The Final Weekend
Believe it or not, this weekend marks the end of the 2007-2008 Division III womens hockey regular season. It seems like just yesterday players across the country were throwing on the practice jerseys and lacing up the skates for the first day of tryouts eager to hit the ice for the first time.
A lot has changed over the course of the season. Schools like Trinity, Adrian, and Norwich have had breakout seasons. However, as the old saying goes: the more things change, the more things stay the same and that has once again held true in the womens D-III hockey world.
Traditional powers Plattsburgh, Middlebury, Gustavus Adolphus, Stevens Point, and Elmira have all had stellar seasons as expected. All five are fighting for NCAA playoff berths with the likes of the new kids on the block in Amherst and RIT that have now firmly planted themselves among the nations best with back-to-back solid seasons. Add in a surging Wisconsin Superior team, a dark horse in the MIACs St. Thomas, and the ECAC East-leading Manhattanville (St. Anselm is ineligible for post-season play because they are a Division II team) and you have the top contenders for this years National Championship.
Well take a look at how the NCAA tournament field is shaping up a little bit later. First though, Id like to highlight some of the games that will take place this weekend.
There are not any marquee matchups involving top-10 teams this week but there are some very intriguing games that could possibly have huge impacts on some of the main contenders’ playoff chances.
In the ECAC West, fifth-ranked RIT travels to Neumann for a two game series. RIT is currently leading Elmira by one point for third place in the ECAC West standings. However, both teams have the opportunity to leapfrog second place Utica, who has already finished its conference schedule.
If both teams sweep their respective opponents this weekend, RIT will finish as the second seed and get a the first-round bye and Elmira will finish third and host Buffalo State on Saturday, March 1 in a play-in game to determine who advances to the conference Final Four, hosted by top-seeded and top-ranked Plattsburgh.
In the NESCAC, two of the best stories in the conference this season will meet when Colby travels to Trinity. Colby (12-7-3) comes in on a four-game winning streak, including two straight 2-0 shutouts against Wesleyan and Bowdoin. Trinity (16-3-3) has easily been this seasons biggest surprise after going 8-16-1 last season. The Bantams only losses have come to conference heavyweights Middlebury and Amherst, as well as New England College.
Lastly, Manhattanville (17-6-0) will meet conference-leading St. Anselm (21-1-0) for ECAC East bragging rights as the Valiants prepare themselves for the postseason while St. Anselm ends their season and is forced to play for pride rather than conference titles and NCAA tournament dreams.
NCAA Tournament Analysis
With just one week of regular season games remaining and just the conference tournaments left to decide, lets take a look at how the NCAA tournament race is shaking up.
Seven teams make the Division III NCAA Tournament.
There are four automatic (Pool A) bids awarded to the conference tournament champions that have seven of more league members (ECAC East, ECAC West, NESCAC, and MIAC).
There is one Pool B bid that is awarded to the top team not in an automatic-bid (Pool A) conference. (This will go to one of the NCHA teams.)
There are two at-large (Pool C) bids that are awarded to the top two remaining teams as determined through a set criteria by the NCAA committee.
The first installment of the NCAA regional rankings were released this week, giving us our first peak into how the teams match up. (You can go here to take a look at the rankings.)
Unfortunately, the NCAA changed their criteria this year a little bit, which has made putting a PWR ranking system together extremely hard. Without a PWR, we at USCHO.com have been unable to predict the formula and mirror what they use to compile the rankings. This had made comparing out-of-region opponents like Superior and Amherst virtually impossible.
Heres my take on things though right now. For arguments sake, lets assume all the conference leaders win their respective conference tournaments.
That gives us:
ECAC East- Manhattanville
ECAC West- Plattsburgh
MIAC- Gustavus Adolphus
Stevens Point is the leader in the Pool B race right now so well assume they win that. (However, that could definitely change quickly if they fall to Superior in the NCHA Finals. The Yellow Jackets would have a 3-1 head-to-head advantage if that happened and I think that would negate the fact they would have four losses to Point’s three.)
So that gives us five teams now we come to the tough part, Pool C.
RIT, Amherst, Elmira, and Superior would be the front-runners right now for Pool C, if all the conference leaders win out.
RIT beats Amherst because they have the better record and they beat them 3-1 on Jan. 6.
RIT beats Elmira because they win common opponents as the Tigers are 13-3-0 and Elmira is 10-4-1. The two teams split their head-to-head match-ups. The big differences were that Elmira only got point from Plattsburgh and lost to Amherst while RIT split with Plattsburgh and beat Amherst.
Not sure how RIT and Superior match up.
Well go ahead and say that RIT gets one of the Pool C bids since they beat both Amherst and Elmira right now.
Amherst beats Elmira with their 3-2 win over the Soaring Eagles on Jan. 18.
Well consider that the battle is between Superior and RIT for the second Pool C bid. Its basically a toss-up and the remaining games will hold a lot of weight in determining who gets in.
Teams like Elmira, Trinity, Utica, and St. Thomas will need to win their conferences most likely to make the tournament.
There is still plenty of hockey left to be played and the conference tournaments will certainly give us a much clearer picture on how things are going to shake out.
Strap in and enjoy the final few weeks of the 2008 Division III womens hockey season!