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College Hockey:
This Week in Division III: Feb. 14, 2002

Let the Irregular Season Begin

The regular season has concluded in the SUNYAC and NCHA, and will come to a close this weekend in the MCHA, MIAC, ECAC East and NESCAC.

As teams either begin the postseason or jockey for playoff position, let’s break down each of the conferences.

ECAC East

Who’s in: Norwich has locked up the top seed and will host either UMass-Boston or Skidmore in the quarterfinals. Salem State has clinched a home playoff game, while MCLA needs just a single point in its last two games to get a quarterfinal playoff game, the first since MCLA was known as North Adams State. Southern Maine and New England College will battle for the right to host the fourth and final quarterfinal game. Babson knows it will be on the road next Saturday.

Who’s not: The two Division II teams in the conference, St. Anselm and St. Michael’s. Both will participate in an ECAC Division II Tournament along with Assumption, Southern New Hampshire, and Stonehill from the ECAC Northeast.

Who’s on the bubble: Nobody, since everyone makes the playoffs

Who will play in the NCAAs: Norwich probably doesn’t have a strong enough ranking to make the tournament as an at-large team, particularly if the Cadets lose another game or two. The other teams definitely must win the ECAC East title to advance on the basis of the automatic qualifier (AQ) awarded to the playoff champion.

ECAC West

Who’s in: RIT and Elmira will finish first or second — the order will probably be determined this Saturday when the teams tangle at RIT. Manhattanville and Hobart have clinched the other two playoff spots.

Who’s Not: Utica and Neumann

Who’s on the bubble: Nobody. The playoff teams have been determined.

Who will play in the NCAAs: Either RIT or Elmira will make the NCAAs, but not both, since there is only one Pool “B” spot available. Pool “B” is made up of independents and teams from conferences that do not have AQs — the ECAC West and the MCHA. Head-to-head play will be a major factor in deciding who goes to the big dance, and Elmira leads in that category, 1-0.

ECAC Northeast

Who’s in: UMass-Dartmouth and Lebanon Valley have each clinched home quarterfinal games, while Johnson & Wales and Wentworth need a single point in their last two games to lock down the other two home games. Curry, Salve Regina and Fitchburg have each clinched playoff spots.

Who’s Not: Suffolk, Nichols, W. New England and Framingham State have all been mathematically eliminated. Stonehill, Assumption and S. New Hampshire will all play in the ECAC Division II playoffs.

Who’s on the bubble: Plymouth State and Worcester State are tied for the final playoff berth. They play on Sunday, winner take all.

Who will play in the NCAAs: Despite the advances made by the ECAC Northeast the past two seasons, it doesn’t look like an at-large bid will be available, meaning that only the champion will move on. And it should be a real battle. “You have four very strong, equal teams,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Al MacCormack of frontrunners UMass-Dartmouth, Johnson & Wales, Wentworth and his own Flying Dutchmen. The record bears this out. UMass-Dartmouth has beaten Wentworth, which defeated Lebanon Valley. Johnson and Wales has lost to Lebanon Valley, and will play the other two squads this weekend.

MIAC

Who’s in: St. Thomas has clinched the regular-season title.

Who’s Not: Hamline, St. Olaf and Bethel are out. Hamline has already finished its season while the other two will try to play spoilers in their final series of the season this weekend.

Who’s on the bubble: Just four points separate the teams in second through sixth place. Augsburg (19 points), Gustavus Adolphus (19), St. John’s (16), St. Mary’s (16) and Concordia (14) are still in the hunt for the remaining four playoff berths.

Who will play in the NCAAs: St. Thomas is in very good shape, and will be a strong contender for an at-large bid even if it doesn’t win the MIAC title. All the other teams must win the MIAC championship to make it to the Big Dance.

MCHA

Who’s in: All five teams qualify for the playoffs. Marian is the regular-season champion, while the other four seeds will be determined from results this weekend, the final weekend of the regular season.

Who’s not: All teams make the playoffs, with a play-in game between the fourth and fifth place teams before the semifinals begin.

Who’s on the bubble: Ditto.

