In Atlantic City, all bets are off

Well, we have our final foursome: Union, Cornell, Harvard and Colgate. Look familiar? They were the top four teams in the regular season, too. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why byes are important.

Time and a half

Surprisingly, only three of the weekend’s 10 games went to overtime, and two of those games were between Harvard and Yale. There were five overtime sessions in all, but the grand prize for most-overworked rink crew has to go to the gang at Lynah Rink.

The crew took in 3:50 (actual game time) of playoff hockey on Friday night, when Cornell edged Dartmouth 4-3 in double-OT on the game’s 98th shot. It was the longest game ever played at Lynah, going 97:40 by the game clock. The staff did a bang-up job setting the facility up for Saturday afternoon’s NCAA quarterfinal match between Boston University and the Big Red, but that game didn’t go quite as planned either: Not 20 hours following the conclusion of the men’s game, the women played a marathon 3OT contest that ended in an 8-7 Cornell victory a full 4:31 after it had started. Game 2 of the men’s series was delayed about half an hour as a result, and I’m sure there was nobody happier to see the Cornell men complete the sweep – in regulation – than Lynah’s exhausted facilities staff.

Kudos to all those who had a hand in the Big Red’s Wild Weekend Ride. You earned your Sunday off, and then some.

Drama-free Sunday

Harvard and Colgate each concluded their home seasons with a bang in a pair of decisive Game 3 victories. The Raiders slowly pulled away from punchless Quinnipiac, downing the Bobcats 4-0 thanks to six points from the loaded first line of Joe Wilson, Chris Wagner and Austin Smith. Meanwhile, the Crimson pumped six unanswered goals by previously solid Nick Maricic and the Yale Bulldogs to run away with an 8-2 decision in that rubber match. Junior David Valek had a hat trick, scoring once against each of Yale’s goalies, but wasn’t even the first star thanks to a four-point performance by first-line center Alex Killorn.

The fact that Colgate and Harvard won is not quite as interesting to me as how they won – each game was pretty much in the bag by the start of the third period after two days of ultra-tight playoff hockey. I have no particular insight or analysis to explain it, but it’s always been funny to me how often decisive games like those end up as blowouts despite all signs pointing to one final knock-down, drag-out thriller. Food for thought.

There are no sure things in A.C.

As befits a gambling haven, there will be no safe bets for ECAC Hockey teams next weekend. Despite strong seasons and good positions in the PairWise, Union and Cornell will have to earn their bids to the NCAA tournament or hope for a little help elsewhere around the country.

This is to say that there are scenarios out there (play with them yourself!) that have the Dutchmen and Big Red on the wrong side of the bubble, should either fail to win the Whitelaw Cup. That may seem remarkable given Union’s current status as D-I’s sixth-ranked team in the PWR, but such is the case.

Not surprisingly, Harvard and Colgate – each ranking in the low 20’s – will probably need to win the title in order to gain entry to the national tourney. For PairWise neophytes, the standard rule of thumb is to presume that at the end of next weekend, the top 15 teams in the PWR standings (which uses a mathematical formula to rank all D-I programs by winning percentage, strength-of-schedule, and success against other contenders) will be invited to the Big Dance. (Even though 16 teams complete the field, Atlantic Hockey has not – to date – been strong enough to place a team in the top 16 in the PairWise, hence the 15-team generalization.) Complications arise if another, lower-ranked team scores an automatic bid by winning its league tournament – as would be the case with Bowling Green in the CCHA, for example. Then the pool for at-large bids would shrink to 14, and so forth.

Long story short: No one from ECAC Hockey has a lock on a top-15 finish at this point, so there is still some very meaningful hockey to be played from every Jersey-bound corner.