The National Picture

It’s natural for everyone to be thinking either regular-season standings or worrying about how their team will do in the conference playoffs. What is easy to lose sight of is the extremely cluttered national tournament picture.

Right now, the PairWise rankings are as volitile as ever. Some perrenial powerhouses are living day to day on the tournament bubble. Here’s a look at some of the teams sitting both inside and outside of that bubble:

Boston College: At one point this season, BC was ranked #1 in the country. Now they’re a bad couple of weeks away from their season ending. The Eagles face New Hampshire for two games this weekend to close the regular season. After that, they could be looking at a playoff matchup with either Vermont or Maine with a scenario of advance or lights out.

Colorado College: Just a game over .500, CC is in the midst of a six-game winless drought and barely keeping its head above water in the race for the tournament. With two games against Denver this weekend, it could be make or break time for the Tigers.

Michigan State: There’s no question its win or go home for Michigan State in the CCHA quarterfinals. A 1-4-1 record down the stretch including a 0-2-1 record at home in its last three have sent the Spartans spiraling downward.

Cornell: At this point, you almost have to believe that Cornell will need to win its conference tournament to reach the NCAAs. Though the Big Red earned a first-round playoff bye, they’ll want to face (and beat) a team with a strong RPI in the quarterfinals and semifinals if there’s any hope for an at-large bid.

Adding to this list of powerhouses that have to be concerned about their NCAA position, there’s also a list of somewhat newcomers who could open a few eyes with tournament berths:

Michigan Tech: After I wrote my Blog last week regarding landmines, I received plenty of feedback that the one team overlooked was Michigan Tech. Exploding out of nowhere, if the seaosn ended today, the Huskies would be in the NCAA tournament. Sitting in the final spot on the bubble, though, they’ll have to keep up their winning ways if they hope to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1981.

Vermont: Its been a decade since the Catamounts have reached the NCAA tournament, but thanks to some quality road wins at Miami and St. Lawrence and league wins over Boston College (2), Boston University (2), Maine and UMass, Vermont is sitting square on the tournament bubble. They almost have to advance to the Hockey East final four to have any chance.

Massachusetts: Probably one of the biggest weekends in UMass hockey history is about to commence as the Minutemen will host Maine in a two-game series with home ice in the Hockey East playoffs on the line. Also at stake is a possible berth in the NCAA tournament. Should UMass sweep, it’s likely they’ll catapult a few teams to the positive side of the NCAA bubble.

 

Impressive Performance by Ehn

Here’s an update on a player who I talked about earlier this season who gets little recognition.  

Air Force junior forward Eric Ehn has quietly become one of the most potent offensive players in the nation, currently first among all Division I players with 60 points in just 36 games. his scoring is balanced – 24 goals (fifth in D-I) and 36 assists (second in D-I). Ehn has led his team to the most wins in school history (16; previous record was 14) and its first-ever home ice playoff berth.

What some people don’t recognize is the lifestyle that Ehn lives. Ehn receives no coddling because he is an athlete. Instead, like all of his classmates, he is awake at the crack of dawn for military exercises, accomplishing that on top of a rigorous class schedule and, of course, the commitment to his hockey team.

With Air Force the third seed in this year’s Atlantic Hockey playoffs, it’s conceivable that his club could earn the league’s berth to the NCAA playoffs, a place where Ehn could display his prowess with a national audience.

This is the second time this season that I’ve written about Ehn in this space. Sure there are players that deserve as much recognition, particularly the talented T.J. Hensick from Michigan who continues to light things up night in and night out. But in Ehn’s case, this recognition sadly doesn’t come often enough because he doesn’t play on a high-profile club.

Let’s hope, though, when Hobey and All-American ballots are distributed, Ehn’s name won’t be left off.

League Playoffs… Drop the Puck

In the strange revamp of league playoffs in recent years, this upcoming weekend is a strange one around the college hockey world. What was generally the final weekend of the regular season will be a full-out playoff series for two leagues, a rest for most of the teams in one league and a last-ditch effort for positioning in the three remaining conferences.

The CCHA and ECACHL will begin their playoffs with opening round, best-of-three series between seeds five through 12. Atlantic Hockey will give all of its teams except two a rest as Canisius and American International battle for a play-in spot.

The rest of the country will continue on with business as usual. Two regular-season titles remains up for grabs in the CHA and WCHA. Niagara has already clinched at least a share of the title and needs but a single point from a two-game series against Alabama-Huntsville to clinch the championship outright. Minnesota needed just a tie last weekend against St. Cloud but a sweep by the Huskies leave them three points behind the Gophers with two games to play for each.

There are also some very key matchups for positioning and home ice. In Hockey East, a single point separates Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont with the Minutemen and Black Bears meeting in Amherst (Vermont host Mass.-Lowell in a two-game series).

In the WCHA, the home ice race is even more confusing with four points separating North Dakota, Colorado College, Michigan Tech and Wisconsin (Minnesota State is within that group as well but has completed its regular-season schedule). North Dakota and CC hold the upper hand, but the Sioux face St. Cloud and the Tigers sqaure off against Denver each realizing a sweep will guarantee home ice for either.

Wisconsin has the best matchup this weekend taking on ninth-place Minnesota-Duluth, but also has the most ground to make up, needing to leap frog Tech and CC to get into fifth place.

