Jim: Is there anything quite like playoff season in college hockey? I know that it’s college basketball that gets all the ratings and TV time, but I have to say, Brownie, that I absolutely love the postseason of college hockey. Maybe it’s because I know spring is right around the corner or that I’m aware that I’ll likely be seeing the most emotional hockey of the year. Whatever it is, this time of year is better than Christmas for me. My favorite part, of course, is sudden-death overtimes, when a team’s hopes and dreams lie on the back of a single goal. The bounce of the puck. A referee’s call or non-call. Last weekend, we were treated to plenty of overtime. Eleven of the 32 playoff games went to overtime, two to triple OT. Seriously, is there anything better than playoff OT, particularly in college hockey where most of the games are of the one-and-done variety?
Scott: Jim, apart maybe from winning the lottery, I can’t think of much. It’s especially poignant when the game has the potential to end someone’s season, as happened Sunday when J.P. Platisha put Nebraska-Omaha into the CCHA quarterfinals with his triple-overtime winner. That overcame a 64-save performance by Wylie Rogers and sent Alaska home for the offseason in one of the most striking results of the 2007-08 season. And Quinnipiac’s Friday win over Brown might have been in Game 1 of that ECAC series, but how often do you see a team score five straight goals and then need an OT winner (off the stick of David Marshall)? Yale’s triple-OT win over Rensselaer Friday didn’t exactly lack for suspense, either. Moving on to this weekend’s games, which contests have your eye as we press toward the NCAAs?
Jim: Well, this is a weekend with major NCAA implications. There are a lot of bubble teams that have less-than-early quarterfinal opponents. In Hockey East, Boston University will host Massachusetts-Lowell with the Terriers looking to make an incredible rise from the outhouse in late January to the penthouse in late March. Boston College will host Providence in a series that could mean the end for the loser’s NCAA hopes, especially if that’s Providence. Vermont will host Northeastern with the Huskies realizing that they need to win the conference tournament to reach the dance and the Catamounts knowing they’ll likely need to reach the Hockey East finals, if not win the whole thing, to advance. In the WCHA, the key series have to be Wisconsin at St. Cloud, Minnesota Duluth at Denver and Minnesota at Minnesota State. St. Cloud is the host, but may still need to advance to assure an NCAA bid. Minnesota Duluth is currently on the outside looking in but could play its way in by winning this weekend. And both Minnesota and Minnesota State are on the bubble and only the winner is assured of staying on the right side. In the CCHA, the biggest series is in South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame must advance past Ferris State to keep its NCAA hopes alive. That’s a lot of series to keep an eye on with just two eyes!
Scott: Yep. And while we’re at it, there’s the ECAC, where Princeton has been steadily slipping down the PairWise Rankings due to losses of its own, and then last weekend’s results while the Tigers were on bye. The Tigers, who play Yale this weekend, may need the ECAC tourney title to make it, as does Quinnipiac, in all likelihood. The Bobcats’ quarterfinal with Harvard therefore becomes another elimination series. Of course, I’m always interested in the WCHA results, but the poster child for outrage this season could end up being Notre Dame. The CCHA has had a good season in terms of its nonconference record, and Notre Dame is a high-profile school that — as everyone knows by now — has been elevated by Jeff Jackson since his arrival there. If ND loses its best-of-3 to Ferris State this weekend, the Fighting Irish are done, which won’t sit well with a lot of observers given the team’s 22-win resume. As always, the numbers are the numbers when it comes to the PairWise, but this is the sort of result that looks unfair no matter what the computers spit out.
Jim: I agree. I think that Notre Dame has played well all season and done so with a somewhat competitive schedule (this is a perfect example of the CCHA’s bottom teams bringing the league down). If Notre Dame can’t win the league, I sure hope the end numbers support its cause. Moving aside from the NCAA picture, there’s one team that could be playing its final game ever this weekend in Wayne State. The Warriors face Alabama-Huntsville in the play-in game of the CHA tournament on Thursday night in what will be the school’s final season of Division I play, for now at least — though you wouldn’t know that if you’ve been reading the news. As I blogged about last week, it appears that Wayne State is negotiating with the Detroit Red Wings to build an on-campus rink that would be WSU’s main facility and the Wings practice rink. Obviously, this won’t be ready in time to save the program next year, but it’s still an interesting development. Your thoughts?
Scott: I’m rooting for Wayne State, both in the short and long term. As I’ve said before in this and other forums, losing teams is plain and simple a Bad Thing for college hockey. Not only would Wayne State’s departure from the varsity ranks likely mean the end of the CHA — a noble experiment that has never had the stability or geography to make it work — but who’s going to want to join the party in Division I when existing teams can’t survive? There’s no upside if Wayne State is really gone for good. And another point — relations between the college game and the NHL haven’t been great lately, thanks to the perception that the pro league is raiding college rosters (see: Okposo, Kyle). If the Red Wings step in and help restore a struggling program like Wayne State, that could go a long way toward healing the rift. Changing directions, we talk mostly about men’s Division I in this column, but the playoff situation in men’s D-III has been fascinating. I’m talking, of course, about Adrian College, the first-year team in the lightly-regarded MCHA which went 26-3 but failed to make the NCAA tournament (the MCHA doesn’t get an autobid). No less a celebrity than sportswriter and novelist Mitch Albom took Adrian’s case public on ESPN, to no avail. I’m not enough of an expert on the D-III selection process to speak definitively on the matter, but I am a believer in the mathematical model used by the KRACH system to rank teams, and examining the D-III KRACH, it sure looks to me like Adrian got hosed. Your take?
Jim: I’m all for the upstart programs, and like you, I don’t have a solid grasp of why Adrian didn’t qualify for the tournament. But this all brings me back to 1999, which Quinnipiac was playing its first season in Division I. The Bobcats (then Braves) entered the MAAC tournament with a 26-5-2 record and at the time were high enough in the PairWise to earn an at-large bid. If QU could win the conference tournament and improve to 28-5-2, it seemed that it would be in a position similar to Adrian — a first-year Division I program with a solid record that the traditionalists at the time had no desire to see in the NCAA tournament (the main reason being that Quinnipiac didn’t play a solid enough schedule that year). Quinnipiac was upset that year in the semifinals by Canisius, fell out of the at-large field and nothing more was said. I don’t know how similar Adrian’s situation was, but it does seem a shame that the team with the best record in the country can’t make the NCAAs. Obviously, the MCHA’s reputation in terms of strength isn’t very high, which seemed to be the deciding factor in all of this.
Scott: True enough, and that’s always the trick when you’re weighing strength of schedule, whether it’s hockey or the soon-to-come NCAA basketball selections or any other sport where decisions have to be made that don’t come straight from the standings. Someone’s always going to be left out, someone’s always going to feel disrespected, and then it’s the pundits’ turn. While we’ve got a minute here, props to the women’s qualifiers for the NCAA tournament in both D-I and D-III, especially two-time defending national champion Wisconsin, which opens its attempt to earn three straight titles against none other than the winner of the previous two NCAA championships, conference rival Minnesota. Until next week …