Boston College and Merrimack may be engaged in a three-way battle with New Hampshire for the Hockey East regular season title, but the Eagles and the Warriors are also engrained in a race that may send one of these two teams west when the NCAA field is announced.
Both the Eagles and the Warriors currently rank in the top four of the PairWise Rankings (PWR), meaning both would be number one seeds in the NCAA tournament. Another number one team, though, is Yale which currently looks like a near lock to remain in the top four. The Bulldogs, though, are a host of the Bridgeport regional, thus must play in that regional as one of the host schools.
Thus, if both Merrimack and BC are number one seeds, one will play in Manchester and the other would have to be shipped to either Green Bay or St. Louis. The bid in Manchester would go to the team that has the higher PWR between the Eagles and Merrimack.
Right now, that team is Boston College, though only by a whisker. The Eagles sit #3 in the PWR after a tie and loss last weekend against Northeastern. Merrimack is in a tie for fourth in the PWR, though would take the 4th spot by virtue of a higher RPI than Denver.
The individual comparison between Merrimack and Boston College, though, really depicts just how close this race is.
BC has a slightly higher RPI and gets one point for that. They also have a slightly higher record against common opponents and get a second point for that. Merrimack will win the comparison for record against teams under consideration, though must play two more games against TUCs, something that will happen this weekend when they play Maine. Thus, after this weekend, the likely comparison will be 2-1 in BC’s favor. But then you must add in head-to-head play. Each team receives a point for a win in the head-to-head series. Merrimack, thus, gets two more points and BC gets one (that, alone, amplifies how important the head-to-head games were this season).
Final comparison will show a 3-3 tie. When there is a tie, the team with the higher RPI wins the tie breaker, thus right now BC, assuming they keep a higher RPI that Merrimack, would get the nod.
This tie could be broken, though, should BC and Merrimack meet in the post-season. Imagine a game between the two at the Garden that may not only be for a Hockey East title but also to avoid heading west in the NCAA tournament. Talk about some added weight.
All of this could change – significantly – should either team slip down the stretch.
And one other thing of note: New Hampshire could put another wrinkle into this whole scenario. UNH currently sits at the top of a 3-way tie for 11th in the PWR. Should the Wildcats finish the season between 13 and 15 in the PWR that would make them a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament. And because UNH is the host of the Manchester regional, they have to be placed in that region.
Because the NCAA doesn’t allow first-round matchups from the same conference, no Hockey East team would be allowed as the number one seed in Manchester if UNH is the fourth seed. That could result in both BC and Merrimack packing their bags for the big dance.