Quantcast

Late Yale coach Taylor to be honored with Hobey Baker Legend of College Hockey award

timtaylor Late Yale coach Taylor to be honored with Hobey Baker Legend of College Hockey award

Longtime Yale coach Tim Taylor will be honored next month by the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation (photo: Melissa Wade).

The Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation has announced that its 2015 Legend of College Hockey recipient is former Yale coach Tim Taylor.

As head coach with the Bulldogs for 28 years, Taylor made a name for himself by coaching more games than anyone in ECAC history, coaching Yale from 1976 to 2006 and going 337-433-55.

While at Yale, the Bulldogs won one ECAC title, six Ivy League championships, 19 ECAC playoff teams, a pair of 20-win seasons and many players that went on to play professionally.

Taylor, the 1997-98 Spencer Penrose Award winner, was a three-time (1986-87, 1991-92, 1997-98) ECAC Coach of the Year and a two-time (1991-92, 1997-98) New England Coach of the Year. He also coached all six of Yale’s Hobey Baker Award finalists.

He was also head coach of the 1994 U.S. Olympic team and was the assistant general manager and assistant coach for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, head coach of the U.S. National Team at the IIHF World Championships four straight years in the 1990s and a two-time assistant for the U.S. National Team (1981 and 1983). He also led Team USA to its best finish in the 1991 Canada Cup, taking over Team USA after head coach Bob Johnson became ill, and led the Americans to second place.

Taylor, the recipient of USA Hockey’s 2006 Distinguished Achievement Award, was a 1963 Harvard graduate. He spent seven years as an assistant at his alma mater before becoming Yale’s 10th head coach. He captained the 1963 Crimson team that won the Ivy League and the ECAC championships and tallied 46 goals and 33 assists for 79 career points in 68 games.

Sadly, Taylor passed away in April 2013 at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. In his honor, the Tim Taylor Cup was established and presented for the first time in 2014 to the Most Outstanding Player when Harvard hosts the annual Harvard-Yale game in Cambridge, Mass.

Taylor will be honored along with this year’s Hobey Baker Award winner at the annual Hobey Baker Award Banquet on Thursday, May 28, 2015 in St. Paul, Minn

Northeastern’s Roy, Denver’s Heinen pick up monthly HCA honors

141011 20142328 Northeasterns Roy, Denvers Heinen pick up monthly HCA honors

Kevin Roy led the country in scoring in February and earned HCA National Player of the Month honors for his efforts (photo: Melissa Wade).

Northeastern junior Kevin Roy and Denver freshman Danton Heinen took home Hockey Commissioners’ Associational national honors for February.

Roy was named HCA National Division I Player of the Month and Heiner was selected as HCA National Rookie of the Month.

Roy led the nation with 17 points during the month of February on an NCAA-best eight goals and added nine assists. He logged points in all but one of his nine games in February, including multi-point efforts in six contests. Roy did most of his damage during a weekend set with Connecticut, scoring four goals in a 9-0 victory on Feb. 13 and the following afternoon, he added three assists in a 6-1 win.

The winger leads the Huskies with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 33 games and currently ranks tied for seventh in the nation in total points.

Heinen racked up five goals and 10 assists for 15 points in just seven games last month. His 15 points tied for the national rookie lead in scoring during the month, while his 2.14 points per game in February ranked second among all NCAA players behind only his teammate, Trevor Moore. Heinen’s 15 points also tied for second nationally among all NCAA players during the month, as did his 10 assists. He also posted a plus-12 rating in February, which was two better than any other NCAA player during the month.

The 2014 Boston Bruins’ draft pick recorded points in all seven games in February, while he notched four multi-point games and two multi-goal games. Heinen opened the month with a three-point outing in a shutout of rival Colorado College Feb. 6 as he had a hand in all three markers, scoring the game-winning goal while adding assists on the final two tallies. Heinen compiled a four-point weekend with two goals and an assist in a 6-4 win Feb. 20 against CC and chipped in another assist the following night.

To close the month, Heinen amassed six points in a spilt with No. 5 Miami to earn NCHC Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this season. On Feb. 27, Heinen doled out two assists, while he tied a career high with four points the following night in a 6-2 victory. In that game on Feb. 28, he scored two power-play goals and handed out two assists.

Heinen leads the NCHC in overall scoring with 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists) this season.

Brandt, Carpenter, Poulin the three finalists for 2015 Kazmaier Award

poulin Brandt, Carpenter, Poulin the three finalists for 2015 Kazmaier Award

Boston University senior Marie-Philip Poulin is one of three finalists for the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award (photo: Melissa Wade).

After announcing the 10 semifinalists on Feb. 26, the three finalists were announced Thursday for the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.

Minnesota junior forward Hannah Brandt, Boston College junior forward Alex Carpenter and Boston University senior forward Marie-Philip Poulin are the three remaining finalists for the award.

The award will be presented at a brunch ceremony at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis on Saturday, March 21, as part of the NCAA women’s Frozen Four weekend.

The selection process commenced in early February when NCAA Division I women’s hockey coaches were asked to nominate players for the award. Players who were nominated by two or more coaches were then placed on an official ballot, which was sent back to the coaches to vote for the top 10 finalists. The three finalists, including the recipient of the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, were then chosen by a 13-person selection committee made up of NCAA Division I women’s hockey coaches, representatives of print and broadcast media, an at-large member and a representative of USA Hockey.

Slow start, strong finish: New Hampshire carries hot streak into playoffs

140322 20154880 Slow start, strong finish: New Hampshire carries hot streak into playoffs

New Hampshire’s Tyler Kelleher has followed up a 16-point rookie campaign with 13 goals and 37 points in 33 games (photo: Melissa Wade).

There are a number of teams that seem to be playing their best hockey of the season heading into the Hockey East playoffs. But no team likely seems as dangerous as New Hampshire.

Before the season started, the team lost its only experienced goaltender, Casey DeSmith, when he was suspended and later dismissed for an off-ice incident. So entering the year, UNH had a big question mark.

The first half of the season was a disaster for coach Dick Umile’s club. UNH reached the holiday break 5-10-1 and a dreadful 2-6-1 in Hockey East. The Wildcats had the worst offense in league, scoring fewer than two goals per game while giving up just short of three goals per game.

It looked like this could be a lost season for the Wildcats.

But things turned around in the second half. The offense clicked at three-and-a-half goals per game. Umile was able to accelerate a goaltending recruit, Daniel Tirone, who has a 10-4 record to date.

And now entering the Hockey East tournament, UNH might be the hottest of the teams that will play in this weekend’s first round, winning five straight and posting a 9-6 league mark in 2015.

“We got off to a slow start on the season,” said Umile. “We had a difficult time scoring goals, we were young on defense. We found ways to lose games, a lot of one-goal games.

“Danny Tirone is a goaltender we recruited for next year and he came in January. He came in and added some competition. He got a couple of starts and played well, so we’ve been going with him to take nothing away from [fellow freshman goaltender] Adam Clark,” who Umile noted carried the goaltending load until the break.

Umile said the move to have Tirone come to Durham a semester early had to be difficult, knowing his career for UNH will be only three-and-a-half years instead of four.

“He’s giving up a half a year of his eligibility and there’s no guarantee that he’s going to play all of the games,” Umile said of Tirone’s willingness to enter a semester early. “He’s a fierce competitor with a lot of confidence. He anticipates plays and he found himself competing for game time and we found ourselves coming back to him.”

Goaltending isn’t the only major difference in the second half for Umile, whose team will open a best-of-three first-round series on Friday against first-year league member Connecticut. The offense has finally began producing as expected.

And while seniors who Umile knew he could rely upon have been able to produce, possibly the most pleasant surprise has been the play of Tyler Kelleher, who has followed up a 16-point rookie campaign with 13 goals and 37 points in 33 games to date.

“Tyler is an excellent hockey player who has a very good hockey sense,” said Umile. “He’s awful good with his stick. He’s a goal scorer. There are some guys who can score goals and some who help others. Tyler Kelleher is a goal scorer.”

Saying that UNH is among the hottest teams entering the playoffs is one thing. Backing it up with numbers is another.

Since Feb. 1, The Wildcats have the best record (6-2) in Hockey East, the third-best offense (3.88 goals per game, behind Northeastern and Boston University), and have a goal differential of plus-11, tied for second with Northeastern, behind only Providence.

That doesn’t translate to any cockiness if you believe the head coach.

“We’ve got to worry about ourselves and try to do what we do best,” said Umile. “UConn is going to be a team that is well-prepared. We’re not going into this thinking that Connecticut, because they’re a first-year team in Hockey East, that it’s going to be an easy weekend. That’s the farthest thing from the truth right now.

“We will have a tough challenge. It’s a whole other season right now. You can forget about the regular season. It’s all about this weekend.”

140321 20361116 Slow start, strong finish: New Hampshire carries hot streak into playoffs

Providence forward Noel Acciari’s work in the defensive zone deserves attention (photo: Melissa Wade).

Handing out the hardware

Here we are, the postseason upon us. That also means that the coaches have submitted their ballots for league awards. As I try to do each year, I’ve put together my own ballot to share with our readers. Some decisions are easy. Others, not so much.

And I know that I may offend some people if I leave off your favorite player. This is a totally unbiased list based on my viewing of every team in the league multiple times. Yes, you can write hate mail but also know my ballot means zero, zilch, nada in the grand scheme of things.

Alas, here we go:

Best defensive forward: Noel Acciari, Providence

Despite just 16 points in league play, Acciari is plus-12 in conference play and plus-18 overall. While so many people think that Jon Gillies is the reason that Providence has impressive defensive numbers, it’s also the commitment to overall team defense that has made Providence one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Runner-up: Joe Gambardella, UMass-Lowell

Best defensive defenseman: Noah Hanifin, Boston College

Though only a rookie, Hanifin’s bright future that will come to fruition in this year’s NHL Entry Draft is based significantly on defensive responsibility. In 22 league games, Hanifin was plus-11. Runners-up: Matt Grzelcyk, Boston University; Jake Suter, UMass-Lowell

Individual sportsmanship award: Dalen Hedges, Northeastern

While Hedges was putting together an impressive offensive season for the Huskies, he was whistled for just a single minor penalty in 22 league games. That came on a team that struggled at times with discipline, but Hedges was able to keep himself out of the box and keep his name on the score sheet. Runner-up: Nick Luukko, Vermont

Rookie of the year: Jack Eichel, Boston University

Probably the easiest ROY selection in Hockey East since Paul Kariya in 1993, Eichel helped lead Boston University from a forgettable campaign a year ago to the regular season league title. Eichel posted 44 points in 22 league games, becoming the first Hockey East player since Jason Krog at New Hampshire in 1999 to post an average of two points per game or better. For the record, Krog went on to win the Hobey Baker Award that season. Runners-up: C.J. Smith, UMass-Lowell; Alex Tuch, Boston College

Player of the year: Jack Eichel, Boston University

Not since Kariya in 1993 has the same player won both the ROY and POY awards, so awarding this undrafted freshman such an honor is making a major comparison. And while it is difficult to compare the players from such different generations of college hockey, here are some highlights of Eichel’s year that impressed me:

• He leads the conference in faceoffs won and ranks eighth nationally on draws in all games played.

• Eichel has been in a race all season for the national scoring lead. But every time another player gets close, Eichel pulls away. His 55 points is six points clear of linemate Evan Rodrigues and eight better than Michigan’s Zach Hyman.

• All of Eichel’s impressive statistics have come without him recording a single hat trick.

• Only five times has Eichel been held off the score sheet this season.

Some of these arguments stand on their own. Others rely on having great linemates, which Eichel certainly has. But this is certainly a rookie campaign unlike any in recent memory and I think is deserving of earning both of the league’s top player awards. Runners-up: Evan Rodrigues, BU; Kevin Roy, Northeastern

Coach of the year: David Quinn, Boston University

Quinn’s ability to bring his team from five wins in league play and a ninth-place finish a year ago to the top of Hockey East is impressive. Many will say, “If you gave any coach Jack Eichel, he’d win the league title,” but I don’t believe that to be the case. And even if it is the case, you have to tip your hat to Quinn and BU’s ability not just to recruit Eichel but to maintain his commitment in an ever-competitive war against major juniors.

Let’s also not forget that Quinn had the unenviable job of replacing a BU and college hockey legend after Jack Parker retired. Those aren’t shoes that every coach can fill, and for that I believe he deserves credit. Runners up: Norm Bazin, UMass-Lowell; Kevin Sneddon, Vermont

First team All-Hockey East
F Jack Eichel, Boston University
F Evan Rodrigues, Boston University
F Kevin Roy, Northeastern
D Matt Grzelcyk, Boston University
D Robbie Russo, Notre Dame
G Jon Gillies, Providence

Second team All-Hockey East
F Danny O’Regan, Boston University
F Vince Hinostroza, Notre Dame
F Dalen Hedges, Northeastern
D Mike Paliotta, Vermont
D Zack Kamrass, UMass-Lowell
G Rasmus Tirronen, Merrimack

Hockey East All-Rookie team
F Jack Eichel, Boston University
F C.J. Smith, UMass-Lowell
F Dennis Kravchenko, Massachusetts
D Noah Hanifin, Boston College
D Brandon Hickey, Boston University
G Cal Petersen, Notre Dame

Minnesota State women’s coach Means resigning at end of May

Minnesota State announced Wednesday that women’s coach Eric Means will step down at the end of his current contract at the end of May.

“I would like to thank Minnesota State for allowing me to serve as head coach of the Maverick women’s hockey program the last six years,” said Means in a sattement. “It was a privilege to work with some outstanding student-athletes during my time in charge of the program and I owe a debt of gratitude to my assistant coaches Shari Vogt Dickerman and Brett Bruininks, along with university and athletic department staff members who have helped us in trying to move the program forward.”

In his six seasons behind the Minnesota State bench, Means guided the Mavericks to a 48-161-16 overall record. He led his team to 13 wins in 2013-14, which ranks as the fourth-most wins in a season by any MSU women’s hockey team.