Who will play in the NCAAs: No MCHA team will be playing in the nationals. The MCHA must compete with the ECAC West for the single Pool “B” slot, and no teams are able to give Elmira or RIT a challenge at this point.

NCHA

Who’s in: All teams make the playoffs, which start this weekend. Top seeded St. Norbert will host St.Scholastica, seventh seed Lake Forest travels to number two Wisconsin-Superior, number six Wisconsin-Stout is at third seeded Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and fourth seed Wisconsin-River Falls hosts number five Wisconsin-Eau Claire. These are all two game series with a possible minigame.

Who’s not: All teams make the playoffs.

Who’s on the bubble: Ditto.

Who will play in the NCAAs: This one is wide open between the top four seeds. Any can win the title, and any can claim an at-large bid with a strong showing. The lower four seeds must all win the tournament to make the nationals.

NESCAC

Who’s in: Middlebury has clinched first place, which carries a lot of benefits under the NESCAC playoff structure. The Panthers not only get a bye in the quarterfinals, but also will host the semifinals and finals the first weekend in March. Bowdoin has locked up second place, good for a first-round home playoff game. Williams, Hamilton, Trinity and Colby are in the running for the remaining two first-round home games.

Who’s not: Wesleyan and Tufts are out and will finish their regular season this weekend.

Who’s on the bubble: Amherst and Conn. College are eligible for the seventh and final playoff berth. The Lord Jeffs are two points ahead and hold the tiebreaker with two games to play, but Amherst has to travel to Bowdoin and Colby, while the Camels have games with Trinity and Wesleyan.

Who will play in the NCAAs: Baring a major disaster, both Middlebury and Bowdoin are in, unless neither wins the NESCAC title. If that happens, then Middlebury has the edge. The remaining playoff teams must likely need to win the NESCAC title.

SUNYAC

Who’s in: The playoffs begin this weekend. Plattsburgh and Oswego have first-round byes. Buffalo State travels to Cortland, while Potsdam is at Geneseo for two-game-plus-minigame series.

Who’s not: Fredonia and Brockport have finished their seasons.

Who’s on the bubble: Nobody.

Who will play in the NCAAs: Plattsburgh has an outside shot at an at-large berth if it doesn’t win the SUNYACs, but it would need some help. The rest of the teams, and probably the Cardinals as well, need to win the SUNYAC championship.

Lions and Christians

That’s what was running through my mind as I did color commentary for the Neumann-RIT game last Friday. The final score was 24-0, and as strange as it sounds, it wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

RIT has been criticized for running up the score on the Knights, and if I hadn’t seen the game for myself, I would probably agree.

The Tigers had to tread a fine line between embarrassing their obviously outmatched opponent on the scoreboard by continuing to play something that resembled hockey, or the alternative of not really playing by actually trying not to score. Doing either shows up your opponent.

Other teams have had more shots on Neumann (which has been outscored 204-34 and outshot 1228-512) this season, but the problem last Friday was that nearly one out of three went in for the Tigers.

At what point do you stop shooting? RIT only took shots from the point in the third period, and still six went in. Several players passed on breakaways and easy scoring chances, and a good portion of the frame was played at half speed with little or no checking.

“You just wanted it to end,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson.

I think everyone associated with this game felt that way.

Behind Every Good Head Coach

…is a great assistant. The American Hockey Coaches Association recognizes the work of assistant coaches each year with the Terry Flanagan Award. For the first time, a Division III assistant coach has won the award: Kevin Houle from Plattsburgh.

The award recognizes Houle’s 13 seasons at Plattsburgh, during which time the Cardinals have a record of 304-87-27, including two national titles.

According to Houle, there are both personal and professional reasons for his decision to pass up other opportunities to remain Bob Emery’s right-hand man.

“Plattsburgh has been a great place to coach,” said Houle, who was a teammate of Emery’s at Boston College from 1982-1986. “We’re part of the community, and we have family here.”

Family is the other main reason for Houle to stay at Plattsburgh. His son was diagnosed with leukemia, and family and community were important to his treatment.

“We got through all the chemotherapy, and now he’s a perfectly healthy second-grader,” said Houle.

Best wishes and congratulations to Kevin and his family.


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