As I write this, only three regular-season games remain. By the end of this coming weekend, we will know:
1. The MCHA champion
2. The two SUNYAC teams that will meet for the title
3. The matchups for the MIAC semifinals
4. The matchups for the ECAC West semifinals
5. The matchups for the NESCAC semifinals
6. The matchups for the ECAC East semifinals
7. The matchups for the ECAC Northeast semifinals
We already know the final four NCHA teams.
All this will conclude with a cornucopia of conference championships on March 1-3, but before we get there, let’s examine the possibilities.
Quarterfinals are Saturday. The pairings are:
No. 8 Skidmore at No. 1 Norwich: The Cadets are just 5-4 after a 16-0 start. Skidmore (2-19-3), which lost to Norwich 3-1 a month ago, hasn’t won since January 4.
No. 7 UMass-Boston at No. 2 New England: The defending ECAC East champion Pilgrims (13-10-2) just defeated the Beacons (4-17-3) 8-2 last Saturday.
No. 6 Babson at No. 3 MCLA: The MCLA Mohawks have overachieved this season, posting a winning record (12-10-3) for the first time since the school as known as North Adams State. Babson lost to MCLA 5-2 in their only meeting this season.
No. 5 S. Maine at No. 4 Salem State: The Vikings (14-10-1) held second place for most of the season, but are just 2-3-1 in their last six games. The Huskies opened the season 0-6 but battled back to finish 10-12-3. The teams last meeting was back in November, with Salem State coming out on top, 4-1.
Quarterfinals are Saturday and Sunday. The pairings are:
No. 8 Plymouth State at No. 1 Lebanon Valley (3/24): The Flying Dutchmen defeated the Panthers 8-2 back in December. Plymouth State (7-13-1) comes into the playoffs with a two-game winning streak, its longest of the season. Lebanon Valley (23-3-1) has lost just once since dropping its first two games of the season.
No. 7 Salve Regina at No. 2 UMass-Dartmouth (3/23): The Cosairs have the better record (18-5-1 vs.9-12-2), but the Seahawks are 1-0-1 against UMD so far this season.
No. 6 Fitchburg State at No. 3 Wentworth (3/23): The Leopards won the only meeting this season between the teams, 4-1. The Falcons have righted the ship at the right time, winning four in a row after dropping four of six before that.
No. 5/4 Curry vs. No. 4/5 Johnson & Wales (3/24): If Curry beats W. New England on 3/21, it will host; otherwise the game is at J&W. The Curry Colonels are one of the biggest surprises and one of the hottest teams in Division III. They’ve won eight in a row.
RIT and Elmira have locked up the number-one and -two positions, respectively, and Utica and Neumann are done for the season. The only suspense is which of Hobart (10 points) and Manhattanville (nine points) will finish third. Both face Elmira this weekend in the final games of the 2001-2002 regular season.
The MCHA will be the first conference to crown a champion, on Sunday at host Lawrence. Northland will square off against the host Vikings on Friday in a battle of four and five seeds. The winner will play top-seeded Marian on Saturday in one semifinal, while No. 3 Minnesota-Crookston meets No. 2 MSOE in the other.
Marian is the heavy favorite to repeat as conference champions. The Sabres were a perfect 16-0 in conference, outscoring their opposition 100-22.
The MIAC has gone to a Final Five format this season, with a play-in game between No. 5 Concordia (11-11-1) and No. 4 St. John’s (14-9-2) this Saturday. The Johnnies swept their weekend series with the Cobbers this season.
The winner will face off against top-seeded St. Thomas (20-5) on March 1, while No. 3 Augsburg (14-8-3) and No. 2 Gustavus Adolphus (13-8-4) will meet in the other semifinal. The winners play for the MIAC championship (and NCAA auto-bid) on March 2.
The NCHA has also changed its format to single-elimination semifinals and final. The quarterfinals were last week, so the teams take a weekend off before the semifinals and finals on March 1 and 2.
Top-seeded St. Norbert will host, and takes on Wisconsin-River Falls in one semifinal. The Green Knights completed the first undefeated season in NCHA play since Bemidji in 1984.
In the other semi, No. 3 Wisconsin-Stevens Point squares off against second-seeded Wisconsin-Superior. The Pointers come in with the hot hand, undefeated in their last 10 games. The YellowJackets are an impressive 7-1-3 in their last 11.
Middlebury has clinched the top spot and has a bye this weekend. The next six seeds face off in first-round action this Saturday:
No. 7 Amherst at No. 2 Bowdoin: The Polar Bears defeated the Lord Jeffs 8-2 last Friday. Both teams come into the playoffs cold — Bowdoin has lost three of four after going undefeated in its first 20 games. Amherst has won just twice in its last nine games.
