Tuesday Morning Quarterback: March 9, 2010

Todd: Well, Jim, the playoffs are under way, and in 10 matchups last weekend we had one minor upset and one pretty major one. In Atlantic Hockey, No. 9 Connecticut beat No. 8 Bentley on the road Saturday to earn a spot in the league’s quarterfinals. But the big news was Brown, seeded 11th in the ECAC Hockey playoffs, upending Rensselaer, which tied for fifth and had the sixth seed, in three games. To me, it’s a fairly big feather in first-year Brown coach Brendan Whittet’s hat and a pretty stunning way for RPI, a decent if not spectacular team all season, to go out. Your thoughts?

Jim: I think we should also throw Harvard’s road sweep of Princeton — which earned just the eighth and ninth wins of the season for the Crimson — as somewhat of an upset. But obviously, hats off to Brown and coach Whittet. Having to win a three-game series when the home team had all the momentum going into the deciding game is something worthy of plenty of praise. As for RPI, not only has a decent season now come to an end for the Engineers, but also for junior forward Chase Polacek. With no more hockey remaining, the senior’s chances of making much noise in the Hobey Baker race become incredibly diminished.

Todd: Polacek was one the players I expected to get into the top 10 when it’s announced next Thursday, but I can’t see him doing much more than that now. In Sunday’s series-deciding game, he had seven shots on goal but didn’t figure into the scoring — something of a rarity this season. I want to get into the Hockey East standings drama of the weekend, but I just don’t know where to start, other than that Northeastern was the odd team out, joining Providence on the league playoffs sidelines. How tremendously disappointing that finish must be for the Huskies, who were 25-12-4 and made the NCAA tournament last season.

Jim: I think the ending of the Hockey East season was extremely crazy. While Northeastern was a major shocker, particularly given the great season it had a year ago and how well it played in stretches this season, the biggest surprise to me was actually Boston University. The Terriers were left for dead by many this year when they sat in ninth place around the holiday break. Reading Jack Parker’s quotes after Saturday’s game, HE was shocked his team finished tied for third AND will be the third seed in the playoffs. Something else interesting that came out of the final weekend in Hockey East was a decision made by Boston College coach Jerry York. Tied at 3 in overtime on Friday, York knew that to have any chance to win the regular season title, his club would have to win. Still, York decided not to pull the goalie in overtime. The result was a tie and UNH clinching the title. Asked about it after Saturday’s game, York was adamant that it was more important to keep his club’s positioning in the PairWise Rankings that it was to win the regular season championship.

Todd: I was following the end of that BC game, and I was of the same mind as York at the time. When you’re in the race for a No. 1 seed, you need to avoid losses. And while the Hockey East title is an important step, when you put it up against potential seeding for the national tournament, I think the decision was a safe one. Others may have gambled a little bit more, but if you gamble and lose in that situation, you open yourself up for an awful lot of criticism. You wonder, however, whether some of the players were hoping to go for it on Friday and are now a little disappointed that they didn’t, considering that the Eagles won on Saturday. Jerry York is a good enough coach, though, that I’m sure he explained everything to his players.

Jim: From what Jerry told me after the game, his staff had made the decision on Tuesday and discussed it with the team. It doesn’t surprise me, though. Boston College wants to win national championships more than anything. Though NESN analyst Craig Janney, a Boston College alum, ripped York for the move. Guess you can’t please everyone. So the finish was less dramatic in the WCHA, but what can we expect from the playoffs out west?

Todd: I think you can expect a barnburner in North Dakota, where the Sioux will host Minnesota. The first-round matchup is a fan’s dream and a league’s nightmare. It means that only one of the teams that typically bring the most fans to the Final Five will end up in St. Paul. And we have Michigan State hosting Michigan in a CCHA quarterfinal series, and don’t think that won’t be a little heated. Both of those series are games we typically see on the final weekend of conference play, but with Minnesota and Michigan down this season, that timeline got bumped up. Which Hockey East series do you think has the most potential for an upset?

Jim: Seriously, I think every single series has the potential for an upset. Maine’s top goaltender Scott Darling has been suspended indefinitely and there’s no telling if he’ll be around for the Black Bears’ series against Lowell. Merrimack hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2004 and will give BU fits. Massachusetts may have been swept by BC, probably the hottest team going into the playoffs, in the regular season series, but the Minutemen just swept Maine in order to make the playoffs. Finally, UNH, despite winning the league, could face the toughest task. The Wildcats play Vermont, a team that finished eighth but is still in contention for an NCAA berth. A few weeks back, Vermont took UNH to overtime both nights and dominated much of the series. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see seeds 5 through 8 at the Garden.

Todd: To me, that’s what makes whatever Hockey East teams make it into the NCAA tournament such intriguing national title possibilities. Sure, Miami and Denver have been atop the rankings for most of the season and the WCHA and CCHA have had a lot of representation in the polls, but Hockey East teams have had to scrap every night this season to get to this point. You do wonder, however, whether that takes a toll at some point when it comes to one-game eliminations.

Jim: I know I’m biased, but what you mention is the real reason I consider any Hockey East team a legitimate threat in the NCAA tournament. These teams have been playing playoff-like games for a month. Very little will rattle the eventual conference champion. I don’t know if you can say that for a team that had a cakewalk throughout much of the season and its conference tournament. That’s all a few weeks away, though. For now, we can just put our feet up, relax and enjoy quarterfinal hockey. Until next week …


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