This Week in Division III: Feb. 7, 2002

Standing Alone

The Bowdoin Polar Bears are the only undefeated team left in NCAA hockey. At the beginning of the 2001-2002 campaign, 196 squads, men’s and women’s, started out that way. Yet with just a few weeks left in the season, only Bowdoin’s players don’t know what it feels like to come off the ice as a loser.

Bowdoin is ranked third in this week’s Division III poll, but its ascent has been slow, probably too slow. The Polar Bears have flown under the radar for most of the season, not getting the attention, and possibly the respect, they deserve.

“To tell you the truth, we haven’t been caught up with that,” said Bowdoin head coach Terry Meagher. “We know we have the respect of the teams that we’ve played, and we’ve played some quality teams.”

The Polar Bears are 15-0-3 with five games left to play. They have defeated the likes of Norwich and Williams and tied top-ranked Middlebury. But Bowdoin was in and out of the ninth and tenth spot in the poll most of the season, until mid-January.

That was when Bowdoin defeated Williams, 4-1 and tied Middlebury, 1-1.

“The Williams and Middlebury weekend was big,” said Meagher.

It solidified Bowdoin’s position in the poll, and after a big 3-1 win against Norwich last weekend, the Polar Bears jumped to number three, getting three first-place votes.

Meagher credits his team’s success to a strong work ethic. “I can honestly say that we haven’t had a bad practice all season,” he said. “It’s been a fun. They’re a great group, very mature. They’ve dealt with adversity well, responded well.”

According to Meagher, the makings of a good team require “a good goalie, guys who can get the puck out of the zone, and someone to get you 30 points.”

This team has all that, starting with Mike Healey between the pipes. The sophomore from Hamden CT, is sporting a 1.73 GAA and a save percentage of .925.

“He’s old school,” said Meagher of his netminder. “He’s an old-fashioned stand-up goalie, and that can frustrate some shooters.”

The next line of defense is key to Bowdoin’s success, according to Meagher.

“I’ve got six really good defensemen,” he said. “They’re really good with the puck and make smart decisions.”

And finally, the guy who can get you those 30 points: Mike Carosi, who already has 39, best in the league.

“He does so many things well,” said Meagher of the senior from Warwick, R.I. “He’s great with the puck.”

Put all that together, and you have a team poised to challenge Middlebury for the NESCAC title.

Almost There

It’s hard to believe, but by the time my next column comes out, they’ll be getting ready to play the first round of the playoffs in the SUNYAC and NCHA. The NCHA finishes its regular season this weekend, and each SUNYAC team will play its final three games with a pair this weekend and a final game on Tuesday.

Plattsburgh, which needs four points to lock up the regular-season title, has clinched a first-round bye. Oswego needs a single point in its final three games to lock up the other. Brockport has been eliminated from playoff contention, and Fredonia needs a lot of help. The Blue Devils can still catch Buffalo State if the Bengals lose all three games and Fredonia wins all three, which must include defeating Buffalo State by more than three goals on Tuesday.

Still with me?

The NCHA is almost as muddled. One thing is sure: St. Norbert has won the regular season crown and will have home ice throughout the playoffs. But after that, anything can happen — only three points separate the teams in the second though fifth position. Wisconsin-Superior, which is currently in second place, could find itself on the road in the first round of the playoffs with a pair of losses this weekend. The Yellowjackets clash with a hot Wisconsin-Stevens Point team on Friday. The Pointers are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, recovering from a 5-6 start.

Who’s In, Who’s Out

The rest of the conferences have as many as three weekends left in the regular season, but some things have been decided, or are close.

In the ECAC East, Norwich has clinched the regular-season title, and will host the semifinals and finals of the ECAC playoffs if it wins a quarterfinal game. The rest is up for grabs. For example, UMass-Boston, currently in the basement, can still finish as high as fourth place, good enough for a home playoff game.

The ECAC West will provide an entertaining finish as RIT and Elmira go down to the wire for the regular-season title. Each controls its own destiny — win its remaining games and take the title. Their paths intersect at RIT on February 16.

Lebanon Valley had a chance to pull away in the ECAC Northeast, but Wentworth ended the Flying Dutchmen’s 18 game unbeaten streak last Sunday, upending Lebanon Valley, 4-2. Both have clinched playoff spots, as have UMass.-Dartmouth and Johnson & Wales. Nichols and Framingham State are out, leaving the remaining seven teams to fight it out for the final four spots.

St.. Thomas has clinched a share of the MIAC title, and will be the number-one seed in the MIAC playoffs. Each of the other eight teams is still mathematically alive for one of the other four playoff spots.

In the MCHA, Marian has clinched its first ever regular-season title, while last weekends sweep of Northland by Minnesota-Crookston puts the Lumberjacks in a tight spot. Northland must take at least five points in its final four games, and get some help in order to make the playoffs

There are two weekends left in the NESCAC regular season, with four games to play for each team (except Trinity, which also has yet to finish a suspended game against MCLA). Middlebury, Bowdoin and Williams are in, leaving the other seven squads to battle for the remaining four spots. Colby needs a single point to make the playoffs; Trinity and Hamilton need two. Friday’s game between Amherst and Conn. College may decide the seventh and final playoff position.

Fat Tuesday

Division III fans can celebrate Mardi Gras in style with a bevy of critical games on tap. In the SUNYAC, the travel partners (Brockport-Geneseo, Fredonia-Buffalo State, Oswego-Cortland, and Plattsburgh-Potsdam) square off against each other in the final games of the regular season. Some teams will merely be jockeying for position while others will be playing for survival.

Bowdoin and Colby square off for the second time this season and an amazing 176th overall, with even more on the line this season. Bowdoin could still be undefeated coming into the game, and Colby is fighting for a home playoff game.

Last, but not least, there’s the annual war between Middlebury and rival Norwich. New England Sports Network (NESN) will televise the game live from Middlebury.

Get those satellite dishes ready, or get to one of these games if you can.