“This business is hard when the result is losing people in your program like Eric Means,” added Minnesota State director of athletics Kevin Buisman. “Eric was as dedicated, hard-working and loyal as they come and he poured his heart into Maverick women’s hockey. We wish him all the best in his future professional endeavors.

“We look forward to a national search process that we hope will identify new leadership that will help us compete more effectively in what is arguably the most challenging women’s league in the country. We are optimistic that the upcoming move to the Verizon Wireless Center will help jump start and revitalize Maverick women’s hockey in what we believe can be an exciting new future for the program.”

Between trophies, playoffs and PairWise, everyone’s playing for something on WCHA’s final weekend

2015010921 38 274930 Between trophies, playoffs and PairWise, everyones playing for something on WCHAs final weekend

Alabama-Huntsville needs one point from a series against Bowling Green to guarantee itself a spot in the WCHA playoffs (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Well, here we are again.

It’s 2015 and we have reached the end of the regular season in the WCHA. Just two games left for every team and virtually every team has something on the line.

Pardon if it sounds like you’ve taken a time machine back to 2014, but so far as we know that technology doesn’t exist yet.

The teams are slightly different but the situations are similar: Only two teams know their fates for sure while the rest are either trying to win the league title (Minnesota State and Michigan Tech), looking for home-ice advantage in next week’s playoffs (Bemidji State, Northern Michigan and Ferris State) or clawing for the final playoff spot (Alabama-Huntsville, Lake Superior State and Alaska-Anchorage).

Only Bowling Green (third place) and Alaska (ineligible) are locked in to their playoffs fate.

“There’s always going to be something on the line,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, whose team hosts Minnesota State this weekend. “We have a lot going on in our world and so do they. That’s what happens in leagues that are tight this day in age. There’s so much parity. It’s going to be no different in Bemidji here this weekend.”

So without further ado, here’s what’s at stake in the league’s final weekend:

Minnesota State

The second-ranked Mavericks go to in-state rival Bemidji State needing just one point or a Michigan Tech loss to clinch the MacNaugton Cup and the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament. The only way Minnesota State drops to second in the standings is with two losses to the Beavers plus two wins by Michigan Tech.

Still, the Mavericks are trying to keep momentum going into the postseason and maintain their high PairWise Ranking (No. 2) after their three-point series against Tech last week. Saturday’s victory snapped a three-game winless streak (0-1-2).

“We’re just preparing like we do every week,” coach Mike Hastings said. “It’s been very businesslike, which I appreciate.”

Minnesota State became just the second WCHA team since the league went to a 28-game schedule to post back-to-back 20-win seasons in conference play, joining North Dakota, which did it in 1997-98 and 1998-99.

Michigan Tech

The Huskies, the No. 4 team in the country, had a chance to come into this weekend in pole position for the MacNaughton Cup race, but a tie and a loss against Minnesota State last weekend has them needing some help for a chance at a league title.

“We went into Mankato with high hopes of coming out of there in first place but unfortunately we didn’t get the bounces or the breaks,” Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said.

Tech has a home-and-home series with Upper Peninsula rival Northern Michigan this weekend and needs a sweep (and some help from Bemidji) to have any chance at the league title.

But regardless of what happens this weekend, the Huskies (24-8-2) will have their best record since the early 1980s and are a virtual lock for the NCAA tournament, their first appearance since 1981.

Bowling Green

No. 13 Bowling Green will be the third seed and home for the playoffs no matter what happens in this weekend’s home series against Alabama-Huntsville. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to play for.

The Falcons have improved their win total in each of coach Chris Bergeron’s five seasons and are now looking to win 20 games for the first time since 1995-96. More importantly, the Falcons have to be worried about maintaining or moving up in the PairWise Rankings, where they are 14th thanks to just one win in their last five games, including a 6-1 loss at Alaska-Anchorage last Saturday.

Once considered to be in a fairly safe position for the NCAA tournament, Bowling Green’s current bubble position is awfully close to needs-to-win-the-conference-tournament territory.

Bemidji State

The Beavers have a one-point advantage on Northern Michigan for the fourth and final home-ice slot.

Although that one-point edge is preferable to entering the weekend with the Wildcats tied, the Beavers still have some work to do before they can clinch their first home playoff series since joining the WCHA in 2010.

The easiest way to make sure they get a home series at the Sanford Center is, of course, sweeping Minnesota State. The Beavers need just three points to earn home ice on their own.

Bemidji State beat Minnesota State 3-1 in the North Star College Cup in January but was swept by the Mavericks in Mankato in November.

The Beavers will need some help from Michigan Tech otherwise — Tech plays a home-and-home series with Northern Michigan, and the Beavers would love to see the Huskies take three points from the Wildcats to help them out, just in case.

Northern Michigan

The Wildcats’ situation is opposite of Bemidji State’s: They can’t leap the Beavers and earn home ice without some help from Minnesota State.

Because the Beavers hold the tiebreaker due to the head-to-head matchup, the Wildcats need at least two points and some Bemidji State losses to Minnesota State to host a first-round series in Marquette.

And Ferris State is nipping at the heels and could pass Northern Michigan for both fourth and fifth if things break right for the Bulldogs.

Walt Kyle’s team has a home-and-home series with Michigan Tech, which it took to overtime twice earlier this season — the teams tied Jan. 3 in Marquette and the Wildcats won 4-3 in OT the next day in Houghton.

Although Northern Michigan has been streaky for much of the season, it had won three straight before losing 3-0 to Lake Superior last week. Which NMU team shows up in the clutch?

Ferris State

Ferris State, the defending MacNaughton Cup champion, is still in the hunt for the final home-ice spot but will need plenty of help to get there: a sweep at Lake Superior State, two losses by Bemidji State and no better than a one-point weekend for Northern Michigan.

The Bulldogs need to have a three-point weekend and get some help from the Beavers and Wildcats to be the fifth seed for the playoffs and can drop no further than the sixth seed. (Ferris State sits in seventh place in the standings, but sixth-place Alaska is ineligible for postseason play.)

History has shown that Ferris State will be able to do its part. It has won seven games in a row and is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games against the Lakers.

2014120521 14 271004 Between trophies, playoffs and PairWise, everyones playing for something on WCHAs final weekend

Colton Parayko and Alaska wrap up their season this weekend against Alaska-Anchorage (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Alaska

This weekend marks the end of the season for Alaska, which, due to NCAA violations, has been banned from postseason play.

While that’s too bad for the Nanooks, especially seniors such as Garrick Perry, Trevor Campbell and Nolan Kaiser among others, the rest of the WCHA may be breathing a sigh of relief.

There aren’t many teams in the league hotter than Alaska, which went undefeated in February (5-0-1), including a tie and win against Minnesota State. Only one other team in the country finished the month without a loss, and that was No. 1 North Dakota, which had the same record.

The Nanooks, who could finish as high as fourth place in the regular season standings, aren’t playing for nothing — they go to Anchorage to play for the third and fourth games of the Governor’s Cup series.

Alabama-Huntsville

Alabama-Huntsville needs just one point to secure a playoff spot for the first time since joining the WCHA in 2013.

But that’s easier said than done against Bowling Green, a team that swept the Chargers earlier this year in Huntsville and has already secured itself a home-ice playoff spot for next week.

Although UAH has dropped four straight, the Chargers hold the tiebreaker over Lake Superior State for the No. 7 seed; the teams are tied with 15 points.

They also hold tiebreakers over Alaska-Anchorage, which is three points behind.

Lake Superior State

The Lakers are tied with Alabama-Huntsville in the standings and are in position for the final playoff spot.

Last season, they found themselves in a similar situation in the final weekend but couldn’t find a point and were eliminated from the playoffs after losing to Ferris State in the last game.

That loss ultimately cost coach Jim Roque his job.

Things haven’t been great for the Lakers this season under new head coach Damon Whitten, but returning to the WCHA playoffs would help the rebuilding process greatly.

The Lakers host Ferris State and need just a point to clinch the final playoff spot and fend off last-place Alaska-Anchorage.

Alaska-Anchorage

Alaska-Anchorage sits in last place in the standings and needs a lot to go its way to keep its season alive after this weekend.

The Seawolves staved off elimination by beating Bowling Green 6-1 on Saturday to snap a nine-game losing streak. But to make the playoffs, they need to sweep rival Alaska in the second series of the Governor’s Cup and also have either Alabama-Huntsville or Lake Superior State get swept. If each of those teams, who sit three points ahead of the Seawolves, gets one point this weekend, Anchorage is out.

While it sounds tough, it’s not an impossible situation. Anchorage swept Alaska in Fairbanks on Jan. 16-17 (its last victories before the losing streak started), and its competition for the seventh or eighth seed have tough matchups.

Tiebreakers

According to the WCHA, there are several tiebreaker scenarios that may needed to be dealt with after the weekend.

Possible two-way tiebreakers:

• Minnesota State over Michigan Tech (3-0-1 head-to-head)

• Bemidji State over Northern Michigan (3-0-1 head-to-head)

• Ferris State over Bemidji State (more WCHA wins)

• Ferris State over Northern Michigan (more WCHA wins)

• Alabama-Huntsville over Lake Superior State (2-1-1 head-to-head)

• Alabama-Huntsville over Alaska-Anchorage at 16 points (tied on wins, 2-0-0 head-to-head)

• Alabama-Huntsville over Alaska Anchorage at 15 points (more WCHA wins)

• Lake Superior State over Alaska-Anchorage at 16 points (tied on wins, 1-1-0 head-to-head, LSSU 2-0-0 vs. 4/5 Bemidji State, UAA 0-2-2 vs. 4/5 Bemidji State)

• Lake Superior State over Alaska-Anchorage at 15 points (more WCHA wins)

Possible three-way tiebreakers:

• Ferris State over Bemidji State over Northern Michigan (more WCHA wins; then BSU 3-0-1 head-to-head vs. NMU)

• Alabama-Huntsville over Lake Superior State over Alaska-Anchorage at 16 points (tied on wins, UAH 4-1-1 head-to-head, LSSU 2-3-1, UAA 1-3-0; then Lake Superior State over Alaska-Anchorage per above two-way tiebreaker)

• Alabama-Huntsville over Lake Superior State over Alaska-Anchorage at 15 points (more WCHA wins for UAH and LSSU; then UAH 2-1-1 head-to-head vs. LSSU)

Players of the week

This week’s WCHA players of the week were Alaska junior forward Tyler Morley (offensive), Bemidji State freshman goaltender Michael Bitzer (defensive) and Alaska-Anchorage freshman forward Austin Azurdia (rookie).

Women’s conference titles to be decided this weekend

shannon stewart plattsburgh2 gabe dickens Womens conference titles to be decided this weekend

Can Shannon Stewart lead Plattsburgh over top-ranked Elmira? (Gabe Dickens)

It’s that time of the season — conference tournament finals.

All six women’s Division III conference championships will be decided this weekend, which will set the stage for the NCAA tournament that will kick off next weekend.

The ECAC East is down to Norwich taking on Massachusetts-Boston and Castleton playing Salve Regina. Norwich is No. 5 in the country, but the three other teams all come in with respectable records on the season. Is there an upset brewing? Or does Norwich squash the field?

In the ECAC West, top-ranked Elmira and No. 2 Plattsburgh are still alive. This weekend, Elmira gets Utica and Plattsburgh takes on Oswego. It’s shaping up to be No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the final, and that would surprise no one. It would definitely be a case of the old Gorilla Monsoon adage where “the irresistible force meets the immovable object?”

(Email me if you remember Gorilla Monsoon saying that, people!)

St. Thomas and the Cinderella team so far, Bethel, meet in the MIAC finals. This may actually be the sleeper final of all six finals. The only question is if the clock strikes midnight for the Royals.

The NCHA has Adrian, Concordia (Wis.), Lake Forest, and St. Norbert left. It would be easy to say Adrian is the favorite, but the other three squads are here for a reason. Then again, Adrian has the Jade Walsh factor.

Over in the NESCAC, the final quartet is comprised of Amherst and Trinity, in what will be a battle of ranked teams (Amherst at eight, Trinity tenth), and No. 3 Middlebury battling Bowdoin. Like the ECAC West contests, these games will be barn-burners. Do rankings even matter when it comes to single elimination tournaments? We’ll find out shortly.

Continuing the trend of high-quality games, the WIAC finals have No. 6 Wisconsin-River Falls hosting No. 7 Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Just. Wow. This could be the upset of all the finals, if No. 7 beating No. 6 could be looked at as an upset, but alas, that’s why the games are decided on the ice and not on this website.

The NCHA games start Friday night, while all the others start Saturday.

Check back Friday morning to USCHO.com for our staff’s picks for the championship games.

Poulin gets one more shot at top prize for BU

poulin1 Poulin gets one more shot at top prize for BU

Marie-Philip Poulin (BU – 29) – hopes to win five more games in her collegiate career; that would give her an NCAA Championship. (Melissa Wade)

She’s done it all. That statement is commonly made in reference to a great hockey player.

When it comes to the accomplishments of Boston University senior Marie-Philip Poulin, it is totally true. Well, almost.

Poulin is one of the most recognizable names in women’s hockey, in large part due to her success on the Olympic stage. After scoring a pair of goals in back-to-back gold-medal games for Canada, even people who normally don’t follow the sport have heard of Poulin.

In addition to her heroics that won her Olympic gold twice, she has earned World Championships at both the senior and Under-18 level, and a couple of regular season and tournament Hockey East titles with the Terriers.

About the only glory she lacks is an NCAA Championship, and Poulin has one more chance to add that.

“It’d be amazing,” she said. “I think when I knew I was coming back to Boston I wanted to come back and win an NCAA title. It will take a lot of work to get there, but we’re going to go game-by-game and hope to achieve it.”

Her college career is down to a maximum of five more games, and then coach Brian Durocher will be faced with the unenviable task of figuring out how to replace her in his lineup.

