2-3)

No. 5 Plymouth State (MASCAC, 23-2-2)

No. 6 St. Norbert (NCHA, 22-6-0)

No. 8 Wisconsin-Stevens Point (WIAC, 21-5-2)

No. 11 Endicott (CCC, 17-5-5)

No. 13 St. Olaf (MIAC, 14-11-3)

No. 12 SUNY Cortland (SUNYAC, 18-8-2)


No. 3 Adrian (22-6-1), No. 10 Curry (20-5-1), No. 9 SUNY Geneseo (21-5-0) and No. 7 Elmira (19-7-1) were the at-large selections.


The first two rounds will be played at campus sites, before the tournament shifts to Hartford, Conn, for the semifinal round and championship game. Play opens on Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. EST at the home rinks of the higher-seeded teams for each first-round matchup.

The quarterfinals will be played at the rink of each higher seed on March 16, while the semifinals and championship game are set for March 21 and 23 at Koeppel Community Center in Hartford.

CLICK HERE for the full NCAA 2024 Division III Men’s Hockey bracket.

“This bracket is far from perfect, but looks good compared to the women’s bracket,” said Chris Sugar, who has been promoting Division III hockey since 2016 and runs the largest Division III hockey-exclusive social-media accounts on the internet. “I feel like the West gets the short end a little bit here as well. You’ve got an Adrian vs. UW-Stevens Point rematch from last year’s tournament in Round 1, and you also have a St. Olaf vs. St. Norbert rematch, which I don’t have as much of an issue with considering the overall seeding. To me, the best option would have been to give Adrian the bye and have them host the winner of two Eastern teams in the quarterfinals, while Wisconsin-Stevens Point could have played St. Olaf, with the winner playing at St. Norbert.”

Here is a look at the first-round matchups:


First-Round Matchups

Saturday, March 9 – 7 p.m. EST at Campus Sites

No. 10 Curry at No. 9 SUNY Geneseo

Curry won the CCC regular-season championship but was upset by fourth-seeded Salve-Regina, 7-2, in the semifinals. Geneseo fell to Cortland, 3-2, in the SUNYAC semifinals.

Sugar’s Take:

“This matchup is an odd one; I don’t know how many times these teams have played, if ever. I like Geneseo in this one at home, led by head coach Chris Schultz, who is looking to get back to another NCAA title game after flossing to Adrian in 2022. Curry had a strong year in the CCC, but fell to Salve Regina, 7-2 in the semifinals – not a score you want to see heading into the tournament – but we will see if a well-coached Colonels team can bounce back and give the Knights a run on the road.”

Winner plays at No. 1 Hobart March 16.


No. 11 Endicott at No. 7 Elmira

Endicott beat Salve Regina, 2-1, in the CCC finals to earn another automatic berth to the NCAA Championship after advancing to the national semifinals a year ago. Elmira dropped a 4-1 decision to Skidmore in the New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) semifinals but still received an at-large tourney bid and an opportunity to host this first-round matchup.

Sugar’s Take:

“Endicott vs. Elmira is another unusual matchup; I figured Cortland would visit Elmira and Endicott would drive to New Hampshire to face Plymouth State. Instead, we got the opposite. Elmira had a strong year in terms of its resume. The were on a tear at one point, but fell short as they hit a tough stretch near the end of the season. Endicott was the opposite; the Gulls had a rough start to the year but pulled it together at the end and defeated Salve Regina in the CCC finals to earn a trip to the dance again. Last season, they hosted the Frozen Four, where they fell to eventual-champion Hobart in the semifinals. I like Elmira here at home; I think the Soaring Eagles take it and head to Trinity, which will get home ice for the Frozen Four if they win.” 

Winner plays at No. 2 Trinity March 16


No. 12 Cortland State at No. 5 Plymouth State

Cortland State is making its first NCAA Championship appearance after upsetting SUNY Plattsburgh, 3-2, in overtime to capture the SUNYAC title. Plymouth State won its fifth-consecutive Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) title with a 3-0 win over Fitchburg.

Sugars’ Take:

This game features two coaches who should be held in the highest regard in terms of where they've taken their programs. Cortland is led by Joe Cardarelli, who picked up his 100th win at Cortland earlier this year against Manhattanville. He's done wonders with this program and has led them to their first-ever SUNYAC title and NCAA Tournament appearance. Cardarelli's Red Dragons have bought in and seem to embody their coach's personality on the ice. They don’t seem ready to hang up the skates just yet. Plymouth State's Craig Russell has amassed a record of 241-89-30 at the Panthers’ helm. During that stretch, he's won 10 regular-season and seven league titles while making seven NCAA tournament appearances. Plymouth State has become a household name in the NCAA Tournament thanks to Russell. Their success in the dance hasn’t been what he would've hoped for so far, but maybe this is the year they can get a win vs. a first-time participant in Cortland.”

Winner plays at No. 4 Utica March 16 


No. 13 St. Olaf at No. 6 St. Norbert

St. Olaf beat three higher seeds in the MIAC Championship to earn its second trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last three years. Meanwhile, St. Norbert looks to build upon the momentum it generated by upsetting No. 3 Adrian in the NCHA semifinals.

Sugar’s Take:

“St. Olaf once again turned in a lackluster regular season, so many folks likely will write them off because of their 14-11-3 overall record. This just seems to be normal for them as they conserve their energy, get a low seed in the MIAC Tournament and end up winning the league title to get into the dance. They led St. Norbert last year, but fell in overtime in the opening round. I think St. Olaf gives the Green Knights another test, but I have to go with one of the nation’s best in head coach Tim Coghlin of St. Norbert, who has them back in the tournament once again.”

Winner plays the winner of Adrian vs. Wisconsin-Stevens Point March 16


No. 8 Wisconsin-Stevens Point at No. 3 Adrian

Adrian, which was an NCAA finalist in 2023 and won the national championship in 2022, was knocked off by St. Norbert in the NCHA semifinals. Wisconsin-Stevens Point captured its second-straight Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) championship with a 5-1 victory against Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Sugar’s Take:

“This will be an absolute battle, and it’s disappointing that this game will be played so early in Round 1. These teams also met in last year’s quarterfinals, with Adrian winning at home, 3-2, in OT. Adrian, led by head coach Adam Krug, looks to return to the championship game after last year falling to Hobart, 3-2, in OT. Head coach Tyler Krueger of the Pointers also looks to win another title; these two will have the toughest road of anyone if they want to make it happen. Whoever wins likely will Face St. Norbert and then possibly the host-team from Trinity in the semifinals. After that, if everything holds true, they would face top-ranked Hobart, the defending national champion. It’s a pretty ridiculous draw for the West. I really have no idea, and it makes me sick to pick this game. I don’t want either team to lose this early, but give me UWSP, 3-2, in overtime.”

Winner plays the winner of St. Olaf vs. St. Norbert March 16


That gets us through the opening round, but where do we go from there? 

“My favorite to win the title is Hobart,” Sugar said. “Head coach Mark Taylor has the Statesmen rolling along once again. I also think St. Norbert is one of the favorites, but I just don’t know if they can get through that gauntlet they would have to face to win it all. No matter who wins, it should be a fun tournament overall.”

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