Notre Dame's hockey team has this weekend off, thanks to a first-round bye it earned in the CCHA conference tournament. That doesn't mean, though, that ND's postseason picture couldn't be altered by what happens elsewhere this weekend.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson isn't shy about his hopes.

"If we make the NCAA Tournament, it would be nice to have a chance to play in Grand Rapids (Mich.)," Jackson said last week, "and I don't know if anything we do over the next three weeks is going to have an impact on that. That's not in our hands."

The NCAA Tournament begins March 23 and 24, with four regionals of four teams each being played in Grand Rapids, Denver, Rochester, N.Y., and Manchester, N.H.

The only way Notre Dame could guarantee itself a spot in the Grand Rapids Regional would be to earn the top overall seed in the tournament, or finish second to New Hampshire, which will host the Manchester regional.

"I'm not sure if I'd want to go to Denver, but that's not my choice," Jackson said. "Going to Denver, with (No. 7) Denver probably being there, or going to Manchester with New Hampshire probably being there wouldn't be a good thing for any team. Rochester or Grand Rapids would be my choice."

Right now, Notre Dame is ranked third in the PairWise rankings, used to place and seed teams in the NCAA tournament, behind No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 New Hampshire. No. 4 St. Cloud State is close behind.

So for the Irish to move to their desired location, they would need to beat both Minnesota and St. Cloud State in the PairWise, which compares each team in the RPI top 25 to each other on four comparisons: RPI, record against the RPI top 25, record against common opponents, and record in head-to-head matchups.

There is a chance that if Minnesota finishes higher than Notre Dame, the NCAA could still put the Gophers in Denver and the Irish in Grand Rapids, but there's no guarantee.

How does Notre Dame, then, match up against Minnesota and St. Cloud State? Since the Irish have faced neither team this season, the head-to-head quotient becomes moot. Notre Dame simply needs to beat those two in two of the other three comparisons to grab the higher seed and the date in Grand Rapids.

Notre Dame beats both in the record against top 25 teams: The Irish are 7-3-1 (.6818), while Minnesota is 15-7-3 (.660) and St. Cloud is 11-6-6 (.6087)

Notre Dame can not possibly beat Minnesota in records against common opponents, where Minnesota is 8-0-1 and the Irish 6-3-1. Notre Dame and St. Cloud had one common opponent on the schedule this season -- Minnesota State. Notre Dame split its series with Minnesota State, while St. Cloud went 1-2-1.

Notre Dame ranks behind both in the RPI -- the Irish at .5711, Minnesota at .5905 and St. Cloud at .5835.

If the Irish win out through the CCHA tournament, they will beat St. Cloud State in the seedings, but they'll need help to overcome Minnesota. And that could come as soon as this weekend in a number of matchups.

Michigan Tech at Minnesota: If the Gophers get swept this weekend, it may harm their RPI enough to drop below Notre Dame, or at least drop them within striking distance. And with Tech at No. 18 in the RPI, it would hurt Minnesota in the record versus top 25 teams as well.

North Dakota at St. Cloud State: A sweep by the No. 8 Sioux over St. Cloud would just about eliminate the Huskies from any chance of passing Notre Dame in the seedings.

Ferris State at Lake Superior State: The Lakers are currently 28th in the RPI. Since Notre Dame swept Lake Superior earlier this season, a Lake Superior sweep in this CCHA first-round series could move them up and boost Notre Dame's record against the top 25. The winner of this series could also likely be the opponent for the Irish in the second round next weekend at the Joyce Center.