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Five Things to prepare for the Atlantic Hockey playoffs

The Atlantic Hockey playoffs start on Friday. Here's what you need to know as Niagara looks for new life in the postseason and Canisius tries to stay focused after winning the regular-season title.

1. The first-round and quarterfinal rounds are best-of-three series. No. 11 Niagara will play at No. 6 RIT beginning March 3. They will play again on Saturday and on Sunday if necessary. The quarterfinal rounds remain on campus sites and are a best-of-three format beginning March 10.

2. Atlantic Hockey re-seeds after each round. There are no "brackets" in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. Canisius, the No. 1 seed, will play the lowest remaining seed after the first-round games.

3. Championship weekend is one-and-done. After playing a series, teams play a one-game semifinal and a one-game championship in Rochester's Blue Cross Arena. The four teams that advance out of the quarterfinals will matchup in the semis on March 17. The winners advance to the championship game on March 18.

4. There will likely be no at-large bid for Atlantic Hockey. Yes, Canisius is on a 15-game unbeaten streak, but if they don't win the conference championship, they won't be going to the NCAA Tournament. Unlike the process for Division I basketball, the 16 teams for the NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament are decided by automatic bids and an objective formula known as the PairWise. Six conference champions (Atlantic Hockey, Big Ten, ECAC, Hockey East, NCHC, WCHA)  get an automatic bid into the tournament field. The next 10 teams chosen come from the PairWise system. It evolved as a way to objectively compare teams and currently focuses on three criteria: RPI, records vs. common opponents and head-to-head record. (For a good read on the ins and outs of PairWise check out the NCAA Tournament Primer by College Hockey News.)

Canisius ranks 25th in PairWise. Fellow Atlantic Hockey school Air Force ranks 18th, on the cusp of being in the mix for an at-large depending on how the PairWise rankings shake out during conference tournament time.

The only Atlantic Hockey school to get an at-large bid was Niagara in 2013, when the Purple Eagles were 10th in the PairWise, making the tournament field despite losing to Canisius in the semifinal. The Golden Griffins went on to win the tournament and take the automatic bid.

5. Here's the first-round breakdown. The top five teams received first-round byes: No. 1 Canisius (19-10-7), No. 2 Air Force (22-9-5), No. 3 Army West Point (16-12-5),  No. 4 Robert Morris (19-11-4) and No. 5. Holy Cross (14-13-7).

First round matchups are:
No. 11 Niagara (3-28-3) at No. 6 RIT (13-20-1)
No. 10 AIC (8-18-8) at No. 7 Mercyhurst (12-18-4)
No. 9 Sacred Heart (12-17-5) at No. 8 Bentley (11-16-7).

One quarterfinal matchup is already set as No. 4 Robert Morris will host No. 5 Holy Cross.

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