This Week in the ECAC East-NESCAC: Feb. 18, 2010

Yes, it is true.

The final weekend of the regular season is upon us and there is quite a lot at stake for virtually every team. Playoff eligibility, seeding and potential home-ice positions are up for grabs in both conferences and, ironically, the scheduling gods have deemed it necessary to obtain all of those conference points by playing only interlocking games between the leagues.

Straight up, it is an ECAC East vs. NESCAC team showdown as all 10 teams in each conference find themselves playing the final weekend against opponents that are not in their respective league. This is the ultimate help yourself weekend where you can only hope and watch, to see if one of the other inter-conference matchups helps your team out by the results in these final two games of the regular season.

So clearly the focus and attention for all teams is take care of your own business on the ice and control the things that your team can control.
Based on the strange quirk of the schedule, the matchups this weekend play out like one of the holiday tournaments — there are four teams, two games for each, and everyone is treating points like they are a championship trophy.

The difference is that two teams could hit the mother lode and gain four points over the weekend, which would be really bad news for the two respective opponents on back-to-back days. Of course, that is a best and worst case scenario so let’s look at what is facing each of the dueling travel partners this weekend.

More importantly, let’s look at the matchups noting who has the most to gain, lose or otherwise play for something important leading into the first round of the conference tournaments next week.

(*Denotes home team)

ECAC East : Norwich and St. Michael’s
NESCAC: Tufts and Connecticut College*

Overview: This one is interesting if only for the reason that the ECAC East teams have nothing to play for and the two NESCAC squads are fighting for their playoff lives.

Second ranked nationally, Norwich has already clinched the regular season title and the top seed in the postseason while St. Michael’s will be looking forward to the postseason in the NE-10 conference tournament along with five other D-II teams in New England.

For the NESCAC schools, Conn. College is fighting to move up into the eighth and final playoff position and will need a four point weekend to challenge for it with some needed help elsewhere. The Camels have won three games in a row for the first time this season and hope that they can finish the regular season on a roll.

Tufts is currently in seventh position in the conference and has an opportunity to move into sixth with a good weekend combined with poor results for Hamilton. The Jumbos are entering the weekend having gone 3-1-2 in their last six games with the intent of finishing out the season with a winning season on home ice since they will be a road team in round one of the conference tournament.

Prediction: NESCAC teams take the weekend with Tufts sweeping a pair behind the outstanding goaltending of Scott Barchard and Conn. College taking the final game against St. Michael’s, which leaves them short of making the playoffs

ECAC East Teams : New England College and St. Anselm
NESCAC Teams : Bowdoin and Colby*

Overview: This one has all of the makings of a frantic hockey weekend in Maine. Everyone has something at stake and the points from the weekend will possibly determine the top and the bottom of the NESCAC conference tournament.

For NEC, the challenge is to move out of the seven spot with just one point separating them from Southern Maine and the University of Massachusetts-Boston. The Pilgrims have stumbled over the past three weeks going just 2-4-0 and will now play their third weekend on the road in the last month. St. Anselm, like St. Michael’s, already knows that they are entering the D-II tournament on a roll but will strive to finish as high in the league standings as possible.

Currently the Hawks are coming off a great win on the road against a nationally ranked Amherst team that leads the nation in penalty killing and is among the leaders in power-play efficiency. The hawks scored two shorthanded goals on their way to a 4-3 win so they are sure to play their best in Maine and compete with Babson and Castleton for second place in the regular season.

For Bowdoin, they have a chance to clinch the top seed in the NESCAC tournament but have four teams right behind them ready to claim the top spot with a good weekend. Colby, on the other hand, is in a battle at the other end of the standings where just a couple of points can clinch a playoff berth and return the White Mules to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year.

Prediction: For this quartet it is feast or famine and for the NESCAC teams it’s a feast at the expense of the ECAC East teams. Both Bowdoin and Colby play very well on home ice and will sweep the weekend for four points each likely creating a quarterfinal matchup between the two next week. Both teams have faced each other twice with Colby winning both so this weekend could determine a third game for bragging rights in Maine.

