Bring on the postseason!
Here is how the four leagues shape up next weekend.
Mercyhurst earned the laurels in the CHA with a win and a draw versus Robert Morris over the weekend. That pushes Mercyhurst’s mark to a perfect 10 regular-season titles in the CHA in 10 seasons of the conference. The Lakers are still very much alive in the national picture as well, sitting at No. 5 in the PairWise Rankings.
Because the CHA does not have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the season for the others will end with the league tournament, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have plenty of motivation. Each is looking for its first conference championship. Robert Morris is already enjoying a landmark season with 17 victories, surpassing the program’s previous high of 12, and is looking to add to that total.
The regular season is not 100 percent complete, because Syracuse and Niagara still have some business to settle, with the host Purple Eagles needing at least a tie from the two games to wrap up the third seed and a semifinal date with Robert Morris rather than Mercyhurst in the CHA semifinals.
Northeastern was pushed to the final seconds of its final game by Providence, but the Huskies claimed a 2-1 victory on Sunday, giving them their first Hockey East title. Now Northeastern and second-seeded Boston College get a quarterfinal bye and a week to rest.
Neither Vermont nor Connecticut were able to secure any points over the weekend and were eliminated, although UConn did not go down without a fight, losing a pair of one-goal decisions to Boston University, the first in OT. One gets the sense that somewhere beneath their 4-23-7 record there lurked a better Huskies team.
The Terriers’ sweep benefited New Hampshire, as the Wildcats clinched the final playoff berth despite losing twice at Maine. UNH can thank BU in person, as the two will be matched in a one-game quarterfinal Sunday in Boston.
Maine’s pair of wins over UNH weren’t routine in the usual sense, but they were definitely consistent with Maine’s routine. On Saturday, the Black Bears came back with a three-goal burst over a two-minute stretch in the third period and won in overtime. The win was the third time this season that Maine has won after trailing by three, and the 12th excursion for the team into bonus hockey. The Black Bears finish tied with Providence for fourth, but the Friars own the tiebreaker and will host the Bears on Saturday. PC was able to forge the tie and gain home ice on the strength of a tie with Northeastern in the Providence half of the teams’ home-and-home series over the weekend.
As in Hockey East, the final playoff spot in the ECAC was claimed not by winning on the ice during the final weekend, but by watching others lose. The Brown Bears were the beneficiary, and as a reward, they get top seed Cornell in Ithaca on Friday, Saturday, and likely not Sunday. The Bears did their utmost to earn their way into the playoffs, but settled for backing in when Dartmouth’s Jenna Hobeika scored in the final half minute of OT.
The goal gave Dartmouth the fourth seed and home ice versus St. Lawrence in another best-of-three quarterfinal. That may be a dubious advantage for the Big Green, as the teams split the season series, each pitching a shutout on the other’s ice.
The other two quarterfinal series find Princeton visiting Harvard while Clarkson entertains Quinnipiac. The Tigers and Crimson also split during the season, but this time home ice proved decisive. Clarkson won both of its encounters with the Bobcats; Rick Seely has bested his old team but once in eight meetings with one tie.
Minnesota State was unable to win in Duluth and escape the cellar of the WCHA, so the Mavericks must travel to the Eagle’s Nest in Verona, Wis., to face the Badgers in a best-of-three. That may not be as impossible a task as first thought; Wisconsin fell 4-2 to Ohio State on Saturday, putting a damper on Senior Day for Hilary Knight and friends. That was Mark Johnson’s first loss to a team other than Minnesota-Duluth or Minnesota since 2007, a stretch that had reached 103 games. So, not impossible, but the Mavericks may fare better against some of those eagles.
Seventh-seeded St. Cloud State heads an hour down Interstate 94 to take on Minnesota, a team that outscored the Huskies 29-1 in four games on the season; there’s not much more to say about that.
Coming off of a split at Minnesota, North Dakota plays host to Bemidji State with two objectives: advance to a second straight league semifinal, and avoid sacrificing any vital PairWise position along the way. UND holds a tenuous tie for sixth in those rankings. Last season, the Beavers pushed the Fighting Sioux to overtime in the decisive third game, and this time, seniors like Zuzana Tomcikova will be determined to continue competing for as long as possible.
Buoyed by their win in Madison, the Buckeyes head to Duluth to learn how badly the hosts want to play in their own Frozen Four. Either Natalie Spooner of OSU or Haley Irwin of UMD will have seen her career come to an end in another week.