Time for the Irregular Season
The final games of the 2000-2001 season will be played this weekend, as most of D-III is already in postseason mode.
For RIT, this regular season has been one for the record books. The Tigers defeated Elmira College last Saturday to complete a near-perfect 22-0-1 campaign, the first undefeated season in NCAA hockey since Fredonia State did it in 1993-94.
There are a pair of blemishes on RIT’s record this season, one official and one not. In both cases, the Tigers responded immediately. After blowing a 3-0 lead for an eventual 3-3 tie to Oswego on home ice, RIT, missing its starting goaltender and one of its two captains, came back the next night to defeat the Lakers in Oswego, 4-2.
The only loss RIT suffered this season was in exhibition play to the U.S. National Development Under-18 team (which has also beaten Michigan State, Wayne State, Holy Cross and Fairfield), 4-1. The Tigers came back the next night to earn a split with a 4-2 win.
All well and good for RIT, which I’m sure is aware that the Fredonia State team of 1993-94 lost in the NCAA semifinals. The real test lies ahead.
Each week until the end of the season, we’ll count down to the D-III Frozen Four.
Ending last week:
That’s 17 down, 54 to go (including the six D-II teams). Once again, hats off to the seniors on those teams.
28 more teams will have played their final games by this Sunday, leaving 26 still alive.
Around the Leagues
We’ll start with one of the two leagues with some games left in the regular season. There are three remaining: a round-robin between Elmira, Manhattanville and Hobart. Second through fourth places are still up in the air, as just four points separate second-place Manhattanville and fourth-place Hobart, with Elmira squarely in the middle.
First place hasn’t been in doubt for two weeks, but RIT put an exclamation point on a perfect conference record with a 7-1 win over Elmira last Saturday. The win completed an undefeated regular season for the Tigers, while the Soaring Eagles, stuck on 499 all-time wins for the past three games, saw their NCAA hopes evaporate. Equally disheartening for Elmira was the loss of captain and leading scorer Steve Kaye, who went down with a knee injury early in the second period of Saturday’s game and is most likely finished for the season.
Regular-season play concludes this week with a pair of games, and then quarterfinal action is scheduled to begin this weekend. There are two games left on the schedule: WNEC at Curry, which has no playoff implications, and Worcester State at Assumption, which will determine who finishes sixth and seventh in the standings. A win or a tie by the Lancers moves them ahead of Fitchburg State into sixth; a loss leaves them in seventh.
All the other playoff positions have been determined, so quarterfinal matchups will be:
For regular season champion Tufts, this season has been one of trial and transition. They’ll be in a new rink and a new league next season, but so far this season, the Jumbos have played and practiced on nearly every sheet of ice in the Boston area.
“We haven’t let things distract us,” head coach Brian Murphy said. “We just go out and play.
“Our goal all season was to be the No. 1 seed and give ourselves the best chance once the playoffs came around . We found ways to win when we did not play as well as we are capable of. That’s the sign of a good team.”
Tufts will play Salve Regina Sunday afternoon at MIT.
History repeats itself in the SUNYAC, as we have the same set of semifinal series as last season.
And just as it did last year, Geneseo went into Fredonia as underdogs and came away semifinalists in the first round of the SUNYAC playoffs. In 2000, it was a tie and a one-goal win for the Ice Knights over the Blue Devils; this season it was domination in a pair of fairly easy wins (6-0 and 4-1).
Geneseo netminder Kevin Koury outdueled SUNYAC Player of the Year Will Hamele, making 38 saves on 39 shots for the weekend. In contrast, Hemele allowed six goals on 27 shots the first night, recovering to make 39 stops on 43 shots in the second game. But the Fredonia offense could manage just a single goal in the series.
As it did last season, Geneseo now travels to Plattsburgh for a semifinal series. A year ago, the Cards demolished the Ice Knights, 9-3 and 7-2. But Geneseo has been playing good defensive hockey as of late. After Jeff Phelphs was pulled after allowing five goals on 21 shots to Buffalo State back on February 10, Koury has been the go-to guy between the pipes, allowing just four goals in three games.
