Todd: Brian, it’s hard to start without acknowledging the major college hockey news of the weekend. Jack Parker is retiring from Boston University after this, his 40th season as head coach. I know Jim Connelly and I have talked about this before, but it’s hard to imagine any coach staying with one program that long ever again, given that one down season at a bigger-name school sometimes brings out the calls for the coach to be replaced. How do you think we should begin to assess Parker’s tenure at BU?
Brian: As a Boston University alumnus, I can’t help but see Parker’s legacy through a scarlet-colored lens. He is, simply put, a legend: His three titles, six title runs, 40 years, darned near 900 wins, and devotion to the university, the hockey program and college hockey on the whole are accomplishments that very, very few can come anywhere close to touching.
Parker is Jerry York, he is Ron Mason, he is Rick Comley, he is Bob Peters, but all at one school — his alma mater, no less. In such a sense, he is Red Berenson: Like Michigan’s iconic coach, Parker made BU the power program that it is today. He has made his mark, and hyperbole is almost impossible when trying to estimate his impact on this level of the game. He was by no means a perfect coach, but that only begs a more specific narrowing of the question, not a redacting pen.
Todd: I think history will judge him on his coaching prowess, not the off-ice issues with the program that have been present in recent years. But you do have to wonder whether the scrutiny — the task force that found the “celebrity culture,” the player suspensions and dismissals — hastened his retirement.
Brian: The fact of the matter is that skeptics will question how much Parker really had to do with the 2009 national title, and loudly wonder how some of his recent players got so out of line under his watch. Terriers fans will point to acquittals, team-issued disciplinary actions and dismissals, and the banners in Agganis’ rafters (the other “house that Jack built”) to indicate Parker’s true influence on the program.
The fact of the matter is that many BU fans were hoping for Parker’s retirement prior to the 2009 title, but that trophy certainly bought him more time and a lot of apologies. That team was loaded — absolutely stacked with pro-level talent like Brandon Yip, Colin Wilson, Nick Bonino, Matt Gilroy, Kevin Shattenkirk … the list goes on. And in retrospect, it’s almost a wonder that they ever lost. How much of that was Parker’s doing, how much was thanks to the legwork of assistant coaches David Quinn and Mike Bavis?
What I’m getting at is that there has been a lot of doubt lately regarding whether Parker can truly relate to today’s college athletes, and I’m sure recent events did nothing to bolster his image in that regard.
Todd: Let’s turn to what we saw last weekend as playoffs started in three leagues and the regular season ended in two others. Starting in the league you cover, I was stunned that there wasn’t one overtime game in ECAC Hockey last weekend. It almost seems like a given that the ECAC postseason is going to give you multiple multiple-overtime games.
Brian: Well, wait now, Union hasn’t played yet! It’s been a bit of an odd season in what is almost always an odd league. ECAC Hockey folks love to talk about how it’s the toughest top-to-bottom conference in the country, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true this year.
Quinnipiac set a new league record for margin of victory in winning the regular season title by 10 points; Harvard and Colgate finished decidedly lower than the rest of the pack; and there were no real crucial tiebreakers in play entering the postseason, either. I guess even the ECAC can be predictable now and then — which just makes it that less predictable on the whole. Oh, sweet irony.
But what about the CCHA? Will Michigan grind its way to an unbelievable 23rd consecutive NCAA berth? Did Bowling Green burn through its monthly goal quota in two nights against Lake Superior State? And how about Michigan State’s gritty three-game triumph at Alaska?
Todd: Let’s address those one by one:
• A 23rd straight NCAA tournament berth for Michigan would be indeed quite unbelievable for as mediocre as the Wolverines have been all season. But you have to give them credit for being ready to play at the end of the season.
• And you have to give Bowling Green credit for knowing how to play on the road in CCHA playoff series. The Falcons are 3-0 in such series over the last two seasons, including their improbable run to the semifinals from the 11th seed last season.
• Once Michigan State and Alaska got to a Game 3, it was a tossup. The teams split their only two games of the season two weeks earlier in Fairbanks, so even though it was a sixth seed against an 11th seed, it wasn’t that outrageous to picture the Spartans advancing.
