Tuesday Morning Quarterback: March 4

Editor’s note: Tuesday’s original publication of this column referenced the .500-or-better provision in the 2008 NCAA Championship Handbook, which would have removed Minnesota Duluth from tournament consideration based on its sub-.500 record. That language has now been identified by the NCAA as a misprint.

Scott: Eight? Eight? I know we usually start by talking about key games, but this is getting surreal. Eight WCHA teams in the top 14 of the PairWise Rankings. You know, Jim, I’m a West guy and a Minnesota resident, but this is making my pupils dilate. I do believe that by the numbers, the WCHA has had the best season of any of the six Division I conferences, but eight teams, even if just for the moment? Now, lest any of our readers start hyperventilating, the conference won’t get eight teams into the NCAA tournament. Someone in the WCHA will lose a first-round playoff series and drop down, and some tournament champion will come out of nowhere to pick up an autobid, and so forth and so on. But still … eight?

Jim: Do you want to kick my dog while you’re at it, Brownie? It’s depressing enough that the East will struggle to win the national championship yet again. But with a possible eight WCHA teams and three, maybe four, CCHA teams in the mix, you might as well call this the Western College Hockey National Championship. I understand that the WCHA is having a decent year. And that the league, because of that, has a strong schedule for every single team. But it seems like this is almost no longer a national tournament. A lot of this has to do with the changes over the past five or six years in the tournament criteria. The rebalance of the RPI, the elimination of the “last 10” or “last 16” criteria. All of these edits have played towards the WCHA. In fact, it would play well towards any league in which the out-of-conference record is extremely solid and no one team runs away in league play. I understand that the criteria are what they are. But doesn’t this all seem a little unbalanced to you?

Jerry York's Eagles have had a tough go of it lately (photo: Melissa Wade).

Jerry York’s Eagles have had a tough go of it lately (photo: Melissa Wade).

Scott: Absolutely, it does. That many WCHA teams in the tournament would not be good for the sport, because it would sap the national aspect and threaten to turn the NCAAs into a replay of the WCHA playoffs. Worse yet, it would provoke outrage toward the selection process, which I believe has served Division I well over the past several years, and the call to do “something” — potentially something rash and ill-advised — would be hard to resist. Luckily for Eastern fans and believers in the PWR, it’s not going to happen for the reasons mentioned previously. Some of those WCHA teams are going to play one another in the first round, and some are therefore going to lose. Heck, Minnesota plays Minnesota Duluth this weekend to wrap up the regular season, and either could find its national hopes crippled when that series is over. Those results will then let a team like Notre Dame or Providence back in when it’s all said and done. And apologize to the dog for me, would ya?

Jim: I agree that the end product should be more reasonable, but we’ll see what actually happens when the numbers shake out. Moving East, Hockey East seems to have a pretty interesting weekend ahead for itself. Six teams are still in the hunt for the final three home-ice spots. Three teams are battling for the final playoff spot. Lost, somewhat, in all of this is Boston College. A few weeks ago, we were talking about the Eagles’ dominance, having taken home the Beanpot title and suffering just one league loss in a 10-game span. That has all since turned around. BC has just one win in its last six and now faces the strong possibility of playing on the road in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs. All of this comes despite the fact that the Eagles remain tied for eighth in the PWR. Pretty wacky, eh?

Scott: Hockey East’s got a fascinating weekend of possibilities left. With only New Hampshire having locked down home ice (and that by a mile), I’ll be scoreboard-watching to see where the rest of the league shakes out. BC stands to be the big loser in all of this if it can’t get a win or two against Northeastern. The Eagles are just 1-4-1 since the Beanpot, and the one-point performance against Providence last weekend really hurt in terms of the standings. We could see those teams again in the quarterfinals, with the venue to be determined. Vermont’s an intriguing case, too: such an awful first half but an impressive stretch run. Given the Cats’ recent quality of play, I wouldn’t exactly want to run into them in the tournament, especially since their only route to the NCAAs may be the Hockey East playoff title. Staying East, how about the ECAC playoff pairings? It’s a little weird to see both Cornell and St. Lawrence on the docket for the first round, isn’t it?

Jim: Cornell and St. Lawrence are just a couple of shockers in the ECAC. The other two in my mind are Harvard, a few weeks ago vying just to host a first-round game and now they’ll get a bye this weekend, and Quinnipiac, seemingly positioned to make a run for the title and its first NCAA at-large bid, the Bobcats seemed to self-destruct down the stretch all summed up by an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Clarkson last weekend. Oh, and while my mind is on playoffs, I do want to give a tip of the cap to Army. The Black Knights took home the league title last weekend, the first regular-season championship that the school has earned in the 105-year history of the program. Three years ago, when this year’s seniors were rookies, this team struggled to an eighth-place finish. Under head coach Brian Riley, this group certainly has hit an impressive stride.

Scott: Agreed. Hats off to Army — I’ve always had a soft spot for the service academies. Bouncing around a bit, Bemidji State wrapped up the CHA regular-season title last weekend and now gets an odd week off before the semifinals, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects the Beavers’ bid for a third NCAA appearance in four years. And we’d be remiss not to mention the CCHA as well. As with the ECAC, the top four teams are off this week, but fourth-seeded Notre Dame will be watching the 5-12 playoff series, pitting Ferris State against Western Michigan. The Fighting Irish need wins to get into the NCAAs, and if Ferris advances, that quarterfinal series could be explosive. The Bulldogs have gone 5-2-1 in their last eight, with six of those games coming against Michigan, Miami and — Notre Dame, which FSU beat and tied a month ago. Not exactly the team you want to face at a critical time of year if you’re ND. That wraps up the random-commentary portion of my thoughts, so Jim, you got a shout-out left for anyone?

Jim: I think I’m out of shout-outs for now, thanks. But I will expand on what you’re saying about Ferris State. I think the Bulldogs have to be looked at as a very dangerous team assuming they can advance past the opening round. Notre Dame is fortunate that this will be a best-of-three series on its home ice. But Ferris will likely enter the series with boosted confidence after taking three points from the Irish late in the season. A key for Ferris will be the play of its goaltenders. Both Mitch O’Keefe and Pat Nagle had moments of brilliance down the stretch, but both also have had their struggles throughout the year. Should either of these dufflebags emerge as standouts in the postseason, you might see Ferris as the darkhorse in the CCHA playoffs.