What to watch is pretty obvious from here on out. This week, we’ll go for a little bit of why to watch and what you may see once you do, as well as where to watch it. Every league has some form of drama all its own.
College Hockey America
The purest tournament in terms of feeding into the national tourney — win and you’re in; the other three go home. Two-time defending champion RIT is out, so only Mercyhurst’s seniors have a CHA Championship on their resumes. Robert Morris has also won the playoff title, but that was four years ago.
Streaming is available for purchase through EverSport.tv, either per game or as a package. Single games are $10.99, and the tournament package is $35.00. Hopefully, the package includes the ability to view archived games or some other benefit, or the ability to multiply numbers that include decimals is in serious decline in our society.
Tickets: $10 for adults; $5 for students (includes both semifinals)
Site: HarborCenter, Buffalo, N.Y.
No. 1 Mercyhurst (17-10-5, 14-3-3 CHA) versus No. 4 Robert Morris (17-15-5, 7-9-4 CHA), Friday, 12 p.m. EST
The two squads’ last postseason tilt came in a 2013 semifinal, where the Lakers got some revenge for dropping the final to Robert Morris the year before. The Colonials had only one tie to show for their four meetings with Mercyhurst during this season.
No. 2 Syracuse (18-13-3, 14-4-2 CHA) versus No. 3 Penn State (12-18-6, 6-8-6 CHA), Friday, 3:30 p.m. EST
The Orange came ever so close to claiming their first championship and NCAA berth last season, falling in double overtime in the final. Penn State is making its second-straight trip to the final weekend. The teams met in a semifinal last year, and Syracuse got a couple of special-teams goals for a 2-0 victory. During their season series, each team won once and there were two ties.
Final: Semifinal winners, Saturday, 3 p.m. EST
The spotlight will be on Boston College, which is only five wins away from completing its perfect season. It can cross off two of them this weekend, as the same four teams that comprised the field a year ago in Hyannis move to a new neutral site. Northeastern is likely to join the Eagles in the national tourney even if it doesn’t earn the league’s automatic bid, but a couple of upset winners could bump the Huskies out of what would be their first NCAA tournament. Connecticut and Boston University need to win to continue playing. Connecticut is looking for its first national tournament appearance as well, and four-time defending champ BU is trying to reach its seventh straight.
Sunday’s championship game will be streamed live for free on AmericanSportsNet.com, and shown on a tape delay at 5 p.m. on NESN. Streaming of the semifinal games can be purchased from Pack Network for $14.95 for both semifinals.
Tickets: $10 for adults; $5 for youth and groups (includes both semifinals)
Site: Lawler Rink, Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass.
No. 1 Boston College (36-0-0, 24-0-0 Hockey East) versus No. 4 Connecticut (17-14-5, 11-10-3 Hockey East), Saturday, 1:30 p.m. EST
BC added an empty-netter to win 3-1 when the teams met in a semifinal last year. The Eagles took all three meetings in this campaign, the last being a one-goal margin.
No. 2 Northeastern (28-7-1, 20-4-0 Hockey East) versus No. 3 Boston University (22-13-2, 17-5-2 Hockey East), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST
The Terriers have ended Northeastern’s season each of the last three years. However, the Huskies won three of the four contests matching the two in 2015-16.
Final: Semifinal winners, Sunday, 1:30 p.m. EDT
The only national stake for Wisconsin and Minnesota is who will be seeded second and who will be third. North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth need the automatic bid to continue playing.
Sunday’s championship will be televised on Fox Sports North and streamed on FOXSportsGO.com. Both semifinals will be streamed free of charge and can be accessed via WCHA.com or Gophersports.com.
Single-session tickets: $15-20 for adults; $12 for students/youth/standing-room and $10 groups (includes both semifinals)
Site: Ridder Arena, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.
No. 1 Wisconsin (32-3-1, 24-3-1-1 WCHA) versus No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth (15-20-1, 10-17-1-0 WCHA), Saturday, 2:07 p.m. CST
Defending champion Wisconsin takes on Minnesota-Duluth, looking for its first title since 2010. The two squads last squared off in the postseason in 2012, when the Bulldogs upset the top-seeded Badgers in a semifinal. The Badgers swept the season series, all by multiple goals.
No. 3 North Dakota (18-11-5, 13-10-5-3 WCHA) at No. 2 Minnesota (31-3-1, 24-3-1-0 WCHA), Saturday, 5:07 p.m. CST
Both teams lost in semifinals last year, after clashing in five postseason games over the previous three seasons, all won by Minnesota. North Dakota is looking for its first championship; the Gophers last won two years ago. They took the season series, two games to one with one tie.
Final: Semifinal winners, Sunday, 2:07 p.m. CDT.
