This Week in Division III: Feb. 17, 2005

It’s That Time Again

I know I’ve dragged this cliché out before at this time of the year, but the NCAAs really do start this weekend. For all but a select few teams, a conference title is their only ticket into the nationals, and playoffs start this weekend in the NCHA and SUNYAC. Lose and your season is over. Four teams have already finished their season, and another eight teams will join them by Saturday.

The other leagues still have as many as two weeks to go before the fun starts, but in the cases of the MIAC, the NESCAC, the ECAC West, and the ECAC Northeast, some teams won’t even get to the playoffs, so the rush to lock up a post-season spot is on.

Let’s take a look at who’s in, who’s out, who’s hot, and who’s not:

Who’s In: Everybody, since all D-III teams make the playoffs. We’ll take a look at the Northeast 10 Division II playoffs next time. With one weekend left in the regular season, teams should make their travel plans now for the Norwich Invitational, also known as the ECAC semifinals and finals. The Cadets have clinched first place and will face off against 0-22 Castleton in the quarterfinals, so things are looking good for the Cadets to host yet again.
Who’s Hot: Babson. The Beavers are 10-0-2 in their last 12 games and have locked up second place.
Who’s Not: Salem State. The Vikings are just 4-6-3 since the holiday break and can finish no better than sixth.

ECAC Northeast
Who’s In: Seven of the eight playoff berths have been decided. Curry, Wentworth and UMass-Dartmouth have secured home ice for the quarterfinals. Plymouth State and Johnson & Wales have claimed a playoff berth, a nice accomplishment for the Wildcats after winning just one game last season. Salve Regina and Fitchburg are also in. That leaves four teams fighting for the eighth and final spot.
Who’s Out: Worcester State.
Who’s Hot: UMass-Dartmouth. The Corsairs have won 10 in a row including a big victory at Wentworth last week.
Who’s Not: Suffolk. The Rams made the playoffs last year and started this season 4-4 but have won just once since then, going 1-8-2 in their last 11 games.

Who’s In: Nobody yet. There are still five teams in the running for the four playoff spots, but no team has clinched one yet.
Who’s Out: Neumann and Lebanon Valley.
Who’s Hot: Utica. The Pioneers have lost just once since November 6.
Who’s Not: RIT. The Tigers were dominated by Utica last Friday and then imploded against Elmira on Saturday. It was RIT’s fifth straight loss on home ice, something the Tigers haven’t done since 1969-70.

Playoff Time: The old guard won first-round playoff series last weekend to advance to the semifinals. Marian and Minn.-Crookston move on and will play MSOE and Lawrence, respectively, this weekend.

Who’s In: St. John’s and St. Thomas have clinched playoff spots. The Johnnies can claim the regular season title by taking a single point this weekend against Augsburg. Six other teams are in the running for the remaining three playoff spots with two weekends to go in the regular season.
Who’s Out: Hamline.
Who’s Hot: St. Olaf. The Oles have won four in a row after a six game winless streak.
Who’s Not: Concordia. The Cobbers are facing elimination of they don’t have a big weekend at Bethel.

Playoff Time: It’s the usual suspects getting home ice, as St. Norbert, Wisconsin-Superior, Wisconsin-River Falls and Wisconsin-Stevens Point will all be playing in the friendly confines this weekend. The format changes slightly after that, with single semifinal games played at the top two surviving seeds on February 26. The final will be on March 6 — no “Frozen Four” format this year.

Who’s In: Trinity has clinched first, with Middlebury, Colby, Bowdoin, Williams and Amherst in contention for home ice quarterfinals. Hamilton and Tufts will be on the road.
Who’s Out: Wesleyan and Conn College
Who’s Hot: Tufts. The Jumbos swept Amherst and Hamilton last weekend to clinch a playoff spot for the second time since moving to the NESCAC.
Who’s Not: Wesleyan. The Cardinals made the playoffs last season, but forfeited due to self-imposed sanctions. This year they’ve won just four games heading into the final weekend of the season.

Playoff Time: Plattsburgh getting home ice is no shocker, but the Cardinals in the first round is a rare occurrence. They host travel partner Potsdam this weekend. The teams have already met three times this season, with the Bears coming out on top twice. The other series pits Fredonia and Cortland. The Blue Devils won both previous meetings with the Red Dragons this season.

Son of Bracketology

Our third installment offers a few changes, and some conflicts with the official NCAA rankings.

If the season ended today, we’d have the following teams in the tournament:

ECAC East — Norwich
ECAC Northeast — Curry
MIAC — St. John’s
NCHA — St. Norbert
NESCAC — Trinity
SUNYAC — Oswego

Pool B:
Manhattanville — The Valiants are the top team in PWR, and win all individual comparisons with other teams under consideration. They’ve increased their lead since last week.

Pool C:
Wisconsin-Superior — The Yellowjackets are the highest team in the PWR not in first place, and win all individual comparisons with all other teams in Pool C.
Bowdoin — This one is very close between Bowdoin, Babson and Fredonia. They all beat out St. Thomas, the next highest Western team.

Based on the national PWR and taking individual comparisons into
consideration, the pairings would be:

#3W Wisconsin-Superior at #2W St. Norbert — The NCAA rankings have St. Norbert as the top team in the West, but the PWR has St. John’s leading in winning percentage and common opponents, with St. Norbert ahead in strength of schedule. The teams have identical records against ranked opponents. Winner at #1W St. John’s.

#6E Curry at #1E Manhattanville
#5E Bowdoin at #2E Trinity
#4E Norwich at #3E Oswego

This assumes that Trinity can host an NCAA game. I’m assuming that Kingswood-Oxford rink can host a quarterfinal game, but would be out of the running for the semifinals and finals.

Does any team have immunity at this point? Can they make the tournament even if they lose every game left? Not yet, but some things are shaping up. St. Norbert is the closest, as the most it can lose before Selection Sunday is two games. If the Green Knights can sweep Wisconsin-Eau Claire this weekend, they are a virtual lock, since they can at the most lose one more game.

Doing Their Homework

The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston announced the list of semifinalists for the Joe Concannon Memorial Award, given to the top U.S. born player at a New England college.

Kudos to the committee for going deep and making sure that players like Gino Blinda from Salve Regina and Pat Doherty of Southern New Hampshire got recognized. These guys have toiled in relative obscurity all season.

Of course, my top three players from the New England leagues aren’t eligible. Norwich’s Kurtis McLean, Colby’s Nick Bayley and Hamilton’s Gus Katsuras all hail from Canada. Goaltenders are also scarce with only St. Anselm’s Jim Merola on the list. I would have found a way to get Trinity’s Doug Kisielius on there are as well, as his numbers are comparable.

If I had a vote, my choice for the award would be Amherst’s Beau Kretzman, but we’ll have to wait until April when the winner will be announced.

Counting Down

The following teams ended their seasons last weekend. Best wishes to the seniors:
SUNYAC: Brockport, Buffalo State
MCHA: Finlandia, Northland

Another eight teams will join them this weekend as we count down to the National Champion.

“Not With a Bang But a Whimper”

So the NHL finally called off the season. After being positive it was over back in January, I must admit that they had me going this week with eleventh hour rumors of a settlement.

I haven’t missed the NHL yet as I really don’t start paying attention until after the Frozen Four is over — that’s when things get interesting in the NHL anyway. But I anticipate a miserable May with no Stanley Cup playoffs.

But this is for the best. Hockey is broken at the professional level, and real change only comes around when there’s a crisis. Hopefully, we’ve hit rock bottom, but with both sides now taking everything off the table again, it could get worse.

Enjoy college hockey while you can.