Thoughts on the surprising Hockey East first round

These are the three things I think I learned this week.

1. Five overtimes? Really? Five?

I was on the West Coast this past week and when I got the chance, I checked in on the Hockey East scoreboard. I watched with mounting astonishment as the Notre Dame – Massachusetts contest kept going on and on.

And on and on and on.

The matchup expected to be the most lopsided — the fifth-seeded Irish, who were coming in quite hot, against the last-place Minutemen — went five overtimes. And more than halfway through that fifth OT before UMass pulled off the upset.

The game finished at 1:24 in the morning, took five hours and 49 minutes, and goaltender Cal Petersen garnered number one star for his 87 saves in a losing effort.

In the lingo of Facebook and Twitter: SMH!

(Translation for those not into social media: Shaking My Head.)

2. The season ends for Northeastern, UMass, Maine, and Connecticut.

As serious underdogs this past weekend, UMass, Maine, and UConn were expected to end their seasons. The stunner here is Northeastern.  The Huskies had overcome a brutal start to the season and become a top team playing as well as anyone.

Merrimack, by contrast, struggled mightily down the stretch.

When I saw that the Warriors won the opener, I thought the one weekend pick in which Jim and I differed — the second game of this series, in which he picked Merrimack — became a near lock. There was no way Northeastern was losing in two straight to a team that had entered the series with one win in its last 13 and none in its last nine.

Way.

It took most of a second overtime, but the Huskies fell.

SMH.

3. So much for the chasm between the top seven teams in the league and the rest.

The regular season standings pointed to a significant gap after Vermont in seventh place. New Hampshire closed that with a strong stretch drive into eighth, but this first round appeared to be comprised of all mismatches. You could seemingly bet the ranch that there’d be at most one third game and there absolutely, positively wouldn’t be an underdog advancing.

Goodbye ranch.

As noted above, 11th-seeded Merrimack swept six-seed Northeastern. Number 12 seed UMass took five-seed Notre Dame to a third game, thanks to the epic opener discussed at the top of this piece. And Maine took Vermont to 16:05 of overtime of its third game.

Only UNH had the expected smooth sailing over UConn.

Again and for the hat trick, SMH.

55 COMMENTS

  1. It is possible the BU will not get a number one seed, yet who will want to face ANY Hockey East team that gets in the NCAA?

    • Joe – yes it is possible BU will not get a #1 seed. Let’s see what happens the rest of the way in the Hockey East Tournament. BU looks strong BUT so does North Dakota, who will be on a mission, considering what happened at the Frozen Four last year.

      • Looking at the Pairwise, I think anything other than a sweep of Merrimack might drop their PW a little. Getting to the TD Garden is crucial for seeding for the Terriers.

  2. Maine, Merrimack and UMass deserve a ton of credit. Obviously they don’t read, nor do they care much about the odds or underdog status.

    • In defense of Witt: NU had about 25 grade AAAA++++ chances to score more goals and beat Merrimack. NU simply could not find the back of the net. Witt kept the Huskies in both games. Merrimack deserves a ton of credit beating that skilled NU team on the road.

      • I was at the UVM/MC games in Burlington 3 weeks ago. Tirronen, the MC goalie, played an outstanding second game. MC was outshot something like 48-16 but he managed to get them a scoreless tie. It’s not terribly surprising to me that he could help backstop them to a series win against NU. The fact that it was a sweep was somewhat surprising, but after seeing him play that night, an MC series win was not. Even if they had not won a game in over a month.

  3. Curious about the Vermont-BC match-up. We all know Vermont has to win the series to even have a shot at an at-large berth. BUT what if UVM sweeps BC. Do they all of a sudden drop out of the top 16 of the pairwise or even if UVM wins in 3 does the same thing happen?

    • If I understand your question correctly (does BC automatically drop out of the top 16 in the pairwise if they lose the series with UVM), the simple answer is no.

  4. Can switch #11 UMass-Lowell and #9 Omaha. Still have HE vs. HE and HE vs. NCHC. Omaha then goes to St. Paul and Lowell goes to Worcester.

