Todd: It’s down to the last week of the regular season for three of the six Division I leagues, and in those, there’s plenty left to be decided. Maybe not at the top, with Miami having clinched the CCHA title, RIT with the Atlantic Hockey crown and Yale two points up on Cornell and Union with two games to play in ECAC Hockey. But you’ve got jostling for first-round byes and home ice all over, so a lot should happen this weekend. But my first question to you, Jim, is this: Does Yale come away with the ECAC title after this weekend, share it with another team or miss out altogether?
Jim: Well, facing Princeton and Quinnipiac, two teams that have been Jekyll & Hyde this year, makes that question all the more difficult. I’m not an ounce surprised if Yale sweeps the weekend but I’m also not shocked if Yale finishes third. The ECAC is simply too volatile to believe that anything is locked up. The league also has some heated races around the first-round bye (top four) and first-round home-ice bubbles. Colgate, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence will fight to the finish for the fourth seed while Harvard is trying to hold off Princeton and Brown and finish eighth in order to get a first-round home playoff series. I’m figuring nothing is really known in the ECAC until 10 p.m. on Saturday. There are similar races in the WCHA and Hockey East as well, but both of those leagues still have two weekends left to play. Interestingly in Hockey East, both Boston College and New Hampshire now control their destiny in the race for the league title. BC is four points behind UNH with the two teams squaring off the final weekend of the season. If either club wins out the remaining four games in their schedules, it’ll clinch the league title.
Todd: In the CCHA, Alaska is hoping to hold onto a first-round bye, but it has nothing to say about it because it plays rival Alaska-Anchorage in a nonconference series this weekend. The Nanooks are in fourth, one point ahead of Nebraska-Omaha (which also is a non-factor this weekend because it’s out of CCHA games, too), with sixth-place Northern Michigan three points back and seventh-place Michigan five points back. Remember that CCHA games are worth three points, so a Michigan home-and-home sweep of surprisingly downtrodden Notre Dame and at least one regulation or shootout loss by Northern Michigan at home against Lake Superior State, and the Wolverines get next weekend off. I think these computations are just practice for playing with the PairWise in a couple of weeks. Are you surprised by any of the PWR movement lately?
Jim: Not that I’m surprised by it, but a somewhat abnormal drop occurred last Friday night. Vermont, which we’ve been talking about for a few weeks because of the fact the Catamounts were in eighth place in Hockey East but entered last weekend ninth in the PairWise, took an almost unheard of 12-spot drop after an overtime loss to New Hampshire on Friday. Vermont fell from ninth to 21st with the one loss. Some might have questioned why, particularly given the fact that UNH’s solid record means losing to the Wildcats wouldn’t necessarily damage a team’s RPI. But, for Vermont, UNH is also a team under consideration, thus losing to the Wildcats hurt the Catamounts record against TUCs. That was just enough to sway a bunch of PairWise comparisons and crush Vermont’s NCAA tournament stock value.
Todd: You start looking at the teams around the 25 mark in the RPI — the top 25 are considered teams under consideration, one of the PairWise comparisons — and a win here and a win there make a big difference as to who gets counted in that comparison. For example, Massachusetts is out right now at No. 26, so that actually helps Vermont because the Catamounts were 1-2 this season against the Minutemen. Will Lake Superior State or Merrimack climb into the top 25 to change things up a little bit? We’ll see. But on the other end of things, the top four have been pretty stable for the last few weeks, except for this week’s swap of Denver and Miami, putting the Pioneers in the No. 1 overall spot. I don’t want to step on Jayson Moy’s Bracketology toes too much here, but if the season finished today, the top four seeds, in order, would be Denver, Miami, Wisconsin and St. Cloud State. By the book, Denver should get sent to St. Paul for the regionals, but with it looking like Minnesota will miss the NCAAs again, I’m guessing the Pioneers get shipped east (because they have to fly regardless) and the committee puts Wisconsin or St. Cloud State in St. Paul. Is that fair?
Jim: Is that fair? No. Does it help generate ticket sales for the West Regional? Yes. And when you take that into consideration, you are thinking like a committee would. Trust me, no team want to see their team shipped clear across the country. But odds are as many Denver fans (or just as few, depends on how you look at it) would go to Worcester. Speaking of fair, I’m wondering if Bemidji State gets upset in its single-elimination conference tournament how much griping there would be that two CHA teams get into the NCAA field. With a maximum of six (possibly five) games left in the season, there’s almost no chance Bemidji would drop too low in the PWR to not get an at large bid. But, if Robert Morris can upset the Beavers (like it did three weeks ago) half of the four-team CHA would earn an automatic bid. My gut says even with Bemidji State proving it belongs a year ago, we’d hear a ton of complaining from the bubble teams (and their fans).
Todd: I’ve heard that scenario plenty of times already, all of them in a doomsday fashion. And I can’t disagree. While within the rules that we’re playing by, that doesn’t exactly provide a level playing field when it comes to getting into the NCAA tournament. A CHA team could get into the NCAA tournament with a 2-34 record if it won the right two games. Of course, that won’t happen because this is the last year of the CHA (Niagara could theoretically earn the automatic bid with a 9-23-4 record this season), but let it be a lesson in why conferences shouldn’t be allowed to dwindle to four teams.
Jim: Amen to that, though I don’t think that anyone would argue that the CHA didn’t have a lot of alternatives. Anyway, lots of big games on tap this week. Obviously, we’ve mentioned the battles in the ECAC but Hockey East also has some teams fighting for position. Vermont will have its hands full with Boston University as the Catamounts host the Terriers for two in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal. Vermont is desperate for points in the standings as it looks to avoid missing the playoffs a season after a Frozen Four run. Another big series is Maine traveling to Merrimack for two. Thanks to a five-game unbeaten streak, the Warriors (despite sitting in eighth place) could get home ice if they can stay hot. Maine, meanwhile, is looking to get back to winning ways after three losses in four games leave the Black Bears worried about maintaining a home-ice bid. What’s on your radar this weekend?
Todd: Besides the jockeying for final position in the CCHA, Colorado College hosts North Dakota in a series that should help decide which team has the edge on the last home-ice spot going into the final weekend. The teams are tied with 25 points. Denver can clinch the MacNaughton Cup and the No. 1 seed in the WCHA playoffs with a sweep at Minnesota State — not an easy feat although the Pioneers pulled it off last season. There’s an interesting series on the nonconference schedule, too: Nebraska-Omaha hosting Bemidji State. We know both will enter the WCHA next season, but will both do so on the heels of an NCAA tournament appearance? Omaha has some work to do, but it could get some RPI points for knocking off the Beavers.
Jim: That’s a really good point you make about the UNO-Bemidji series. This could be a real shot in the PWR arm if UNO could pull out a couple of wins at home. At this point in the season, there’s no way that the Mavericks will take the Beavers lightly. In fact, I think it’s much to the contrary: that Dean Blais’ team will be pumped up with the chance to upset a top team. One to watch for sure. Well, until next week …