TMQ: Don’t blink as conference races wrap up

North Dakota clinched at least a share of the NCHC title with a sweep at Omaha last weekend (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Each week during the season we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Jim: Half of the Division I men’s college hockey world has completed the regular season, with Hockey East, ECAC Hockey and Atlantic Hockey all having wrapped up the regular season, and we have four league champions crowned. Yep, that’s right. Quinnipiac and Robert Morris took care of things in their respective leagues but Boston College couldn’t earn the necessary three points against UMass-Lowell and thus Providence, with an easy sweep of Massachusetts, earned co-champion status. The Eagles still took the No. 1 seed in the Hockey East playoffs, but the Friars earned the school’s first regular season Hockey East title.

Personally, I had my eyes all over the Hockey East races on Saturday night and over a 90-minute time span, so much happened. Providence earned the share of the title. UMass-Lowell, with some help from Notre Dame, locked up the final first-round bye. And Merrimack and Connecticut earned the final two home-ice spots for this weekend’s first round. The Huskies did it in dramatic fashion, scoring three goals in the final 17-plus minutes of regulation to tie the game against New Hampshire before winning in overtime.

I know we’ve said stuff like this before, but don’t you just love this time of year?

Paula: I absolutely do. I was watching the races this weekend, too, and of course paid close attention to the Michigan-Minnesota series. As I suspected, the teams split and the Gophers and Wolverines finished the weekend exactly as they started, first and second in the league, respectively, separated by a single point.

After Michigan won so handily Thursday night, Friday’s overtime game was exactly what I expected. Minnesota has shown that it’s a team that adapts well from one night to the next and has repeatedly turned itself around within 24 hours this season — and, in fact, did the exact same thing in Yost Ice Arena in December. After losing to Michigan 8-3 on Dec. 11, the Gophers bounced back the following day with a 3-2 win.

This time, Minnesota kept Michigan scoreless in the third period — a near-impossible feat this season — after the Wolverines scored the tying goal in the second. And Hudson Fasching’s 19th goal of the season was the game-winner in OT.

Not only was that game riveting because of the standings implications, but Minnesota has been fascinating to watch this season for the reasons I mentioned, plus you had Fasching — the team’s leading scorer — come through in overtime, a big player making a big play at a big moment. That’s certainly one of the things we love this time of year.

The other league that I’ve been watching closely is the WCHA. The top three teams in the league — Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech — each swept opponents, changing nothing in the standings at the top. The Mavericks have 37 points to the 35 that the Falcons and Huskies each have, but Bowling Green’s sweep was massive because it took two games from Ferris State, which entered the weekend tied with Northern Michigan, both teams just three points behind BGSU and MTU.

Now the Bulldogs have dropped to fifth place with 29 points, and by virtue of their Saturday tie against Lake Superior State, the Wildcats are a point ahead of the Bulldogs.

Heading into the final weekend of play, the WCHA regular season title is at stake and there is some exciting play in the middle of the standings, too, where four points separate sixth-place Bemidji from fourth-place Northern, and three points separate Bemidji from Ferris State. It’s dizzying. Yes, I love it.

Jim: I will say, regarding the WCHA, that looking at the top of the standings, I feel like it is an instant replay of what we saw heading into last weekend for Hockey East. Minnesota State has the two-point lead over Bowling Green and Michigan Tech but also faces Bemidji State this weekend, a team that pushed the Mavericks to the limit when the two met earlier this season.

It is wonderful to control your destiny, but when you look at the fact that Bowling Green plays last place Alabama-Huntsville, Minnesota State understands there is no room for error. A split with the Beavers and you could have another co-champs situation. In this situation, however, it would be Bowling Green that wins the tiebreaker, which really makes using the control Minnesota State has of its destiny so paramount.

That seems like the one title race we will watch this weekend because North Dakota has already clinched a share of the NCHC title and needs just a tie (regardless of shootout result) against Western Michigan to lock up that title solo.