  5. Tom,
    It won’t fly as the 1st (insidious) Rule is ” …avoid 1st round matchups…” and switching UMass Lowell and Omaha actually exacerbates that issue by creating a 2nd HE vs HE matchup. Couple that, with the 2nd (insidious) Rule (allowing Minnesota to play at home,) and then ultimately completely capping the preceding nonsense with the 3rd (insidious) Rule by moving teams here and there for alleged attendance reasons (when past years’ Regional playoff attendance records clearly have shown often this doesn’t improve attendance a wit,) finally resulting ultimately in cases where some teams are punished, even notably punished in their seedings, despite having EARNED, in a successful 30 odd game or so season, a better seeding. I could even foresee a day when a team deliberately loses a last game of the year (e.g., say, a Quinnipiac) in order to drop a notch in the Pairwise to avoid a matchup against a more potent opponent (say, the WCHA Champion) than who they otherwise really SHOULD play (e.g., say, the AHC Champion, maybe a Niagara or even a Bentley.)
    Kind of reminds me of the lunacy of the old Original 6 NHL Playoffs of 40 or so years ago when the League Champion was “rewarded” with a matchup against the 3rd place team while the runner up got to play the 4th place team (?!)

    • Your “first rule” is far longer than just “avoid first-round matchups.” Let me quote it for you so you don’t have to scroll to the top of the page:

      3. Step three is to fill in the bracket so that first-round conference matchups are avoided, unless it corrupts the integrity of the bracket. If five or more teams from one conference are selected to the championship, then the integrity of the bracket will be protected (i.e., maintaining the pairing process according to seed will take priority over avoidance of first-round conference matchups)”

      Your “second rule” isn’t even a problem in this case since as the 15 seed, Minnesota should be playing the 2 seed in an integrity-protected bracket.

      Your “third rule” isn’t even an actual rule. There’s no rule that says teams must be moved for attendance purposes.

      • St. Cloud is playing well enough to beat anybody, but I don’t think they would want to play a rival the first game of the tourney especially at a place where they would be more gopher fans…. But Minnesota may not make it. If I was St. Cloud I’d rather have to play a team that would have to travel. But like I said originally they are playing well enough to beat anybody.

          • St Cloud would probably win cause they have a complete team, but you are naive in thinking that they would rather play an instate rival gopher team that would bring more fans then the huskies would. I’m sure state cloud would rather be facing a different lower seed that would have to travel to them and not bring near as many fans.

          • You really think that the gopher fans will come out with that much support? They don’t get great support when they have a great team. This team isn’t going to be a huge draw in the regional if they make it.

          • Their support has been lacking the last two years, but it wouldn’t even be close in comparison for who would have more fans at the X, it would be easily won by the gophers 3/1, not cause the fans of st. cloud state are bad fans, just cause the program doesn’t have the history.

          • Sure, the crowd would be clad in maroon, but once the puck dropped, the Huskies would no longer have a worry.

  6. I sort of think Jayson starts with a few of the brackets in the wrong regions. His goal is to get Michigan or Notre Dame into Cincinatti, so why not start with flipping the East and Midwest? that gets Michigan to the MW and the double hockey east game to the east. Swap Yale and Mn State, which is just a 13/14 swap, and you have 3 eastern teams in Albany. I would also wonder if you want to maybe swap the new East bracket with the Northeast, setting up a nice game for Worcester on the first night (PC/Lowell) and one of those teams in the final.

  7. East final of Denver-Michigan and Northeast final of Robert Morris-UNO would equate to an attendance of 500 in Albany and Worcester. They both would make the Providence final from last year look like a packed house. Keep worrying about attendance and don’t worry about fairness. Why not just go all in for your attendance “excuse”, disregard PWR ranking for seeding use only for qualification, and send the HE/ECAC teams to Eastern Regionals and send WCHA/B1G/NCHC/AHA teams to Western Regionals. This is the only way to guarantee good attendance at finals.

    • Maybe I’m missing something, DU, but Providence was in the regional final against your Pioneers last year in Providence. Was the attendance that bad? I went back and looked and the paid attendance was 6326, but obviously that doesn’t necessarily tell the story of how many people showed up…Either way, regional attendance is usually pretty poor across the board, so it wouldn’t really surprise me.

  8. You guys always complain about HEA teams never going West. You got your wish! Worrying about the “what ifs” affecting attendance is useless. The Albany bracket… BC-Denver, Yale-Mich… is awesome.

    • Am I the only one you misquote? The NC$$ are the ones worrying about attendance. I never cared, nor complained, about HE teams going west. My only issue is knowing DU will have to always go east and costing me a lot of money to watch them play in person. Things will change, but I agree that right now the Albany bracket is awesome. Just for your information, last year the worst-case “what-ifs” happened in South Bend and Providence resulting in about 500 butts in the seats at both venues for the finals.

