How BC Could Go West, But Won’t
The one absolute lock for Hockey East in the NCAA tournament is Boston College. No matter what happens this weekend, the Eagles are in. They not only are guaranteed a berth, they’re guaranteed a bye.
That said, the possibility arose recently that it might be in the West Regional, not the East.
It was news to many several weeks ago when this column noted that one of the byes in Worcester would be going to a Western team. In past years, the Eastern byes were guaranteed to Eastern schools with the same principle holding true out West. This year, byes are being assigned to the top four teams irrespective of the region they come from. Other than BC, no Eastern team is even close to the top four spots nationally. Hence, three Western byes.
Most people assumed that meant that BC would get one in Worcester while North Dakota, St. Cloud or Minnesota got the other one. Certainly the selection committee wouldn’t send BC out West and place three of the four bye teams out of their region. It would be an attendance nightmare to have, say, North Dakota and St. Cloud as the Eastern byes while Michigan State and BC got the Western ones. What would be the logic in that?
Plenty, according to the committee. Nobody likes the idea of that many top teams leaving their region, but the number one priority is bracket integrity. That is, if the bye teams all advance to the Frozen Four, the semifinals should match up the number one seed against number four while number two and three face off.
This means that of the four top teams, number one and three will go to one region while number two and four go to the other. The regions then cross over at the Frozen Four to give one vs. four and two vs. three.
“We’re trying to insure that the top four teams are in order [so] the fourth place team would eventually play against the first place team in the Frozen Four [semifinal],” says selection committee chair Bill Wilkinson. “That’s how everything shakes down and we’d like to keep it that way. We don’t want to try to change the format so that a second place team would move down to the fourth place team just to keep it within the region and then have to play against the first place team [in the semifinals].”
As it stands now, the top teams in order are: Michigan State, Boston College, North Dakota and St. Cloud. The odd teams would go in the West Regional; Michigan State would be 1W and North Dakota 2W. The East Regional would get the even teams; BC would be 1E and St. Cloud 2E.
But what if BC falls from second among the top teams to third? Then BC would go West as the 2W team.
That would admittedly be a disaster for attendance, but it would set up the Frozen Four matchups in the fairest way possible.
“If that means that Boston College has to go out West to play, then that’s just the way life is these days,” says Wilkinson. “We can’t just turn them around and have them in their region because that’s where they’re from.
“We’re trying to make it as equitable and fair as possible. Not necessarily regardless of the fan base, but we’re trying to look after the participants and the teams as much as possible.”
So in theory, three of the four bye teams could play out of their region.
Having said all that, it won’t happen this year. Boston College is a lock to stay in the East.
Even if the Eagles lose on Friday night to UMass-Lowell, they are sufficiently far ahead in the selection criteria to hold off all comers. Michigan State is locked into the number one spot. Boston College is locked into number two. There’s considerable volatility in the number three and four positions because a WCHA team like North Dakota or St. Cloud can lose both its semifinal game and the consolation the following day. North Dakota, for example, can fall all the way from number three out of a bye entirely.
So fear not, BC fans. File this one away for future knowledge, but you will see your Eagles on day two in Worcester.
Or as the late, great Gilda Radner in her Emily Litella persona was wont to say, “Nevermind.”
UNH Back from the Dead? PC on the Bubble? Whither Maine and UMass-Lowell?
The atmosphere at the Whittemore Center was downright funereal last Saturday night after UMass-Lowell bounced New Hampshire out of the Hockey East playoffs. Having entered that game as the odd man out in the NCAA tournament picture, UNH was presumably dead as a doornail after the loss.
“It’s not very likely that we’re going to go on,” said Ty Conklin. “It’s [the end of] a season for everybody and a career for nine guys. What are you going to say?
“Obviously we hope that something happens, but right now it’s not looking too likely.”
Conklin then added, “”We’re not leaving town.”
That last fact is fortunate, because the Wildcats are no longer a longshot to make the national tournament.
Hanging by their fingernails, they clawed back into the picture via two key developments. First, Boston University defeated Providence in the second game of that series, putting the Friars within reach even after a win in the rubber game. Second, Vermont’s stunning triumph over Clarkson removed the possibility that the Golden Knights would stay alive in the ECAC Tournament long enough to remain a wild card in addition to the ECAC tournament winner.
