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College Hockey:
The PairWise: Hockey East teams skating a thin line

Warning: before you begin to read this blog post, know that it might sound a bit elitist.

And it should. Hockey East is home to the last three national champions. In the last 14 seasons, a Hockey East team has been in the NCAA title game in all but one season (we all remember the infamous all-WCHA Frozen Four in Columbus, don’t we?)

When it comes to the NCAA tournament, Hockey East is likely royalty, a least for the last decade of so.

The antithesis of Hockey East has been the ECAC. It’s been 22 years since an ECAC team won the national title (Harvard, 1989) and 21 years since an ECAC member reached the title game. Heck, the league hasn’t had a team in the Frozen Four since Cornell lost to New Hampshire in Buffalo in 2003.

So what if I told you that there is a decent chance this season that the ECAC could have two times as many entries as Hockey East in this year’s NCAA tournament. A quick look at the current USCHO.com PairWise Rankings indicates that four ECAC teams would qualify for the tournament. Hockey East would get three entries if the season ended today (Boston College, New Hampshire and Merrimack). But the line of demarcation, right now, is very thin.

This isn’t necessarily about Hockey East having a down year, though if the league were to get only two entries to the tournament it would seem that way. It’s equally as much about the ECAC having an excellent season as a whole.

Never since Hockey East was formed in 1985, when five teams (Boston College, Boston University, Providence, New Hampshire and Northeastern) all split away from the ECAC, has the ECAC had four entries in the Big Dance. Rarely has the conference had three entries and, excluding the Atlantic Hockey/CHA/MAAC conference, no conference has had just one entry as many times as the ECAC.

This year, that all could change.

Anyone who has followed college hockey this season knows that Yale has been the top team in the nation for much of the year. Add in New York’s Capital District teams – Rensselaer and Union – as well as an overachieving Dartmouth team and you have four ECAC teams ranked in the top 15 of the PWR.

For Hockey East, the aforementioned trio inside the top 15 seems to have pretty stable footing. Boston College is tied for fifth, while New Hampshire and Merrimack rank 10th and 11th, respectively. Dartmouth and Union, both part of a three-way tie with Nebraska-Omaha for 13th are truly bubble teams as of today.

At the same time, two Hockey East teams are just on the other side of the bubble. Maine is ranked 17th; Bostnon University is 18th.

So yes, my panic for Hockey East’s prospects for this year’s tournament is a bit sensationalized. But you all can imagine, as I can, what the reaction will be on the east side of Commonwealth Ave. and in Orono, Maine, if the Terriers and Black Bears are both left home come March and Union and Dartmouth are playing on ESPNU for college hockey’s top prize.

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  • Guest

    As an RPI fan, this did not sound elitist, to the contrary, thank you for giving the ECAC some credit for their success this year instead of saying how teams from your league are way better than the ECAC teams that are ranked and how they don’t deserve to be talked about in the same context. Hopefully the UND trolls that seem to plague the ECAC blog posts will leave this one alone…

  • Anonymous

    WHO have those ECAC teams beat again?

    • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com Goon

      Now anyone difficult…

      • Guest

        RPI spanked BU 4-1, who at the time were ranked #7, and tied with Colorado College, Yale has beaten CC 5-1. Those are the only currently ranked non-conference wins for these ECAC teams just by a quick check, but others they have played have either been ranked at some point throughout the season or are receiving votes (Union vs Minnesota for example). Let’s not forget the Yale win over Russia under 20s and RPI’s over US under 20s made up of many of your young stars. The problem with the ECAC and non-conference opponents is that they have a limited number of non-conference games that they can schedule (esp the ivy schools) and certain rivalries (RPI/BU, RPI/Army that I know of) are longstanding and are usually tried to be fit in every year. If you are only scheduling a limited number of non-conference games, the odds that all of them will be against a top 20 team are less. ECAC teams play more of their non-conference games against Atlantic and HE teams I think because they are closer to travel to and perhaps are easier to work into the schedule.

  • Whit

    I still have to shake my head at this one. I am a UMaine homer and wont deny it, but who have UNION and RPI and Yale for that matter beaten? UMaine swept North Dakota in 2 games and has beaten BC, yes they gave a game away to UNH as well but we have them for 2 more upcoming. I look at the PWR comparison table and it give North Dakota the comparison over Maine even though the Bears swept them in Orono???

    • jrod790

      It’s because without those two wins against north dakota as well as the bc game (both at home i remind you), maine has not beaten a team that is over .500. In addition to this, they have only two road wins and a neutral ice win to their credit. that is the biggest if not the only reasons why they are ranked where they are in the pwr rankings. in order for maine to reach they ncaa tournament for the first time in 4 years, they must win out at home (which they certainly can and must) as well as steal 4 or 5 games on the road out of the 6 at the minimum. If they fail to do this, they will find themselves in the same position they were last year. clinging on to a win in the hockey east tournament to qualify. don’t be surprised to see a very talented maine team left out of the tournament because of their inability to show up to play consistently and their coach’s lack of discipline for his players.

    • SiouxAlumDenver

      Maine also got swept by BC, or are you ignoring that in your calculations?

    • Anonymous

      Look at Maine’s record against teams under consideration and then look at North Dakota’s record in the same category. UND is 16-5-1, Maine is 1-6-2 so I think it is fair to say there is an easy and understandable reason as to why UND wins the comparison.

