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Hockey East’s Top 10 stumbles, the race for home ice, and Lowell

These are the three things I think I learned this week.

1. Being a Top 10 team means nothing.

The upsets flew fast and furious over the weekend and none of Hockey East’s Top 10 teams were immune.  Games that on paper appeared to be money in the bank instead became major withdrawals.

On Friday night, Massachusetts stunned second-ranked Boston College with a three-goal outburst to win 5-2.  The Minutemen were coming off a weekend in which they’d gotten swept by Providence.

One night later, third-ranked New Hampshire fell at home to Providence, 6-5. The Friars had just lost on Thursday to Massachusetts-Lowell.

As for ninth-ranked Boston University, the Terriers won’t be in the Top 10 next week, not after losses at home to Northeastern on Friday and Lowell on Saturday.  Lowell has now won nine in a row, but the Huskies are tooth-and-nail to even make the playoffs.

2. The race for home ice has gotten very tight.

Hockey East is looking a lot like yours truly emerging from an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Increasingly thick in the middle.

Six teams now possess records over .500, making the fight for home ice increasingly close.  Following BC and UNH in the standings are: BU and Providence with 18 points, Merrimack with 16 (plus a game in hand), and Lowell with 15 (plus a game in hand).

The margin between travelling and hosting in the numbers 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 quarterfinal slots could be paper-thin.

3. Lowell enjoyed the best week of all and now looks great in the PairWise but…

I’ve been touting the River Hawks for a while now, and their results are indisputable.  Huge wins over Providence and BU have injected them into the home ice race.  They’ve even vaulted into a tie for sixth in the PairWise, thanks to a terrific nonconference record.

However.  That position in the PairWise is considerably more tenuous than it appears.

Going into Thursday night’s contest against Providence, the River Hawks held a dismal 1-6-0 record against Teams Under Consideration (TUC), but that category doesn’t factor into the PairWise until a team hits 10 games against TUC competition.

Their wins over Providence and BU, both teams under consideration, were huge, but Lowell still stands at 3-6-0 in that category.  When it begins to count, as it will soon, The River Hawks will lose that category to every team in the PairWise Top 20 and drop in the ranking.  (They only have a shot at catching Dartmouth, tied for ninth, in that category in the short run.)

On the plus side, Colorado College is one school just below the cutting line for becoming a TUC.  (The cutting line is having an RPI over .500.)  If CC can put a few wins together, that helps the River Hawks because they defeated CC, 3-1, early in October.

On the negative side, two of Lowell’s three wins against TUC have come against Massachusetts and Providence, two teams that are barely above the cutting line and thus, are most in danger of dropping below it.  If they falter, Lowell’s record against TUC only gets worse.

So Lowell fans, don’t count on that NCAA tournament berth quite yet.

(Thanks to Jim Connelly for pointing out Lowell’s TUC issue.)

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