      • OK, just scratch the “what if” comment, good attendance will never be guaranteed. I alluded to several other posters in past years… Last year in particular, several complained that BC, BU, PC never go West. These brackets look good to me.
        The final brackets, who knows? My opinion, 1st (even 2nd?) round campus (or near) venues, make more and more sense… More true hockey fans who really care about their teams would be able to attend.

        • Maybe I am just selfish, but I really hate paying top dollar to support my team. None of these ideas about how the tournament should be run in the future, will mitigate the “visiting” teams last-minute traveling expenses.

          • What about setting it up so that there are 1-8 in the east and 1-8 in the west and the winners meet for the championship? That way as a western team you would know if your team makes it you would be in ST. Paul or Denver, or Chicago or Detroit, etc. Honestly this is probably a really bad idea because there aren’t always 8 deserving teams in West/East, but it would help knowing that your location is pretty set if you get in—you to X location.

          • That is true… Unless you (in Denver? or CC? are the home team, either at a campus location or in a nearby regional. Travel time is a huge problem in the Mountain West, or the Midwest. The eastern schools are so much closer together. I’m in Albany, NY… No more than a 3 hr drive to Boston, 4 to Providence RI or Manchester NH, 3 to Bridgeport, NYC… Can be out and back in a day if I don’t want to pay.

  9. Everyone has the way they think the playoffs should run so I think I will put in a way I believe would best work for the players, fans, and even the NCAA.
    1st round will be played on campus in a best of 3. The top 8 teams will have have home ice advantage. This will make the regular season games mean more. 1 will play 16, 2 play 15 etc. Each school will be given 1/2 of the tickets for there fans, those not sold will go on sale game day.
    2nd round (4 games) will be played in the arena that will be holding the next year final 4. This would be great for college hockey fans, 4 great games in one arena on one day.
    3rd round would be the final 4.
    What this does is make the regular season exciting to get into the 8, teams are going to have to play harder schedule. Bring more excitement to college hockey fans, and TV Networks, plus the NCAA would be making money.

    • The NC$$ would never go for your idea. First, it is inherently unfair on balance. There is no way to expect a #13/#14/#15/#16 seed to have any chance of beating a top 4 seed two out of three on their home ice. How many of their fans would actually travel to see them play? Second, do you think the NC$$ would let any team host a 1st round in an arena that holds barely, or less than, 3,000 people? As PWR rankings are currently, Providence (3,030) and Harvard (2,776) would host. Can you imagine if Princeton (2,100) or Union (2,504) got to host a 1st round game. Even Quinnipiac, ranked #1 currently, only can hold 3,286.

      • DU, let me respond to your post.
        1) If a lower seed fails to beat the upper seed….is this not what is expected? Iow’s, the NCAA does not want a #16 team in the FF. With the one-game-elimination format in use now, the higher seed is statistically less likely to advance when c/w a best of 3 series. It would only be used in the first round, in Tom’s hypothetical…..and mine.
        2). Fan support would be just fine since the home team would very likely fill the arena. Look at it this way, Denver will only have to trek to The Ralph….which is better than Albany…:) Just messin’…..hope you appreciate my humor.
        3) The NCHC, B10, and most of the WCHA teams have reasonably sized arenas. Remember, you have to compare the current paucity of fan attendance we now see vs completely filled campus arenas. If UW, MN, and UND filled their respective arenas, that would nearly equal current regional attendance….for the entire country.
        The bottom line is this; current regional format does not work. Tom’s proposal would increase attendance, we still have an East-West regional of sorts, teams get to play in their own geographical area, and the FF will have the East vs West appeal…..more than already exists. The only downside I can think of? It might be hard to convince the East to accept the Gopher’s as an Eastern team come tourney time…:)

        • They used to use home ice and went away from it for the NCAA tourney so I am not sure why everyone is eager to try something that was deemed a failure in the past. Agreed that attendance is an issue and that will keep happening unless something new is tried. As an interim step to see if it helps attendance pick one east location and one west location for the next few years (lets say Boston and St Paul for arguments sake) and bring 8 teams to each. 8 teams in each facility for a Thur/Sat and Fri/Sun schedule. 8 teams at each location would certainly have a higher number of tickets sold I would think and if you focused on college hockey locations where there are built in fan bases it would help a lot.

    • Tom, I agree with your tourney set up….with one tweak. There is one factor nobody seems to discuss when it comes to the NT…..airline/hotel costs. Purchasing an airline ticket 5-7 days prior to flying is prohibitive for many people. Having a 2-week window lowers costs substantially. We talk about fan support now, the biggest hindrance for most ppl comes down to airline costs.