Paula: On the surface, the schedule looks like it matters in the remaining races. Back to the Big Ten, I really feel as though Michigan’s chance was last weekend, when the Wolverines finished their season series against the Gophers. There are two weekends left in B1G play because there are no playoffs before the championship weekend, and Minnesota definitely has what can only be considered a more favorable schedule.

The Gophers play the two bottom teams to finish their season, this weekend in East Lansing against Michigan State and then at home against Wisconsin. The Wolverines, meanwhile, have a home-and-home series against Ohio State this weekend but end the season against a very strong Penn State team. The Nittany Lions are only six points behind the Wolverines in a league where every game is worth three points. Penn State ends its season on the road, but the Nittany Lions travel to Wisconsin this weekend before heading to Ann Arbor.

Speaking of the NCHC (as you were), I’m kind of in awe of the second half that Denver has put together. While it’s likely that North Dakota will wrap up the regular season, it’s amazing that the Pioneers are tied for second place with St. Cloud State. Denver is 12-1-2 since the start of the calendar year, and while I don’t want to look too far past the exciting conference playoffs, I think a team like Denver could make some noise in the NCAA tournament. Any team playing with that kind of confidence heading into the playoffs — as we said last week, playing the best hockey of the year at just the right time — may surprise a few people.

Jim: Denver and Northeastern, to me, are probably the two scariest teams in the postseason. You mentioned Denver’s record down the stretch. Northeastern is equally as impressive, going 16-2-3 after winning just once in its first 14 games (an opening night win followed by a 13-game winless skid). From December on, Northeastern lost just a single league game to Boston College and a single nonleague game, a Beanpot loss to Boston University. Maine will face the Huskies this weekend in the playoffs after falling 5-3 and 7-1 this past weekend against them. You have to think the Black Bears are massive underdogs.

Taking that a step further, if Northeastern advances and Boston University holds serve against last-place Massachusetts this weekend, Northeastern will head to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. Although the Irish beat BU 1-0 on the final night of the regular season, Notre Dame lost three of its last four games. I really thought with a couple of weekends left Notre Dame could win Hockey East and now may be in a spot to play one of the hottest teams in the country to get out of the conference quarterfinals. Volatility is simply crazy this time of year.

Paula: You mention Notre Dame, and while I don’t like to dwell on the negative, there are a couple of teams that have done themselves no favors these past few weeks. The Irish looked like contenders and then hit that three-game skid. After flying out of the proverbial gate in January, Rochester Institute of Technology had a terrible February, going 2-4-2 for the month. Harvard had three wins in February yet managed to finish in third place in the ECAC standings — and Harvard remains No. 11 in the PairWise, showing you just how tough the Crimson had been previous to that. Then there’s Omaha, still No. 13 in the PWR in spite of a fairly bad second half. The Mavericks have lost four in a row and are 4-10 in the second half.

All of this talk makes me wonder about sleeper teams, especially through the conference playoffs. You mentioned Denver and Northeastern, two teams no one wants to face in the NCAA tournament, should they make it. There is so much potential traffic, so to speak, among the teams that are below the top few spots in the PWR so I know I need to wait a bit before being able to talk more about the NCAA tournament. But within the conference playoffs, there’s potential for upsets, dark horses and spoilers.

There are only six teams in the Big Ten, but I’m looking at both Penn State and Ohio State as potential dark horses. Both have offenses that can click; both have goaltending that can be solid. “Can” is the operative word for each — and maybe for every team in the Big Ten with the exception of Michigan, whose offense is almost nearly a given.

In Atlantic Hockey, the top four teams have had to play consistently well to finish where they have. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Air Force were the team to emerge with that league’s autobid, as the Falcons have wins over Robert Morris, Holy Cross and Mercyhurst, the other three teams crowding the top of the standings.

I think anyone from Bemidji State on up can take the WCHA tournament, and in addition to Denver, I like Miami in the NCHC.

