Okay, so the second Thursday in March is pretty much my Christmas every year.
No, it’s not because St. Patrick’s Day is nearing (as a true Irishman, I consider St. Patty’s to be amateur night for drinking). I get jazzed this time of year for college hockey’s post-season to hit it’s stride.
This weekend, every single league will be in post-season form, kicked off tonight by the Hockey East playoffs. There will be the upsets, the Cinderella’s, the overtimes (possibly the best part knowing that at the 5-minute mark of OTÃ‚Â a buzzer won’t sound).
Forty-seven of college hockey’s 57 schools still technically have a chance at the national championship. But first things first. These same clubs must battle for a league titleÃ‚Â where six teams will punch their ticket to the big dance. For the other 41 schools, let’s hope your resume looks strong enough to earn an NCAA bid as the rest will be on the golf course by March 18.
To celebrate the start to the playoffs, here my picks for potential quarterfinal upsets in each league:
Atlantic Hockey: As much as Holy Cross over Air Force seems like the obvious choice, I have a hard time calling a five seed over a four seed an upset. I think that playoff experience will play a significant enough role for Mercyhurst to eliminate upstart UConn in the opening round. Lakers coach Rick Gotkin always used to complain about the single-elimination format (which is in its final year, thank God). But now Gotkin could be the beneficiary needing just a road win in Storrs to advance to the league final four for the eighth straight year (Atlantic Hockey and MAAC combined).
CCHA: I felt all year that Lake Superior was an underrated team and this is their chance to prove it. After surviving a three-game series at home last weekend against Ferris State, and given the fact that a number of upsets last weekend will keep Lake State from facing No. 1 Notre Dame this weekend, I almost think that the Lakers have a bit of a destiny to advance to the CCHA Final Four.
College Hockey America: Maybe it’s the fact the league has only five members, but never has this league seemed such a crapshoot. I think that whichever team (Wayne State or Alabama-Huntsville)Ã‚Â Niagara has to face in the single-elimination semi-final, the Purple Eagles are vulnerable. Niagara limped to the regular-season title, earning just two ties in its final three games and posting just one win in its final eight.
ECACHL: Despite being a national power all year long, Clarkson could be upset bait for Harvard. The Crimson lost just once in their final eight league games and, despite a slow start, swept past Yale last weekend in the opening round of the playoffs. The fact that the Crimson have been in post-season form for more than a month could help, as could the team’s experience, which boast a senior class that has won two league tournament titles and made three straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
Hockey East: I’m not joking that this might be the most difficult Hockey East quarterfinal round I can remember. Every single team beat the team it faces this weekend at least once. Top-seeded New Hampshire just got trounced by No. 8 Providence two weeks ago. No. 3 BU lost its season series, two games to one, but easily could’ve been swept. No. 2 BC split their season series with No. 7 Northeastern, and No. 4 UMass had to sweep Maine last weekend to get home ice and now must face the Black Bears yet again this weekend. I say that Maine is a definite to win while I think that Vermont has a pretty decent shot at upsetting the Terriers, if they can solve John Curry.
WCHA: Does anyone really think that the defending national champs are going to just roll over and die this weekend? It doesn’t matter that Wisconsin is the seventh seed, or that Denver won three out of four against the Badgers this year, Bucky will prevail in this series – mark my word!
There’s t-minus four hours until all this hysteria gets underway! And you wonder why this is my favorite time of the year.
(By the way, feel free to leave a comment with you upset picks!)