(Admittedly, Clarkson still remains on life-support by the slimmest thread. If Vermont wins the ECAC tournament and various other conditions cooperate out West, most notably Nebraska-Omaha beating Michigan, then Clarkson can get enough of a boost in its Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to inch past UNH. Knock on wood, Hockey East fans hope this thousand-to-one shot will have expired by Thursday night. The spooky thing, however, is that it also required ninth-seeded Bowling Green to defeat Northern Michigan in Tuesday’s CCHA play-in game and that’s exactly what happened. If Clarkson does crawl out of this particular coffin, it’s time we all start believing in vampires.)
UNH’s hopes now require three probable occurrences and a fourth one that is 50-50. The three probables: the Clarkson mega-longshot fails, either Michigan State or Michigan wins the CCHA and UMass-Lowell fails to win Hockey East. The 50-50 item: Maine beats Providence in the Hockey East semifinals.
If the Black Bears win that semifinal game, UNH’s RPI creeps just past Providence’s and with the other selection criteria between the two canceling each other out, the Friars will be done for the year. UNH will go to the NCAAs, barring the longshots noted above. If Providence defeats Maine, however, that is the final nail in UNH’s coffin.
Still, that’s a lot more for Wildcat fans to hang their hats on than seemed likely last Saturday.
As for Maine and UMass-Lowell, the picture is clear. The River Hawks must win the Hockey East tournament to qualify for the NCAAs. Maine, on the other hand, is in solid shape, barring the improbables listed earlier.
Whitehead Deserves A New Contract
UMass-Lowell athletic director Dana Skinner hasn’t yet committed to offering coach Tim Whitehead a new contract when the River Hawks’ season ends. This is the last year of Whitehead’s deal.
“We’ll sit down and look at everything when the season is over,” said Skinner partway through the quarterfinal series with UNH. “We’ve had a good second half, but there have been some ups and downs.”
Whitehead’s success this year can’t be denied. The team started 1-6 in the league when the River Hawk goaltenders couldn’t stop a beach ball. No coach can be successful when the goalies are struggling. See Jack Parker this year for a case in point. When Lowell’s goaltending got back on track, the team exceeded all expectations.
Arguably, the three finalists for Hockey East Coach of the Year should be BC’s Jerry York, PC’s Paul Pooley and Whitehead. A good case can be made for all three.
How can you not offer a contract extension to one of the league’s top candidates for Coach of the Year?
First-Round NCAA TV Unlikely
Don’t count on TV broadcasts of first-round contests in either the East or West Regional. In recent years, NCAA Productions has made it easier for regional telecasts by the likes of Fox Sports Net New England and Midwest Sports Channel, but financial restrictions have forced cutbacks this year. For the first-round games, cable outlets will have to produce the broadcasts on their own.
“There are a finite number of dollars that the NCAA has to do its own productions,” explains the NCAA’s Tom Jacobs. “This would be outside of the CBS [basketball] or ESPN contracts. The preliminary rounds for ice hockey fell into that category.
“When women’s ice hockey was added to the slate of championships this year, some money had to be reallocated in order to pay for production for their semifinals and finals. As a result, the four quarterfinal games in the men’s bracket will still be televised by NCAA Productions [but not the first round contests].
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be television for those first-round games. It just means that NCAA Productions won’t be funding that. Certainly if any of the regional cable outfits wanted to televise those, there’s a process they could go through and those games could still be televised.”
Could We Puh-lease Get A 16-Team Tournament?
There may not be anyone of significance in the Division I men’s hockey community who disagrees with idea of expanding the tournament from 12 to 16 teams. It eliminates every bye problem because there would be no more byes. All 16 teams would be on a much more level playing field. The potential would exist to shift to four regional sites with one winner emerging from each to the Frozen Four instead of the odd current setup in which two winners emerge from each of the regional sites.
The recent attempts to move to 16 teams and the resulting roadblocks have been well chronicled. Here’s an update and detailed look at the process from Jacobs.
“All the governing sports committees, such as Division I Men’s Ice Hockey, report to the Division I Championships and Competition Cabinet,” says Jacobs. “That’s a group that is made up of 49 individuals, primarily athletics directors, commissioners and folks of that sort at the Division I level.
“A sports committee on its own can’t just bring forward a request for bracket expansion. They have to be invited by the cabinet to do so. Men’s ice hockey was invited two or three years ago and it’s kind of been working its way up through the system.
“The thing to keep in mind is that in any given year there are numerous sports committees that are submitting all sorts of recommendations that are going to have a financial impact to the association. Not just bracket expansion proposals, but increases in officiating fees, expansion in squad sizes for the championships, and all sorts of things like that that are going to have a financial impact on the championships.
“In any given year, the cabinet has a finite number of dollars that it has to work with. Oftentimes, it’s the case that the total dollar amount of the requests being submitted far exceeds the finite dollar amounts the cabinet has to work with. That’s one thing to consider.”