Plattsburgh won both regular-season meetings between the two teams this year, 6-4 and 4-3.
The other semifinal saw Potsdam outlast Cortland State, which was making its first playoff appearance since 1993. The Bears handled the Red Dragons easily in the first game, 4-0, but had to withstand a late charge to win the second game, 7-5.
Potsdam now takes on Oswego in another rematch from last season. In what had to be one of the most amazing comebacks in D-III playoff history, the Bears pulled their goalie and scored three times in the final 3:21 to win game two and force a minigame, which they also won, 2-0.
The venue for this series is different (in Oswego this season) and the Lakers hope the result will be as well. Oswego comes into the weekend winners of five of its final six games, and swept Potsdam, 7-3 and 5-1 this season.
Norwich takes its first steps in defending its ECAC East and NCAA titles this weekend when the top-seeded Cadets host eighth-seeded MCLA on Saturday. Norwich has won five games in a row, and defeated the Mohawks 11-0 two weeks ago. MCLA has lost 13 in a row.
In other quarterfinal games:
While top-seeded Middlebury takes a weekend off, there will be three playoff games to determine who makes the trip to Panther-land the weekend of March 2-3. Unlike their sister conference, where there will be some heavy favorites in the quarterfinals, the NESCAC first-round games are more of a tossup. To preview:
Wis.-Stevens Point made history last weekend, becoming the first team ever to win a road quarterfinal NCHA series. The fifth-seeded Pointers swept number-four Wis.-Stout, 8-3 and 3-2. In both cases, UWSP started strong, scoring the first eight goals on Friday and then opening a 3-0 lead and hanging on in Saturday’s contest.
The other quarterfinal series went as planned, as Wis.-Superior extended its winning streak to 17 straight with a 2-0, 4-2 sweep of Wis.-Eau Claire. St. Norbert and Wis.-River Falls also earned first round sweeps.
Unlike the quarterfinals, the NCHA semifinals has a history of upsets. Road teams have won at least one of the semifinal series five of the past six seasons, including last season’s win by Superior over St. Norbert.
Semifinal series this weekend will feature:
More than just a trip to the NCHA finals is on the line. With the possible exception of Wis.-Superior, if a team loses this weekend, they fall out of contention for an NCAA bid.
Bethel fought its way into the MIAC playoffs for the first time in 15 years last weekend, getting a spit against Augsburg that allowed the Royals to advance past the Auggies based on total goals. Bethel won the first game 7-3, but lost the second game only 5-4.
The Royals’ reward is a semifinal series at St. Thomas, which beat Bethel 3-1 and 6-5 two weeks ago. The Tommies finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak.
The other semifinal series pits third-seeded St. John’s against number two Concordia. The Johnnies are 8-1-1 in conference play since North Dakota transfer Mike Possin joined the team. He has 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 12 games with St. John’s.
Concordia captured second place despite not stringing together more than two wins since the beginning of the season. The Cobbers are coming off a convincing sweep of Hamline in their final series of the regular season. Concordia scored four shorthanded goals in an 8-3 win last Saturday after taking the first game 4-1.
MIAC fans have the opportunity to see all four semifinal games, as St. John’s and Concordia play on Friday and Saturday, February 23-24, while St. Thomas vs. Bethel is scheduled for Sunday and Monday, February 25-26.
The season comes to an end this weekend, when Marian hosts the MCHA semifinals and finals.
Lawrence, thanks to a third-period rally against MSOE last Saturday, will make its first appearance in the post season. The Vikings will take on top-seeded Minn.-Crookston in one semifinal, while the host and second-seeded Marian Sabres square off against third seeded Northland.
In regular season play, defending champion UMC swept Lawrence by a combined score of 16-6, while Marian went 3-1 against Northland, including a 4-3, 7-1 sweep last weekend.