ECAC East Teams: Skidmore and Castleton*
NESCAC Teams: Middlebury and Williams

Overview: It’s really hard to believe that every matchup has important ramifications but once again with all of these teams, there is a lot at stake. For Skidmore, a home-ice playoff berth is on the line and a chance to move past their travel partner into third with a good weekend and a poor one at Castleton.

Bowdoin's Graham Sisson looks to add to his power play goal total and keep the Polar Bears atop the NESCAC standings.

Bowdoin’s Graham Sisson looks to add to his power play goal total and keep the Polar Bears atop the NESCAC standings.

For Castleton, their late season run has moved them from the bottom of the league standings to third place with a chance to match last season’s second place finish. For the NESCAC teams both Middlebury and Williams have been playing great hockey and are trailing league leader Bowdoin by just one and two points respectively. Taking the top spot with an opportunity to host is probably not at the front of either coach’s mind but keeping the second half roll is a must for the final two games of the season.

Prediction: No this is not a pro-NESCAC bias or partisan view. There is a reason that the Panthers and Ephs have been nationally ranked virtually all season and this weekend they will show their ECAC East rivals just why. Their overall game has been more consistent and Skidmore and Castleton have both faced struggles with consistency between the pipes. Another pair of four pointers for the NESCAC teams while Skidmore and Castleton will look for help elsewhere to maintain their positions.

ECAC East Teams: University of New England and Southern Maine*
NESCAC Teams: Wesleyan and Trinity

Overview: Unfortunately two of the teams here already know their fate. While newcomer UNE is guaranteed the eighth seed and a matchup with Norwich in the first round of the ECAC tournament, Wesleyan has already been eliminated from postseason play and will pack it in after the game on Saturday afternoon.

This won’t change the level of intensity for either of these teams as they would love to play the role of the spoiler if possible. Southern Maine enters the weekend tied for fifth in the standings with UMass-Boston but is 0-7-1 in their last eight games and has struggled in both ends of the ice.
Trinity is currently just one point out of a home-ice berth and could finish anywhere between second and sixth based on outcomes across the league. The Bantams seem to play their best when it counts the most under head coach Dave Cataruzolo so don’t be surprised with a Trinity sweep this weekend to put the pressure on their NESCAC brethren.

Prediction: OK, yes it looks like another NESCAC sweep as Trinity and Wesleyan take advantage of key matchups and win both games this weekend. Southern Maine will need to rediscover its game and get some consistent goaltending for any positive result this weekend or moving into the playoffs next week where a couple of points at home could find them playing there next Saturday.

ECAC East Teams: UMass-Boston and Babson
NESCAC Teams: Amherst and Hamilton*

Overview: Babson is fighting to keep hold of its second place position in the conference. After a 6-0-1 run, the Beavers lost two tough home games last weekend against Williams and Middlebury and now go on the road to log some serious miles between Amherst and Hamilton. UMB comes into the weekend with a chance to get home-ice and trying to relive their magical run from last season that saw them struggle down the stretch but get it going in the playoffs all the way to the conference finals against Babson.

Hamilton is currently in sixth place in the NESCAC conference with an outside chance of moving up to fifth but definitely focused on strong results and not moving backwards. The Continentals have gone 7-2-1 in their last ten games and hold the head-to-head tiebreakers with Colby and Tufts. Norm Bazin’s team is getting healthy at the right time of year and is always tough to play in the bullring-like atmosphere in their rink.

Prediction: Amherst has proven to be a tough competitor all season and while they stumbled last week against a tough St. Anselm team, The Lord Jeffs don’t frequently stumble on home ice and won’t this weekend making the pursuit of the top spot very interesting in the NESCAC conference. Hamilton and UMass-Boston will split their games this weekend while Babson catches the wrong teams on the wrong night/afternoon and looks for help in the other interlocking match-ups.

All right, the last games of the regular season are upon us. I want both leagues to come out playing their best hockey, keep it clean and clinching in the corners. Yes, like a pre-fight discussion from the ref before a title bout, this weekend brings heavyweight impact everywhere.

So, go to your corners and come out ready to fight for those all important pucks.

“Drop the puck.”

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