As we close the books on 2012, let’s look ahead to games or series that will go a long way toward deciding conference pecking orders and the teams likely to get a nod from the NCAA Selection Committee.
One could easily compose another such list from games that don’t appear here. For example, Clarkson entertains BC and Northeastern on January 3 and 4, but because the Golden Knights will be without forward Jamie Lee Rattray and defenseman Erin Ambrose, some of the luster is gone from those games.
January 9, Boston College at Northeastern
Despite the success that the Huskies have enjoyed in recent years, the Eagles have presented a tough riddle to solve. NU is winless in the teams’ last 10 meetings, although a shootout allowed it to advance in the Beanpot in 2012. For the Huskies to climb back into tournament consideration and gain the NCAA berth that just eluded them in March, salvaging this third game in the season series would be a big step.
January 13, Cornell at Boston College
This matchup of Frozen Four teams that did not meet in Duluth will be BC’s second encounter with top-four teams from the ECAC before 2013 is two weeks old. Both the Big Red and the Eagles feature top-five offenses, but neither has been as accomplished defensively to date, so this game figures to be entertaining. BC has been one of the country’s hottest clubs, unbeaten in its last 12 games after starting just 1-3, and a triumph over Cornell could loom large in determining who hosts an NCAA quarterfinal or heads on the road.
January 18-19, Boston College at Mercyhurst
While BC wants these games, Mercyhurst needs them, because they are two of the three remaining contests the Lakers have versus the top 10. For a team hovering at a precarious seventh in the PairWise, a couple shots at the Eagles on home ice are the greatest opportunity to make a move in a positive direction.
January 18-19, Quinnipiac at Robert Morris
Both the Bobcats and the Colonials are programs on the rise. RMU’s Kristen DiCiocco cracks the top 10 in save percentage as well as winning percentage, while Quinnipiac’s Kelly Babstock has done damage to many goaltenders’ statistics during her three seasons. Babstock is sixth in the country in points per game, and the winner of her head-to-head battles with DiCiocco likely has the edge in the series. Currently, these are the final two teams under consideration. A sweep by either greatly bolsters its at-large dreams, while being swept could prove a death knell to such hopes.
January 18-19, Wisconsin at North Dakota
North Dakota carried a lot of momentum into the teams’ recent series in Madison and played well, but received no reward for its effort. The Badgers have been UND’s biggest nemesis over the years, and depending on how its series in Minneapolis the weekend before unfolds these could be must wins. Wisconsin’s defense has typically proved stout enough to blunt the North Dakota attack.
January 19, Clarkson at Cornell
The Golden Knights got the deciding goal from Shannon MacAulay on a third-period power play in November in Potsdam, and have been troublesome for the Big Red in previous seasons as well. Will Cornell’s young roster mature enough for it to gain a measure of revenge in the rematch in Ithaca?
January 25 and 27, Minnesota at Wisconsin
If the Gophers’ winning streak is still intact, expect it to end here. Four more wins out of the break is hardly a given, as the Gophers also host North Dakota, the last team to defeat Minnesota. Wisconsin has lost the last four meetings, and that is pushing the upper limit of such streaks in this rivalry. The Badgers have shown signs of moving beyond the recent losses to graduation and injury and adapting to the current state of their roster. Adversity for the Gophers has meant still being tied in the third period, and Wisconsin has been one of only two teams to pose that obstacle.
February 5 and 12, Beanpot at Northeastern
Given the current strength of the Boston quartet, four games matching them will be pivotal. The tournament held at Northeastern kicks off with Boston College versus Harvard and Boston University meeting the hosts. The winner of the first semifinal likely becomes the favorite in the championship, but it is not hard to envision the Terriers emerging victorious or even the Huskies making it back-to-back Beanpots. If Harvard can continue its performance of not yielding more than two goals in any game, then the Crimson seem to have the best odds in this balanced field.
February 8-9, Robert Morris at Mercyhurst
Paul Colontino is 4-2-1 against his former team since taking over behind the RMU bench. Such a challenge to the Lakers’ dominance is unprecedented in the CHA. To reassert its authority, Mercyhurst will need to find more offense than the single goal it managed in each of its earlier setbacks at the hands of the Colonials.
February 15, Harvard at Cornell
Cornell has been the boss of the ECAC ever since administering a 6-2 pasting to Harvard on March 12, 2010. The Crimson could regain the top perch of the conference with points in this game, combined with a continuation of the strong play that has them cruising along with a perfect conference slate. Harvard’s success has largely been due to possessing a defense that allows less than a goal per outing, despite losing two blue-line stars in the preseason. If that proves to be more than smoke and mirrors, the trophy appears bound for Cambridge.
February 15-16, Ohio State at North Dakota
Five teams figure to be in the running to host WCHA quarterfinals, so this series in Grand Forks on the league’s penultimate weekend could potentially send one of these teams on the road or force a first-round series with Minnesota-Duluth, the current fifth-place team. The Buckeyes hope that the ice in Ralph Engelstad Arena is kinder than it was a year ago, when they suffered 11-1 and 7-1 thrashings.
February 23, Clarkson at Harvard
It seems strange to consider an ECAC race where a game not involving Cornell could decide the title, but the Big Red lost the first meeting with both of these squads. The Golden Knights and Crimson will also clash four weeks earlier. Ranking third in goals allowed per game, Clarkson is nearly as difficult to score against as Harvard is. In order to claim their first championship, the Knights will have to find a way to slow the speedy Crimson down.