“She has really set the bar,” he said. “She’s somebody, because of I think the injuries, and because she’s an unbelievable teammate and really thinks pass first, she’s probably put statistics behind, always looking at the team accomplishments, team success. When you compound that with the fact that she’s had some injuries, I think it’s been hard for her to really get the recognition she may deserve. Some of that is circumstantial. She’s got the great success in the Olympics, national teams, been a fantastic college hockey player, but when you come up with the injuries and things like that, it’s been hard for her. I don’t think she’s been an All-American yet, hasn’t been a Kazmaier winner or final three.”

That could change soon. Poulin is one of 10 finalists for this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award, and she is a likely pick as an All-American as well.

“As far as our individual team and our program, you can’t have a better leader with that kind of talent. We’ve had other good leaders, other talented kids, but this kid really brings everything at the highest level. Everybody that coached her before and everybody that will coach her in the future will say the same thing, and every teammate she has says the same thing. So it’s going to be very hard to replace her.”

Her coach knows of what he speaks, because he has already had to attempt to deal with her absence from the roster in the short term, both during her Olympic year and when other circumstance have caused her to miss games.

“The spleen, which was the big injury, took her out for it had to be 20 games [in 2011-12],” Durocher said. “This year, it’s five games. She’s also been at Four Nations in November and also the MECO Cup at least one year and missed some games there. Then she broke her hand while she was here. Knee, hand, spleen — it’s been a long line of injuries. I don’t think she had an injury before she came here. Maybe the hockey gods caught up to her and decided her time at BU was the time that was going to be injured.”

Combined, those circumstances have kept her out of a BU uniform enough times that her junior linemate Sarah Lefort has played in one more game in her career in one season fewer.

“Height-wise, she wasn’t the biggest kid, but she always was unbelievably strong on her skates,” Durocher said. “The great players are always that. She could always handle the physical play. She was always ready for it. I don’t think it was ever a problem or anything that set her back.”

Perhaps the style that has made her one of the game’s stars has exposed her to greater risk of injury.

“Lord knows, she doesn’t shy away from any physical play, because she cuts back along the boards more than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Durocher said. “It’s partly because she has the hand skills and the agility and the quickness on her edges to do it, but she’s also fearless and courageous along the wall. Eventually, you’re going to bump into people. I’ve seen it happen many, many, many times where she hits the brakes and changes direction, and whoops, the kid chasing her has no idea she was going to change and basically hits her and there is pretty serious contact there. Usually, it’s the other kid that goes down, but they both take the brunt of the hit. Sometimes things give, and in her case, it’s been a couple of injuries where different parts of the body have given out a little bit on her.”

One of the challenges for Durocher during Poulin’s senior season has been finding the right line combination for her, and he had talented newcomers to consider.

“As a coach, you try to balance things out,” he said. “I try not to put rookies ahead of their time. If somebody earns her way to the power play or a top line, great, and Victoria Bach or Rebecca Leslie as freshmen, they could play on a top line here or a top line at just about any college hockey program.”

One wing was an obvious choice, as Poulin and Lefort had clicked while skating with former Terrier Jenelle Kohanchuk two years ago. The other wing wasn’t as easy.

“They had Sam Sutherland, who’s a very solid hockey player, but midway in the year, we sort of got the sense that if they could go out and get two goals, and in some games three, we could win games, 2-1 or 3-2,” Durocher said.

To complete his top line, he turned to another senior who was returning after an injury knocked her out of the line-up last season.

“Kayla [Tutino] is the kid who can do two things at the highest level,” Durocher said. “One of them is shoot the puck, and two is to play on the front of the net. She’s fearless; she’s tough as nails. She’s got some quickness to go with her strength. That’s where she makes a living. Her freshman year, I think she got close to 20 goals and played with Jenn Wakefield. It almost didn’t matter who the third person was, because they’d get short-handed goals; they’d play as a tandem. They got a lot of goals because they both could shoot it and they both would go to the net and knock in pucks. She’s found a home with [Lefort] and with [Poulin] and given us a dynamite line.”

Since being united, Durocher says the combination is averaging around three goals per game.

“It’s going pretty well,” Poulin said. “I think we find each other on the ice and we’re improving every day. Every line is going well. We’re pretty excited to go to Hyannis this weekend.”

Hyannis, Mass., is the site for the Hockey East semifinals and final. To successfully defend their title, the Terriers will need more than just their top line.

“We still think we’ve got some firepower behind them,” Durocher said.

Some of that pop comes from Bach and Leslie, who have debuted with a sum of 33 goals and 62 points.

This time of year, the fate of any hockey team is often determined in its defensive zone.

“Shannon [Doyle] is an all-star in my mind,” Durocher said. “She’s one of the real top defensemen in college hockey. We’ve got other good players here. Lillian Ribeirinha-Braga is a real solid player. Shannon Stoneburgh has had a wonderful year. Two of the kids that are playing for us on a regular basis have had deteriorating type of injuries, and they’re probably only 70 percent of what they were in October. With a player like Caroline [Campbell], who was an experienced fifth-year senior, not with us right now, it’s put a hole back there.”

Any weakness on the blue line compounds the fact that BU came into the season looking to replace Kerrin Sperry in goal.

“We’ve got two kids we feel good about, who have played pretty solid during the year, but they both want to and need to take just a half a step more,” Durocher said. “They didn’t let in bad goals, but some pucks were flying in that they knew they wanted to get. I think in the last three or four games, Victoria [Hanson] has played extremely well. We’re banking on her now as she goes into her first year of deeper into the postseason. She answered the bell on Friday and Saturday against Vermont and played real well against BC on [the last day of the regular season], so we’re giving her a little bit of a run, just because you’ve got to play back-to-back, and so last weekend I wanted to give her two games. Now she has a chance if we can get by Northeastern to possibly play two games this week. We’re not looking past Northeastern; we’re just looking to put the kid we think is the best person for the job now in the net.”

Boston University’s strength is its forwards, so Durocher hopes to take full advantage of that positive.

“We want to tighten it up on D, and I think the best way for our team to play good defense is to get those forwards to cover 190 or 195 feet of the ice,” he said. “They’ve got to play two ways. They sometimes have to play conservative. We’ve been kind of harping on that throughout the year. Some games you do it, and some games you forget, and it becomes too wide open for my liking.”

Although the Terriers’ scoring punch gives them a shot in any style of game, they likely proved that their best chance at success comes with a more conservative approach. They held Boston College to two goals in tying the teams’ most recent meeting, the only blemish on the Eagles’ Hockey East record.

“It gave us good momentum,” Poulin said. “It was a great game. They’re pretty hard to play against and last weekend we played Vermont and we were pretty excited about it. It was two great wins for us and we need to keep the momentum going.”

She gives any team a great shot to keep rolling with what she produces at big moments.

“There’s probably different plays that people could talk about, but the one that sticks out in my mind was in the NCAA tournament when she was freshman,” Durocher said. “It’s our first time there. We’ve got a pretty good squad, with not only her, but Wakefield, and Catherine Ward, and Tara Watchhorn, and Kasey Boucher, and Sperry was a young goalie. In a game that almost was getting away from us, if I remember, it was 2-0 Wisconsin. She goes in on a breakaway, and how she could have the confidence — most kids would just want to get a shot on net. Most kids would just come in and make some deke that they’ve made 100 times. She comes in and everything she does looks like she’s going left to her forehand side, and she’s going left past the net, she brings the puck back to her backhand in front of the goalie and shelves it on her backhand into the top corner. To this day, just the confidence, the savvy, and the ability to execute was pretty special, and to think that’s what a kid is doing on that stage.”

From here on out in her NCAA finale, it will all be grand stages. First the conference tourney, likely an NCAA quarterfinal, and if her team advances, one more Frozen Four.

“There’s only so many people in women’s college hockey that you’d pay to see play, and she’s one of them,” Durocher said. “I would pay for a lot more, but the average fan doesn’t. She’s the type of kid you would.”

Regular season-closing North Dakota-Miami series stands to live up to billing

28404November 15 2014 Regular season closing North Dakota Miami series stands to live up to billing

North Dakota’s Luke Johnson and Miami’s Anthony Louis square off this weekend (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Even at the start of this season, prognosticators circled this weekend’s series between North Dakota and Miami series in Oxford, Ohio, as a potentially huge one.

UND and Miami came into last fall as two of the biggest favorites to win the NCHC regular season title. It stood to reason, then, that many thought the teams’ meetings this weekend could decide who will enter the league playoffs with the No. 1 seed.

Pat yourself on the back if you saw that coming.

After sweeping St. Cloud State last weekend, top-ranked UND clinched at least a share of the NCHC regular season championship. North Dakota (47 points) could put more than just one hand on the Penrose Cup this weekend with even one tie on the road against Miami (41).

If the RedHawks win both of their home games against UND, however, Miami would spoil UND’s bid to win the Penrose Cup outright. Speaking earlier this week, RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi acknowledged the tough challenge his team has in front of it this weekend.

“Any time the No. 1 team in the country comes to your building, there’s excitement, and we have a lot of respect for North Dakota and what they’ve been able to do this year and just their program in general,” he said.

“[They're] well-coached, a lot of depth at all positions, really, and they’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason.”

UND is also coming into Oxford on a hot streak. North Dakota has won each of its last four games and hasn’t lost one within 65 minutes of hockey since falling 3-2 in overtime at No. 5 Omaha on Jan. 30.

One would have to go back even further to find the last time UND lost a game in regulation. Nearly back to the start of 2015, in fact, when UND lost 4-1 at home to No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth on Jan 9.

Fifth-ranked Miami is no slouch itself. A split at No. 7 Denver last weekend gave the RedHawks all to do this weekend if it is to pick up a share of the NCHC regular season title, but Miami has won seven of its last nine games.

Miami also will have home-ice advantage on its side this weekend, and the RedHawks are a solid 10-4 this season at Steve Cady Arena. The RedHawks also will be playing against a UND team without Mark MacMillan, an injured senior forward who has led his team this season in goals with 16.

“It’s a tough break for him because he’s an unbelievable player, and we know that firsthand and I just feel bad for him,” Blasi said. “You don’t want to see that on anybody and hopefully he can get back because he’s a senior and he’s a good hockey player.”

Blasi knows that MacMillan is far from UND’s only weapon, however.

“They’ve got so many weapons and so much depth that we have to prepare the same and we have to be ready to play our best hockey,” Blasi said, “and that’s the bottom line.”

From UND’s perspective, coach Dave Hakstol said that MacMillan’s absence — which is indefinite as a result of a lower-body injury suffered blocking a shot last Saturday — will force his team to make some changes ahead of its clashes this weekend.

“Injuries are part of the game and our team has dealt with them all through the year [and] we’ll do that again this time around,” Hakstol said. “It’s obviously tough for Mark and that’s on the personal side, but for our team we just continue moving on and we’ll have to rearrange things a little bit and do a good job.”

If UND can indeed do that and pick up at least a point this weekend, the Penrose Cup will be heading to Grand Forks, N.D. Although Hakstol’s team is where it wants to be to that end, he knows his group will need to put in the work yet again in this last round of games before the playoffs.

“Everybody’s playing pretty good hockey and we’re playing pretty good hockey, so it should make for a pretty good series,” Hakstol said.

“Always a lot on the line. I don’t think it’s any surprise that it comes down to the final weekend here, and we have a piece of the championship right now and we want to try and improve upon that.”

27601November 07 2014 Regular season closing North Dakota Miami series stands to live up to billing

Charlie Lindgren and St. Cloud State host Denver (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Playoff implications abound

The meetings between Miami and North Dakota aren’t the only games this weekend that will have a say in where teams will end up in next week’s first round of the NCHC playoffs.

Denver heads to unranked St. Cloud State this weekend for a pair, and both teams will have plenty to play for. SCSU will be on the road in the first round of the playoffs no matter what, but the Huskies could jump from the No. 6 seed to No. 5 with a sweep this weekend. Fourth-place Denver is only two points ahead of No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth in the race for home ice next weekend.

Last-place Colorado College will stay there regardless of what happens in the Tigers’ series this weekend at No. 8 Omaha, but CC could give the Mavericks some headaches. One of CC’s two league victories this season came in Colorado Springs against UNO on Jan. 16, and that might not be a great omen for a third-place Omaha team that’s only one point ahead of Denver.

Finally, sixth-ranked Duluth heads to Western Michigan this weekend for a pair of games between two teams in the bottom half of the league. Western is locked into the No. 7 seed for the NCHC playoffs, but fifth-place UMD could clinch home ice for next week with solid showings in Kalamazoo and a slip or two this weekend from fourth-place Denver.

Little has been decided in the NCHC heading into the final weekend of the regular season. No surprise there.

Players of the week

Offensive player of the week — Trevor Moore, Denver: The sophomore forward picked up six points — two goals and four assists — last weekend in a split against Miami. Two of his seven shots on goal on the weekend found their way into the RedHawks’ net, and he also finished the game with three blocked shots and a plus-2 rating.

Defensive player of the week — Nick Mattson, North Dakota: The senior blueliner was a big reason why his team was able to earn a share of the NCHC regular season title last weekend against St. Cloud State. He picked up a goal and two assists in UND’s two-game home set against the Huskies and finished the weekend with a plus-3 rating.

Rookie of the week — Danton Heinen, Denver: One of the favorites to be named the league’s newcomer of the year, Heinen amassed two goals and four assists last weekend against Miami. Four of them — two goals and as many assists — came on Saturday in a 6-2 win for the Pioneers.

Goaltender of the week — Tyler Marble, Colorado College: The sophomore CC goalie had a career weekend against Western Michigan, helping the Tigers pick up four points in the league standings. Marble allowed just two goals all weekend against the Broncos and picked up his first career shutout on Friday in a 5-0 CC victory.