Notables

  • St. Lawrence might have picked up the regular-season title in the ECACHL, but it’s quite possible that second-place Clarkson is may be the league’s only entry in the NCAA tournament. The Golden Knights are almost assured a berth while St. Lawrence and any other team in the league would have to play their way in, most by winning the conference tournament.
  • Seven was a lucky number for two players last weekend. Providence’s Jon Rheault and Princeton’s Kevin Westgarth each posted seven points in two-game series over the weekend.
  • Though there’s been plenty of talk about scoring being down across college hockey, don’t tell that to Niagara’s Ted Cook. Cook, a sophomore, is the only player in the country to tally 30-or-more goals this season (he has 31 right now). A remarkable 20 goals have come on the power play.
  • The nation’s shutout leaders – BU’s John Curry and Vermont’s Joe Fallon – went toe-to-toe last weekend, each picking up a win in the two-game series played in Boston. Each entered the game with six shutouts, one better than North Dakota’s David Brown (who, by the way, is the only goaltender with a goals against average better than Curry and Fallon). Curry and Fallon each surrendered four goals in the two-game series.

1 COMMENT

  1. With the way Frey played Saturday night I was surprised he didn’t start on Friday. He really was excellent. Still not too worried about my Badgers. They played with a ton of energy and created a lot of chances.

    • You should be worried. With only 2 home series left (and one of those is Minnesota; not many points, if any, there), points are going to be hard to come by. The road record speaks for itself. And it won’t be improved at all after this coming weekend…..

      • I think at this point UW has too much ground to make up on Minnesota to win the regular season, but anything can happen in the conference tournament (as they showed last year in the WCHA tourney). Just hoping for more entertaining hockey. I was skeptical of Big Ten hockey but so far it’s been a success I think.

      • How could anyone have been skeptical of BigTen hockey? Seriously, with three (no slight on MSU, but they’ve been up and down awhile now) of nation’s premier programs over the last 25 years?

        • When more B1G schools step up, MSU/OSU, maybe PSU will look a lot better after beating up on new programs. I could see as many as 5 B1G schools making the tourney down the road.

          • Not so sure about that… four maybe, but five would be a stretch even in a 10-team league. Eight teams is more likely, but be realistic… it could be several years down the road before those next two teams would benefit.

        • I was skeptical because I didn’t know if the Big Ten could deliver the depth that the WCHA had. As a Badger fan, I’m going to miss the series against UND, CC, and Denver – UND in particular. So far I’ve been pleased though because what the Big Ten lacks in depth right now (which will improve over time) it’s making up for in intensity and more natural school rivalries.

          • Losing old rivalries is probably a bummer, but I’m of thought that the BigTen is great for college hockey… it was only a matter of time once the BigTen Network began. Ohio State and MSU will suffer the most from the lack of depth. The Big really needs at least 2 more teams from current non-hockey members stepping up like PSU did. If no one does, maybe they’ll consider plucking an associate member away from other conference like they’ve did to form BigTen Lacrosse in 2015 by adding Johns Hopkins.

      • Wisconsin at home against rival Minnesota? Records mean nothing. The Gophers have been winning close games, but Wisconsin may be the better team right now. I could see a sweep in Madison. Don’t get cocky.

        • Wisconsin the better team??? Minnesota last Lost November 24th. Wisconsin lost on Saturday to a team MN just swept and Early December to Anchorage. How do you classify WI as the better team. And close games… Most of the gophers wins have been by 2+ points as of late. Looking a WI’s games they have been involved in a lot more games that have been won by a point.

          • Goldy,
            Even though I am a Badger fan, I sadly must agree. The Gophers have always been a thorn in the Badgers side, and I have followed the Badgers fairly closely. I have been following the Badgers fairly closely for 35 years. Heck, when I started following them they were the only thing resembling a good team in Wisconsin as the Packers stunk then and Wisconsin football and hoops weren’t good either

        • I’m not sure that Chad is the one being cocky…. WI the better team? very doubtful. The chance of WI beating MN in a border battle series? Always possible.

        • As others have noted, your point that anything can happen is correct.
          No one should be floored if WI sweeps MN at the Kohl.
          However, the point that It will be tough to beat MN is also correct.

          Any team, including MN, could lose to any other team on a given night; that’s what makes the NCAAs so hard to predict (I will never be able to fathom how that one dude picked all but one game in last year’s tourney; for real; he did).

          But still, some teams are considered by most to be better than others, and therefore expected to win.

    • Chuck,
      I was disappointed as the Badgers have Michigan this week and after the Badger sweep in Madison a couple weeks ago old Red Berenson will have his guys ready… and Minnesota @ Madison next week …well the Gophers have always been a thorn in the Badgers side.

      • You’re right that Michigan will be up for it. I think the Badgers will be too though. I’m expecting a really entertaining series but I am prepared to accept a point or two as success at Michigan. To steal three points somehow would be great.

  2. MSU is a incredible disappointment. Out shot. Out hit. Out hustled. Thankfully only 13 games left (including the B10 Tourney) until the current misery is done for the year. Then we get to look forward (groan) to next year. Having been to 550 to 600 MSU games the last 30+ years, I’m having trouble remembering any of those teams being so poorly coached.
    If there is not significant positive progress by the 2014 GLI, the Coach should be asked to leave after that 2014/15 season.

    • I’m not a past CCHA, or present BigTen diehard as yourself (Loyalties aside, I avidly follow all D1 hockey), but it’s always disappointing to see any longtime great program fall off.

  3. I think we also learned that MN’s defense needs to tighten up.

    UMD is fast and they have a number of good shooters; and I think we can all agree they’re well coached.
    Apparently, they match up well against MN.
    Even so, Lucia and Guentzel need to figure out how to counter that type of team and style of play.

    It’s like saying Achilles is the greatest warrior in the land, unless, of course, you just whack him on the back of the heel.
    How great is he then, really?

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