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.