Longtime Middlebury men’s coach Beaney steps down, is ‘truly blessed’

BEANEY2 sized Longtime Middlebury mens coach Beaney steps down, is truly blessed

Middlebury coach Bill Beaney coached 28 of his 35 years for the Panthers (photo: Dennis Curran).

Middlebury coach Bill Beaney, the NCAA career leader in Division III men’s hockey coaching wins, announced Wednesday that he is stepping down.

Beaney earned his 600th win on Feb. 7 and finishes his career with a record of 602-260-59. He spent 28 of his 35 seasons at Middlebury, where he posted record of 516-184-51. He led the team to a total of eight NCAA championships, including a record five in a row from 1995 to 1999, with three additional titles from 2004 to 2006.

He also coached at New England College.

“I have been truly blessed to have had the chance to coach at Middlebury College, a place that believes deeply in the concept of the student-athlete,” said Beaney at a press conference. “A coach is only one part of a successful program. It requires the commitment of the entire institution, from the president to the director of athletics, from the faculty to the entire coaching staff, and of course, to the quality and character of the players.”

Beaney will remain on staff as the head coach of the men’s golf program, which he has led for the last 21 years, while also taking on other duties within the department.

“Bill has had a tremendous and impactful career as a hockey coach,” said Middlebury director of athletics Erin Quinn at the press event. “He is one of the most successful hockey coaches in terms of wins and championships, but that only begins to illustrate his success. The true measure of his success is the impact he has had on the young men who have played for him at Middlebury.”

Middlebury president Ronald Liebowitz called Beaney a “Middlebury legend.”

“For a generation of Middlebury students, Bill’s name has become synonymous with Middlebury men’s hockey,” added Liebowitz. “Today we all honor him for his service to the college, the surrounding community and to amateur hockey, to which he has given so much.”

After taking over the hockey program in 1986, Beaney’s teams qualified for 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments from 1995 to 2007 (winning eight of those) and won eight NESCAC championships. His 1996 national champion squad set school records for most wins in a season (26), highest winning percentage (.929), and longest unbeaten streak (29 games). He has also led the team to six ECAC tournament appearances, with a championship in the 1990-91 season. The school record for wins was broken by the 2003-04 team with 27.

“It’s always dangerous to measure one’s success numerically,” said Beaney. “I would hope that most coaches look beyond wins and losses. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to have a little bit of impact on some people in the important facets of life. That’s what drives you every day – to see the young people grow and learn how to make good decisions, to solve problems and deal with adversity. I think that’s how perhaps you measure your success.

“I am enthusiastically embracing the new challenges and opportunities and am looking forward to being able to continue to educate students here at Middlebury.”

Quinn said that the college would begin a search for a new coach soon.

USCHO, SUNYAC announce All-Rookie Team, defensive player awards

jason zaleski USCHO, SUNYAC announce All Rookie Team, defensive player awards

Once again, USCHO.com helped administer the SUNYAC All Rookie and defensive awards, this time for the 2014-15 season.

The purpose is to bring some publicity to players who are not recognized by the traditional end-of-season awards.

Since the SUNYAC chose to not expand its year-end awards, USCHO.com agreed to help the coaches. USCHO does not select these awards, only coordinates them. It is the coaches who choose in the same way they select the other SUNYAC year-end awards.

USCHO merely does what PriceWaterhouseCoopers does for the Oscars – tabulates and announces.

2014-15 SUNYAC All-Rookie Team
F: Dan Broderick (Cortland)
F: Mitchell Herlihey (Oswego)
F: Jason Zaleski (Buffalo State)
D: Chris Taff (Plattsburgh)
D: Ayrton Valente (Plattsburgh)
G: Drew Weigman (Cortland)

Defensive Player Awards
Best Defensive Forward: Mike Montegna (Oswego)
Best Defensive Defenseman: Brandon Beadow (Plattsburgh)

Beadow has now won this award four consecutive years.

Looking at the finals of men’s Division III conference tournaments

Ceasar action Looking at the finals of mens Division III conference tournaments

Gordon Ceasar has kept Plymouth State in numerous games this season and hopes to continue that trend in the MASCAC championship game this weekend (photo: Kim Bownes/PSU Athletics).

Our columnists take a look at what’s in store for all nine men’s Division III conference tournament semifinal and finals.

ECAC EAST – No. 3 Babson (19-5-3, 12-4-2) @ No. 1 Norwich (23-3-1, 17-1-0). This could evolve into a low-scoring goalie battle, as some of the best keepers in the country will be in the crease. Babson’s Jamie Murray twirled six shutouts, tied for tops (with St. Thomas’s Drew Fielding) in the nation. Norwich can counter with either sophomore Ty Reichenbach (1.35 GAA) or freshman Braeden Ostepchuk (1.52 GAA), who stand 1-2 in the country in goals against. The Cadets, ranked No. 1 in the nation, took both regular-season meetings with No. 10 Babson, 3-2 (in OT) and 6-3.

ECAC NORTHEAST – Championship matchup to be determined by Wednesday’s semifinal tilts pitting No. 4 Curry at No. 1 Nichols and No. 3 Johnson & Wales at No. 2 Salve Regina. Nichols, ranked No. 15 in the nation, is gunning for its second consecutive conference crown.

ECAC WEST – No. 2 Neumann (14-8-4, 9-5-1) @ No. 1 Hobart (20-6-0, 12-3-0). Winners of nine straight, Hobart, ranked 12th, is the second hottest team in the country (next to Adrian). That string includes two wins over the Green Knights in late January (the Statesmen also prevailed in their first meeting in Week Two). Neumann freshman Mike Davis is the West’s leading goal-getter (with 12 in league play), while Hobart first-year goalie Frank Oplinger (1.75, .942) leads the league’s tendies.

MASCAC – No. 2 Salem State (13-10-3, 9-7-2) @ No. 1 Plymouth State (15-8-3, 14-3-1). The seedings would have been reversed if this matchup had been more even during the regular campaign. As it was, Plymouth took all three meetings with the Vikings, two of them by 3-2 scores. Backboned by junior goalie Gordon Ceasar, the Panthers have won nine of its last 10 starts, while Salem freshman Michael Casale was the MASCAC’s second leading goal-scorer with 12. Immovable object?

MIAC – Hamline (13-10-4) at St. Mary’s: (15-9-2): Hamline has won two in a row and is seeking its first NCAA tourney bid since 2011. Charlie Adams has been phenomenal, scoring 18 goals and dishing out 13 assists for a Pipers team that averages three goals per game. John Sellie-Hanson, who has won 11 games, gives fifth-seeded Hamline a strong presence in goal. The Pipers, one of the biggest turnaround stories of the year, come in playing with confidence, especially after knocking off top-seeded St. Thomas on the road last weekend. Second-seeded St. Mary’s won both games against the Pipers in the regular season and has performed well under pressure, winning four of their last five, including three in a row, by one goal. Martin Gruse has fueled the success with his 19 goals and 19 assists, while four other players have tallied at least 20 points for the Cardinals’ offensive attack. Goalie Phil Heinle has won 13 games, including three shutouts, and the Cardinals are looking to continue their magical ride during a season where they have their most wins since going 15-11-1 during the 1996-97 campaign.

NCHA – St. Norbert (20-5-2) at Adrian (22-3-3): Riding a 10-game win streak, Adrian is playing as well as anyone in the nation right now and will have the advantage of playing in front of a sold-out crowd at home in the Harris Cup Final against the reigning conference and national champions. Kyle Brothers and Josh Ranalli lead a high-powered offense that has produced 134 goals. Brothers has scored 22 goals and tallied 24 assists while Ranalli has come through with 17 goals and 25 assists. Mathew Thompson has done his part as well, coming up with 20 goals and 19 assists. Adrian is also set on the defensive end of the ice behind the play of Scott Shackell, who has won 16 games in goal and allows less than two goals per game. The Green Knights can’t be counted out, however, even if they do have to play in a tough road environment. St. Norbert is in the title game for the 13th time in the last 14 years and has won the last five conference championships. Winners of the their last six, the Green Knights have cranked out 124 goals and have given up just 45. Mason Baptista has helped pave the way with eight goals and 26 assists, fueling a team that shares the puck as well as anyone. St. Norbert has dished 195 assists. Tony Kujava has filled in nicely in goal after David Jacobson went down with an injury, winning eight of the 12 games he has played in this season.

NESCAC – Conference championship will be decided Sunday following Saturday’s semifinal clashes featuring No. 4 Williams and No. 3 Connecticut College and No. 8 Tufts and No. 2 Amherst. All games will be played at Amherst. The NESCAC is the lone Eastern conference whose top seed – Trinity, ranked No. 2 at the time – was ousted in the quarterfinals.

SUNYAC – No. 2 Oswego (18-3-4, 12-2-2) @ No. 1 Plattsburgh (19-5-2, 13-2-1). Lions and lambs, Lakers and Cardinals. March is usually ushered in by both combinations and this year is no different. The two SUNYAC titans will meet conference title for the sixth time in eight years, with Platty ranked eighth in the nation, holding a 3-2 edge in the previous bouts since 2008. Oswego, ranked fourth, for that matter, will be seeking its third consecutive league championship. There is a strong likelihood that both teams will wind up with NCAA tournament bids. The Lakers held the upper hand during the season, winning at Plattsburgh (3-2), while the teams tied 3-3 in overtime in the rematch at Oswego.

WIAC – Wisconsin-River Falls (19-7-1) at Wisconsin-Stevens Point (21-5-1): The fourth-ranked Pointers feature one of the most impressive offenses in the nation, racking up 121 goals, and are in the title game for the first time. Five players have scored at least 10, with Joe Kalisz fueling the attack with 16. In two of the three meetings with River Falls during the regular season, Stevens Point emerged with the win, including a 1-0 shutout in the first showdown. Behind the stellar play of goaltender Brandon Jaeger – he has 20 wins – the Pointers have been tough to score on all year, allowing 64 goals. But they will be up against a River Falls team that thrives off its defense. The eighth-ranked Falcons have played well on the road, going 9-4, and they are playing in their first WIAC title game as well. Tanner Milliron has been solid in goal, recording three shutouts, and he has 19 wins. Kyle Gattelaro anchors the offensive attack with 13 goals and 12 assists.

Ohio State tries to build toward a Big Ten postseason run

RachelLewis USCHO 02202015 OSU Michigan 23 Ohio State tries to build toward a Big Ten postseason run

Ohio State has played better recently after losing six straight in January and February (photo: Rachel Lewis).

Ohio State resides in fifth place in the six-team Big Ten.

The Buckeyes are 15 points behind conference leader Michigan with four games remaining in the schedule and are 37th in the ever-important PairWise Rankings.

An at-large bid into the NCAA tournament is off the table for the Buckeyes, and in any other conference they would have to win at least one road series against one of the conference’s top teams before proceeding to win the conference tournament to capture an automatic bid.

However, Ohio State playing in the Big Ten means it only has to do the latter — winning three games in a row at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena later this month would give Ohio State the conference’s bid.

With the way the team played in January and for most of February — they lost six conference games in a row at one point — Ohio State might have been pretty even with Wisconsin in terms of teams people were betting on to find success in the postseason.

That being said, the Big Ten has proven to be a league where anybody can win any given weekend.

Ohio State hasn’t won three games in a row this season, but with two weekends remaining in the regular season the Buckeyes are arguably playing their best hockey right now.

The way they’ve turned it around, according to coach Steve Rohlik, is simple: by taking everything one game at a time.

“We’re buying into it, but that’s just the approach we have to take,” Rohlik said. “We certainly went through a struggle there after Christmas for a stretch of about a month and a half.”

The No. 1 thing that has helped Ohio State turn things around is that Rohlik has, for the most part, a full stable to work with. At times this year various injuries made it difficult to field a full team.

He also pointed to the team rededicating itself to of working hard “Monday through Thursday.” If Allen Iverson is reading this, you may want to skip this portion, because we are indeed talking about practice.

“I really believe that sometimes, as you know, the college hockey season is a very long year. Practices at times can become monotonous, and as a coach you have to take a look at what you’re doing,” Rohlik said. “For us, I think it was more or less we’ve got to understand what we’re doing during the week, that really what you do every time you step on the ice is preparing yourself for Friday.”

Rohlik added that a big thing was communicating with the team that it couldn’t expect to simply “go through the motions” during practice and expect to get results during the actual game.

“Our focus seemed to change and they kind of pushed each other out of their comfort zone instead of just getting through practice,” Rohlik said.

After what could be kindly described as a tough go between the pipes earlier this season, Christian Frey seems to have finally settled into his sophomore campaign. Frey, the goaltender who enrolled halfway through the school year last season and finished with an impressive 9-4-3 record and 2.27 GAA, has guided Ohio State to a 4-2 record in its last six contests.

“I think that both my goalies would attest and look back and say they didn’t have best first half,” Rohlik said. “Christian looks like he’s back to where he was before. He’s comfortable and he’s giving us a chance every night, and that’s the key.

“He’s going out there, he looks comfortable and he’s got that confidence and that little bit of swagger that you need from a goaltender,” he added. “So that’s exciting for a coach.”

For Frey and the Buckeyes to continue their run of success this weekend, they’ll have to find a way to beat the team that extended the previously mentioned conference losing streak to five and six games — Minnesota.

The Gophers beat Ohio State 4-2 and 6-2 at Mariucci Arena in early February. The wins helped Minnesota exit its own streak of less-than-favorable results.

“They’re as good as anyone else in the country and I think everybody out there knows it,” Rohlik said of Minnesota. “They start to lose a couple games and everybody’s wondering what the heck is going on. Well, they’re only human.”

Minnesota is a hard team to beat on home ice — the Gophers are 12-3-1 at Mariucci this season — so the Buckeyes aren’t the only team to go in there and get swept. Rohlik said playing at home this time around should help his team’s chances.

The Buckeyes’ miserable 2-6-1 record to start 2015 featured eight road games. This weekend’s contests against Minnesota will be the team’s last home games of the season.

