As if last weekend wasn’t crazy enough for the teams in the ECAC East.
The playoffs start on Saturday with four quarterfinal matchups that may not be as clear-cut as the seeding may indicate.
Norwich again finds itself the top seed, and had to work the extra mile in beating Babson and Massachusetts-Boston for a four-point weekend, but they needed help and got it on Saturday when St. Michael’s tied Babson, 1-1. The three-point deficit was erased on the final weekend and while both teams finished with 28 points, the Cadets won the tiebreaker on the strength of two playoff-style 1-0 wins over the Beavers.
So some things don’t change at the top, at least.
The format is different this year based on the weekends remaining and timing up to the NCAA tournament. This year, the quarterfinals will be played this Saturday and the highest-seeding winners will host on home ice the following weekend for the semifinals. This is different where the final four teams remaining have traditionally played over one weekend to decide the conference championship. The semifinals are slated for March 1 and the final hosted by the highest remaining seed will be played on March 8.
There is a lot of excitement brewing over the next three weekends, so maybe it is a good idea to spread that out a bit.
This weekend’s matchups bring some interesting pairings to the quarterfinals.
Here is a quick snapshot of the games this weekend, but you will have to look to the weekly picks for my prognostications on who is moving on to March hockey and who is going home.
No. 8 Skidmore @ No. 1 Norwich
After a tough 0-2-1 stretch to start February, coach Mike McShane’s team brought their game to a higher level when they needed it most. The two games this season both went to the Cadets. The first game at home was a 3-2 OT thriller and two weeks ago on the road, Norwich won by a 3-0 score and outshot the Thoroughbreds 38-17 in the win. Skidmore was outshot the first game by a 40-20 margin, so goaltending will be key for the Thoroughbreds as will special teams, which did not give up a goal to the Cadets in either game and scored one power-play goal in the first meeting of the season. Always tough to play at Northfield, but Skidmore has played a lot of really close, low-scoring games and this one has the ingredients to fit the recipe for tight playoff hockey.
No. 7 Southern Maine @ No. 2 Babson
The Beavers let the top spot slip away last weekend, so it might not be a good time to visit an angry Babson team. The regular-season games between the two teams both went to Babson by three-goal margins and Andrew Bonazza led the way offensively, scoring three goals in the two games. The Huskies will need to shut down the power play, which was 3-for-9 in the two-game series, and also look to Dylan Wells to try and outplay one of the leading goaltenders in the country in Jamie Murray. The Beavers are 11-1-1 at home overall this season, so coach Jeff Beaney is going to have to find away to slow down the four-line attack of Babson and take the crowd out of the game early.
No. 6 University of New England @ No. 3 Massachusetts- Boston
The Nor’easters are probably thrilled that they are not facing Norwich in the first round for the first time in their program history. That said, they see a very familiar opponent in the Beacons for the fourth time this season. Early losses in the PAL Stovepipe Tournament and initial regular-season matchup saw the Beacons outscore UNE by an 11-3 margin, but the last game just a couple of weeks ago was close at 4-3, again in favor of the Beacons. Key to this game will be if Colby Drost can stop enough pucks to give UNE a chance. He did in the last game, but the Nor’easters surrendered four power-play goals to the Beacons and that was just a bit too much to overcome having scored two of their own with the man-advantage.
No. 5 Castleton @ No. 4 New England College
The Pilgrims were in a battle with UMB for the No. 3 seed down the stretch and picked a bad time to go on a losing streak. The Pilgrims finished the season on a 0-3-0 run that kept them the fourth seed and facing a resurgent Spartan squad that has gone 4-2-2 in their last eight, including a 1-1 tie with Norwich and 3-3 tie with Babson. Coach Tom Carroll need only remind his team that the regular-season matchups went their way, but in tight, low-scoring contests typical of playoff-style hockey. First year coach Steve Moffatt knows from his days at Plattsburgh the importance of being hot and consistent at the right time of the season, so a third Pilgrim win over the Spartans will be a great challenge.
Everything is on the line Saturday night in the quarterfinals where the chance to contend for a conference championship hangs in the balance of an intense 60 minutes or more of hockey.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to get up for the games this weekend since no player or coach wants to hang up the skates to next season just yet.