This tournament pits the five ECAC Division II squads, allowing the ECAC Northeast and ECAC East to have Division III-only playoffs, thus allowing for NCAA D-III automatic bids for both conferences.
There is no Division II NCAA championship, so this is what these five teams play for each year (the only other Division II hockey team, Minn.-Crookston, can win an MCHA title).
Defending champion St. Anselm has been awarded the top seed, followed by New Hampshire College, Stonehill, St. Michael’s, and Assumption.
St. Mike’s will host Assumption on Saturday in a play-in game. The winner will take on St. Anselm in the semifinals on February 28. New Hampshire College will host Stonehill in the other semi, both being held at the Tri-Town Arena in Hookset, N.H.
The ECAC Division II championship game is scheduled for Saturday, March 3.
Last Week: 13-2
On the season: 69-26-2 (.722)
Lawrence vs. Minn.-Crookston (2/23) – While the Vikings fought hard to earn a playoff spot, UMC is just too strong. UMC 7, Lawrence 3.
Northland at Marian (2/23) – Northland can pull off an upset, but Marian wants a rematch with UMC too badly to overlook the Lumberjacks. Marian 5, Northland 2.
St. John’s at Concordia (2/23 and 2/24) – Upset special. The Johnnies are hot, and should prevail in the minigame. Concordia 4, St. John’s 3; St. John’s 4, Concordia 1; St. John’s 1, Concordia 0
Bethel at St. Thomas (2/25 and 2/26) – This time of the year in the MIAC usually belongs to St. Thomas, and I think this series will be no exception. St. Thomas sweeps, 4-1 and 5-2.
Wis.-Stevens Point at No. 2 Wis.-Superior (2/23 and 2/24) – Upsets are the norm in the NCHA semifinals, but I think this one goes according to plan, albeit with a minigame. UWSP 5, UWS 4; UWS 3, UWSP 1; UWS 1, UWSP 0 (ot)
No. 7 St. Norbert at No. 5 Wis.-River Falls (2/23 and 2/24)- On the other hand, I think this one will be an upset. St. Norbert sweeps 4-3 and 5-4.
Potsdam at No. 8 Oswego (2/23 and 2/24) – The Lakers are looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss, and have the home ice advantage this time. Oswego sweeps, 4-3 and 5-2.
Geneseo at No. 4 Plattsburgh (2/23 and 2/24)- I think history repeats itself this weekend. Plattsburgh sweeps, 5-2 and 6-2.
MCLA at No. 9 Norwich (2/24)- Too much Cadets for the Mohawks to handle. Norwich 7, MCLA 1
Skidmore at Babson – (2/24) Four vs. five games are usually the closest of the quarterfinals, and this one should be no exception. Babson wins a squeaker. Babson 4, Skidmore 3 (ot)
Mass.-Boston at New England (2/24) – I think all the top seeds in the ECAC will prevail. NEC 6, Mass.-Boston 2
Southern Maine at Salem State (2/24) – See above. Salem 5, S. Maine 2
Bowdoin at Trinity (2/24). The NESCAC matchups are more intriguing, especially this one. Another upset special. Bowdoin 4, Trinity 3
Hamilton at Colby (2/24) – Which Continentals team will show up? Or will the While Mules be strong enough anyway? Colby 5, Hamilton 3
Williams at No. 6 Amherst (2/24) – A grudge match that will go to the Lord Jeffs, but not easily. Amherst 5, Williams 4
Assumption at St. Michael’s (2/24) – The Purple Knights have faltered a bit down the stretch, but should have enough to beat the Greyhounds. St. Mike’s 5, Assumption 2
And finally, even though the pairing aren’t set as of the time we go to press, I’m picking the top four seeds in the ECAC Northeast (Tufts, Wentworth, Johnson & Wales, Lebanon Valley) to win their quarterfinal games. Those four teams have been the class of the league all season.