“Minnesota knows what they have in the locker room and they know their skill-set,” Rohlik said. “They’re a scary team, for us and for anybody that plays them, but you just have to stick to your game plan and get after it and that’s the approach anybody’s going to take.”

Whether the Buckeyes extend their winning streak to three games this weekend or not, the fact remains that a short winning streak could put them in the big dance at the end of the year.

DSC 4366 Ohio State tries to build toward a Big Ten postseason run

Jonathan Milley had six goals in 33 career games for Penn State (photo: Omar Phillips).

Milley calls it a career

Penn State announced on Monday that junior Jonathan Milley will not continue his career due to recurring injuries. Milley had six goals and seven assists for the Nittany Lions in 33 career games.

“I am very honored to have gotten this far in hockey,” Milley said in a school release. “Injuries have prevented me from continuing to play, but at this point and time my health and degree are what is most important. I am so grateful to be considered part of an awesome team and to be able to get an education beyond my expectations.”

Three stars of the week

First star — Michigan junior goaltender Steve Racine: Racine had a .960 save percentage and 1.00 GAA in Michigan’s sweep of Wisconsin last weekend. He stopped all 22 shots he saw on Friday for his first collegiate shutout and turned aside 26 shots on Saturday. This is Racine’s third career Big Ten weekly award.

Second star — Michigan sophomore forward JT Compher: Compher had four goals against the Badgers last weekend. He scored one goal in the Wolverines’ 3-0 victory on Friday and recorded his first collegiate hat trick on Saturday. Michigan is undefeated this season when Compher scores a goal and is 11-2 when he records a point. This is Compher’s third career Big Ten weekly award.

Third star — Ohio State senior forward Tanner Fritz: Fritz recorded four points last weekend and led Ohio State to a sweep over Penn State. He scored the game-winning goal in Friday’s game and added a goal and two assists in Saturday’s 5-3 victory over the Nittany Lions. This is Fritz’s third career Big Ten weekly award.

Big Ten in the poll

No. 15 Minnesota and No. 16 Michigan represent the Big Ten in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll.

My ballot

1. North Dakota
2. Minnesota State
3. Michigan Tech
4. Boston University
5. Miami
6. Denver
7. Omaha
8. Minnesota-Duluth
9. Boston College
10. Providence
11. Quinnipiac
12. Yale
13. Bowling Green
14. Massachusetts-Lowell
15. Michigan
16. Minnesota
17. Harvard
18. Vermont
19. Colgate
20. Bemidji State

This week’s matchups

Wisconsin at Michigan State (Friday and Saturday, Munn Ice Arena)

Minnesota at Ohio State (Friday and Saturday, Value City Arena)

Michigan at Penn State (Friday and Saturday, Pegula Ice Arena)

RIT finishes with a flourish, gains its highest standings position on the final day

DSC 9710 RIT finishes with a flourish, gains its highest standings position on the final day

RIT’s Myles Powell scored in overtime last Saturday to push the Tigers into third place (photo: Omar Phillips).

It took some wild finishes, but in the end the Atlantic Hockey standings didn’t change much when the dust had settled on the final weekend of the regular season. The big mover was Rochester Institute of Technology, which was the only AHC team to earn four points last weekend and as a result jumped from fifth to third.

The Tigers dominated Mercyhurst 8-0 on Friday and then prevailed in a wild, 2-1 overtime game against the Lakers on Saturday. Knowing his team needed a win to gain home ice in the quarterfinals, Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker in the final minute of overtime, and the Tigers capitalized when freshman Myles Powell cleared the puck from the RIT zone, sailing it 150 feet into the open net.

“You don’t expect many of those games,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said of the eight goals scored on Friday, many of the highlight-reel variety. “And we knew it would be a different game the next night.”

The win on Saturday moved the Tigers into their highest position in the standings of the season. His team, like most, has been a work in progress, Wilson said.

“We’ve cut down on the mistakes, which a young team is going to make,” he said. “We’ve been skating three freshman defensemen all season, and no seniors [on the blue line]. We’ve had a young roster.”

Up front it’s been a pair of seniors and a junior that have clicked the way few lines have this season. Matt Garbowsky, Brad McGowan and Josh Mitchell have combined for 52 goals and 124 total points. Garbowsky notched his second hat trick of the season on Friday and McGowan’s second goal of that game was his 100th career point.

“I’ve been happy with our play since Christmas,” said Wilson. “I can look at our losses since then and think we played pretty well. I thought we played well in the Minnesota tournament even though we gave up seven goals to Lowell.

“The game we lost [2-1] at Bentley, we outshot them 33-17. The loss at Holy Cross [3-1], we were bad for 10 minutes and that cost us. It was unfortunate the way we lost [4-3 at home] to Robert Morris [on a goal with 10 seconds to play], but I was happy with our effort.

“We had one bad game against Army [4-2] where I thought we were very flat, but other than that, I have liked the way we have played.”

RIT was able to counter each of those conference losses with a win the following night. Other than a sweep at the hands of Robert Morris in late October and a tie and a loss to Holy Cross at home the following weekend, the Tigers were able come away with at least a split in the other 12 Atlantic Hockey series played this season.

Wilson’s team knew it needed three points against Mercyhurst to secure a home quarterfinal playoff series.

“It was a nice situation,” he said. “We didn’t have to scoreboard-watch. We were playing the team right in front of us and it was for home ice.”

And while the Tigers will enjoy their first postseason series at the new Polisseni Center, Wilson said that his team will need the kind of effort it had last weekend in order to move on to Blue Cross Arena.

“There will be upsets in the first round,” he said. “There will be upsets in the second round, and there will be upsets in the finals.

“Count on it.”

DSC 4862 RIT finishes with a flourish, gains its highest standings position on the final day

Nolan Sheeran and Canisius are 4-1 in their last five games (photo: Omar Phillips).

Taking a temperature reading

The postseason is all about momentum, and one has to look no further back than the last two Atlantic Hockey champions as examples.

In 2012, Canisius finished seventh but got on a roll late in the season that took the Golden Griffins all the way to the title. Last season, Robert Morris went on a tear in the second half and parlayed a fifth-place finish into a championship.

Here’s where we stand at the end of the 2014-15 regular season:

Hot

• Robert Morris has cooled off a bit recently, but still has the best record (7-2-1) in the league over its final 10 games. But a 2-2-1 mark in the Colonials’ final five contests ties for their biggest dry spell of the season.

• Canisius moved up in the standings to finish second on the basis of a 6-3-1 record in its final 10 games, 4-1 over the Griffs’ last five contests.

• RIT was in seventh place just a few weeks ago, but the Tigers were 6-3-1 in their final 10 games, including 4-1 down the stretch.

• Sacred Heart defeated Holy Cross and Bentley to end the regular season, just the second time this season that the Pioneers have won back-to-back games. But they are 5-2-3 in their last 10.

Tepid

• Holy Cross has been playing .500 hockey for a while now, going 5-5 in its last 10 games. The Crusaders closed the regular season 3-2.

• Bentley was a respectable 5-3-2 in its last 10 but went only 1-2-2 down the stretch.

• Niagara was 2-6-2 in its last 10 but closed the season 2-2-1, the pair of victories accounting for 40 percent of the Purple Eagles’ wins this season (5-25-4).

Cold as ice

• American International’s win last Friday against Army was its first since Jan. 2. The Yellow Jackets are 1-7-2 in their last 10 games; 1-4 in their final five.

• Army has been unable to put together back-to-back wins all season and is 3-5-2 in its last 10 games and 1-2-2 in its last five.

• Air Force has struggled to find its groove since the end of January, and went 3-6-1 (final 10 games) and 2-2-1 (final five).

• Mercyhurst was looking good three weeks ago for a second- or third-place finish and home ice in the quarterfinals, but dropped its final four games to finish fifth. The Lakers are 4-6 in their last 10 games.

Here we go

The Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals will be hosted by Robert Morris, Canisius, RIT and Bentley. Mercyhurst claimed the final first-round bye and will travel to Bentley. The other three bye teams await the results of this weekend’s three first round, best-of-three series:

No. 11 Niagara (5-25-4) at No. 6 Holy Cross (13-16-5)

This is the first playoff meeting between the schools. Holy Cross is 6-1 all-time in the first round of the AHC playoffs, while this is only Niagara’s second time in the first round since joining the league in 2010. The Crusaders won all four regular season meetings between the schools.

No. 10 American International (4-23-7) at No. 7 Air Force (14-19-4)
Air Force has enjoyed a home playoff series each season since joining the league in 2006. The Falcons are 22-7 all-time in the AHC postseason but have been knocked out at home in the quarterfinals the past two seasons. Air Force went 4-0 against AIC in the regular season.

No. 9 Army (8-20-4) at No. 8 Sacred Heart (11-17-6)
The teams haven’t met since their season openers on Oct. 10 and 12. They split those games at Army. This is the first postseason meeting between the two schools, and Sacred Heart’s first home playoff games since 2010, when the Pioneers advanced all the way to the AHC championship game.

How’d we do?

Here’s how Dan Rubin and I did in our preseason predictions compared to the league’s coaches:

Team
Actual finish
Coaches' prediction
USCHO prediction
Robert Morris122
Canisius266
RIT377
Bentley4T43
Mercyhurst511
Holy Cross6810
Air Force734
Sacred Heart898
Army9109
American International101111
Niagara11T45

The coaches’ prediction was off by an average 2.15 places per team while Dan and I missed by a slightly better 2.08 places per team.

Niagara was the farthest off, picked to finish fourth or fifth but coming in last. Canisius and RIT exceeded expectations the most, both finishing four positions higher than anticipated.

Weekly awards

I’m going with league’s choices:

Players of the week — Matt Garbowsky, RIT, and Cole Gunner, Air Force: Two of the most explosive players in the league share the award. Garbowsky scored his second hat trick of the season on Friday. He is second nationally in goals (24) and fourth in points (46). Gunner also had a hat trick, his coming on Saturday in a 4-1 win against Canisius. He leads the Falcons with 39 points.

Goalie of the week — Mike Rotolo, RIT: The sophomore stopped 47 of 48 shots in a sweep of Mercyhurst, including his first shutout of the season on Friday. Rotolo is 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts.

Rookie of the week — Brendan McGuire, Army: McGuire scored twice and added an assist in a 5-0 win against American International. He has seven goals and four assists so far this season, third among Army’s rookie class.

Defensive player of the week — Joe McNamara, Holy Cross: The junior led a Crusaders defense that held Bentley to a single goal in a 2-1 win. He assisted on Holy Cross’ first goal and blocked four shots.

Wednesday Women: One down, many to go

Mowat 15WIH Vermont 0263 Wednesday Women: One down, many to go

Brittni Mowat’s play will be important if Bemidji State is to advance (Tim Brule).

Arlan: The quarterfinals didn’t offer any huge shockers, and part of the reason for that is so many teams are so closely bunched that wins by road teams aren’t all that surprising. Still, road teams did advance in three of 14 series, one in every conference except the ECAC. That there wasn’t an upset in the ECAC was perhaps a surprise in itself, because the results in that league had gone back and forth all year, but ultimately, the visitors couldn’t even take one game.

RIT demonstrated that its players understand how to elevate their games when the postseason arrives. Even though the Tigers were seeded last, they had played Robert Morris even during the season, and the Colonials never really were able to get in a groove and stay there.

The upset in Hockey East, if we can call it that, was Connecticut going to Maine and coming home with a sweep. Since the Huskies did the same thing to close the regular season, we’d been prepared for that as well, and you predicted as much in your picks on Friday. New Hampshire extended Northeastern and all three games went down to the wire, but NU survived and advances.

The three versus six and four versus five series in the WCHA looked to be closely contested on paper, and they proved to be on the ice as well. Ohio State and North Dakota played into a third overtime Saturday before the UND could close out the series. The best series of all was probably Bemidji State at Minnesota-Duluth. The Beavers won a fairly straightforward game on Friday, and UMD bounced back by getting a third-period goal to break a scoreless tie. That recipe looked to be clicking again on Sunday for the Bulldogs, until Hanna Moher scored a last-minute goal to tie it and Kaitlyn Tougas struck in overtime to keep the Bemidji State ride going.

In addition to those results and the upcoming conference semis and finals, we also have the 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award to discuss. What seems like a good starting point?

Candace: Bemidji State ending Minnesota-Duluth’s season seems as good a starting point as any. It’s not really an upset per se; the Beavers and Bulldogs split their four games this season, but it’s kind of an upset in that the Bulldogs were at home. Further, it seems that Shannon Miller’s career at UMD has ended with a whimper. You have to wonder if all the sideshow with Miller affected the team on the ice, and if it did, it’s a shame. Perhaps the Bulldogs were overrated slightly in January during their winning streak, considering the teams they were beating up on, but you would have thought that would give them confidence for the first round.

That’s not to knock Bemidji. The Beavers have been the hardest out not named Minnesota or Wisconsin, and possibly North Dakota, in the WCHA this season. They have wins over everyone except Ohio State in the WCHA. Brittni Mowat was rock solid in net for Bemidji, making 35 saves in Friday’s 3-2 win and another 35 in Sunday’s 2-1 come-from-behind overtime win, including stopping five in the extra session.

Now the Beavers get Minnesota, who made a statement sweep of the Beavers in Bemidji a couple of weekends ago. I’m not sure the Beavers have the heroics to pull off an upset of Minnesota again, but you never know.

What stood out for you in the WCHA?

Arlan: I thought the WCHA went very much to form. St. Cloud State and Minnesota State really don’t have the players to hang with Wisconsin and Minnesota if those two favorites play well. The Huskies did well to get a game off the Badgers to end the regular season, but they really don’t match up that well. The Mavericks took it to Minnesota pretty well for a period on Saturday after getting blown out on Friday, but once they had the Gophers’ attention, it was only going to end one way.