      I would suggest having two regional locations (east and west) for the 8 winning teams that come out of the on-campus games. I stated earlier these locations should be in cities that can provide a set of criteria that would be most fair to the teams involved, but also provide the kind of setting the NCAA would find advantageous for CH. I think Boston and MSP would be perfect locations, but I am sure there are other venues that work. With ASU making their debut season in CH, Denver could also be a reasonable choice. In the East, I am not sure if there is a better location than Boston….New York? You provide a bye week after the on-campus games so fans can more economically make travel arrangements.

      Lastly, you pick a FF championship location as is done now. However, I am against locations that lack any kind of hockey atmosphere. The idea of using the NT as a means to market or promote CH is based on flawed and poorly thought out rational. Playing the FF in Tampa or St. Louis has done zilch for CH’s growth, interest, or financial enhancement. Chicago, MSP, Boston, Denver, Detroit…..these cities are where the FF should be held imo.

    • Home playoffs are, IMHO, just not fair and not a great idea. There is already a sense in college hockey of the haves and have nots with the larger programs like BC, BU, UND, DU, etc, etc, etc making the tourney far more often then not and now you give those top programs a first round at home that is best of 3. You may as well just cut the tourney from 16 to 8 and have those top teams move on. They will have a staggering high winning percentage in those series. There is a reason that college hockey moved away from home playoff games. We don’t need to go back to that. And I say all of this as a UND fan. I can think of maybe two years in the last 10 that they wouldn’t have had a home series and I think that does nothing to help college hockey. Lots of other ideas that can be tried first before going to home series for the higher seeded teams.

      • Those teams have all had success. They deserve home ice in a best of three, that’s what the entire regular season is for… I’ve never heard of any sport giving the worse team a home advantage. Therefore, home playoffs are fair and make sense. I’d like to hear your theory of how to handle a playoff if you don’t believe in seeds.

  10. would be great to see UND, SCSU and MN all at the Xcel like the finally 5 but obviously MN has to make the tournament and one of the better two teams has to drop a bit. Would be great and tons of fans. GO SIOUX!

        • According to Jayson’s logic, he is considering Minnesota as the B1G champion (auto-bid) based upon conference record (they win the tie against Michigan). Granted this does not mean Minnesota would make the tourney but it is Jayson’s way of deciding who gets the conference auto-bids.

        • If Michigan stays in the top 5 PWR, a Gopher sweep would undoubtedly move them up enough spots to make the top 13. This makes the leap of faith that things stay equal, in PWR ratings, until they meet.

      • I’d say if Michigan sweeps the Gophers, Minnesota’s chances would be exactly what they are now-Autobid or nothing.

        Getting swept would likely eliminate any at-large possibility, but it’s not like the Gophers have much of an at-large chance right now anyways. They will likely need to go at least 3-1, if not 4-0, against PSU and Michigan to have any chance of finishing in the PWR top 13-14 without winning the Big Ten tourney.

    • I’d rather see St. Cloud and North Dakota duke it out in the frozen four not the regional. And since minny is the worst team in the state I am not expecting them to make the tourney, could have helped their cause by at least splitting last weekend they couldn’t manage that.

      • HockeyState, I would like to see UND/SCSU meet later rather than earlier in the NT as well. The problem is, there are other very good teams that could make the same argument….namely some of the top-ranked Eastern teams. Yes, UND & SCSU are likely two of the better teams in the country, but there are at least 5 or 6 teams in the country that could argue they are just as good as both of these teams. As long as the top teams do not meet in the first round, I don’t know if you can ask for much more than this. When you bring in all the other ridiculous criteria the NCAA now uses (attendance, geographical location, avoiding intraconference match-ups), it becomes very difficult to avoid top-level teams from meeting earlier than we would like.
        Until there are changes in the NT, it will be hard to avoid top-level teams meeting sooner than would otherwise occur. Keep in mind HockeyState, there’s still quite a bit of movement happening in the NCHC and other conferences. I think DU and Miami are playing as well as anyone right now. Granted, UND has been short two of their top three players, but right now I think it is premature to consider SCSU or UND as the two best teams in the West.

    • Yes SCSU and UND in frozen four would be good., I wont mind ending the huskies season again this year. However there is no lock both will make that even they are both ranked pretty high.

    • Mankato also has a relatively decent chance to end up there if they qualify. St Cloud and UND are too closely ranked to end up in the same regional unless one of them tanks. The Gophers have to play there if they do qualify as a host team. My guess is that they will need an autobid just like Mankato to make it happen.

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