This Week in the ECAC Northeast: Feb. 14, 2002

It’s That Time Of Year Again

Get out a pen and paper. A calculator wouldn’t hurt, either. That’s right, folks, it’s almost playoff time. Time to figure out who could finish where and how.

Before we begin, let’s go over the rules. For those already familiar, a quick brushup might be in order. If you feel you have a firm grasp of how and why things will be the way they will be next weekend, scroll down to the next section.

The top eight teams in the league are in. The rest go home. This week will be their last week of competitive hockey, and the top four teams get home ice advantage in the first round. The top eight teams are determined by the regular season conference standings, via the standard point system: two points for a win, one for a tie and none for a loss.

Ties are broken based upon criteria established by the athletic directors which involves games in hand and a slew of other things that I won’t get into. For now, we’ll stick with wins, losses and ties.

First-round games will be held on Saturday and Sunday, February 23 and 24, with the eighth seed visiting the first seed, seven at two, and so on. The winners of those four games move on to the semifinals to be held on Wednesday, February 27. The two top seeded teams retain home ice for the semifinals.

The semifinal winners will play for the ECAC Northeast championship on Sunday, March 2.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Let’s do some analysis.

Who’s In?

UMass-Dartmouth currently sits atop the league in first place with 24 points. They have one game remaining on Saturday, at home against Johnson and Wales. The worst they could finish is fourth. In other words, they have locked up home ice.

Lebanon Valley is alone in second place with 23 points. They have two games remaining, both at home. They will play on Saturday against Stonehill and on Sunday against WNEC. Like UMD, they have locked up home ice. The worst they could finish is fourth.

Johnson & Wales and Wentworth are tied for third. The two teams are in. Each team has two games remaining.

JWU has the short end of the stick. The Wildcats have to go through UMD and Wentworth to get first place and win the right to play the eighth seed. In other words, it’s a tall order. But they could do it. That’s why they play the games.

Wentworth hosts Framingham on Saturday and travels to Providence to take on JWU on Sunday. With two wins they could capture first place if UMD does not win its remaining two games. If they only win or tie one of those games they are guaranteed second place at best. The worst they could finish is a tie for third. So they have home ice as well.

This is where it gets tricky.

As of press time on Thursday night, Curry has three games on its schedule. Thursday at home against Assumption, next Tuesday at Salve, and next Thursday against WNEC. If they win all three games, the best case scenario for the Colonels is a tie for third broken by the criteria agreed upon by the athletic directors. So they will have to win all three of the remaining games to secure home ice. If they stumble at all, they will be visiting one of the top four teams next Saturday. In other words, it’s crunch time for the Colonels.

No Home Ice For You

First year coach Chris MacPherson has had a stellar debut behind the bench no matter what happens in the coming weeks.

Salve Regina is tied with Curry at fifth place as of Thursday night. They play at Fitchburg on Saturday and at home against Curry. If Curry wins the next three the Seahawks will finish sixth at best. However, if Curry stumbles and Salve can win its next two the Seahawks could finish in fifth.

Either way, they are on the outside looking in as far as home ice goes. But they are in the playoffs and you can never count out the Seahawks. They are as dangerous as they come in the playoffs.

Fitchburg is in the playoffs for the 17th time in coach Dean Fuller’s career. That is out of 18 tries. Pretty good.

The game on Saturday against Salve could prove to be gigantic should Fitchburg beat Suffolk on Thursday night. If there is a winner and a loser in the Curry/Salve game on Tuesday and one of those two teams loses the other games, Fitchburg could vault over one of them with a win in its next two games. Best case scenario? Fifth place. I told you it was tricky.

On The Bubble

Plymouth and Worcester are currently tied for eighth place. If either team wins the next two games (one of them won’t because of a Sunday matchup between the two squads) that team could potentially finish in a tie with Fitchburg for seventh place if Fitchburg miraculously loses both of its remaining games.

Basically, they are battling for the playoffs and Sunday’s game is the most important of the year for both teams. The winner will move on, the loser will call it a season after the last regular season game.

WNEC will be able to play for something in these last few games. They can play the role of spoiler at the very least. They have to win the remainder of the four conference games on their schedule and hope for a miracle in selection criteria. They have to win. That is the bottom line. Good luck coach Enroth and Co.

Who’s Out?

Suffolk will play the last game of its season on Monday at home against Southern New Hampshire. Better luck to those guys next year. Here’s hoping the young guys can get better and coach Horan can bring in a good class to propel the Rams into the show come this time next year.

Nichols is also done. They will take on Westfield State on Saturday. The good news? Literally the entire team will be back next year as the Bison carry exactly zero seniors on the roster.

Framingham can also play the role of spoiler, or at the very least upset the apple cart a little and mount some momentum and good feelings for next year.

The Rams will play at home against WNEC on Thursday night and travel to Wentworth to try and throw a giant monkey wrench into everything at the top of the league on Saturday.

You have to be rooting for the Rams. They have not gotten a lot of coverage as a result of the record and they have taken their lumps in quite a few games. But coach Bob Lavin is a savvy recruiter and a good coach. Remember, he is the guy who laid the foundation blocks for where Salve is today. Anyone who remembers the Salve of old knows that he did a phenomenal job there. Expect good things to happen in Framingham in the next few years. I mean that.

Got that? I think I do. But hey, that is the math of a former English major who took all of one non-credit math class in college. The lesson there is, take a good look at the standings and double and triple check my work.

And Another Thing

Good for Lebanon Valley finally getting some hard earned and well deserved respect. The Dutchmen are in the USCHO top ten this week. Not only are the Dutchmen in, but UMass-Dartmouth got a vote as well. Fantastic. Good for the schools. Good for the league. Good for the coaches and players. This is a good thing.

Congratulations are in order for…

  • Wentworth junior Jamie Weiss, who became the fourth member of Wentworth’s 100-point club with his assist on Tim Yakimowsky’s first goal against SNHU last week.
  • T.J. Brown, a senior at UMass-Dartmouth, who leads all ECACNE scorers with a 73-76–149 career line.
  • SNHU’s Nick Nugent. He has played in al 98 games of his four year career and, barring injury, will become just the fourth player in school history to play 100 games for the Penmen.
  • Stonehill’s Jeff Rowe (42-56–98) and Brendan Flemming (48-46–94), each just shy of 100 career points.
  • Assumption senior goaltender L.J. Goldblatt, who waited a long time to entrench himself as the permanent number-one goalie for the Hounds. That has finally happened. Good luck to the Hounds, who will be jockeying for positioning for the Division II playoffs this week.

    Till next week…