Ohio State and North Dakota are both capable of making it very hard for the other to score. The Buckeyes only had one lead in that quarterfinal series, and they couldn’t quite take it to the locker room, as Andrea Dalen scored with six seconds left in the second period on Friday to tie the game. Both are really more effective when playing with the lead. North Dakota has a bit of an edge in goal, and I think it has more people that are dangerous in transition. That ultimately proved decisive when Meghan Dufault and Amy Menke got loose and were able to get up the ice and execute on a two-on-one break to end the triple-overtime game.

It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, that game has on North Dakota next weekend. When Minnesota and North Dakota played three overtimes two years ago, players said it took about three days before they quit feeling like they had been hit by a truck. That case was closer to a full three overtimes, and Minnesota had to come back and play on Friday, while North Dakota is off until Saturday. Another difference is that the game two years ago occurred during an NCAA quarterfinal where teams only played one game that weekend. North Dakota now had to play its marathon game on the heels of already playing a grueling first game of the series on Friday. I would think that players would hit the wall more quickly, but that likely isn’t as bad as last year when Yale and Harvard played a pair of double-OT games and then went to a third game. I don’t know that it necessarily had any impact, but the Crimson didn’t win another game after that. North Dakota has had success versus Wisconsin in the WCHA tourney the last couple of seasons; that will have to continue if UND is going to make the national tournament.

When the news about Miller’s contract not being extended broke, she complained that it would be a distraction for her players. She seemed to be the one trying to make it a bigger distraction throughout the second half, and when the players didn’t play well, she’d point her finger at them. Someone else was always at fault when things went poorly, but the credit went to the coach when it went well. I do feel for the Bulldogs, because it is hard on the players, the seniors in particular. Ultimately, they were done in by a Bemidji State squad that was on a mission and refused to accept being beaten.

The Beavers will also be asked to face a more rested opponent come Saturday. BSU had to play three games plus half of an overtime, whereas the Gophers were able to play everyone versus Minnesota State. The good news for the Beavers is that they matched up against Minnesota better than anyone else did this year. None of the four games ever got away from them. Tougas and defenseman Ivana Bilic seem to play their best games against the Gophers, and players from the state like Stephanie Anderson and Alexis Joyce always get up for those games. If Mowat is on, it’s very possible that Bemidji State could extend its season by at least another day. Pulling a second upset on Sunday to win the title will likely be the harder part.

What are your thoughts on how the WCHA tourney might unfold?

Candace: I have trouble seeing it as anything other than another WCHA championship for the most successful college hockey class in the game’s history. Minnesota’s seniors continue to roll, and they’ve bounced back from any setbacks they’ve had. Yes, Bemidji State and North Dakota have wins over Minnesota this season, but I think Minnesota’s sweep of Bemidji a couple of weeks ago shows that the Gophers aren’t going to take the Beavers lightly again. Wisconsin doesn’t match up well with Minnesota; it’s been years since they’ve beaten the Gophers.

That leaves North Dakota. While UND is at home, and is the team I think is most likely to be able to pull off the upset, the fatigue factor you alluded to might come into play, not only from the grueling win over Ohio State, but from having to play Wisconsin in the second game of the semis. Even should North Dakota win that, it will be a tough contest, and Minnesota will be better rested simply from having played earlier. The one X factor is that the WCHA semis and finals are in Grand Forks, so UND has its home crowd cheering it on. I don’t know if that will be enough though to overcome all the challenges UND has in winning the WCHA tournament.

Let’s move to Hockey East. Like the WCHA, there was a nominal upset, as Connecticut went up to Orono and swept Maine. New Hampshire gave Northeastern all it could handle, while Boston College and Boston University rolled. The latter was a small surprise, as the Terriers were facing Vermont, but the Catamounts had a lot of issues this season, particularly in conference.

BC plays Connecticut in one semi, and BU plays Northeastern. Can either Huskies team pull off the upset, and if not, can BU stop the Eagles?

Arlan: Looking first at Connecticut, I don’t see an upset brewing. I get the sense it is playing well, having taken four straight from a decent Maine team, but there is nothing encouraging in the season results versus the Eagles. UConn and BC have essentially played a men’s grand slam tennis match, and it is hard to find much promise in losing 6-1, 6-0, 6-0. Two of those meetings were in the first half, when the Eagles were more dominant than they were at times in 2015. Connecticut was outshot roughly three to one in that first pair of games, but the margin was still two to one a month ago. The troubling stat out of that game was that Elaine Chuli, likely her team’s best hope for pulling off the huge shocker, allowed six goals on 31 shots over 40 minutes. The goals-against can’t be higher than two or three for Connecticut to have any chance, and I don’t see it being able to stop the Eagles at crunch time. All the games have been pretty well decided by the second intermission, so they never really get to crunch time. It was a nice achievement to reach Hyannis, but Connecticut’s season should end on Saturday.

The other half of the bracket is more interesting because Northeastern’s greatest strength, Kendall Coyne, is able to exploit BU’s vulnerabilities defensively. She had a hat trick and a five-point game in the Northeastern win in the four games played to date, but Marie-Philip Poulin was out of the Terriers’ lineup that day. Coyne was absent in the most recent NU versus BU game at the Beanpot. She’s been skating on a line with Denisa Krížová, and one gets the sense that at last she’s found someone on the Huskies’ roster with whom she naturally clicks. In the past, the synergy with teammates hasn’t always been ideal, because Coyne will either be a zone ahead of them or they just don’t read each other that well, but the game just seems to flow with the Czech rookie. However, Northeastern wasn’t able to really pull away from New Hampshire in the quarterfinal, which is a concern because BU typically plays at a higher level come the postseason. So I give Northeastern a chance, but Coyne likely has to be truly heroic for it to be anything above a minimal chance.

As for your question about the outcome of another possible BU and BC game, that answer isn’t obvious. The Terriers came close to stopping BC on their senior day, couldn’t quite close it out, and had to settle for the tie. That might indicate that the best chance for an upset has come and gone, but Boston College hasn’t always done its best work in the league tournament. One could assume that this is a different team that will respond differently. Still, its only Hockey East Championship was back in the 2011 when Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack wore maroon and gold, and its last win in the event over BU dates back to 2009, when the Terriers hadn’t yet established themselves as a national power. BU has won the last three meetings in the league playoffs. The Eagles should be aware of all of that and skate with something to prove, if they really are the team that they appear to be. I expect they’ll add a second league tourney crown, but I do think it is more likely that they’d be upset there than in an NCAA quarterfinal.

Do you see anything additional that BU has working in its favor for an upset beyond history and Poulin?

Candace: The only other thing favoring the Terriers is that you can often throw out prior results when it comes to rivalry games. I said that before the first BC-BU game this season in January, which the Eagles squeaked out 4-3, and I stand by it. The emotion that comes from playing your biggest rival, especially in the postseason, can add that X factor that can lift a team at the most important time.

The other factor is the most recent result. BC is an awesome frontrunner, and when it gets an early lead by a couple of goals, the Eagles start coming in waves and often dominate opponents, even quality ones like Harvard. However, the Eagles have also shown themselves to feel the pressure if the game gets tight, and the goals don’t come as smoothly because the players start to overthink things. If BU can stay close through the first period, it might plant a seed of doubt in the BC players, and that could be enough for Poulin and Lefort to work their magic.

Let’s move to the conference I hate picking games in more than any other: the CHA. Does Mercyhurst extend its NCAA tournament streak, or do we see a different CHA team claim the first CHA auto-bid? At times, the Lakers have looked very vulnerable, and I wonder if they too might feel the pressure, or if playing on home ice will relax them and allow them to move on.

Arlan: I don’t think there is anything relaxing about the postseason. Everyone is amped up, and it is the team that can turn that nervous energy into a positive that fares the best. That’s truer than ever in the CHA this year, where all four teams are still alive for the NCAAs, but each knows with certainty that winning is the only way to gain entry. All of the other leagues have a mixed bag where some teams are in, some aren’t sure, and others are in the same boat as the CHA teams.

There is no doubt that being at home is a plus for the Lakers, as they only lost once at home and went undefeated at home in conference play. Meanwhile, they were a .500 club on the road, both in league and overall. Only Syracuse even took a point in Erie, and there’s no guarantee that the Orange make it out of their semifinal. Penn State is the slightest of favorites after the two teams split their games this season.

Of course, neither is it assured that Mercyhurst will be playing in the final that it is hosting. RIT outlasted the Lakers in two overtimes a year ago, so the Tigers won’t be intimidated by the venue or the opponent. The flip side of that is Mercyhurst swept all four meetings this year by at least three goals, although it added empty-net goals in a couple of them. The Lakers are the pick, but I don’t foresee any three-goal margins. Ali Binnington looks to be on form, only surrendering one goal all weekend to Robert Morris. The one-two punch of juniors Emily Janiga and Jenna Dingeldein is tough for the rest of the league to match, and that’s the edge that Mercyhurst has over RIT, but as defending champion, I expect the Tigers will go down competing with everything that they have to give.

The other semifinal is even tougher to predict. It will be played at a neutral site, but Syracuse will get last change thanks to being the higher seed. The Orange are a touch better offensively, despite PSU having an edge on the power play. Defensively, the Nittany Lions have the advantage. In terms of depth I’d go with Syracuse, but really, it’s just splitting hairs. The presence of Celine Whitlinger in goal likely tips the scale back in Penn State’s favor. I could analyze this one to death, going back and forth, but this time of year, you just have to lace up the skates and go play.

Mercyhurst is the favorite, but I doubt the odds are as strong as 50 percent that the Lakers emerge as champion. I’d anticipate at least one of the three games in Erie going beyond 60 minutes.

That could be another question — how many OT games will we have? I’ll say that out of the dozen games coming up this weekend that three of them extend beyond three periods. Does that sound high or low to you? Last year we only had the one, the RIT/Mercyhurst championship game.

Candace: That sounds close to being right. I think at least one of the CHA games and one of WCHA games will go an extra session. If a Hockey East game goes to extra session, I’d anticipate it would happen if BC plays BU in the final; I think both semis will be decided in 60 minutes, though it is possible that Northeastern will advance. That leaves the ECAC, which has been another wild league so far this playoffs. Interestingly enough, it was the one conference where there were no upsets, as all four home teams advanced with sweeps, which is ironic considering how much shifting there had been seemingly week-to-week, and how it seemed that all the upper seeds had shown some vulnerability in the last month.

The semis pit Cornell against Clarkson and Harvard against Quinnipiac. Harvard swept the season series against the Bobcats, and I anticipate that the Crimson will advance. I think Harvard is just a little bit better offensively, and defensively the two teams are a wash. Both Harvard and Quinnipiac are high enough in the PairWise that they should make the NCAA tournament, even if they don’t win the ECAC tournament. Harvard is definitely in, and I’d say Quinnipiac is too, since the Bobcats are fifth. The only way they don’t make it is if BU or Northeastern win Hockey East AND Cornell or Clarkson win the ECAC AND North Dakota or Bemidji wins the WCHA. Possible, but unlikely.

That leaves Cornell against Clarkson. The Big Red beat and tied the Golden Knights in the two games this season, with the win being a total beatdown on Clarskon’s home ice. That game is going to come down to Cornell’s top line of Emily Fulton, Jillian Saulnier, and Brianne Jenner against Clarkson’s rookie goaltender, Shea Tiley. The Big Red will also be extra motivated because they are currently tied for ninth in the PairWise, so their only way of getting into the NCAA tournament is to win the ECAC tournament and its concurrent auto-bid. Of course, Clarkson, while in a good position at the moment, tied for sixth with Boston University, is anything but secure too. Say North Dakota wins the WCHA, and only the top six teams make the NCAA tournament. Then if Boston University were to win Hockey East, it would be down to five, and Clarkson would be out too, so it behooves Clarkson to play as if its postseason lives are on the line, because they just might be. Regardless, I’d say that game is the most likely to go to an extra session.

How do you think the ECAC might play out?

Arlan: You forgot Connecticut in your list of teams below Quinnipiac that could knock the Bobcats out of the NCAA field in the event of a perfect storm of auto-bid winners, but it doesn’t change your overall point that it is still unlikely.

My inclination is to look past that 8-3 win for Cornell over Clarkson in the first meeting. Emily Fulton had just been added to a line with Brianne Jenner and Jillian Saulnier that week. Maybe having more time to prepare helped, because Clarkson fared much better versus that trio and overall in the second game, even though it didn’t have last change, like it will on Saturday. I think that is more the type of game that we’ll see this time.

The worst defensive performances for both teams came in the first half of the season, and they have tightened up since then. Clarkson plays as many as a half dozen freshmen, so it is natural that more seasoning would solidify the ranks. While Cornell doesn’t start a freshman in net like the Golden Knights do, sophomore Paula Vorheis has only five more starts in her career than does Tiley, so her learning curve has to be similar. The Big Red have fewer rookies overall, but two of them are on the blue line, and it took awhile for the defensive game to gel. That’s a big reason why Cornell finds itself in win-or-go-home territory.

Clarkson’s situation isn’t quite as dire, but should it fall in the semifinal, that will make for an anxious Saturday night into Sunday. Clarkson has historically performed well versus the Big Red in Potsdam, so I look for the Golden Knights to find a way to win that game. Either way, I expect a low-scoring game, more likely 2-1 or 3-2 than 8-3.

The games that pair the second and third seeds at a neutral site are always interesting. Which teams gets the support of the home crowd, and do any of them even stick around for the second semifinal? It’s probably not a big factor. I don’t think the fact that the Crimson swept the series counts for much either. The first game was the Bobcats’ first loss of the season and came a week after Harvard had been embarrassed by Boston College; the Crimson had to take more motivation into that 2-1 win. The second encounter ended with the same score, but that one went to OT. There’s not much in the way of separation. As tight as both defenses can play, it could come down to a bounce or other timely break. All indications are that this game will be low-scoring as well. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it wind up being Quinnipiac’s day.

