Tuesday Morning Quarterback: A suspension’s impact

Jim: As I was making out my ballot this week, Todd, it struck me that many of the top 20 teams didn’t exactly have banner weekends. That begins at the top, where Boston College mustered only a tie in two games against Northeastern. The Huskies were a motivated bunch after their head coach was suspended hours before the series began. I was at both games and have to say that Northeastern could’ve won both games as it outplayed BC on both nights. After winning another Beanpot last Monday, it looked like the Eagles were on the right path but now they’re two points behind New Hampshire with two weekends to play.

Todd: When I’m voting, I jot down all the results of the last week and circle the losses in red. I had a lot of red on my legal pad Sunday night, especially in the lower half of the top 20. But with the three BC-Northeastern games last week, I think we saw that the Huskies aren’t that far away from being a quality team, despite their record. You wrote about it in a pre-Beanpot feature. Then again, most teams with three shots at the No. 1 team in the country in a week are going to be pretty pumped.

How do you think the suspensions of Greg Cronin and assistant Albie O’Connell are going to impact the Huskies for the rest of this season, and maybe beyond?

Jim: I think that the suspensions right now are having a positive impact on Northeastern. The team certainly rallied around the situation. The long-term effects, though, are still to be seen. As I mentioned in a commentary piece, the situation could be worse than imagined because Northeastern is already on probation with the NCAA. Obviously, unless there is a formal investigation and report, we may not know exactly what happened. But I fear the worst and hope for the best at Northeastern. They’re a program that has completely turned around under Greg Cronin. It wouldn’t be a good time to shake the apple cart on Huntington Avenue.

Todd: I agree with what you wrote in that column, that Northeastern should have been the cleanest program in hockey given Cronin’s association with two programs that faced sanctions. But you can also understand why people would be skeptical. Deservedly or not, being part of NCAA penalties is something that stays with a coach through the rest of his career, and you have to wonder what a third strike would mean to Cronin’s future in college hockey.

Jim: Though I am not one who likes to perpetuate rumors, I had a number of people say to me this weekend that this could be what sends Greg Cronin back to professional hockey. Selfishly, I hope it isn’t. But I’m also of the school that believes that NCAA rules are oftentimes ridiculous, so I wouldn’t blame any coach who gets fed up with them.

Todd: It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this in the coming weeks and months. But in the much more immediate sense, college hockey has big things happening this week, when three conferences end their regular seasons and two will crown a champion. Rochester Institute of Technology already has the Atlantic Hockey title wrapped up, but the CCHA and ECAC Hockey will go down to the wire.

Notre Dame leads Michigan by one point in the CCHA; Union leads Yale by one point in the ECAC. Think the orders are going to change on the final weekend?

Jim: One point is nothing in the CCHA, as the possibility of a shootout in either team’s games this weekend could be all it takes to flip the standings. I say that league is a coin flip. In the ECAC, I feel like neither team has a cakewalk as Union faces Quinnipiac and Princeton and Yale squares off with Cornell and Colgate. Both teams have the advantage of playing at home. My gut says that Union has simply come too far to let this slip away in the final weekend. This would cap off a dream season for the Dutchmen. Well, at least a dream regular season.

Todd: It would be quite an accomplishment for Union, the last-place team in the ECAC four short years ago, to be the champion. But I’m guessing that a first appearance in the NCAA tournament as a Division I team would mean a whole lot more to the Dutchmen. And, really, it should mean something to all of the ECAC and show those teams that are struggling to get by now that better times might not be too far away.

Jim: That is the one thing about the past four or five years about the ECAC — so many different teams have been in the running for the NCAA tournament. This, obviously, will be the year when the league could break out with three or four entries and given the fact that Rensselaer and Union are likely to be two of those, it indeed should give hopes to the league’s bottom. Then again, Harvard is the league’s bottom this year and it is just a few years removed from its last NCAA bid.

Todd: Whatever happens, I think this year will be a highlight for the ECAC, which now has two teams in the top five of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. I know some people will never be convinced about the ECAC’s overall strength, but Yale and Union have proven over and over again this season how good they are.

Jim: So what games are grabbing your attention this weekend? I mentioned the big ECAC tilts, but in Hockey East I think that fans will be watching to see if Northeastern can do to New Hampshire what it did last weekend to BC. The Merrimack-Maine series is another big one as the Warriors are in position to jump into the top spot in Hockey East if either UNH or BC stumble.

Todd: Beyond the first-place battle in the CCHA, the race for fifth place and the last first-round playoff bye is one to watch. While fifth-place Northern Michigan is hosting Michigan, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Ohio State still have a chance of catching up and getting next weekend off. Ohio State hosts Ferris State Thursday and Friday.

In the WCHA, Denver and Nebraska-Omaha try to keep their MacNaughton Cup hopes alive in a two-game series in Omaha. The Pioneers are two points behind first-place North Dakota, and the Mavericks are another point back in a tie for third. All that and plenty of scoreboard-watching ahead.