Working in hockey’s favor, however, is that the sport’s national tournament is one of the few revenue-producers that the NCAA has. Of course, basketball dwarfs all others in this respect. Reportedly, it generates well over 90 percent of the NCAA’s revenue. While no match for basketball, hockey is still strongly in the black, compared to most sports’ championships which drain the NCAA coffers.
“Another thing to consider, too, is a directive from the NCAA Executive Committee that all three divisions — Divisions I, II and III — take a look at trying to equalize the number of opportunities for male and female student-athletes in postseason competition,” says Jacobs. “Right now, with some recent expansions that have been made on the women’s side in Division I, Division I is pretty much at a 50-50 split with male-female participation.”
While the addition of a women’s ice hockey championship helps, it does so more in a general sense than in specifically aiding the men’s expansion request.
“[It] helps because it increases the number of female student-athletes,” says Jacobs. “But it’s not really compared on a sport-by-sport basis. It’s the overall participation numbers, so it’s all of the Division I championships that we provide for female student-athletes and all of the Division I championships that we provide for male student-athletes and taking a look in total at those participation numbers and trying to get to a 50-50 ratio.”
While no slam dunk, there’s reason now for cautious optimism that expansion may proceed.
“One thing that probably bodes well for hockey is that all these requests were kind of put into a prioritized list, if you will, and hockey was pretty high up there,” says Jacobs. “But men’s soccer was ahead of men’s hockey on the priority list. It looks like, at this point, that men’s soccer is going to be expanded in the fall. It was just recently approved by the cabinet.
“From the cabinet, it has to go to the Management Council and then ultimately the Board of Directors in Division I. The Management Council and the Board of Directors have both indicated that expanding the men’s soccer bracket is a priority for them as well. Hopefully, with men’s soccer expanded, that will get them out of the way, which will then move men’s ice hockey and lacrosse and some of the others up on the waiting list.
“The Men’s Ice Hockey Committee is still hopeful that an expansion from 12 to 16 could possibly occur here within the next two-to-three years. [It] will continue to be on the agenda for the cabinet to take a look at. Once it’s been submitted and considered by the cabinet, unless it’s out-and-out defeated — which this wasn’t — it will remain on the agenda for further consideration, so it’s not like the hockey committee has to come back with a recommendation every year.
“The cabinet will consider this again when it meets in September. If approved and it goes through the system with the Management Council and Board of Directors, the earliest possible point that it could be implemented would be with the 2003 championship. That’s if it goes through the system in the next academic year.”
Hockey East Tournament Times
A misprint in the Hockey East media guide resulted in many media sources giving incorrect times for this weekend’s games. Friday’s semifinal game between Boston College and UMass-Lowell will be at 5 p.m.. The nightcap between Maine and Providence will begin at 8 p.m.. Saturday’s championship game will face off at 7 p.m..
Boston College vs. UMass-Lowell
Nov. 4 at Lowell: BC won, 6-1
Jan. 12 at Lowell: BC won, 2-1
Feb. 2 at BC: BC won, 4-3
Even though BC swept this series, coach Jerry York is mindful that the last
two were tight games and UMass-Lowell is now a hot club.
“Lowell has been a team that obviously started slow in the win-loss column,
but has picked up tremendous momentum with good play all around,” he says.
“It’s not just Jimi St. John all of a sudden becoming a top-flight
goaltender, but has been a combination of St. John’s improvement, the impact
of the two players from France — [Yorick] Treille and [Laurent] Meunier —
who have been tremendous players, and then the core of defensemen [playing]
really strong, defending and breaking the puck out of the zone.
“Everybody talks about them being physical and they work hard, which are
good attributes, but we don’t want to overlook the skill factor that Lowell
brings to the table. They really have some high-end skill players on their
“Tim Whitehead has done an outstanding job in overcoming that tough start to
becoming a team that can go to New Hampshire and win two games. There
aren’t many teams that can do that. They’re a legitimate top team in our
[league]. They happened to finish in the five [seed] but we feel we’re in
for quite a battle on Friday night.”
On paper, the Eagles hold a substantial playoff experience advantage, having
been to the FleetCenter with regularity, compared to UMass-Lowell, which
hasn’t been since its current seniors were freshmen.
“[Experience] is something that teams have to accumulate,” York says. “It
doesn’t guarantee victories at this stage, but it’s certainly an [advantage
to say], ‘I’ve been here before. I feel used to this type of environment.’
