Hockey East teams see their NCAA tournament hopes take a hit

It was just a few weeks ago that Hockey East fans might have been thinking it would be possible for five league teams to qualify for this year’s NCAA tournament.

And while that remains statistically possible, the truth is it is much more possible that the league will get just two teams into the tournament.

While Boston College and New Hampshire seem to be on solid ground in the PairWise Rankings, the system that mimics the NCAA tournament selection process, teams like Massachusetts-Lowell, Boston University and Merrimack are all on the bubble, with both the River Hawks and Warriors on the outside looking in.

A few weeks back, Lowell seemed to be on good footing in the NCAA race, sitting seventh in the PairWise and in the midst of an 11-game unbeaten streak that neared a school record. But at that time there was one reason for concern about the River Hawks: their record against teams under consideration (TUCs).

At that point, Lowell was 2-6 against TUCs but because the NCAA requires 10 games against TUCs for that criteria to be used in comparisons, our PWR was ignoring the record. Being in Hockey East, it’s almost impossible for any team to remain without 10 games against TUCs, so it was just a matter of time before the River Hawks were subject to be judged by their poor record against TUCs.

That occurred a little less than two weeks ago when Lowell fell 1-0 against Merrimack. The Warriors were a TUC, lowering Lowell’s TUC record to 2-7. That same night, Massachusetts became a TUC (a TUC is defined as any team with an RPI at or above .500) with a 5-1 victory over Boston University. Lowell had a win against UMass earlier in the season, thus the River Hawks reached the 10-win requirement vs. TUCs. The result: Lowell plummeted in the PairWise from seventh to 13th.

A loss two days later to Maine, further dropping Lowell’s RPI, pushed the River Hawks to the wrong side of the NCAA bubble. Lowell was at 17th in the PairWise as of Wednesday.

(UMass has since fallen out of the PairWise but Colorado College, another team Lowell beat, has since re-entered, leaving Lowell’s record against TUCs at 3-7.)

Boston University is in a similar situation. A 3-7-1 record since returning from break has the Terriers’ RPI plummeting. Monday’s loss to Harvard in the Beanpot consolation game had even greater consequences. Not only did the loss lower BU’s RPI, it also came against an ECAC Hockey team. When you look at the NCAA bubble, teams like Yale, Dartmouth and Union all have the possibility to be bubble teams come season’s end.

BU is 2-2 against ECAC teams, something that could hurt them when comparing common opponents (another criteria for NCAA selection) against ECAC teams. Had the Terriers won on Monday, they’d be 3-1 against ECAC teams, which would significantly help the Terriers when comparing them to teams like Dartmouth, Union or Yale.

The only Hockey East bubble team that has a positive story is Merrimack. The Warriors went from a team whose RPI was below .500 at the break to a tie for 20th in the PairWise. The good news for Merrimack is its schedule to end the season. The Warriors finish the season with two games each against Boston College, Lowell and UMass and a single game against BU.

All of these teams except UMass are TUCs, and wins over these clubs would not only improve Merrimack’s record against TUCs (currently 5-7-1) but most of these victories would raise Merrimack’s overall RPI.

The Warriors certainly need to do the most work to qualify for the tournament, but at this point Merrimack might be Hockey East’s best hope for a third team in this year’s NCAA field.

The legacy of Boston College’s seniors

My colleague Dave Hendrickson wrote a little bit about BC’s senior class on Monday night after BC’s seniors because the first Eagles class to win four straight Beanpots.

The feat is certainly an impressive one. But when you look ahead to the near future, four Beanpots is just the tip of the iceberg for the history this team could make.

Last March, BC became the first team to win three straight Lamoriello Trophies as Hockey East’s postseason champs (the Eagles legendary coach likes to refer to this as the Lamoriello Cup, similar to, say Stanley?). This March, these seniors could extend that record to four straight and become the first class in Hockey East history to win all four league tournament titles.

In late March and April, the seniors also will battle for the NCAA title. Another victory there would be three national crowns in four years. That has occurred just once before, when Michigan won three straight titles from 1951 to 1953 (Denver also won three in four years from 1958 to 1961, but freshman were not allowed to play sports in that era, thus no team member won more than two).

The fact of the matter is this senior class easily could go down as the most successful class in the history of Division men’s I ice hockey.

“I’m just so proud of our senior class and what they’ve done in their careers,” coach Jerry York said after Monday’s win. “They’re really model citizens for Boston College hockey.”

York understands the legacy this team could write. And the golfer in him believes this could be a team to capture yet another Grand Slam.

“I’ve always thought the college hockey season reflects the PGA Tour in the major tournaments,” said York, comparing the Beanpot, the regular season league title, the postseason tournament and the NCAA title to golf’s four majors. “[The players] want to win Pebble Beach and the Phoenix Open. But we want to win the major tournaments. [The Beanpot] is like the Masters. Each step helps you in the long run.”

What’s going on with BU?

When the Christmas break arrived for Boston University, there was plenty of reason for optimism on campus. The Terriers were 10-5 and had milestone victories already against North Dakota, Boston College, Merrimack and New Hampshire.

But since the break, BU has been a mere skeleton of the team it was earlier in the season. As mentioned above, BU is 3-7-1 since returning to campus and Monday may have been rock bottom as the Terriers finished last in the Beanpot for just the fifth time in the 61-year history of the event and just the third time under coach Jack Parker.

The Terriers lost 7-4 to Harvard. No disrespect to the Crimson, but it hasn’t exactly been a team on fire itself. In its last 17 games, Harvard has just two wins. In the 15 non-wins, Harvard has scored just 18 goals. But in those two victories — both coming against Boston University — the Crimson has struck for 13 goals.

For BU’s Parker, there just isn’t an explanation.

“It’s not the last couple of weeks,” Parker said when asked what happened to his team in the Beanpot. “It’s the entire second semester so far.

“I loved everything about our team the first semester. Then we come back after Christmas and we have not played anywhere near how we played the first semester.”

Parker pointed to the locker room, not the skill of his players, saying he’s befuddled by his Terriers’ inability to emotionally prepare for games.

“There’s something going on in that dressing room,” Parker quipped. “I thought I had my thumb on it. But I do not, obviously, because we just can’t seem to get ourselves emotionally ready to play the way we need to play. We don’t have the discipline or the attention to detail that we need.”

As mentioned before, BU is going to have to fight for its NCAA tournament life. At the same time, though, BU will have to fight to simply host a first-round playoff series. The Terriers are tied with Providence for fourth place with 21 points but have a game in hand on the Friars. Massachusetts-Lowell, which beat BU earlier and will face the Terriers twice next weekend, sits just three points behind.

All of this seemed far from realistic back in December when talk around the BU campus was about a Hockey East title and maybe even another NCAA championship.

That talk is all in the past.

“[Former NFL] coach [Bill] Parcells says you are who you are and you are who your record says [you are],” Parker said. “This is who we are right now. We’re one game over .500 and that’s a long way from where we were in December.”