On the other hand, there was Atlantic Hockey, where not only did no road teams advance out of the first round, none claimed even as much as one victory. We’ll see how much noise the mid-range teams can make this weekend.
Brian: Looking at Atlantic Hockey, how about Robert Morris? The Purple Eagles of Niagara have earned a good amount of attention this year — and deservedly so — but RMU currently boasts the longest unbeaten streak in the nation at seven games (5-0-2). The Colonials have a .611 win percentage overall yet finished fifth in the conference! It’s looking unlikely that Niagara will finish with an at-large bid — it’s tied for 13th in the PairWise Rankings — but, geez, the AHA sure is making things interesting this year, isn’t it?
Todd: It is, and I think college hockey as a whole is better off because of it. Some people think it would be a farce if Atlantic Hockey got two teams into the tournament, but this is the system under which we play. The formula computes the numbers for Atlantic Hockey teams the same way it does for WCHA and Hockey East teams.
I still think it’s a long shot, but if two AHA teams make the field of 16, I won’t complain.
Brian: Would the 16th-ranked team in the PairWise have a justifiable complaint? Perhaps not justifiable, but understandable. You’re right, it’s the same system for everyone, but until the AHA can regularly hold its own on the inter-conference docket, it will always be seen as the little sister of Division I … and I can’t say I disagree with that perspective.
Beyond supporters of that 16th-ranked team, though, everybody loves an underdog. Rochester Institute of Technology making the Frozen Four in Detroit was a circus all the way, and I’ll gladly take that carnival ride again.
Todd: To me, the asterisk that’s always on the AHA’s inter-conference record is the number of those games it plays on the road. Of 83 non-conference games played by Atlantic Hockey teams this season, only 22 (27 percent) were in the AHA team’s home rink.
The bigger schools shouldn’t really be able to have it both ways in saying that a league should get discounted come tournament time because of its non-conference record while also staying as far away as possible from playing those teams on the road.
Brian: Completely valid point, which segues nicely into a conversation about another NCAA contender, Quinnipiac. We (at least, I) have discussed the Bobcats’ bona fides ad nauseum this season, but one thing that many fail to realize is that QU’s non-conference schedule — criticize it all you like — is such because the program does not feel like it should have to play a huge chunk of its inter-league games away from its sparkling new facility in Hamden.
And who can blame them? It’s a great, school-owned, on-campus venue, and every home game earns the athletics department a decent income from the gate. That said — it’s been asked before, it’ll be asked again — how much has Quinnipiac handicapped itself on the national stage (both in the polls and ultimately in the tourney) by playing so many lower-profile teams at home, rather than taking an “any time, anywhere” approach to playing the big boys?
Todd: I guess it depends on what you consider the national stage to be. If you think of it as prominent non-conference games in the regular season, yeah, they’re probably limiting themselves. But if you think of it as a better chance at a national title, which you’d have as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, and the national exposure there, it’s probably worth the trade.
Let’s wrap up by looking at this weekend’s action. The WCHA and Hockey East get their playoffs started and by the end of the weekend we’ll be down to 18 games before the NCAA tournament field is selected. That means our PairWise Predictor will be running after the last results are in Sunday night to let you see how things can play out. It’s really crunch time now; what games will you be keeping an eye on this weekend?
Brian: I’ll obviously be watching the ECAC quarterfinals, but beyond that I’m paying close attention to the teams around the TUC line: Nebraska-Omaha, Ohio State, Colorado College and Merrimack are each just ahead of the .5000 line, whereas Connecticut, Michigan and Bowling Green could really stir up the PairWise with a win or two.
In the WCHA, UNO at Minnesota State has a lot of promise, as does Minnesota-Duluth at Wisconsin. Those could be terrific series, and Wisconsin in particular is fighting for NCAA consideration. All three CCHA ‘dogs — Bowling Green, Michigan and Michigan State — have reason to swagger into Notre Dame, Western Michigan and Miami, respectively. Finally, in Hockey East, that New Hampshire-at-Providence dance oughta be a doozy. Those two are very potent sides, when they’re on their games.