“The environment changes as you get deep into March and April. The venues
change. The importance of the games change. I think that was an important
factor in our win in the quarterfinals. We were tied, 1-1, going into the
third with Merrimack. We kept our poise and played Eagle hockey and
survived. It’s all about surviving and moving on now. Experience is a big
York expects his Eagles to be ready whether Lowell plays up-tempo or slows
the game down to take advantage of its size.
“Teams have got to be ready to play whatever game presents itself,” he says.
“There could be a game where there are a lot of penalties so there are a
lot of special teams or there could be a game with very few penalty
minutes. There could be a quick, fast game or a “halfcourt” type of hockey
“You have to prepare [for anything] and see what happens. I don’t think you
can go into the game thinking it’s only going to be one way. To advance at
this stage, you have to be able to play both types of games, the slow-down,
tic-tac-toe game or the quick, up-tempo game. I think we’re prepared for
Lowell comes into the game knowing that it is the underdog, but feels it has
a shot at knocking off BC.
“Obviously BC is a very good hockey team, but we do feel that we’ve improved
each time that we’ve played them,” says coach Tim Whitehead. “Heading into
this game, we have to make a few adjustments for BC, but most importantly
focus on executing our game plan.”
Whitehead dismisses the idea that the River Hawks will need to keep the game
along the boards and in the corners against the high-flying Eagles.
“We have to respect BC’s explosiveness on offense and we have to make sure
that we transition to defense very well,” he says. “But we like to play
the game at a high tempo also. We want the game to be at a high tempo.
That’s how we want to play it. But we also want to make sure that we’re
very conscientious on defense, that we don’t give up a lot of odd-man
rushes and quality scoring chances.”
Whitehead feels that last weekend’s upset of UNH on enemy ice will help
prepare the River Hawks for the FleetCenter experience.
“The Whittemore has a great atmosphere, a good crowd and a loud building,”
he says. “It gives you a playoff atmosphere to begin with so I think we
got past some of that this past weekend. But obviously going to the
FleetCenter is a little bit different and there will be an additional boost
“I think the positive boost emotionally will outweigh the novelty of being
in the FleetCenter. We have to keep an eye on that, but at the same time
we’re in there for practice on Thursday and Friday morning so that will
help acclimate [the players] to the building.”
Maine vs. Providence
Nov. 3 at PC: PC won, 5-3
Mar. 2 at Maine: Maine won, 4-2
Mar. 3 at Maine: Maine won, 5-2
Maine’s torrid streak moved to 9-1-1 after a sweep of Northeastern in the quarterfinals.
“We’re obviously playing very well,” says coach Shawn Walsh. “What’s exciting to me is that we’re making plays. It’s not individual efforts that are causing us to improve our offense. It’s our overall team game. We have very good chemistry on all four lines. We’ve got at least a nine-goal scorer on each line. Right now, balance is the biggest part of our team.
“We haven’t had to sacrifice team defense to generate more offense, which is exciting. The offense has come from the line chemistry that we found from the addition of Mike Schutte and Donnie Richardson to our lineup.”
The teams met just two weeks ago and the Black Bears came away with the sweep, albeit at Alfond Arena.
“We’re very familiar with them and they’re very familiar with us,” says Walsh. “It’ll certainly come down to who can execute their game plan and whose big players make bigger plays. That’s what it typically comes down to in the playoffs.
“We’re excited about being at the FleetCenter and certainly have our eye on the national picture and like our position right now. but understand it’s not a lock yet.”
Providence is in a must-win situation to keep its season alive. As a result, the Friars will take the same approach they did while fighting fatigue in the double-overtime thriller on Sunday that put them into the Fleet.
“We want to focus on the prize, not the price,” says coach Paul Pooley. “Just focus on where you’re going and don’t worry about the price you have to pay to get there.”
Clearly, PC will have to improve on its recent efforts against Maine.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them,” says Pooley. “We’ve got to do some things to beat them, that’s for sure. We’ll have to take care of some things that we didn’t up there at Maine.
“Faceoffs are a big thing. We lost the first game up there on a faceoff play. We need to be able to dictate tempo a little bit and play the way we’re capable of playing.”
If the BU series was an indicator, Maine will have its hands full countering the line of Devin Rask, Peter Fregoe and Cody Loughlean. (At times Jon DiSalvatore subbed for Loughlean.) The trio territorially dominated any line that the Terriers matched against them.
Pooley isn’t committing to either Boyd Ballard or Nolan Schaefer in goal. The two have rotated with the semifinal being Ballard’s turn. Schaefer outplayed the senior for a good stretch this year, but Ballard had the better series against BU, allowing only two deflections in a losing effort in the middle game. Pooley will decide on the starter based on practices this week.