Thumbs up

To the two teams that secured outright and alone their regular season titles last weekend. Robert Morris and Quinnipiac barely wavered from the start of the season to the finish, leaving little doubt of who would emerge at the top of Atlantic Hockey and the ECAC. Kudos, too, to Hockey East co-champs Boston College and Providence. BC had the good fortune to own the tiebreaking 1-0-1 record over Providence in regular season play to secure the No. 1 seed in HEA, but Providence hustled to capture part of that championship, ending the season with eight straight HEA wins.

Thumbs down

To New Hampshire, which needed a home win on Saturday night against Connecticut to clinch home ice in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. Leading 4-1 heading into the third, the Wildcats surrendered the lead in regulation and lost in overtime. Yes, this could equally be a thumbs up for UConn but, simply put, when you have a three-goal third-period lead at home, regardless of what is on the line, you need to seal the deal.

Coming up

There are four playoff series in ECAC Hockey and Hockey East and three in Atlantic Hockey. The postseason gets started Thursday night, when New Hampshire and Merrimack open their best-of-three Hockey East series.

The WCHA eliminates two teams to get down to eight for the playoffs, and Alaska will host Alaska-Anchorage in a two-game series to decide which team goes on and which one goes home. The Seawolves have a two-point lead for the final playoff spot, so the Nanooks need to get at least a win and a tie to finish eighth.

The last weekend of NCHC play features a series to decide the final home-ice playoff spot. Minnesota-Duluth hosts Miami with the teams tied for fourth place. The Bulldogs hold the tiebreaker between the teams, so the RedHawks need to do better than split to host a first-round series.

82 COMMENTS

  1. Guys, Northeastern is playing well but I wouldn’t mention them in the same breath with Denver. Your comment might be more applicable to the HEA playoffs… Let’s see how NU does there first… Not to mention that they’d have to win their AQ to get in. Comparably, Minn-Duluth is in a far better position to sneak in without having to win their AQ.

    • at 15-2-2 starting with the 12/11 win over BU, don’t go to sleep on Yale, either. The loss to QU was played pretty evenly, and between Lyon and an experienced senior core on defense, they are capable of winning a low scoring game against anyone.

      • Agreed. I wouldn’t rule them out either (or Mich, BU, ND), but after what I saw against QU, their lack of scoring (as was observed during the play by play) just doesn’t put them in my top group. Sorry.

  2. Nice to get a little WCHA talk out of the eastern writers this week. Probably all the WCHA deserves given their poor out of conference performance this year but still good to see some recognition of a great final week coming up.

    • MS, I’m not trying to be picky, but Paula is Midwest, covering the BIG and previously the late CCHA, several teams from which are now in the WCHA. I do agree with your point, though. Be very interesting to see who comes out, PWR has MTU as best team.

  3. Still not sure why you are drooling over a mediocre gooophs team. You act like they are simply amazing. To say riveting and a team from the clump 6 in the same sentence is ridiculous. As is the sentence “Minnesota has shown that it’s a team that adapts well from one night to the next and has repeatedly turned itself around within 24 hours this season.” You should probably clarify that you mean turn themselves around in crap conference games. We’ve all seen their non-conference play and it is atrocious.
    Amazing that you spent so much time drooling over the clump 6 that you don’t even mention the great weekend Duluth had on the road @ St. Cloud. If anyone is a sleeper pick, they should be the one, not Denver. Denver has already solidified themselves as a real contender after Christmas. Jim Montgomery has that team on track.

    • I love how butt hurt you get when the Gophers are talked about in an article. Calling Butt hurt party of 1, butt hurt party of 1.

      • There is literally no reason to talk about them. And especially shouldn’t be using the work “riveting.” Plenty of better things happening in college hockey but they spent the most time talking about the barely above .500 rodents. Let’s keep talking about 2 teams fighting for the top of a ridiculously bad conference. Their non-conference schedule was “riveting.”

