This Week in Division III: Feb. 27, 2003

Let the Party Begin

By Saturday night, two of the nine NCAA berths will be decided, with the rest to follow in a week. The NCHA and MIAC will each crown its champion this weekend, while quarterfinal and semifinal action takes place in the ECAC East, ECAC Northeast, NESCAC and SUNYAC.

Only the ECAC West has regular season action left, five games that will decide the playoff pairings for next weekend.

Twenty-three programs have already hung up their skates for the season. A special farewell to the seniors on those squads.

Another 20 or so teams will fall by the wayside this weekend, as we continue to play down to the final nine.

Starting Up In The East

Rinks in New England will be busy on Saturday as a combined 11 quarterfinal games are scheduled between the ECAC East, ECAC Northeast and NESCAC.

In the ECAC East, the Beacons of UMass-Boston have the unenviable task of trying to win their first game of the season at Norwich against the fifth-ranked Cadets. UMass-Boston, which has been shut out seven times this season and outscored 44-3 in its last five games, lost 10-1 at Norwich back in January.

The Southern Maine-New England College game features teams going in different directions. The Pilgrims have won nine in row; the Huskies have just one win in their last nine games.

Skidmore must travel back to Salem State, where the Thoroughbreds lost 5-0 just last weekend, while MCLA goes to Babson, which beat the Trailblazers 5-2 on February 15.

The NESCAC pairings are not as one-sided. Middlebury hosts Tufts, which is a respectable 7-10-2 in league despite being the eighth and final seed. The Jumbos would have finished fifth had they played in the ECAC East.

Amherst goes into its weekend game at Colby on a bit of a hot streak, having lost just once in its last seven games. Unfortunately for the Lord Jeffs, that loss was to the White Mules, 5-0 last Saturday.

Bowdoin hosts a dangerous Hamilton team, which tied the Polar Bears 1-1 last Saturday and walloped Colby 8-1 the night before. Bowdoin is just 1-3-4 in its last eight games.

The final NESCAC pairing has Williams traveling to Trinity. The Ephs are just 3-10 on the road this season, including a 5-1 loss at Trinity on February 15.

In the ECAC Northeast, top-seeded Wentworth hosts Worcester State on Saturday. The Lancers have just one win in their last nine games, while the Leopards haven’t allowed a goal in their last two games and outscored their league opposition 101-26 this season.

Johnson & Wales is at Fitchburg State, where the Wildcats lost 4-2 on February 12. The Falcons also defeated J&W in the championship game of the Conn College Tournament in early December.

Lebanon Valley, 12-1 in its last 13 games, hosts Salve Regina, which lost 3-0 to the Flying Dutchmen in January.

The 12th and final Eastern quarterfinal game of the weekend happens on Sunday, when UMass-Dartmouth travels to Curry. The Colonels are a legitimate dark horse in the ECAC Northeast, having defeated Wentworth, J&W and Lebanon Valley this season. One of only three league losses for Curry this season came at the hands on UMass-Dartmouth, however.

Besides all the quarterfinal action, there’s semifinals to be played in the SUNYAC. Oswego, coming off a bye in the first round, hosts Potsdam Friday and Saturday. The Laker’s only loss in 2003 was a shocker: 3-2 to Brockport, allowing the winning goal with just three seconds to play. Oswego is 12-1 in its last 13 games.

Potsdam is coming off a convincing 6-2, 7-3 sweep of Geneseo. The Bears have pulled out of a midseason slump and are 5-1 in their last six games. They dropped both games to Oswego during the regular season.

The other semifinal features an intriguing matchup between Plattsburgh and Fredonia. The Cardinals are the favorites here despite being the lower seeded team, but the Blue Devils have not lost to a SUNYAC team at home this season. They defeated Plattsburgh 5-2 back in December.

Finishing Up In The West

With the MCHA already decided, the other two Western leagues will determine their champions this weekend.

By the time this goes to press, Gustavus Adolphus and Concordia will have completed the MIAC play-in game, with the winner to take on top-seeded St. John’s on Friday. It’s been fun watching the Golden Gusties scratch and claw their way back from a disastrous start into playoff contention, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them go all the way.

Concordia earned its way into the postseason by taking at least one point from every MIAC team except St. John’s. The Cobbers have played six overtime games this season (1-3-2) including their last three games.

St. Thomas squares off against Augsburg in the other semifinal, and this one is too close to call. The teams have similar records and split their season series. It may come down to defense, and St. Thomas has the second best in the nation, allowing just 1.96 goals per game.

The highly-anticipated NCHA championship is also this weekend, and with the potential to get three teams in the NCAA tournament, expect the usual battle-to-the-wire games. Host St. Norbert will play Wisconsin-Stevens Point in one semifinal, while arch-rivals Wisconsin-River Falls and Wisconsin-Superior face off in the other.

According to River Falls head coach Steve Freeman, any of the four teams can take the title.

“It’s up for grabs,” said Freeman. “St. Norbert has the advantage of being at home, and Superior is the defending champs. Plus, I really think that Stevens Point is a legitimate dark horse to win this thing.”

Freeman’s Falcons have the top ranked defense in Division III, and can score goals as well.

“Both goalies have played very well,” said Freeman. “And we’ve played well offensively, but we need to do a better job in the big games. And these are very big games.”

Unless there are upsets in the East, there’s a very good chance that three teams from the NCHA could get bids to the NCAA tournament.

“There’s always a lot of speculation this time of year,” said Freeman. But we’ll leave that up to (the press). For us, the way to make the NCAAs is to win the (NCHA) tournament.

“If we do get three teams in, it will be well deserved. But we don’t want to count on that. The only way to make sure is to win.”

Another Week To Go

The ECAC West will play its final games of the regular season this weekend, and while the four playoff teams have been determined, their order of finish has yet to be set.

For RIT, the goal is simple: defeat Hobart on Friday and the Tigers will host the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. A loss or tie throws the balance back to Manhattanville, which can then win the regular season by taking three or four points at home against Utica and Elmira.

There’s little margin for error for any team still playing this weekend. Ya gotta love playoff hockey.