Speaking of which, the Friars were taking a couple days off after the draining series that ended on Sunday.
“It’ll be a tough matchup for us after the exhausting series [with BU] to come back on Friday,” says Pooley. “But you know what? We’ll just have to do it. Our kids have a lot of character and heart. They’ll be ready to go.”
This Season’s Pathetic Predictions
Longtime fan and all-around good guy Jim Love sent an email recently with the subject line “Karnac you’re not :-)”
He pointed out the hapless predictions made by yours truly in the USCHO Season Preview and the results, which didn’t exactly match up very well.
1. BU – off by five!
2. UNH – off by two
3. BC – off by two
4. Maine – off by two
5. NU – off by two
6. UMA – off by three
7. PC – off by four
8. MC – exact
9. UML – off by four
I could opt for some explanations.
I had figured that if the BC Eagles didn’t finish first last year, they weren’t going to this year either. I’d picked them first a couple years running and each time they’d fallen short, but made their push in the postseason. A repeat of that performance seemed likely.
I had picked a drop for BU one year earlier because of goaltending concerns, but the Terriers had turned it into a position of strength and finished first. I figured they might do it again. (And perhaps subconsciously I was sick of getting “Hey, moron!” email from seemingly every BU computer on the campus.)
But, you know, all the rationalizations don’t cut it. So here’s the true reason why the picks were so awful.
It was my editor’s fault.
Look at my predictions for 1999-2000 as compared to this year’s results.
1. BC – exact
2. Maine – exact
3. UNH – off by one
4. PC – off by one
5. NU – off by two
6. UMA – off by three
7. UML – off by two
8. BU – off by two
9. MC – off by one
So, you see, I really wasn’t that incompetent this past year. My editor just used the wrong list.
I’m really a lot smarter than I seem.
My colleague, Adam Wodon, noted that New York Islanders coach Lorne Henning showed no sense of the dramatic when he failed to start Ricky DiPietro recently against the Minnesota Wild. That night, Derek Gustafson started his first NHL game. It would have been a rematch of the epic quadruple-overtime game between BU and St. Lawrence that put the Saints into the Frozen Four.
Henning started John Vanbiesbrouck and got his just desserts, a 4-1 loss.
A Note to all Hockey Players
I rarely read the USCHO message boards, but someone pointed this gem out to me. Many hockey players will see something of their own team’s mother figure in this missive from “Aunt Donna.”
Big B, Little B, CaptainJerry and Kinger:
I know you guys are reading the board right now and this is aunt donna using uncle nick’s handle so…….read this very carefully…remember eat lots of pasta….absolutely no sex i mean not even thinking about it because even that drains energy. no new sticks…..no new blades….no new anything…..do not…..repeat do not wash your uniforms unless of course you always wash them before a game….. lemme see what other advice i have…..Jerry no desserts….you can think about them but no actual eating… Peter…. I’d tell you not to eat but you won’t listen…..Little B no girls at all….none…. nada…..nothing…. and last of all but not least Kinger no girls for you either none…no phone calls nothing no chatting on the computer and I know about the chatting…And for all of you… ……that place had better be clean when i get there but don’t you guys clean it…..let the new guy clean it because he isn’t playing hockey on the weekend hahaha
ok as for the game…..play hard ….play from the heart….play to win….ya know the drill and for Peter …..savour this moment Pete….for these are your last college games and you will treasure these memories for the rest of your life ok i’m gonna go because my eyes are welling up
P.S. who is on washroom duty this week? as I would like to request that there be toilet paper available upon my arrival
thank you………auntdonna love you all! Go Tigers!!!!
Last week’s question asked what characteristic was identical for all four Hockey East quarterfinal matchups?
Craig Powers was the first with the correct answer that the host team had taken exactly four of the possible six points.
There were a few other interesting responses, some serious and some joking. The best of the latter was from Dave Curtis, noting that the seeds all added up to nine (1+8, 2+7, 3+6, 4+5). The best of the former was from Gary Mucica, who noted that the games were being hosted in four different states. That might be commonplace in other conferences, but not Hockey East.
In any case, Craig’s cheer is:
“All hail Northeastern!”
Since this is the last conventional column of the year — next week we shift to previewing the East and West Regionals — there’s no new trivia question. See you next year.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Publishers Weekly called it a “witty collection.” Click here for information about Food and Other Enemies, an anthology that includes Dave Hendrickson’s latest short story, “Yeah, But Can She Cook?”