The ECAC provides the novelty of still having five teams alive for the national tournament as the league’s final four square off. Princeton can advance as the final at-large team if the automatic bids for Hockey East, ECAC Hockey, and the WCHA are all won by teams seeded first or second. So by the end of Saturday, the Tigers could be assured of being in, or they could be mathematically eliminated. Quinnipiac will be moving on regardless, but the Bobcats are still trying to clinch a host spot for an NCAA quarterfinal. Clarkson can be knocked out only by having all three of those conferences won by lower seeds, but the Golden Knights can wrest the host spot away from Quinnipiac if they win the conference tourney. St. Lawrence and Colgate are just trying to squeeze their way into the field with a crown.
Both the semifinals and the final will be streamed live on ESPN3, and TSN Go (final only), with the call coming from Quinnipiac student media members. Canadian viewers can purchase each semifinal game from BoxCast for $9.95 (US) directly from ECAC Hockey.
Tickets: $5 adults, $3 for children and seniors, all students with a valid ID will get free access to all games.
Site: TD Bank Sports Center, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn.
There’s a little more information on the ECAC than there is on the other leagues, in part because its the most intriguing, and also because it held a media teleconference.
No. 4 St. Lawrence (17-14-6, 9-8-5 ECAC) at No. 1 Quinnipiac (28-2-5, 16-2-4 ECAC), Saturday, 1 p.m. EST
St. Lawrence is the only team in the field with a previous league championship, that coming four years ago during the freshman season of redshirt-senior captain Amanda Boulier.
“If you would have seen her play this past weekend, it’s probably the best performance she’s had in a Saints uniform for a weekend over her career,” coach Chris Wells said. “She put the team on her back. She had some goals at some very key times this weekend. She [is the St. Lawrence] all-time leading goal-scorer as a defenseman, all-time leading point getter as a defenseman, and just a fantastic leader. A lot of the younger kids and some of the other kids have really looked up to her and leaned on her for these experiences.”
Versus Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence sure could use some timely goals.
“We haven’t scored on them this year,” Wells said. “We’ve got to try to figure out a way to score. If we don’t, I guess we’re going to have to figure out how to stop them from scoring. If that happens, I guess we’ll just play until the street lights come on and we’ll all go home, a 0-0 game.”
As Wells points out, everybody has had trouble scoring on the Bobcats, who have the country’s second-ranked defense, allowing less than a goal per game.
“They play so well structurally, and what’s impressive about Quinnipiac is they’re not a sit-back team,” Wells said. “I don’t think you would classify them as a team that’s a trapping team. They play a very aggressive style in all areas of the ice. Their stick positions are fantastic. Just when you beat somebody, you look up, and you’re staring at somebody else. It’s something that we’re certainly happy we have a week to prepare for to play them on Saturday.”
It might take an unconventional approach.
“We’re probably bringing in some payloaders to put out on the ice to get some practice to get through them getting up and down the ice,” Wells said.
To be sure, getting up and down the ice is what the Saints would prefer to do.
“St. Lawrence is a team that likes to play a lot of offense,” Quinnipiac coach Cassandra Turner said. “They like to play the game on an edge, and I think for us, we’ve been really adaptable all year against different types of teams. We feel really confident in how we can defend and are excited about that. We had a great practice [Monday] and just really worked on some things that we think are going to be really important leading into the weekend, and I could tell our kids were kind of excited to have to defend a little bit.”
In their quarterfinal against Rensselaer, the Bobcats were on the attack most of the time, outshooting the Engineers 128-19 through two come-from-behind wins in overtime.
“RPI played so hard,” Turner said. “They had great goaltending and really good sticks — one of the best teams we’ve played all year in terms of how they used their sticks and denied second shots. To be in tight contests like that, and for us, we haven’t been in the position where we’ve been behind much this year.”
That’s often true of a team that seldom allows a goal. Still, they welcome the very different challenge that St. Lawrence presents.
“For us, I think that makes the game a little bit more wide open and creates some more chances in transition for our team,” Turner said. “That should open us up a little bit more offensively as well.”
However the weekend plays out, she and her team can take comfort in the knowledge that it won’t mark an end.
“This is clearly a pretty exciting year for our team,” Turner said. “A lot of firsts in our program and some milestones — individual milestones and some team milestones. It’s been a really neat year to be a part of. We have a good group of young women who are very driven, super positive, and every day come to the rink just ready to play hockey and have some fun. I think that attitude and that approach has really brought great results for our team.”
Those results allowed the Bobcats to have the event played on their ice for the first time.
“Quinnipiac is really excited to host this,” Turner said. “There’s been a lot of buzz around our rink, just in terms of the preparation. Given how well I thought the school did in hosting the Frozen Four, I’m really excited to see some of the details and the little things that get put into place for our banquet and for the event this weekend. So it should be a great tournament.”
No. 2 Clarkson (28-3-5, 14-3-5 ECAC) versus No. 3 Colgate (22-8-7, 12-5-5 ECAC), Saturday, 4 p.m. EST
While Clarkson won an NCAA title two years ago, it’s still searching for its first ECAC Championship.
