Tuesday Morning Quarterback: March 16, 2010

Jim: Well, Todd, I hardly know where to begin this week. We’re two weeks into the postseason and two regular-season conference champions have been bounced in Yale and New Hampshire; Alabama-Huntsville guaranteed that College Hockey America will have two of its four teams in the NCAA tournament; and the current PairWise makes it seem extremely possible that only one team from Hockey East will make the NCAA field. Is this a college hockey apocalypse?

Todd: It might be as close as we get. When the last game ended Sunday night, I had to sit back and take it all in for a minute. What an incredible weekend of great games and unexpected results. You have the longest game in Division I college hockey history, the upsets you mentioned, nine Game 3s and the first NCAA automatic bid awarded. I still have a hard time weighing which one was the standout event, but I lean toward the Quinnipiac-Union five-overtime epic from Friday.

Jim: You mentioned the longest game, which occurred in Game 1 of the Quinnipiac-Union series. For those fans living in a bubble, Quinnipiac won, 3-2, in five overtimes. One of the interesting notes from that game that will likely be the answer to a trivia question someday is that Quinnipiac goaltender Dan Clarke finished the game with a shutout streak of more than 140 minutes — or seven straight periods. He’ll go down as the goalie to have the longest shutout streak without the benefit of recording a shutout. Shifting back to the remainder of the games, all of the craziness created some strange NCAA bubble scenarios. Some immediate oddities that come to mind include both New Hampshire and Michigan State are more likely than not to miss the NCAA tournament. Michigan, despite upsetting the Spartans in a sweep, is also on the outside looking in right now. You also have teams like Ferris State, Northern Michigan and Cornell who have either emerged for or are close to locking up an NCAA berth. Seriously, my head is spinning.

Todd: Not to get your head spinning a little more, but in addition to all that, you’ve got teams that might make the tournament without playing in their conference championship weekends — Yale in the ECAC, Alaska in the CCHA. Miami, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Vermont all had to win Game 3s to get to this weekend’s games. The NCAA tournament picture could look a whole lot different with just a few difference bounces of the puck last weekend. But the idea of New Hampshire being on the outside looking in is odd, considering how well it played in the middle of the season to get into a good spot.

Jim: Well, if anything can be gleaned from this year’s PairWise, it’s the importance of playing well in a strong non-league schedule. New Hampshire and Vermont are exhibits A and B. New Hampshire plays Wisconsin twice, Miami twice, Rensselaer, Yale and Dartmouth and goes 1-5-1 out of its league. Vermont plays an equally as challenging non-league schedule, playing Denver twice, Yale, St. Lawrence, Dartmouth, Alabama-Huntsville and Minnesota-Duluth but posts an impressive 6-1-0 record in those seven games. New Hampshire finishes first in Hockey East while Vermont finishes eighth, but Vermont now has the better chance at making the NCAA tournament. Moral of the story: It’s great to play a difficult non-league schedule, but make sure if you do, you win.

Todd: In 1994, Colorado College went from worst to first and won the WCHA regular season title with a 22-9-5 overall record, but it lost the best-of-three first-round playoff series to Michigan Tech in three games and didn’t make the NCAA’s 12-team field. Not long after, the NCAA started awarding two automatic bids — one for the regular season champion, one for the playoff champion — to each of the four conferences that were in play at the time. I happen to like the way things are decided now, but in theory, the NCAA could do this again — with five conferences next season, there would be 10 automatic bids and six at-large spots. I wonder if an idea like that would get any traction whatsoever … at least outside of New Hampshire right now.

Jim: I’ve certainly pondered that over time. In the old tournament, I personally didn’t like as many as eight of the then 12 seeds being determined by automatic bid. But it is difficult to imagine winning a regular-season title and not making the NCAA tournament. Personally, if there is any adjustment to the selection process, I’d like to see the committee return to factoring in record in the last 16 games. I know that when they eliminated that a number of years ago it was because not every team played the same strength of schedule over the final 16 games. But I think there’s something to be said for a team that catches fire down the stretch of the season. Those teams deserve credit for that. Michigan and Boston University are examples this year. Both teams have finished extremely well while teams like Ferris State, Alaska, Bemidji State and even Yale, a little bit, had stumbled to the end and seemingly locked up their bids by December. I know I may be in the minority when I say it, but I really love the “Last 16” criteria.

Todd: I’m on the other side of the “Last 16” argument. I never understood why it was 16 games, not 12 or 10. Did someone just pick 16 out of a hat as the closest you could get to half of the 34-game regular season without making it an odd number? It seems awfully subjective to say that the second half of the season means more than the first half, when everything else in the process is objective in terms of measuring a team’s play over the entire season. It’s not good to see a team back into the tournament down the stretch, but if it had a dynamite first half and a less-than-stellar second half and still had the qualifications, I say they deserve to get in. Teams that catch fire down the stretch already have the automatic bids from conference tournaments as their ways of getting in the NCAAs.

Jim: Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree here. So who do you like this weekend? I’m going with Boston College in Hockey East, Cornell in the ECAC, Air Force in Atlantic Hockey (how can you go against them in March, right?), Michigan as the stunning victor in the CCHA and Denver taking home the WCHA title. You?

Todd: I’m going to agree with you on Cornell and Denver, but I’m going to take Boston University in Hockey East, Miami in the CCHA and RIT in Atlantic Hockey. Then again, that’s a lot of top seeds I picked, and this doesn’t look like the year of the top seed in conference tournaments. Oh well. It should be fun to watch it play out regardless. Stay with USCHO this week for wall-to-wall coverage of the tournaments, with live blogs during games and full coverage after them. Add in the PairWise Predictor and Bracketology leading up to the selection show Sunday morning (11:30 a.m. Eastern, ESPN2) — we’ll have a live blog there, too — and it’s going to be a great weekend. Until next week …


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