  • FireTimWhitehead

    Maine doesn’t deserve to even be in the discussion. They are terrible thanks to their complete lack of coaching. This will be Tim Whitehead’s 10th season in Maine, and he has accomplished just ine thing – winning the HEA tourney in 2004. Otherwise, 10 years without a HEA regular season title. 10 years without a national championship. Unacceptable.

  • FireTimWhitehead

    I hope Maine doesn’t make the tournament. That will be four years running. Maybe the new AD and incoming President will do the right thing be Maine fans and students and send Whitehead on his way. Time to let someone else – like a certain Walsh-coached player who played on the 1999 national championship team – take over this program before it is dead for good.

  • Freddie

    Union would whip y’all

  • Anonymous

    While your name implies a bit of a bias, I must agree with you firetimwhitehead. First thing to get it out of the way, I am UMaine hockey die hard and have been since I was born, which was the beginnings of the Shawn Walsh era. Secondly, Maine does not deserve to be higher than any of the teams that are mentioned as above them in the RPI. They have beaten 2 quality opponents this season. They beat North Dakota twice at home and beat BC once at home. That’s it, outside of that they have not beaten a single team with a winning percentage above .500. They tied lowly UConn and blew leads against Michigan St. to start the season. They were swept by BU and BC in convincing fashion in Boston. They tied Providence. Hell, they blew a 3 goal lead going into the third period at home against UNH. In the winter classic tournament they lost to Miami and needed OT against Cornell. Worst of all Merimack dragged them all over the ice in a 7-1 romping which they followed up the next week by needing overtime to beat Providence at home. They get a solid win against BC at home and follow it up by tying Northeastern. They are a model of inconsistency and a reflection of their coach. They are a one dimensional team that lacks any semblance of discipline and they play down to the level of lowly teams. Furthermore, it appears that Whitehead lacks any ability to make in game adjustments and on the fly decisions. I also wonder how a team that did not lose the majority of it’s core goes from the best power play in the country to one of the worst? Oh wait the answer is simple, people have figured out Whitehead’s game plan, and the game plan never changes. And if Whitehead wants solid goal tending he is going to have to let one goalie start more than 2 games in row, aka he needs to pick a guy and stick with him to see what he can do instead of this rotating 3 goalies deal. I think Maine fans should be calling for his firing, all though we may disagree here firetimwhitehead, because I have said for the last 3 years that UMaine should be making an attempt to pull Greg Cronin away from Northeastern. Cronin was an assistant under Walsh and also a candidate for the job when Whitehead was hired. If you watch the way his team plays and the way he approaches the game and coaches on the bench it is almost like watching a mini version of Walsh. This is exactly what Maine needs, a disciplined hard nosed coach with passion for the game oozing from him. That is what UMaine used to have under Walsh that it doesn’t now. They need to return to playing smart, disciplined, and passionate hockey the way Walsh coached the old teams to play. And just so I can throw this in their (remember I am a die hard Maine fan), Jerry York is the best coach in college hockey in my opinion, and that the type of coach Maine needs.

    • jrod790

      To make a slight correction, maine tied bu down in boston this year. only game they’ve played with them so far (two games in orono this weekend). and i agree with everything you said. except i don’t think greg cronin is a real possibility at this point. but you never know. i would like to see them hire Jim montgumery who is an assistant at rpi. if not, let corkum take over. you can tell by watching his demeanor that he is holding in his frusteration. this program needs to be rekindled. and before it’s too late. if maine does not make the tournament this year, they probably never will under whitehead again.

      • Anonymous

        You are correct, not sure why I added BU to that list, but Montgomery or Corkum would be solid choices though.

  • Lenny

    Hey Whit, Union whipped Maine twice last year. I understand that it was last year, but this Union team is much better than last years team.

    • jrod790

      maine won the championship back in 1999. so what? last year doesn’t matter one bit. plus that was at union. on neutral ice no question it would be different. but last year was last year. and i’m sure if union made the trip to orono they would be rudely awakened

  • Miami Ice

    Union is on the high wire having lost to Dartmouth. A victory Friday night over Yale would enhance their cause markedly. The more likely outcome is a”L”, leaving them quite possibly on the outside looking in, unless they win the ECAC tournament. Their OOC record is not impressive against good teams save for Minnesota.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JDO74P66JO5MQNHK4W2ORJWUB4 andy

    There is no doubt that ECAC is the better conference this year. ECAC is 8–9–4 against Hockey East this year. What the real tell tale difference is however, is that ECAC went 8–8–4 against the best conference in D1, the WCHA. Hockey East was 5–9–1 .

    Never mind that Hockey East could only go 9–4–4 against the pitiful Atlantic conference, ECAC went 27–6–5.

    There is no debate that ECAC is better this year.

  • Css228

    Question, why isn’t it mandatory that Cornell and BU play every year, either on neutral ice or one of their places?

  • http://twitter.com/topherbaron Topher Baron

    Let’s be real, you guys are terrible at predicting. Theresa, you need a new profession. Hockey is tough to predict, and college hockey is the toughest nonetheless. I wish there was a website to wager on college games

    • Jason

      Gopher fan?

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