ECAC East/NESCAC wrap: Feb. 20

Wow! That is really about all I can say after Sunday evening’s regular season finales in the NESCAC conference put a nice bow on a sensational regular season and definition on the quarterfinal round of the conference playoffs beginning next weekend.  Surprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement among those teams that were so tightly bunched up in the middle of the standings in both conferences, so Skidmore and Tufts maintained their position in the fourth and final home-ice position in their conferences. That means the matchups are set, and I now have about a week to start figuring out who will advance from the round of eight and be playing some more important hockey in the month of March.
Here are the quarterfinal pairings for next weekend:
No. 8 University of New England at No. 1 Norwich
No. 7 New England College at No. 2 Castleton
No. 6 Southern Maine at No. 3 Babson
No. 5 Massachusetts-Boston at No. 4 Skidmore
Before the weekend even started, we knew the top two seeds and the bottom seed, especially with St. Michael’s and St. Anselm ineligible for conference play as D-II schools (automatically qualify for the NE-10 championship tournament). What was really unclear was seeds three through seven, and again everyone did enough to keep their spot, but not really move up in the standings.  Winners in the scheme of things would surely be Babson, which took three points on the weekend and forced a late comeback by Norwich for a 4-4 tie in the season finale, and Skidmore, which split its home-and-home series with Castleton and avoided a trip to Boston for the quarterfinals. Losers in the mix would have to be Southern Maine, which managed just two points on two ties and couldn’t move up beyond sixth place, and New England College, which managed just one point in tying Southern Maine before losing to the University of New England in the final game of the regular season.
This conference tournament has been very interesting in recent years, including a season where the numbers seven and eight seeds played for the championship, so anything is possible. Not sure there is a hot team in the mix based on the final few weeks of play, but this year would not surprise me if anyone came out of the conference if a major contender has any kind of hiccup, or we see a masterful three-game run and hot goaltending — all possibilities from the teams playing for the title.
Here are the quarterfinal pairings for next weekend:
No. 8 Hamilton at No. 1 Amherst
No. 7 Trinity at No. 2 Bowdoin
No. 6 Wesleyan at No. 3 Middlebury
No. 5 Williams at No. 4 Tufts
Much the same applied to NESCAC as to ECAC East, in that we knew the top seed going into the weekend but had some interesting races for almost everything else remaining. Colby, Hamilton, and Connecticut College had a hard-fought battle for the eighth and final playoff spot, with Hamilton earning the spot on a tiebreaker with Connecticut College. The home-and-home series between Trinity and Wesleyan fell out as a split, with the home teams winning, so there were no position changes in the six and seven spots. Bowdoin and Middlebury clinched their second and third positions with wins on Friday and Saturday respectively, while Tufts needed a big win at home over Colby to deny the Mules any postseason hopes and hold off Williams from taking the number four and final home ice berth away.
So what does this past weekend tell us about the conference playoffs coming up? Well, the tournament clearly appears to be going through Amherst, which finished the regular season with just one conference loss and a total of 34 of a possible 36 points in league play. If the season finale against Middlebury (won by the Lord Jeffs by a 2-1 score) is any indication of the level of play we will see in the tournament, the action will be brilliant, and the outcomes not a foregone conclusion based on seeding or regular season records.
It may be hard to believe, but it’s all serious now.  It’s “win or go home time” again. One short week for one game that will decide who advances to the conference final four and a chance for winning the title and a NCAA tournament berth. Everything since November has led to this, and now everyone has a clean slate and a chance for postseason glory.
Seriously?  Drop the puck!


    • Picking nits, to be sure…
      But, like many of the land-grant colleges founded around the same time, The University of Denver is appropriately abbreviated DU. For other examples, see:
      University of Colorado: CU
      University of Oklahoma: OU
      University of Kansas: KU
      University of Nebraska: NU (or just ‘Nebraska’)
      Again. This means precisely nothing, but as a DU alum (and fan…) I like to correct this when I see it.

  1. I am looking forward to the Denver/UND game, they know each other very well (obviously). Should be a great game. I think the winner of that game should win the final, all though the BC and QU and no slouches. Great frozen four, well balanced teams all around.

    • I agree, though I wish the first games were Quinnipiac versus UND or DU, and BC versus the other west team. If the two best teams are from east let them meet in final game, if they are from the west, so be it.

  2. As a big Hockey East fan I was pissed that NCHC got 6 teams last year with one team 1 game over .500. I thought HE was overrated this year, but this stupid Pairwise system is at fault. My Lowell team got screwed last year, but if we had humans picking ( lets say the final 6 or 8 spots ) this year, Notre Dame wouldn’t have made it. BU was way overrated by the PW computers. North Dakota and Denver look impressive and Quinnipiac plays a great team game. BC was outplayed by Minn-Duluth, but Demko stole it. Denver over QU in the final…

    • Notre Dame belonged in. Played Mich to OT. I thought they were the better team for the first half of the game.
      I agree that 6 is tough to justify though.

