What I Think: Week 22

A few random (and not-so-random) thoughts after the 22nd week of the season:

* I’m guessing there’s going to be a little bit of fire in two series next weekend. North Dakota hosts Minnesota in a WCHA first-round series, and Michigan State hosts Michigan in a CCHA quarterfinal series.

You don’t really need to say too much more about those matchups to generate intrigue. Rivalry games are great; rivalry games in the postseason are tremendous.

The WCHA can’t be thrilled with the fact that either Minnesota or North Dakota will miss out on the Final Five — those two groups provide much of the fan base for the tourney — but that’s the way things shook out in the final standings.

And how’s this for a bad sign for the Gophers: They’ve never won a playoff game in Grand Forks, going 0-5 against the Sioux there. There may have been an NCAA game against Holy Cross there, too.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minnesota pull off the upset next weekend. After two pretty strong outings against Wisconsin this weekend, the Gophers might just be in a playoff frame of mind.

As for the Spartans and the Wolverines, Michigan State won three of the four meetings this season, including both at Munn Ice Arena. Could Sparty be the one to end the Wolverines’ hopes at extending the nation’s longest active streak of NCAA tournament appearances? You’ve got to think the motivation is incredible not only there, but from the Michigan side as well.

Good hockey ahead, I think.

* Three of the four ECAC Hockey first-round series went to three games; none of the CCHA’s four series went the distance.

The latter was a mild surprise, if for no other reason than that Notre Dame couldn’t drum up much of anything against Ohio State. As awful as it is to see your season end, it has to be so much more so when you fall behind 4-0 after the first period of an elimination game and lose 8-2.

* Brown had three wins in the second half of the season before it played at Rensselaer in the ECAC’s 6-vs.-11 series this weekend. It just goes to show you what a fresh outlook can do, because the Bears upset the Engineers in three games to earn a spot in a quarterfinal series against top-seeded Yale.

Even if next weekend is the end of the line for the Bears, that first-round series victory is certainly something first-year coach Brendan Whittet can build on down the road.

* In a week, we’ll know the identity of the first official entrant in the 2010 NCAA tournament; the CHA final is scheduled for Saturday at Niagara.

It’s all but given that Bemidji State will be in the field of 16, either as the CHA tournament champion or through an at-large bid. If the latter happens, get ready for an awful lot of grumbling about the CHA getting two teams in the tournament at the expense of a team from a league with a more difficult conference schedule.

I don’t know if many thought it would have been a possibility until this season, when Bemidji State became a PairWise mainstay. But it’s a product of the current (and, thankfully, expiring) system of the four-team CHA with an automatic bid.

* College Hockey Inc. compiled some stats for former college players in the Olympics, and there were some noteworthy ones.

All three of the Directorate Awards, chosen by the IIHF, went to former college players — Michigan State’s Ryan Miller at goalie, Wisconsin’s Brian Rafalski at defenseman and North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews at forward.

Wisconsin’s Ryan Suter led the tournament in plus/minus at plus-9.

Ohio State’s Ryan Kesler and Wisconsin’s Joe Pavelski ranked second and third, respectively, in faceoff wins.

Not a bad advertisement for college players, it would seem. It’s not a clear victory, but it’s a decent step in building the case.

* Here’s how I voted in this week’s poll:

1. Denver

2. Miami

3. Wisconsin

4. Boston College

5. North Dakota

6. Bemidji State

7. Yale

8. St. Cloud State

9. Alaska

10. New Hampshire

11. Ferris State

12. Michigan State

13. Minnesota-Duluth

14. Cornell

15. Colorado College

16. Northern Michigan

17. Vermont

18. Nebraska-Omaha

19. Union

20. Massachusetts-Lowell