Win Or Go Home
For several MIAC teams, the playoffs begin this week. Only two of the leagues five playoff spots are spoken for, and seven of the conferences nine teams still have a shot at earning a berth to the postseason tournament. For those teams that advance, a chance at earning the MIACs automatic qualifier into the NCAA tournament and an opportunity to continue their season. The other four teams will finish their season this week.
The difficulty with forecasting the MIAC playoffs is the nature of the leagues tiebreaker system. Courtesy of the MIAC Web site, the league tiebreakers are:
1. Results of head-to-head competition;
2. Results against all teams above those tied;
3. Results against all teams, beginning in rank order;
4. Order of losses, beginning with the ninth place team and moving up to those tied;
5. Total goal series, with those tied;
6. Goal differential for total conference season;
7. Number of overtime losses;
8. Random selection.
In a year such as this, where teams are clustered in the middle of the league, tied teams could have anywhere from one to four different teams ranked above them, impacting how the second tiebreaker is applied. In situations where the two game head-to-head series is tied (very likely in a league with such parity), this tiebreaker can have a huge impact on what teams make the tournament.
However, St. Olaf head coach Sean Goldsworthy notes that the league went to this tiebreaking procedure because coaches feel it often puts the best teams into the playoffs, and does so usually without requiring the use of goal differential (which decreases sportsmanlike play). While the may be true, it makes forecasting, even with just two games to go, incredibly difficult.
With that in mind, heres look at each team and their playoff scenarios entering the weekend.
St. Olaf Oles
Current league record: 11-2-2, 24 points.
Seed: Cinched first.
Rooting for: A healthy weekend.
Notes: The Oles were the first team to clinch a playoff spot, and earned the top seed with their victory over St. Thomas last weekend. St. Olaf will have home ice throughout the playoffs and play the winner of the 4/5 match-up next Saturday. As the only team with their playoff seeding assured, the Oles will have a choice on whether or not to rest key players in this weekends series against Augsburg to remain healthy for the playoffs. However, coach Sean Goldsworthy has said that his team uses 22-23 skaters on a typical weekend, and will continue their standard rotation to try and keep momentum into the playoffs and avoid complacency.
Gustavus Adolphus Gusties
Current league record: 9-5-0, 18 points.
Seed: Second through fifth, have clinched a playoff spot. Hold tiebreaker with St. Thomas for second.
Rooting for: Bethel and St. Olaf.
Notes: The Gusties currently hold down the second seed as a result of their head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. They have clinched a playoff spot, but could finish in any seed with a variety of results. Gustavus controls their own destiny for the second seed: two wins and the team clinches a home playoff game, and could send Hamline spiraling from the playoff hunt.
Gustavus may hold the tiebreaker over Bethel (depending on which teams are tied above them), so Royals wins would weaken the other second place team, St. Thomas, and St. Olaf defeating Augsburg could help push down another team that could catch the Gusties. No matter what, Gustavus will be playing next week, though it could be in the semifinals at their own rink, or on the road for the play-in game. The latter scenario would only be the result of two losses, Augsburg picking up three points or more, and St. Thomas picking at least one point.
St. Thomas Tommies
Current league record: 8-4-2, 18 points.
Seed: Second through sixth, have not clinched a playoff spot. Lose the tiebreaker with St. Thomas for second.
Rooting for: Taking care of business; Hamline?
Notes: There might not be a team more in need of winning its weekend series than the Tommies. Despite currently sitting in a tie for second, two losses will force a difficult road ahead, potentially pushing the Thomas out of the playoff hunt, as Bethel would gain four points and a tiebreaking advantage with the head-to-head victories. That, coupled with successful weekends by both Hamline and Augsburg, could slide St. Thomas out of the playoffs entirely.
However, the Tommies clinch a playoff spot with just a single point on the weekend. Help from Hamline is a double-sided sword. Enough points from the Pipers, and St. Thomas can slide past the Gusties for the right to host a semifinal game. In a tiebreaker situation, though, Hamline would likely hold the edge over the Tommies, which means if the Pipers secure two or more points than St. Thomas, it could move Hamline into that lucrative spot. So while the Pipers can help out the Tommies, its still up to St. Thomas to win their games, thereby eliminating the need of assistance from last years regular season champions.
Current league record: 8-6-0, 16 points.
Seed: Second through seventh, hold tiebreaker over Hamline for fourth.
Rooting for: St. Olaf to rest their starters, St. Marys, St. Thomas?
Notes: An amazing second half turnaround has given the Auggies the potential to host a semifinal game. The Auggies found themselves at just 2-7-0 at Christmas break, but with the turnaround the program has been given some hope. It would take some wins and a lot of help for Augsburg to host that semifinal game, however. With a sweep of St. Olaf, and three or more points from Hamline and Bethel (against Gustavus and St. Thomas, respectively), the Auggies would potentially have second place outright.
Holding the tiebreaker with Hamline gives the Auggies a bit of a cushion. It depends how ambitious the Auggies wish to be in who they root for, however. While Bethel taking points away from St. Thomas is the route by which Augsburg can move up to second, it is also the way the Augsburg can drop out of the playoffs entirely. The Auggies do hold the tiebreaker with sixth place Bethel, but if the Royals and Pipers each earn more points than the Auggies this weekend, Augsburg will see no more hockey. Nor is it as simple as rooting against the Pipers, as St. Johns could jump ahead of Augsburg if they were able to sweep St. Marys and the Auggies come away from the weekend without a point. The bottom line is that things could get really good for the Auggies (second place) or really bad (seventh place), depending on this weekends results.
Current league record: 8-6-0, 16 points.
Seed: Second through seventh, lose tiebreaker against Augsburg for fourth.
Rooting for: St. Marys, St. Olaf, St. Thomas?
Notes: The Pipers playoff scenarios look nearly identical to those of Augsburg above, with the notable exception that Hamline will be strongly rooting for the top-seeded Oles to put out a solid lineup against the Auggies and give the Pipers a chance to earn some points on the team to which they currently lose the tiebreaker. Hamline can earn second with three or more points against the Gusties, St. Thomas being swept, and Augsburg earning fewer points than the Pipers. However, just like the Auggies, a zero point weekend coupled with a St. Johns sweep could knock last years regular season champions right out of the playoffs. A split with Bethel earlier in the season means that tiebreaker would be decided on the basis of what position those teams tie for. Only one thing is certain: nothing is certain for the Pipers heading into the last weekend of the season.
Current league record: 7-7-0, 14 points.
Seed: Third through seventh.