No. 6 Colby at No.3 Hamilton: This is a matchup of teams going in opposite directions. Colby was in third place for most of the season, but dropped to sixth, while Hamilton won four in a row to gain home ice. The Continentals defeated the White Mules 5-2 last Friday.
No. 5 Williams at No. 4 Trinity: The Bantams are 10-2-1 since the holidays. Willaims, which has played one of the toughest schedules in Division III this season, lost to Trinity 4-1 on February 9.
The top seeds advanced last weekend, both in mini-games. No. 4 Geneseo now travels to Plattsburgh for the semifinals for the third year in a row. The Knights (11-14-2) were swept the previous two seasons, and were 0-2 against the Cardinals (18-7) in the regular season in 2001-2002, losing the two games by a combined score of 10-1.
Cortland (14-10-3) travels to Oswego (16-8-1) for the other semifinal series. Oswego won both meetings this season, including a 9-6 shootout on February 12.
Not that anyone should or will place any wagers on the Division III postseason, but as a public service, here’s one man’s estimate of the odds at this point for each team to win it all:
Middlebury, 2-1: The Panthers are an easy choice. Ranked number-one in the USCHO.com poll, Middlebury has lost just once this season, and is one of the few teams that knows it’s going to the NCAA tournament, as either the NESCAC champ or an at-large team.
St. Norbert, 3-1: The Green Knights are another team that has virtually locked up an NCAA bid, win or lose in the NCHA playoffs.
Norwich, 4-1: The Cadets have one of the easiest roads to the NCAAs, as they have dominated their conference all season.
RIT, 4-1: The Tigers must beat Elmira to make the nationals, but if they do, they will host a quarterfinal series.
Plattsburgh, 4-1: The Cardinals will have home ice throughout the SUNYACs, and it’s tough to beat them twice at home, as the format requires.
Wisconsin-Superior, 4-1: The YellowJackets have a decent shot at the NCHA title and a good chance for an at-large bid.
St. Thomas, 5-1: The Tommies have also dominated their conference, and have a decent shot at an at-large bid if all the other favorites win.
Wisconsin-River Falls or Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 6-1: Both must probably win the NCHA to make the NCAAs, but either could play well enough to win next weekend.
Bowdoin, 8-1: The Polar Bears were a lock for at least an at-large bid three weeks ago, but going 1-3 since has hurt their chances.
Oswego, 12-1: If anyone can knock off Plattsburgh, it’s the Lakers. They’ll have to in order to get into the tournament.
Lebanon Valley, UMass-Dartmouth, Wentworth, 20-1: First they have to beat each other, then the winner will have a long road to the NCAA title.
Rest of the field, 50-1: We might get one team not mentioned here (like NEC last season), but merely getting in means an uphill battle in the NCAAs.
I haven’t had one in a while, but I’ve got two this week.
The first one I’ll call “Stuff That Doesn’t Count, But Should.”
1. Points scored by players in exhibition games — players try to win every game, be they NCAA or not. Tell RIT and Bowdoin that their games against the U.S. National Development Team this season were mere friendlies. Players worked as hard for those goals as they did any other game. I can understand the NCAA not counting them, but Sports Information Directors, please include them in your players’ overall and career statistics.
2. Points scored in minigames — these are arguably the most important points a player can score, and yet they don’t count in NCAA stats. You can’t even get boxscores for these “games.” Tell Geneseo’s Tony Scorsone that his overtime minigame score that eliminated Potsdam and sent the Knights into the SUNYAC semifinals wasn’t a real goal. Please.
3. Non-region games — in an attempt to discourage East and West teams from playing each other during the regular season, the NCAA refuses to consider the results of these games when selecting at-large teams and seeding the field for the NCAA tournament. This robs players and fans from having the best games possible, and seeing teams that they normally don’t get to watch. A very bad move.
The other I’ll simply call “Pool B.”
It might not happen every year, but this season, one of the top five teams will not make the NCAAs. Either Elmira or RIT will not play in the nationals, and that’s a shame. The teams have split their regular-season series, and RIT holds a slight advantage in the other selection criteria.
But get this: Elmira has a great shot at making the nationals if it can beat RIT again. The two teams will meet again in the ECAC West Finals if each wins its semifinal game. If they don’t meet, RIT will go as the Pool “B” winner. So RIT is actually better off from an NCAA tournament standpoint if it loses in the ECAC semifinals. What a spectacular flaw in the system. Of course, the Tigers wouldn’t tank a game anyway, and especially not with a chance for a conference title and a home NCAA quarterfinal series on the line.
But it’s still wrong.