        • Maybe you should write your own column. Then you can talk about the Fighting Hawks and the NCHC the whole article, and write stupid comments below about how this article is so great because it doesn’t talk about the Gophers. Again, everyone on USCHO knows how you feel about the gophers and the Big Ten, The truth of the matter is you love how much everyone talks about the Gophers. It gives you something to complain about in between watching re runs of Little house on the Praire and playing with yourself. Or, maybe you’re always ragging on the Gophers because you’re afraid to play them. After all we have had your number the past 4-5 meetings. Butt hurt party of 1, butt hurt party of 1, this is the last call for butt hurt party of 1.

          • 4 of 5…..with the same number of titles to show. Nice job. I wouldn’t be chirping with that amazing record…….be glad they play in the worst conference in college hockey, actually gives them a slim chance at making the tourney!

          • And I didn’t saw only talk about UND……but it is pretty sad they mention basically nothing about Duluth…..who is actually ahead of the rodents in the pairwise. Typical clumb 6 and hockey east love on Tuesdays

          • 1) spell check, use it. 2) why are you still talking? There’s no reason to talk about the Gophers you say, yet you are the first person to comment about them. We get it, you don’t like the gophers.

          • Spelling police are out! LOOKOUT! And you are spelling it wrong…..it is r-o-d-e-n-t. Is that why you spell things out? So you don’t forget?

          • Heck, they would probably split again this year. It seems nodak is the only team to wake up the goofs consistently. The poor side of that is it doesn’t matter aside from, maybe, some bragging rights. The fact is the goofs haven’t shown this year that they can keep any kind of consistency and it would be a bit of a surprise for them to put together any type of run in the post season. If they make the frozen four or win a game in the frozen four then there is some legitimate “news” to be reported. Until then they are once again underachieving.

      • What I find funnier is that he comments on the Gophers on almost every thread, yet states “There is literally no reason to talk about them”.

        This poor guy must just be suffering constantly — doing one thing and then ranting continuously about why everyone else shouldn’t be doing what he is doing.

        • No reason for these stupid writers to talk about them. There is absolutely nothing special about that team. Literally nothing.

          • OK I see — but your brilliant insight into college hockey makes its OK for you to dazzle us with your stunning insight and original commentary on the gophers and Big Ten thread after thread after thread after thread after thread after thread…

          • Doesn’t take much to let everyone know the rodents blow…..along with the rest of the conference. Where’s blue maize guy to talk about how awesome Michigan is with the 34th hardest schedule and giving up about 3 goals a game?

          • “There is literally no reason to talk about them” —- you.

            But yet you just obsess over them…same old drivel time after time. Your comments are simply “riveting”.

          • Again….no reason to write about them. You fools can talk about them all you want. Its the ridiculous writers that have no clue whats going on outside of HE and the dumpster fire 6 conference.

          • And yet they haven’t reached out to you to write a column a weekly / daily / hourly basis?

            What are they thinking — I’m sure you would NEVER say the same thing over and over and over again.

          • I think you mean to say “Us fools” — guessing you lead the league in talking / posting about the Gophers.

          • If it wasn’t for $hit talk, there’d be nothing to report on about the rodents. Nice job filling half the arena for a “big” game against mich…..

          • Ahhhh, you’re breaking your own rule…

            “There is literally no reason to talk about them” – You

            Now, if you want to amend your position, that’s fine, but please be clear.

          • What don’t you get about no reason for the writers of this Tuesday column to talk about them? Wait, I know…..rodent fan….really impairs your judgment.

          • Oh, I see now there is no reason for anybody EXCEPT YOU to talk about the Gophers. You can post about the Gophers, but no site writers.

            I’m sorry I forgot who you were…my bad.

          • The writers talk about the same garbage over and over on Tuesdays……their undivided love for the $hit 6 and HE.

          • And so do you almost every time the Gophers are mentioned in a post…over and over and over and over

          • Ohhh, I forgot — it’s OK for you, but not OK for the writers. My bad again. Special rules for special people.

          • Who needs defense when you score as much as we do!?!?!?! Nodeekota would have a hard time keeping up with our offense!!! Have fun choking in the NCAA tournament AGAIN!!! keep trying to catch up!!!! 9>7. Nuff said!

