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A long-time assistant on Red Berenson's staff at Michigan, Mel Pearson is no stranger to big moments.

He still gets the butterflies, though.

"I've been in 20-some NCAA Tournaments, three national-championship games," Pearson said. "The nerves still run through you.

"You can't get rid of them."

Those nerves were running wild Saturday night, as Michigan Tech let a two-goal lead slip away in the third period, only for the Huskies to beat Bowling Green, 3-2, in double-overtime to claim the Western College Hockey Association championship.

Senior defeseman Shane Hanna scored 6:35 into the second overtime to win it on Michigan Tech's home ice, where the announced crowd was 4,466 at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

"It was about 6,000," said Pearson, "it seemed like."

The victory earned Michigan Tech (23-14-7) an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, and it will open against No. 1 seed Denver (29-7-4) -- the national champion in 2004 and 2005 -- at 1 p.m. Saturday in Cincinnati. The game will be televised on ESPNews.

The NCAA announced its 16-team field just after noon Sunday, with six automatic bids and 10 at-large bids -- one of the latter, in no surprise, going to Western Michigan (22-12-5).

Western Michigan, led by its dynamic line of Metro Detroiters, all weekend it was going to the NCAAs, before losing both games in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference final four in Minneapolis, 5-2 to Minnesota-Duluth in the semifinals and 3-1 to Denver in the consolation game. Minnesota-Duluth, like Denver, is a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Western Michigan opens against Air Force (26-9-6) at 7:30 Friday, in Providence, R.I. That game will be streamed on ESPN3.

The teams met twice during the regular season, with a 5-5 tie and a 4-1 Western Michigan victory.

The Broncos are in the NCAA Tournament for the firs time since 2012, coach Andy Murray's first season on the job.

The Huskies, meanwhile, are in for the second time since 1981. Denver and Michigan Tech haven't played this season.

"They're excellent," said Pearson, Michigan Tech's head coach since 2011, after serving on Berenson's staff at Michigan from 1988-2011. "I saw them play in the Frozen Four last year. I was there in person, and they're as good as a team as there is in the country. They've been No. 1 for a long time. It's a huge challenge, but we view it as a great opportunity.

"I've been in a lot of tournaments as a coach from my days at Michigan, and I've seen a lot of things happen in a single-game scenario.

"Anything can happen. We're really looking forward to it."

The four regionals are next weekend, followed by the Frozen Four on April 6 and 8 in Chicago.

Also in the field is Penn State, which beat Wisconsin, 2-1, in double-overtime to take the Big Ten championship Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. This is Penn State's first NCAA Tournament bid.

NCAA TOURNAMENT

Midwest Regional, March 25-26

U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati

* No. 1 Denver (29-7-4) vs. No. 4 Michigan Tech (23-14-7), 1 Saturday, ESPNews

* No. 2 Union (N.Y.) (25-9-3) vs. No. 3 Penn State (24-11-2), 4:30 Saturday, ESPN3

* Regional championship, 6 Sunday, ESPNU

Northeast Regional, March 25-26

SNHU Arena, Manchester, N.H.

* No. 1 Minnesota (23-11-3) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (21-11-5), 3:30 Saturday, ESPNU

* No. 2 Massachusetts Lowell (26-10-3) vs. No. 3 Cornell (21-8-5), noon Saturday, ESPN3

* Regional championship, 3:30 Sunday, ESPNU

East Regional, March 24-25

Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, R.I.

* No. 1 Harvard (26-5-2) vs. No. 4 Providence (22-11-5), 4 Friday, ESPNU

* No. 2 Western Michigan (22-12-5) vs. No. 3 Air Force (26-9-5), 7:30 Friday, ESPN3

* Regional championship, 8:30 Saturday, ESPNU

West Regional, March 24-25

Scheels Arena, Fargo, N.D.

* No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (25-6-7) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (21-11-6), 6:30 Friday, ESPNU

* No. 2 Boston University (23-11-3) vs. No. 3 North Dakota (21-15-3), 3 Friday, ESPN2

* Regional championship, 6 Saturday, ESPNU

Frozen Four, April 6 and 8

United Center, Chicago

* Midwest champion vs. Northeast champion, April 6, ESPN2 (time TBD)

* East champion vs. West champion, April 6, ESPN2 (time TBD)

* National championship, 8 April 8, ESPN

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

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