TMQ: Handing out pluses and minuses from the conference tourneys

Todd: With so much to get to this week, it’s tough to figure out where to start. Let’s start with what we saw last weekend. A conference said goodbye, a legendary coach said goodbye and a few teams said hello to NCAA tournament spots that weren’t sealed until they won their conference tournament.

There were lots of pluses and minuses out of the weekend; what story deserves the biggest plus for you?

Jim: I know people may think I’m biased, but I think my alma mater, Massachusetts-Lowell, was the most impressive team of the weekend. They were the only team from last week’s top eight to not lose, and they captured their first league title, something that has been 29 years in the making.

In doing so, they also ended the career of one of the game’s top coaches, Jack Parker. So there is something to be spoken about such a legend who probably on Sunday felt like his team was a lot better than some of the teams that made the NCAA field.

But that is the system we work within and BU doesn’t move on. I heard a lot of flak for that in Boston this weekend, something people all over the country tend to complain about after Selection Sunday.

Todd: Keeping with the trend of picking the team that we personally saw win a conference title, my plus goes to Wisconsin. The Badgers hadn’t been in a WCHA championship game since 2000 and hadn’t won it since 1998. In a field that included St. Cloud State, Minnesota and North Dakota, the Badgers may not have been a popular choice to win the Broadmoor Trophy but they had to in order to make the NCAA tournament.

With a hot goaltender, scorers who are getting the job done and role players contributing to the score sheet, the Badgers are going to be a tough out in the NCAAs. But more on that later. Was there something deserving of a minus for you from the weekend?

Jim: Oh, yes. Both Quinnipiac and Yale were easy minuses. As much as been made of the Bobcats this season, they choked down the stretch and enter the NCAA tournament with a 5-4-1 record in their last 10 games. I feel like they are entering this tournament limping.

The other team that is struggling is Yale. The Bulldogs had two losses without scoring a goal in the ECAC Hockey Championship and are barely limping into the tournament, so I feel like they’re on a low right now and will struggle through the NCAA regionals.

Todd: You touched a little bit on my minus. Mine goes to Yale, but for shunning the postgame news conference after the third-place game loss to Quinnipiac. As our Brian Sullivan wrote in Monday’s ECAC Hockey blog entry, it created an uncomfortable situation for a lot of people who didn’t deserve it, and I’m talking about the ECAC staff running the event. Win with class, lose with class.

But Yale made the NCAA tournament along with 15 other teams, and that’s what we’ll be talking about the rest of the week. Were you surprised or concerned by the committee’s decision to move teams closer to home and alter what’s known as bracket integrity? (I know Jayson Moy wasn’t; he picked the bracket correctly for the third straight year.)

Jim: I personally agree with Jayson. The NCAA did everything it could to produce a fair tournament field but still ensure that there is a ton of atmosphere in every building.

I look at Manchester, N.H., where I will be covering. You have host New Hampshire about 50 minutes away but you also have Lowell, which is about 25 minutes away. Add in Denver and Wisconsin, two teams that have traveled well, and I feel this could be a region that sells out. Do you agree about the importance of making sure there is a tournament atmosphere?

Todd: I think in that situation, it works out. Lowell and New Hampshire are the higher seeds so you can justify them getting a bit of an advantage in the cheering section. And I don’t really have much of an issue with, say, Boston College getting brought back east and giving the No. 1 overall seed, Quinnipiac, a tougher potential second-round game.

I have an issue when a higher seed has to play in what could be construed as a home environment for another team. You could argue that, because of geography, the Eagles have a better chance at bringing a cheering section to Providence than Quinnipiac does, but from the buzz with the Bobcats this season I don’t know that would be the case if those teams met for a spot in the Frozen Four.

Maybe the bigger issue is whether anything close to a tournament atmosphere has existed at some of the regionals recently. We’ve seen some pretty empty buildings in the last few years. It’s nice to say you’re trying to get a better atmosphere but if it’s not happening even with bracket changes, should it still be a priority?

Jim: I personally dislike seeing the conference tournaments have incredible atmospheres only to have empty buildings at regionals. Would the NCAA be better served with on-campus games for the first two rounds, or is there a need to maybe go to smaller venues? I look at schools like Lowell, BU and UNH in the Hockey East market that all have new buildings and would attract solid crowds.

I guess unless you host in cities where four or five teams are easy to commute, it’s a moot point. And the desire to have a national tournament, where all the teams don’t come from the same league, far outweighs the desire to fill a building.

Todd: There’s really no great solution here. If you take it back to campus, you sacrifice competitive balance. If you leave it in neutral buildings, you risk losing attendance and atmosphere. That may be why calls for changes to the system haven’t really gone anywhere yet.

We almost exclusively stick to Division I men’s hockey in TMQ, but I think we’d be crazy not to recognize the accomplishment of the Minnesota women’s team, which on Sunday completed a perfect season, winning the national championship with a 41-0 record. Going back to last season, the Gophers have won 49 straight games. I could try to come up with superlatives but I don’t think it would do justice to the streak.

Jim: I think that Minnesota’s women accomplished something borderline unbelievable. I think of the days before the NCAA recognized women’s hockey and there were a number of teams to get to the postseason unbeaten, untied. All of those clubs lost tourney games, and that almost happened twice this season to Minnesota, which won two OT games in the NCAA tournament.

That team was hardly the only making history, though, this season as Parker ended a 40-year coaching career with a loss on Saturday. It is difficult to imagine how many players he influenced and taught. There is no doubt that as we head to some great weekends of national tournament hockey that Jack Parker may be on the mind of many.

Todd: It’s certainly not befitting Parker’s career to have him sitting out this NCAA tournament, but the show goes on. There are 12 games across four regionals this weekend, and while I think the Lowell-Wisconsin matchup stands out to me as possibly the best first-round contest, I’ll be interested to see how Canisius does against Quinnipiac. As you mentioned, the Bobcats aren’t exactly on a tear going into the tournament, while the Golden Griffins have won eight in a row. What first-round games do you like?

Jim: I wish I could see the Quinnipiac-Canisius game as I feel like this could be the upset of the tournament. But I am most interested in the defending national champ, Boston College, and how it does against an experienced Union team. So I guess I am saying I wish I was in Providence.