This Week in Division III: Feb. 20, 2003

Putting On The Brakes

Whoa, Nellie. Just as the Division III season hurtles towards its climax, it’s time to slow things down a bit. Yes, the MCHA playoffs and the SUNYAC first round are this weekend, and the regular seasons in the ECAC East and NESCAC come to an end. But a good portion of the Top 15 is taking the week off, a curious development so late in the season.

The NCHA, which played its quarterfinals last weekend, is off until February 28, when St. Norbert will host the semifinals and finals. The MIAC also takes this weekend off before starting its playoffs. NCAA selections from these conferences will have an additional weekend off, March 7-9, before starting the national tournament the following week.

Combine that with Oswego’s first-round bye in the SUNYAC playoffs and RIT taking the week off for exams before coming back for its final game of the regular season, and you have seven of the top 15 idle this week, unheard of at this late date.

“We had the week off [between the quarterfinals and the semis] last year and I liked it,” said St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin. “I still do. We need the break after a tough stretch, and it allows us to recharge.”

As far as another week off for his team before the NCAAs (the Green Knights are a lock for the tournament even if they don’t capture the NCHA automatic bid), Coghlin doesn’t mind.

“That’s just the way the schedule worked out,” he said. “I don’t think it hurts us in any way. There’s a chance that teams will be practicing another week who won’t make the tournament, but other than that I don’t have a problem with it.”

Playoff Mode

Postseason action continues this week, as the MCHA and SUNYAC get down to business.

The MCHA holds its postseason this Friday through Sunday. Minnesota-Crookston was chosen at the beginning of the season to host the playoffs, but the Golden Eagles went out and won the regular-season title for good measure. Marian, which led Crookston by five points with four games to play, went 0-3-1 down the stretch after winning 36 of its last 37 conference games. Crookston went 7-0-1 in its final eight games, included taking three of four points from the Sabres last weekend to clinch the top seed.

The SUNYAC also had a climatic ending to its regular season, with Oswego overtaking Fredonia on the final day. The Blue Devils, who led the SUNYAC from the first game of the season and had a five-point lead at the midway point, lost their final three games of the regular season, all by a single goal. Both teams earned a first-round bye.

Plattsburgh will host Cortland this weekend in one first-round series; Potsdam hosts Geneseo in the other. Brockport, which had not won a league game in over two seasons, finished 3-1-1 in its last five conference games to tie Cortland in points for the final playoff spot.

Golden Eagles goaltender Brian Tefft made a whopping 167 saves in his final three games, but it wasn’t enough to get his team into the playoffs due to the SUNYAC tiebreaking system. Brockport and Cortland tied in both meetings this season, so it came down to the third tiebreaker, goal differential in league play. Cortland was outscored by 29 goals, Brockport, which scored just 29 goals in 14 conference games, was outscored by 37.

End Of The Line

The final games in the NESCAC and ECAC East are this weekend, and only four of the 16 Division III teams in the two leagues know where they stand. Middlebury has clinched its fourth straight NESCAC title, and Wesleyan and Connecticut College have been eliminated from playoff contention. In the ECAC East, UMass-Boston will finish in eighth place. The final two games of the regular season for the other 12 teams will decide their final places in the standings.

Norwich can lock up the ECAC East regular-season title with a single point this weekend. New England College can claim the title only if the Cadets lose to Middlebury and Williams and the Pilgrims defeat both Babson and UMass-Boston. Babson has clinched a home ice quarterfinal game, while Skidmore and Salem State are in the running for the fourth and final home ice position. The teams play each other on Friday.

In the NESCAC, Middlebury, Colby, Trinity and Bowdoin have all clinched home ice in the quarterfinal round. Hamilton, Amherst, Tufts and Williams will be on the road on March 1. This weekend’s games will determine the pairings.

Still To Be Decided

The ECAC West and the ECAC Northeast both have two weeks left, and little has been decided so far. Here’s what we do know:

In the ECAC West, RIT can clinch its fifth straight regular season title with a win over Hobart on February 28. The Statesmen are no pushovers. After losing 19 straight games to Elmira, Hobart swept the season series from the Soaring Eagles, including a 5-3 win on home ice last Saturday.

“We just played with no heart, no emotion and no intensity,” Soaring Eagles coach Tim Ceglarski told the Elmira Star Gazette. “We were very gutless.”

Elmira is 0-3-1 in its last four league games after a 3-0 start in the ECAC West. After tying RIT 5-5 on home ice on February 8, the Soaring Eagles dropped a 5-3 decision at RIT’s Frank Ritter Arena, their eighth straight loss there.

The Tigers avoided a letdown the next night with an 8-4 win over Utica.

“It was a very difficult game to play after (the previous) night,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We didn’t let down, and I was proud of how we played. While the Elmira game was very big from a rivalry standpoint, once that game was over, this (Utica) game became the most important game. They’re all worth two points.”

The ECAC Northeast is still wide open with two weeks to play. The top three teams (Lebanon Valley, Wentworth, Curry) can finish anywhere from first to fifth place; the next two teams (Fitchburg State, Johnson & Wales) anywhere from first to sixth. All have clinched at least a playoff spot, as have UMass-Dartmouth. Western New England, Nichols and Framingham State have been eliminated from the playoffs, leaving Salve Regina, Worcester State, Suffolk and Plymouth State to battle for the final two berths.

Stay tuned. With time running out in the season, it will soon be time to put the accelerator down.