Penn State Hockey

Understanding Division-I NCAA Ice Hockey Rankings & National Tournament

The USCHO weekly rankings and Pairwise rankings are two separate entities that are valued in different ways.

It’s very common for a beginner NCAA hockey fan to get confused by the two, so I’m here to explain them both in layman’s terms. It’s also easy to be baffled by how the NCAA national tournament works every year, which will also be emphasized.


USCHO, known as “United States College Hockey Online” is a weekly ranking of the top 20 current NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey programs.

It outlines how many first-place votes each team got, overall record, points, and first-place votes acquired the week prior.

There are 50 voting members to the Division I men’s poll, compromised of coaches, scouts, and media members. Each conference is represented in the pool of voters.

The names of the voting members are kept confidential out of respect for the privacy of the voters. For any football fans out there, it can be comparable to the AP poll that comes out each week.


Pairwise Rankings

Now the pairwise rankings, that has a bit more meaning. It is a statistical tool designed to approximate the process by which the NCAA selection committee decides which teams get at large bids to the 16-team NCAA national tournament.

The Pairwise has been extremely accurate in predicting the tournament over the last ten-plus years. The Pairwise compares all 60 men’s NCAA Division I programs by using three criteria such as RPI (Ratings Percentage Index), Record vs. Common Opponents, and Head-to-Head record. It does a fantastic job of taking games played and the strength of the schedule into account when comparing two teams that haven’t played the same number of games.

RPI is calculated by three additional weighted factors – a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponent’s winning percentage (21%), and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (54%). The opponent’s winning percentage is the average winning percentage of each opponent, not the total winning percentage based on the sum of all wins, losses, and ties.

NCAA National Tournament

There are sixteen teams that make the NCAA men’s Division I ice hockey national tournament.

The tournament is split into four regions, East, Northeast, West, and Midwest- with four teams in each. The No. 1 seed plays the No. 4 in the first round, and No. 2 plays No. 3.

The winners play each other in the regional final, with those four winners advancing to the Frozen Four. Each conference receives one automatic bid, currently including the six Division I conferences. The only way of receiving an automatic bid is to win your postseason conference tournament prior to the NCAA tournament.

The four predetermined regional sites this year include PPL Center (Allentown, PA), Webster Bank Arena (Bridgeport, Conn), Scheels Arena (Fargo, N.D.), and SNHU Arena (Manchester, N.H.). The Frozen Four will be held in Amelia Arena (Tampa, Florida) this year, the proud home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

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