“Maybe some of the older kids, it’s maybe in the back of their minds, it’s probably the one thing that they haven’t been able to accomplish,” coach Matt Desrosiers said. “But at the same time, they understand that we’ve got to take things one game at a time, and just going out there and winning our tournament is not necessarily going to make our season. We have loftier goals than that.”
He has reason to look beyond this weekend.
“I’m really happy with the way the team is playing right now,” Desrosiers said. “We’re seeing a lot of contributions from a lot of different players. I think one big thing that’s really helping us out a lot this year is our depth. We’re not relying on one or two players; it’s a total team effort. Everyone has bought into that. I think everyone sees that that’s a major part of our success.”
The Golden Knights have 13 players who’ve reached double digits in points, led by Cayley Mercer with 46. Another half dozen players have at least four points.
Oddly, that depth may have factored into a bit of a slow start in conference play.
“The beginning of the year, you’re really trying to put your team together and figure out the pieces and where they fit,” Desrosiers said. “This year, we had quite a few freshmen coming in, and obviously, they have made an immediate impact. That’s probably one area as freshmen coming in, it takes a little bit more time to adjust to the college level, I think, is on the defensive side. They’re not quite aware of just how difficult and just how much effort and a complete game you need to have in order to play the type of defense that we want to play. I think at the beginning of the year, it was a little bit of a feeling-out process for them, and having our upperclassmen kind of lead the way and show the younger players exactly how it needs to be, it’s just part of the process.”
That process is key to the program’s achievements, such as the national title.
“That’s one thing that we always focus on,” Desrosiers said. “We’re not looking at the end results, necessarily, we’re just focused on the process, and that’s part of it. You’ve got to be playing your best hockey come the end of the year. At the beginning of the year, you’re going to take your lumps in certain areas, but as long as you learn from those and grow from those, I think you’re going in the right direction, and I think that’s what we’ve got this year.”
Clarkson is unbeaten in its last 17 games. Now it looks to its first-ever postseason meeting with Colgate.
“We had two close games with them,” Desrosiers said. “They’re a young, exciting team. They haven’t been in this position very much, but you know that with how young they are, they’re going to be excited to go in there and kind of make a statement, and hopefully build off that for years to come at the tournament this weekend. They have a lot of talented, young, exciting players that we definitely have to be aware of out there. Going into this, we’ve got to use our experience and that, but at the same time, we’ve got to be aware that anything can happen at any time with them that’s pretty dangerous, especially on the offensive side of things.”
This is new territory for the Raiders, who last reached the league semifinals in 2007.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to play another week and be in this final-four championship setting,” Colgate coach Greg Fargo said. “It’s a great experience for our young team. We had a great series against Harvard, a really tough team. Obviously, that one came right down to the wire, but to be heading into this weekend, we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity ahead of us. We’re really trying to just soak up every moment, but at the same time, we feel really good about our game right now.”
Considering the talent coming into his program and the fact that Clarkson has established itself as a perennial power, postseason games between the two squads might become quite common.
“I think we match up well against them, two very similar teams in my opinion,” Fargo said. “They have a lot of scoring depth. They probably get a little more offense from their back end than we do. They have some really good D.”
His Raiders have eight players with 20 or more points, all freshmen or sophomores.
“We’ve been getting a lot of great contributions from up and down our lineup,” Fargo said. “Our goaltending has been really good for the playoffs.”
In net, Colgate looks to a veteran in senior Ashlynne Rando. Her numbers have improved over the year as her team has become more consistent in front of her.
“I think it was a time where we were learning a lot about ourselves,” Fargo said. “We had to really learn how to turn those ties or some of those obstacles we faced in those games into wins. I think part of it was just belief in the group. You could see it early on in the year where we’d get down a goal or two and body language would kind of go down and we’d slump a little bit and not really believe that we could find our way back.”
The Raiders also had difficulty at times playing with a lead, including the last time they faced the Golden Knights.
“We got up 2-0 early on them and played really well right from the start,” Fargo said. “That was one of those games where we learned a lot from it. Looking back, it was easy to say we got the two-goal lead, we kind of let our foot off the gas a little bit, let a good team like that back into the game. That’s where I felt like as a group, we really had to understand against a team like Clarkson, you get up 2-0, that next goal was going to be really critical. Just to be able to keep moving ahead, put the nail in the coffin, and make sure you take advantage of that next opportunity when it came. I thought we started to sit back a little bit after being up 2-0, and we let a good team back in the game, and we can’t do that. I think since then, we’ve done a better job of holding that lead. I think Friday against Harvard was a good example of that.”
The Raiders closed out the Crimson on Sunday with an overtime victory, and are now on the brink of greater things, either now or in the near future.
“We feel strong about our game,” Fargo said. “Clarkson is a really tough opponent, one that we’ve split with earlier this year, so we feel good about the matchup. Like we’ve done all year, we’re just going to try and do our best to prepare and let our young team go and play on Saturday afternoon. It should be fun.”
Final: Semifinal winners, Sunday, 1:30 p.m. EDT.