          • Now hold on second here. Choker might be an idiot when he posts but he does bring up a point. Michigan isn’t going to get past a much, much better squad in the NCAA if they can’t even beat Goldy. Your squad should literally be RUNNING AWAY with that conference title and they’re not even ahead at this point.

          • Its fun to post a lot of stuff and watch them squirm. You’d think that they would have learned by now to not respond…….

          • I understand you’re looking to get under some skin and raise some hairs but it does get a little old Chokers. It might even be thought of as embarassing.

          • Eh….comment board is more entertaining that the actual writing being performed up top.

          • Each game is a different story, in a one game format, I like our chances, whoever won’t have a second game to adjust for our #1 offense!!!!!

          • You split with a team barely over .500……that has a defense barely better than yours. So in simple terms, their D sucks as well.

          • Do you even remember what its like playing in the tournament? 3 years is a long time spent on the golf course………

          • All nodeekota is used to recently is choking in the big games…. maybe you’ll make a title game in the next 10 years. Don’t matter if you don’t win it all, so we are in the same boat.

          • Well if you read the title of the article they are talking about conference races finishing up. UND has the NCHC pretty much a lock. So the closest race is between Mich and Minnesota. They are only talking about it because of default pretty much. If St. Cloud would have swept them they would have no choice but to talk about that race because those teams are far better, I was hoping for a the St. Cloud sweep to make the last week very interesting but they kinda messed that one up.

          • They could still talk about UMD heating up. To go into St. Cloud and take two and you don’t hear anything about it, pretty odd.

          • Have to see what sort of stupid things they try and talk about. I bet next week will be another riveting article about the goophs playing sparty

          • OK … SO YOU’RE LIKE A PREACHER WHO SAYS “PORN IS EVIL,” BUT THEN CONSTANTLY WATCHES IT FOR “RESEARCH PURPOSES.”

            MAKES SENSE … SORT OF.

        • HE ONLY COMMENTS ON THE GOPHERS AND HOW TERRIBLE THE BIG TEN IS.

          MY THEORY: UOFMGOLDENCHOKERS IS A CLOSETED, SELF-HATING WISCONSIN FAN.

  4. Omaha may drop out of the ncaa tourney and UMD jump in, would not have seen that coming a week ago. The gophers still most likely have to win the conference tourney to qualify, this gopher squad is average and inconsistent at best, very disappointing season. But hey, that was a nice one-timer by Fasching on friday.

    • As long as Omaha stays away from their home arena, they might stand a chance. 2-7 in their last 9 there.

      • Denver will probably bury them this weekend, pushing them closer to that bubble, a run in the conference tourney might be all that could save them.

      • It’s not a complete surprise. St. Cloud and North Dakota are top tier teams this year accounting for 4 straight Omaha losses. Unfortunately for Blais’s team they’re looking at the hottest team in the country this weekend. Things are grim in Omaha.

        • One never knows, but I don’t see them heading to Minneapolis in a few weeks for the conference tourney.

    • If racine could have handle a lil dump in, your team would be done for! See you in St. Paul, we’ll put up 7 on you this time to end your season!!!!

      • If Collins and Glover didn’t make stupid decisions in front of the net each night, your team wouldn’t have scored those goals. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. We’ll see you in St. Paul and hoist the trophy just like we did last year against you.

        • Don’t matter, we don’t have to win the tourney to just make the dance. Maybe we’ll let you just to get 2 big ten teams in…. ;)

  5. MAN … 70 COMMENTS … AND NOT ONE IGNORANT COMPLAINT ABOUT THE PAIRWISE RANKING SYSTEM.

    I’M PROUD OF YOU, USCHO COMMENTERS. DRINKS ON ME.

  6. Definitely the Gophers are inconsistent this year, no debating that. But I’d say they are much better than average at best. At their best they look like a top 10 team.

  7. The MacNaughton Cup has been absent from Houghton for too long. The fact that NMU is the team that stands in the way of that…this weekend is going to be bananas.

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