So if I’m leaning a little bit toward Clarkson and maybe Quinnipiac to advance, that would pair two teams looking for their first ECAC Championship, and they could play a game that goes well beyond 60 minutes. Nothing like making the selection committee wait. I have no idea who would win that, and it surely would be a guess. Really, the rest of the ECAC tourney is at this point, because it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see any two opponents or outcome on Sunday.

Speaking of surprises, did you see any in the list of 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award that was announced last week, or do you have any general reactions to that list?

Candace: Yes, I thought there were a couple surprises, actually. There were a few players, such as Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa from Boston College and Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi from Minnesota, that were locks. It’s a nice nod for Cameranesi in her sophomore year, but I don’t expect to see her name on the final three. Brianne Jenner of Cornell and Marie-Philip Poulin of BU came on very strong in the second half, so it’s not really surprising for them to be the list. Kendall Coyne has carried Northeastern to whatever success it has had, so she was a strong choice as well.

I was a little surprised not to see BU’s Sarah Lefort on the list. Perhaps it was a factor of there already being five Hockey East players on the final 10 when you include BC’s Emily Pfalzer, who is the highest-scoring defenseman in the country, but Lefort is eighth in the country in scoring, only one point behind Poulin. Granted, Poulin played five fewer games, but still.

Likewise, no CHA player made the list, and I thought Mercyhurst junior Emily Janiga had a pretty good shot, as she is ninth in the country in scoring and is probably the most important factor in whatever success the Lakers have.

I found the selection of Shelby Amsley-Benzie a minor surprise, given that she is only the fourth-best goalie in the country in goals-against right now. Perhaps the committee weighted her play in what is likely the toughest conference in the country, which includes two highly potent offenses. Still, Benzie played seven fewer games than Quinnipiac’s Chelsea Laden, a senior, four fewer than Boston College’s Katie Burt, a freshman, and six fewer than Wisconsin’s Ann-Renée Desbiens. In fact, of the top seven goalies in the country, Benzie is the only one to play less than 30 games, and if you look at the top 10 and throw out Holy Cross’ Alexandra Stevenson, who plays against D-III squads, only Benzie and Emerance Maschmeyer played fewer than 30 games.

It’s no knock on Benzie, who has had a terrific season, and does have the highest save percentage of any goalie in the country, but usually, the goaltender selection is the one ranked tops in the country in almost every category, so like I said, minor surprise.

The major surprise to me was seeing Minnesota’s Rachel Ramsey on the list. Yes, she is the top-scoring defenseman on the Gophers, but she’s significantly behind freshman Kelly Pannek and junior Maryanne Menefee, two players from Minnesota I thought had a good chance to make it. Ramsey is second in scoring among defensemen to Pfalzer, but whereas Pfalzer is 13 in the country and has spent much of the season in the top 10, Ramsey is down in a tie for 34.

If the committee wanted to reward a senior, they could have gone with Minnesota’s Rachel Bona over Ramsey.

I’m not saying Ramsey is a bad player; far from it. I just find her selection a puzzle.

What stood out to you on that list?

Arlan: Overall, the coaches did a very nice job in compiling that list. There are always many people that could be on the list and aren’t; there just isn’t room for everyone with 10 spots. High-scoring forwards always do well come awards time, but when teams get too top-heavy on pure scorers, they never do as well as expected. At least a third of the players on the ice at any one time are defensemen, but people always wonder why a defenseman is recognized with lower point totals.

Had Bona been included over Ramsey, that would have been more puzzling to me. Bona had a huge season last year, but she’s gone through stretches this year where the puck hasn’t gone into the net for her. She only has five points more than Ramsey, and she spends her shifts in much closer proximity to the net. Pannek’s had a nice season, and if she keeps progressing, accolades are in her future. However, Ramsey is much more of a proven commodity. She was first-team All-American last year, as well as WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, and has been on top of one of the Minnesota power-play units that set NCAA records each of the last two seasons and leads in conversion percentage again this year. Beyond the offense, her main job is to help prevent goals, and she is often matched against top forwards on the opposing team.

If defensemen are important, goalies are even more vital, so at least one should be on the list. I’ve always thought that goals-against average, when taken by itself, is a very flawed way to judge goalies. A goalie could play on a team that is so dominant that she only gets 10 shots a game and stops nine of them. Her GAA would be a sparkling 1.0, but a save percentage of .900 isn’t very good in the women’s game. While it is imperfect as well, because it doesn’t account for the quality of defense being played in front of her, save percentage is the best single stat commonly available.

From that respect, Amsley-Benzie has done as well as any goalie at controlling what she can control. I’m sure she’d like to start more games, but if the coach doesn’t call your number, what can you do? Keep working hard and force him to play you. North Dakota’s surge coincides with her getting almost all of the starts. North Dakota entered a key string of series of games versus Ohio State, Bemidji State, UMD, and Minnesota in must-win mode. She started all of them and allowed 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 2, 0, and 3 goals in those games and lifted UND back into the picture as it went 6-1-1 over that stretch. Sure, she allowed three goals in the loss to Minnesota, but who has held the Gophers to three goals or less on a weekend in recent memory? Only Brittni Mowat, and the Four Nations tourney factored into that. Amsley-Benzie followed that with four straight shutouts and a sweep of Ohio State, including holding the Buckeyes to one goal into a third overtime. She’s in her fourth year with a chemical engineering major and a GPA that I found more impressive than her save percentage. She definitely belongs on the list, although the lack of starts has likely cost her any shot at winning.

As for the omissions, somebody like Lefort is hurt by having not only so many from Hockey East on the list, but so many dominant players. Who is going to vote for Carpenter, Poulin, and Coyne? Everyone. When you add in the years that Skarupa and Pfalzer produced, it’s difficult for others from Hockey East just to get nominated. If you were going to ask me for one player that I watched that I would add to the list, it would probably be Jillian Saulnier — great speed, a nonstop motor, and lots of skill and hockey sense. There just isn’t room for everyone on a list of 10.

With Borkowski back, Colgate enters playoffs as ‘a well-oiled machine’

140104 MINN COLG M 013 With Borkowski back, Colgate enters playoffs as a well oiled machine

Colgate’s Mike Borkowski returned to the lineup on Feb. 6 (photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com).

In a way, Colgate forward Mike Borkowski’s progression leading into the postseason has mirrored the Raiders’ improvement the last few weeks.

Initially thought to be out for the year after injuring his knee against Quinnipiac in November, the junior returned to the lineup Feb. 6.

Since then, it’s been a steady progress from Borkowski and Colgate, as both player and team look to be getting up to speed entering the playoffs. The Raiders ended the regular season on a 4-0-1 run, giving Colgate a first-round bye for the third time in four years.

With Borkowski back in the lineup, the Raiders finally have their contingent of top-six forwards together. In addition to Borkowski’s injury, Colgate was without an injured Tylor Spink for most of the first half.

“Anytime you are hit with an injury bug like we have, it throws things off,” Borkowski said. “Guys step up and play some roles they’re not normally accustomed to. With our forward lines intact, it solidifies things a little bit. It’s allowed us to build some chemistry with guys we’re used to playing with. It’s a well-oiled machine right now.”

That chemistry is due in part to a quick comeback by Borkowski, who had surgery following his injury and was deemed out for the rest of the season at the time.

“Getting my range of motion back has been huge,” Borkowski said. “My game is slowly getting better here in terms of how much pain there is after a game. I feel like I am getting a little more jump back.”

Last Friday against Yale, the junior scored his first goal since returning, stealing the puck from the Bulldogs’ John Hayden in the slot and firing a shot past an unsuspecting Alex Lyon.

“It’s a remarkable story,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said of Borkowski’s return. “I don’t know any guys who have come back after three months with the type of injury he had. He was so driven to do it. Our trainer, Steve Chouinard, did a fantastic job with him. It’s phenomenal.

“He’s not at 100 percent, but I’ll take him at 85 [percent], which is probably about where he is at, and everything else he brings to our team.”

The bye was especially important for Colgate because it gives a chance for senior defenseman and captain Spiro Goulakos to return to the lineup. Goulakos, who plays plenty of key minutes for the Raiders, has been out since Jan. 17, and is “week-to-week,” according to Vaughan.

“I’m really proud of that part of this group,” Vaughan said following Saturday’s win at Brown. “It’s not just injuries, it’s injuries to key players. We fought through it and hopefully a couple of weeks off will do us some good. You always ask guys to step up and play different roles and more minutes when guys are down, and our guys responded that way.”

20141206 7D2 9536 With Borkowski back, Colgate enters playoffs as a well oiled machine

Eric Neiley leads Dartmouth with 13 goals and 29 points (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Playoff central

Here’s a quick look at the four first-round series taking place this weekend. Each series is a best-of-three matchup. Check back later in the week for colleague Brian Sullivan’s predictions.

No. 12 Princeton at No. 5 Dartmouth

Season series: Dartmouth 2-0

The Big Green are one of the hottest teams in ECAC Hockey entering the playoffs, ending the regular season on a 9-2-1 run, including a 3-1 win over Princeton Saturday. Dartmouth tied fourth-place Colgate with 26 points but lost out on the final first-round bye due to a tiebreaker. Princeton, meanwhile, struggled to find consistency for much of the year. The Tigers are averaging just 1.32 goals per game, last in the country. Goalie Colton Phinney is solid, but it’s hard to pick up wins when you’re not scoring.

No. 11 Brown at No. 6 Harvard

Season series: 1-1

Just as they were a trendy pick for a surprise team entering the season, the Bears could be one of the favorites to pull off an upset this weekend. Brown beat Harvard 2-1 on Feb. 7, continuing a second-half free fall for the Crimson. The Bears ended the regular season on a 4-2-1 stretch, thanks in part to goalie Tim Ernst and the top line of Matt Lorito, Mark Naclerio and Nick Lappin starting to produce. Harvard misses top defenseman Patrick McNally, who won’t return this year, but still has plenty of firepower in Jimmy Vesey, Kyle Criscuolo, Tyler Moy, Alexander Kerfoot and Sean Malone.

No. 10 Union at No. 7 Cornell

Season series: Cornell 2-0

A miserable second half of the season has Union on the road for the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Defense has been a problem for the Dutchmen for much of the season, but the offense disappeared for a stretch before Union scored three goals in each of its two wins last weekend. Cornell ranks second in the country in team defense, trailing only Yale. But the Big Red have scored only 55 goals in 29 games this year, although they did score a season-high five times against the Dutchmen on Jan. 16.

No. 9 Rensselaer at No. 8 Clarkson

Season series: Clarkson 1-0-1

Like Cornell, Clarkson has been stout defensively, but simply can’t score; the Golden Knights are averaging just over two goals per game this season. Both teams play a tough, physical style game, and it will be interesting to see who is in goal for each side. Clarkson has rotated Steve Perry and Greg Lewis of late, while senior Scott Diebold started on RPI’s senior night Saturday in place of junior Jason Kasdorf, making 34 saves in the Engineers’ win over St. Lawrence. RPI hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012 when it beat Clarkson in three games in Potsdam.

Around the league

• Dartmouth’s Brandon McNally (player), Rensselaer’s Drew Melanson (rookie) and Dartmouth’s James Kruger (goalie) were named the weekly award winners by the league. McNally and Melanson each had three goals on the weekend, while Kruger stopped 52 of 54 shots in a 2-0 weekend for the Big Green.

• Dartmouth’s Eric Neiley was named the player of the month for February, while Melanson was the rookie of the month and Brown’s Ernst was the goalie of the month.

• The league announced that all of the upcoming games in the ECAC tournament will be streamed online and on iOS devices and Androids through www.ecachockey.com. The cost is $9.95 per game.

• Former Union forward Daniel Carr was named the AHL rookie of the month for February. Carr plays for the Hamilton Bulldogs, an affiliate of Montreal, and led the league with 10 goals in February.

Looking back

One of my favorite things about preseason polls is looking back at the end of the season to see how wrong I was. Here’s how I slotted the league’s 12 teams, with each school’s actual finish in parentheses.

1. Union (10)
2. Colgate (4)
3. Quinnipiac (1)
4. Yale (4)
5. Cornell (7)
6. Brown (11)
7. Dartmouth (5)
8. Clarkson (8)
9. Rensselaer (9)
10. Harvard (6)
11. St. Lawrence (2)
12. Princeton (12)

Here’s what I had for the preseason all-conference team:

F Mark Naclerio, Brown
F Matthew Peca, Quinnipiac
F Sam Anas, Quinnipiac
D Joakim Ryan, Cornell
D Gavin Bayreuther, St. Lawrence
G Colin Stevens, Union

Looking back, I’d leave Peca on (although Harvard’s Kyle Criscuolo made a strong case) and swap out Naclerio and Anas for Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey and Union’s Daniel Ciampini. For defense, I’d have Yale’s Rob O’Gara and St. Lawrence’s Eric Sweetman, with St. Lawrence goalie Kyle Hayton in place of Stevens.

Penn State’s Holstrom may miss rest of season with leg injury

DSC 0768 Penn States Holstrom may miss rest of season with leg injury

Taylor Holstrom leads Penn State in assists with 26 (photo: Tim Brule).

Penn State may have to play the rest of the season without top-line center Taylor Holstrom.

The team’s Twitter account quoted coach Guy Gadowsky on Tuesday saying Holstrom, a senior, will miss this weekend’s series against first-place Michigan and isn’t expected to return this season.

 

Holstrom left last Saturday’s game at Ohio State favoring his right leg after a collision with the Buckeyes’ Nicholas Jones, the Centre Daily Times reported.

Holstrom is second on the Penn State roster with 33 points, 26 of them coming from assists.

Gadowsky indicated that junior Tommy Olczyk will get a look on the top line with top scorer Casey Bailey and David Goodwin.

North Dakota loses top goal-scorer MacMillan indefinitely to lower-body injury, surgery

DSC 0073 North Dakota loses top goal scorer MacMillan indefinitely to lower body injury, surgery

Top-ranked North Dakota will be without Mark MacMillan on an indefinite basis (photo: Candace Horgan).

