One Too Many Rinks
After battling bronchitis since the holidays, yet another weekend in hockey rinks resulted in full-blown pneumonia for Yours Truly. A short stay in the hospital and plenty of downtime has me on the upswing, and just in time.
After all, this is the final weekend of the regular season in the NCHA, and there’s just two more weekends to go in the SUNYAC and MIAC. It’s crunch time with lots of games between teams at the top of the standings.
Let’s take a look at each conference, in order from shortest time remaining to longest.
All eight teams make the playoffs, so the main battle is for the regular-season title. Fourth-ranked Wisconsin-River Falls travels to No. 1 St. Norbert on Friday to settle things. The teams are currently tied for first and will both be favored in their season finales on Saturday, so Friday’s winner will most likely take the prize. River Falls won the first meeting between the two teams this season, a 5-2 victory on home ice back on November 23.
One quarterfinal playoff series is already set. Lake Forest and Wisconsin-Stevens Point will play each other in the first round of the Peters Cup playoffs on February 14 and 15. Expect Stevens Point to host, since the Pointers lead the Foresters by three points with two games to play. Stevens Point needs to take two points this weekend to clinch home ice in the first round.
With each team having between two and four conference games remaining, only Bethel is eliminated from the playoff race. St. John’s, St, Thomas and Augsburg have all clinched berths in the five-team MIAC playoffs, so that leaves St. Olaf, Hamline, Concordia, Gustavus Adolphus and St. Mary’s to battle for the remaining two spots.
Besides the race between St. John’s and St. Thomas for the regular-season title, the team to watch is Gustavus Adolphus. The Gusties were picked to finish second in the MIAC preseason poll, but they lost their first nine games — six by a single goal. Since then, Gustavus has gone 8-2-1 and is in the thick of the MIAC race. The Gusties didn’t win a league game until January 18, but are 4-0-1 since then. This weekend’s series with St. Olaf will make or break their season.
Marian took control of first place with an 8-2, 11-4 sweep of Lawrence last weekend. The Sabres, 37-1-1 in their last 39 MCHA games, lead the Vikings by three points in the standings with two games in hand.
All five teams make the postseason in the MCHA, and the play-in game between the fourth and fifth seeds is already set. Northland and MSOE will play on February 21, with the only mystery being which team will wear white. MSOE trails Northland by a point in the battle for fourth, but has two games in hand on the Lumberjacks.
Oswego is surging and Plattsburgh has stumbled a bit, but the main story is whether Fredonia can hold on to the top position with five games to play. The Blue Devils held a five-point lead at the midway point of the SUNYAC season, but have won just one NCAA game in 2003. Fifth ranked Oswego shaved two points off the lead with a 2-0 win over Fredonia last Friday.
The Blue Devils have clinched one of the six SUNYAC playoff berths, and no one has been eliminated yet, although Buffalo State and Brockport have some ground to make up or they’ll be gone by next weekend.
The ECAC and the NESCAC still have plenty of hockey left. Each team has played 13 conference games, with six to go. That’s over 30% of the season to be concluded over the next three weekends.
As usual, Norwich holds a commanding lead in the ECAC East standings, but watch out for darkhorse New England College, which is 12-5 with all five losses coming to teams in the USCHO.com poll. Valentine’s Day will be huge for the Pilgrims, when they host Norwich.
All eight Division III teams make the ECAC East playoffs, so the key for teams at the bottom of the standings is to avoid finishing last and having to face the second-ranked Norwich Cadets in the quarterfinals. But for last-place Massachusetts-Boston, the first step is to win a game. The Beacons are 0-16-1, with six games to go against teams that are a combined 37-53-11 including just one over .500, so they have a chance to avoid a goose-egg.
In the NESCAC, only the top eight of 10 teams make the playoffs, so there are battles at both ends of the standings. Only Middlebury has clinched a postseason berth so far, and just four points separate the four teams at the bottom of the standings.
This conference has the most difficult playoff structure, with just eight of 13 teams making the postseason. No team has been eliminated yet, but another loss by Nichols or Framingham State will knock them out of the running.
Worcester State hold a four-point lead on the eighth and final playoff spot, with most teams having four to six league games left. One of the surprises so far is Suffolk, which is currently 8-5-2 and 6-4-1 in league, good for seventh place. Last season the Rams won only four games total, and were just 2-12-1 in conference.
There’s still four full weekends left in the regular season in the ECAC West, and for the first time in five seasons, RIT may not be the team to beat. Elmira, which has lost just one game since November, trails the Tigers and the Manhattanville Valiants by two points in the standings, but has a pair of games in hand on RIT and three on Manhattanville.
Utica and Hobart will battle for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Pioneers have played just two league games so far, and trail the Statesmen by four points in the standings with three games in hand. The teams square off on Saturday.
RIT and Elmira will play Saturday, and then the following Friday. If the teams split, the regular-season title could come down to the final game in Division III, when Manhattanville hosts Elmira on March 1.
Not That It Matters
Being laid up meant lots of time in bed or on the couch, and I wound up watching way more TV than I usually do, and I saw some “hit” shows for the first time ever (I’m a confirmed watcher of 24, The West Wing and The Sopranos, but usually not much else).
Highlights of my week were first glimpses of American Idol, The Bachelorette, and, of course, Joe Millionaire. Wow. People really watch this?
The interesting thing about Joe Millionaire is that they are already working on the next edition. Since the entire show is built on the surprise ending that Joe is really Joe Sixpack and not Joe Millionaire, how the heck can they do it again when the cat is now out of the bag? Where will they find 20 women who never heard of the first edition?
But then again, girls that do shows like this don’t seem to be the sharpest knives in the drawer, so maybe it won’t be so hard, after all.
Upcoming new shows (according to the previews I saw) include one where people who don’t know each other agree to marry the first time they meet, one where “celebrities’ I’ve never heard of are stranded on a desert island, and the sure-to-be-a-ratings-bonanza, Are You Hot?.
Stay tuned for Human Sacrifice, coming as a summer replacement show.