Jim: Well, Todd, we’re down to 22 teams still looking to win their respective league title next weekend. And in that group, there are a number of teams that may have surprised someone.
The biggest of those in my mind is Brown, which upset one of the nation’s hottest teams, Rensselaer, on Sunday night. You can also add in Colorado College’s victory over Denver in that group. What are your thoughts on these two and all of the other quarterfinal series?
Todd: I think Colorado College got its best chance of advancing when it got paired with Denver in the first round. Yes, the Tigers lost the regular season series to the Pioneers but there’s no better way to even the odds in a first-round series than to have it be between rivals. There were no secrets there, and CC just did enough to overcome Denver.
In ECAC Hockey, Brown did what it had to do to win two games in the series: get good defense and goaltending. It was by no means going to win a shootout with the Engineers (the Bears are 39th nationally in scoring), so the performance from Anthony Borelli between the pipes — especially on Sunday — has to be considered one of the biggest factors. Goaltending usually is at this time of the year, isn’t it?
Jim: I watched Jon Gillies do what he had to do to shut down New Hampshire in Hockey East and help the Providence Friars advance to the TD Garden. It seems appropriate that PC will face Massachusetts-Lowell in the semifinals. Those are two teams that two years ago didn’t even make the playoffs. Their stories are among those you find this time of year that I just love.
Todd: What’s remarkable to me is that Michigan might be doing it again. Three years ago the Wolverines were the seventh seed in the CCHA playoffs and were staring at an end to what then was a 19-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances. Maybe seven is their lucky seed, because they are back in the CCHA semifinals after dispatching Western Michigan in two games on the road last weekend.
Michigan needs to win the CCHA tournament to extend the NCAA streak to 23 years, but after last weekend’s performance, I wouldn’t bet again it.
Jim: I think Michigan is an incredible story. Obviously, 22 straight NCAA tournament appearances is amazing, but knowing that years like three years ago exist make it a better story.
If Michigan does it again, it will again have had to play and win TWO series to get to the Joe. That’s just incredible to me. If the Wolverines streak survives, these may be two of the more memorable runs in NCAA history. So what do you think Michigan’s chances are?
Todd: I guess if you look at the matchups, the Wolverines split two games this season with Miami, their semifinal opponent, so you could call that game a tossup. And they swept Ohio State but lost four times to Notre Dame; that’s the kind of swing of fortunes that is emblematic of Michigan’s season.
But I think once the team got its swagger back, it became dangerous, and you just get that feeling that the Wolverines have something special going on.
Jim: Well, as we look at the weekend semifinals, what matchups intrigue you the most? In Hockey East, we have Boston College and Boston University facing off for what could be the final game behind the bench for Jack Parker. In ECAC Hockey, you have Brown looking to finish off an impressive playoff run. And in Atlantic Hockey, Niagara is very close to clinching an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, which means if the Purple Eagles lose in Rochester, two AHA teams could qualify for the NCAA field for the first time.
What are you watching?
Todd: There will be a lot of nostalgia going around in the west this weekend with the final CCHA tournament and the final WCHA Final Five with the league in its current format. I think a lot of people are hoping for one last Minnesota-North Dakota game in the semifinals, but UND has to get past a pesky Colorado College team first.
And for the CCHA, my only wish is that it goes out with some great games in great environments. I’m sure it will be emotional for people who have so much invested in the league, and they deserve a good show.