North Dakota announced Tuesday that senior forward Mark MacMillan will undergo surgery on Wednesday to repair a lower-body injury and will be out of action indefinitely.

MacMillan suffered the injury during North Dakota’s 3-1 victory over St. Cloud State last Saturday in Grand Forks, N.D.

On the season, MacMillan leads top-ranked UND with a career-high 16 goals, ranks third on the team in scoring with 25 points and his 13 goals during conference play lead the NCHC.

A fourth-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2010, MacMillan has posted 99 points (46 goals, 53 assists) in 151 career games and this season, is a finalist for both the Hockey Humanitarian Award and the Senior CLASS Award.

Canisius reaps the benefits of its new home at Buffalo’s HarborCenter

DSC 4616 Canisius reaps the benefits of its new home at Buffalos HarborCenter

Canisius’ home at HarborCenter holds 1,800 fans (photo: Omar Phillips).

Hockey players of a certain age have probably played at dozens of rinks, from open-air facilities to the “old barns” that dot the landscape of North America, each with its own charm and some shortcomings. You’re thankful for what you have, but probably wish for a little more.

The Canisius Golden Griffins couldn’t ask for anything more.

It was with great expectation, and even greater appreciation that Canisius christened one of two facilities new to Division I men’s college hockey this season. The Rinks at HarborCenter officially opened in the fall, one part of a three-tiered, $172 million project that includes a hotel and restaurants, an effort to enhance the Buffalo waterfront.

Although pictures and descriptions of the new facility dribbled out on social media, the Canisius players were astounded when they arrived for their first day of practice at their new home, one of two NHL-sized rinks built kitty-corner on the sixth floor of the 20-story facility built directly across from and connected to the First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres.

“It’s incredible,” said sophomore Shane Conacher. “Right when we walked in, everyone was in awe. We expected it to be nice and it exceeded all expectations.”

The Golden Griffins have their own locker room facility, complete with a lounge. The dressing room is backlit by blue LED lights and the walls are lined with enhanced images of Canisius hockey history. The wall that greets the players upon entering the room has the on-ice trophy celebration when Canisius won the Atlantic Hockey title in 2013.

The coaches’ suite is located near the players’ lounge, making it easy for interaction between the staff and the team, something that was not possible at the Golden Griffins’ old home at Buffalo State.

“It has brought the whole team together,” coach Dave Smith said.

One conversation piece is invariably the design of the rink itself. The truss ceiling of the facility is constructed of exceptionally strong wood imported from tall, narrow trees from Quebec. The lighting is first-rate, and there is ample seating for 1,800 — the adjacent rink has minimal seating of 150. The players have said it feels like the crowd is right on top of them when they play.

“It’s outstanding. It’s classy. It’s professional,” Smith said. “It’s appropriate in terms of size, and it was really, really well done, top to bottom.”

The players are appreciative of the new amenities. There are leather seats, nine television sets and an Xbox available to the team, which makes the lounge a prime destination for the players to hang out and spend extra time together, ideal for building team relationships.

“It’s a nice place to hang out, which we didn’t have before,” senior co-captain Doug Jessey said.

Smith said there had been discussions between Canisius and the Buffalo Sabres for as long as 10 years about combining efforts for a rink. For a while, there was talk about building a rink on campus grounds.

Smith admitted he was disappointed when he first heard about the project shifting to a downtown location, as proposed by Sabres owner Terry Pegula, but he certainly isn’t complaining now. Ground was broken in April 2013.

“Terry Pegula said we could change the face of Buffalo,” Smith said. “Once we heard the scope and magnitude of the entire project, with the Marriott connected to the rinks and the other development going down there at Canalside and the facility and relationship with the Buffalo Sabres, there was nothing but support on our end.”

DSC 4597 Canisius reaps the benefits of its new home at Buffalos HarborCenter

Canisius and Ohio State played to a 3-3 tie on opening night for HarborCenter on Oct. 31 (photo: Omar Phillips).

The Sabres use HarborCenter as their training rink, and Canisius shares the main rink with the Buffalo Junior Sabres. The NHL will hold its 2015 and 2016 scouting combines at the facility, and the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will be hosted by Buffalo.

Smith said the new facility is a big selling point in his recruiting.

“We’ve gotten tremendous feedback from kids, from young players that have simply said, ‘I want to play for Canisius in this building,’” Smith said. “The high-profile talent we have been targeting have been impressed with our facilities, compared to other places in the country. It’s hard to pull a specific quote from a recruit but it is tangible when they step in our building.”

Canisius made its HarborCenter debut on Halloween night, playing to a 3-3 tie with Ohio State. Shane Conacher lit the lamp for the first time, just 22 seconds after the opening draw. The first loss (4-1) came a night later to the Buckeyes. The first win had to wait until Black Friday, Nov. 28, when visiting Air Force went down 3-1.

Shane Conacher has long ties to the Canisius program; his older brother, Cory, played for the Golden Griffins before launching a pro career. Shane made sure to brag about Canisius’ new digs.

“He’s jealous,” Shane said. “I remember sending him pictures right away. He said, ‘You’re so lucky.’ He wishes he had a place like that.”

Canisius wrapped up its first regular season at HarborCenter with a satisfying 3-1 win over rival Mercyhurst on Feb. 21. The Golden Griffins were 7-4-5 in the new rink during the regular season and will host an Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series March 13-15.

Canisius had used the Buffalo State Ice Arena for many years and the school was thankful for the opportunity. Only now, the Canisius players won’t hear the chirps about playing on someone else’s rink, adorned with the orange-and-black Bengal tiger logo at center ice.

The blue-and-gold Golden Griffins logo proudly adorns the HarborCenter ice.

“Buffalo State is a nice rink,” Jessey said. “Now we have our own place to call a home. It feels like Canisius’ rink, so that’s cool.”

TMQ: Perilous playoff paths, defense vs. offense and Hobey’s freshman bias

DSC 9211 TMQ: Perilous playoff paths, defense vs. offense and Hobeys freshman bias

Atlantic Hockey champion Robert Morris will host the lowest remaining seed in the conference quarterfinals after a weekend off (photo: Omar Phillips).

Each week during the season we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Jim: Here we are at the beginning of March, and the regular season is complete for three leagues (Hockey East, ECAC, Atlantic Hockey) and three are still playing. Let’s start with those leagues that are complete.

All three regular season champions (Boston University, Quinnipiac and Robert Morris) won their leagues with some comfort (BU won by four points; the others each won by six). But looking at the final weekend of the regular season, I don’t feel like any of the three are far and away favorites to win their conference championship.

BU dropped a game to Northeastern on Friday and struggled to clinch solo first. Quinnipiac fell to Dartmouth, albeit with nothing to play for in the conference (its spot in the PairWise Rankings is a different story). And Robert Morris lost to a Niagara team that, according to the PairWise, is the worst in college hockey. So how vulnerable do you think each of these teams are in their conference playoffs?

Matthew: I still feel like Robert Morris has the most straightforward playoff route of these three teams. Niagara did just play the Colonials close, but I would have trouble seeing either Army or Sacred Heart — or whichever lowest-ranked team emerges from the first round — win two of three games in Moon Township, and then RMU just has to take care of business in Rochester. That won’t be easy as Canisius and Rochester Institute of Technology both could give RMU real problems once the later rounds start, but I think the Colonials are the class of that league and should edge whoever they end up playing in the AHC tournament.

Boston University really ought to win the Hockey East championship. I can’t see Connecticut or New Hampshire shutting the Terriers down at Agganis, and I’m not sure I look at anyone else in the tournament field and think that any of those teams have a considerable edge over BU. There’s still plenty of hockey left to be played, obviously, but I would be surprised if BU isn’t celebrating again at TD Garden here in a few weeks like it was at the end of the Beanpot tournament.

That leaves us with Quinnipiac, which I think might be the most vulnerable of the three teams we’re focusing on here. The Bobcats will be favored to win the ECAC Hockey tournament, and rightfully so, but it’s so tight between second-seeded St. Lawrence and seventh-seeded Cornell that you dismiss any of them out of hand at your own peril. Is that fair to say, or do you look at it differently?

Jim: I agree about both Robert Morris (theirs to lose) and Quinnipiac (a tougher path). But I don’t know that the Hockey East tournament is BU’s to lose. I feel there are too many good teams playing well right now in Hockey East.

Providence has been equally as dominant in the second half and I’m not sure there is any quarterfinal opponent the Friars can face that should be scary. And in a single-game scenario, I prefer the team with the hot defense and goaltender. As good as Boston University has been in the second half, I worry about its defense. Using two goals against as a good threshold for the playoffs (meaning you should win a game if you allow two goals or fewer), BU has only done that six times in 17 games since the break.

Providence, on the other hand, has only allowed more than two goals five times in 16 games since January. In fact, Providence has limited opponents to two goals or fewer in each of the last eight games, going 5-2-1 in that span. I know BU has an offense that clicks, but doesn’t it seem like the BU defense might be a concern?

Matthew: That’s a good point, but while Providence boasts the league’s best defense — and you’re right, the Friars have been hot in their own end lately — BU isn’t necessarily a pushover. I don’t like that the Terriers gave up two and a half goals per game in league outings this season, but the game is played at both ends of the ice and BU is about as irresistible as it gets when it’s on the attack.

It starts with Jack Eichel and the potential Hobey Baker Award-winning season he’s having, of course, but he’s far from their only offensive weapon. BU is the kind of team that is going to ship goals in its own end but it’s also going to score plenty of its own, too, unless things start to go south in that department.

Jim: Well, you just brought up two words in the same sentence that have had my mind thinking a lot lately: Eichel and Hobey. As a freshman, Eichel’s stats are incredible. He exploded down the stretch and, to this point, has 55 points in 32 games, including 28 points in the 16 games since break. But Michigan’s Zach Hyman came on strong late, with 30 of 47 points in the 15 games the Wolverines have played since break.

Offensively, those two rank one and two, respectively, in points per game. And while there are players with competitive numbers — notably Jimmy Vesey at Harvard (22 goals and 44 points in 29 games) and Eichel’s linemate, Evan Rodrigues (17 goals and 49 points in 33 games) — I still look at Eichel and Hyman as the favorites for the Hobey this season.

I am ignoring goaltenders to this point, and Alex Lyon at Yale has put up impressive numbers — 1.57 GAA, .940 save percentage and six shutouts. All of these numbers either lead or are tied for the lead among goaltenders. But goalies have never fared well with the Hobey Baker voters (two goaltenders, Robb Stauber and Ryan Miller, have won in the past) so I have my doubts whether Lyon will get the appropriate recognition.

So how do you see the Hobey race? Two horses? Three? Maybe more?

Matthew: At this point, I think it’s probably a two-horse race between Eichel and Hyman, although that beats the one-horse race that we had for so long last season with Johnny Gaudreau. Eichel really ought to win it, and I don’t see people splitting votes between BU players even with Rodrigues playing as well as he has.

I would suggest that Hyman might mean a little more to Michigan than Eichel does to BU, as I think BU is still better than Michigan without either of those two players involved. Although Hyman will get plenty of votes, I do think Eichel might have one hand on the trophy at this point. What do you think? Am I being short-sighted on this one?

Jim: Listen, there are a large number of excellent candidates for the Hobey, but I agree with you that these two (and probably Lyon at Yale, in my opinion) should garner the most attention. The one issue with Eichel could be that he is a freshman. Just once in the award’s history has a freshman won the award, and that was Paul Kariya at Maine when he scored 100 points his rookie year and led his team to a national championship. That was easily the most memorable rookie campaign in college hockey until this year.

Has Eichel lived up to Kariya? I’m not sure. I would argue that goals are a lot harder to come by these days than they were in 1993, but I would also argue that Kariya had more of an ability to simply take over a game on command. Even Gaudreau a year ago at Boston College had more of an ability to impose his will than Eichel seems to this year. So the major question is whether Hobey voters will be biased either for or against the fact that Eichel is a freshman. Do you agree that is possible? Or am I overplaying this fact?

Matthew: I don’t know that they would necessarily have to hold Eichel being a freshman against him. I wonder if, for sports in general, maybe we’ve been experiencing a sea change in terms of younger college student-athletes getting more attention in terms of national MVP honors.

Like you alluded to, Kariya winning the Hobey was a long time ago now — Kariya isn’t even in the NHL anymore, which never ceases to make me feel really old — but we’re not that far removed from watching Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston win the Heisman Trophy, both as freshmen for their schools. Manziel was a redshirt quarterback, but the point is it’s not beyond kids that are that talented to completely take over in their first season in college. Does the analogy extend to hockey? I don’t see why it couldn’t.

Thumbs up

On a play many might consider a thumbs down, we give a thumbs up to Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin for knowing the situation his team was in on Saturday night against RIT. Mercyhurst needed a win to gain the final home-ice spot in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals. In overtime, Gotkin pulled his goaltender to try to win the game. The play didn’t work. Instead, RIT scored into the empty net, but that doesn’t take away from the fact Gotkin made the move in the first place. Sometimes coaches get so get caught up in a game they forget the various outcomes. Not the case for Gotkin.

Thumbs down

To overtime basketball games getting in the way of Michigan State fans seeing most of the bright spots for their team last Thursday. The Michigan State-Minnesota basketball game went to an extra five minutes, which in basketball of course means you can count on 15 to 20 extra minutes. So the Big Ten Network didn’t get to the Spartans-Gophers hockey game until Michigan State was ahead 3-0. Once BTN joined the hockey broadcast, the Gophers scored five unanswered goals to win.

Coming up

The postseason gets started in Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey and Hockey East, with four best-of-three first-round series in each.

It’s the final week of the regular season for the NCHC and the WCHA, and No. 1 North Dakota can wrap up sole possession of the NCHC’s Penrose Cup with one point in a two-game series at No. 5 Miami. No. 2 Minnesota State has a three-point lead over No. 4 Michigan Tech. The Mavericks play at Bemidji State; the Huskies have a home-and-home series against Northern Michigan.

BNY Mellon Wealth Management