    • Thing about the Pairwise, at least the formula is “fair” to all of the teams – i.e. you don’t have traditional powerhouses teams like Duke and Kentucky playing under a different set of criteria than mid-major teams.
      Everyone in hockey plays under the same rules and the computer plays no favorites.
      If you suck it up against bad competition, you’d better win your conference tournament and get that auto-bid, or you don’t play in the national tournament – end of story.
      To me, there’s something to be said for a system that’s so black and white…

      • Just because it’s done impartially doesn’t make it fair. If you’re going to use a single objective method to determine everything, it should be one helluva lot more robust than pairwise. No reason not to be when you have computers that can beat champions in one of the most complex games in the world.
        There’s a reason pretty much all the other sports have humans involved in the process.

        • “There’s a reason pretty much all the other sports have humans involved in the process.”
          Yeah. But the reason isn’t a particularly good one.
          Honestly, I agree with the rest of your post, though – the algorithm could use more work.

          • The reason is an excellent one, actually. The computer ranking includes no context whatsoever, and is a very dull instrument indeed. I do think pairwise is better than RPI, but to use it by itself is quite foolish and needlessly limiting.

          • It is precisely the “context” that I find distasteful when discussing the ‘human element’.
            Humans naturally have biases and predilections that predispose them to
            defining “context” in terms that differ from one individual to another. This means that, once you introduce a human component to the equation, certain teams are going to be favored over other teams on terms that are impossible to quantify. Then, decisions get made and justified based on logic that is, well, completely and utterly illogical.
            Put differently, once you start
            talking about “eye tests” and the like, you may as well just say, “Damn the torpedoes! ‘The Committee’ is going full steam ahead!” Then, things like “these guys got screwed last year, so they should *really* get in this year…” become a legitimate part of the conversation. And I hate that.
            Understand, I’m not saying the Pairwise is perfect – simply that I find it to be a better theoretical idea than allowing a committee of people to use “context” and “eye tests” as a wall to hide behind when determining who gets in and who stays home.
            Regardless, if we’re being honest, we’re only talking about a couple of teams at the margin every year, so the net effect of strict PWR vs direct committee involvement isn’t that much.
            As always, intelligent people can disagree about these things.

          • What you’re saying is completely ridiculous. That’s not how selection committees work. They have established criteria and use tools and metrics that are clearly laid out. They don’t just go and do whatever they want with no justification.
            Basically, the committee would be there to see what the pairwise can’t — like that Northeastern was clearly not the same team at the end of the year than the beginning, that Harvard had clearly shown they lacked the ability to compete against top 15 teams. Imagine if Neb Omaha had won a few more games early and had gone into the tournament having lost 8 in a row or maybe won 1 and lost 7 of 8 (not much different). How ridiculous would that have been? A committee could have said “well St. Cloud won the NCHC tournament and UND went 0-1-1, but UND was better over the whole of the regular season, split a road series, and what really did they have to proven in a largely meaningless tournament?”
            Basically the Frozen Four is the teams that had the best regular season records in the top 3 leagues, and the team that had the 2nd best regular season record in the top league. And somehow 2 of them were not #1 seeds. That shows pretty definitively why the human element has value.

    • The #1 team that humans wouldn’t have put in IMO is Harvard. They had plenty of games against tourney caliber teams, and didn’t win very many of them. Michigan would have been a 3 or 4 seed. Northeastern probably would have been a 3 seed. As it happens, it only would have changed the order in which they lost to North Dakota.
      The only team that didn’t get in that really deserved to be was Michigan Tech, though. Neb-Omaha was a good enough team but you can’t finish like they did and have a real case.

    • For the PWR to be truly meaningful, there needs to be a more robust non-conference schedule.
      It would also help to spread out the non-conference schedule rather than front-end load it.
      Ultimately, with 16 teams in the NCAA tournament, it is a big stretch to state that the deserving champion did not make the tournament field.
      If you want a little subjectivity in the field, then take (1) 6 conference tournament champions, (2) 8 PWR teams and (3) 2 committee-chosen teams. In that scenario, we would have the same tournament field except for possibly UMD and Yale. I argue UMD deserved a berth but Yale could have been replaced by Michigan Tech, Robert Morris or (gasp) Minnesota.

      • “For the PWR to be truly meaningful, there needs to be a more robust non-conference schedule.”
        Couldn’t agree with this statement more!

  3. I would say ND is the team to beat. As a BC fan is seems they are still finding their game, but for those who believe they are unimpressive, beware. When BC is on their A game they are as talented and skilled as anyone in the country. BC has absolutely OWNED UND in the last 10-12 years, but I think the coaching change at UND could push them over the top. All in all I will never doubt a Jerry York coached team, he is the best in CH history.

  4. union needs a strong showing this weekend – sak’s first shutout would be nice, but wishful thinking – like to see foo and/or veccs retake the points lead

  5. union needs a strong showing this weekend – sak’s first shutout would be nice, but wishful thinking – like to see foo and/or veccs retake the points lead


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