This Week in Hockey East: How many conference teams will crack the NCAA tournament?

Christopher Brown (10) made it 5-2 NU late in the second period. - The visiting Northeastern University Huskies defeated the Boston College Eagles 5-2 on Saturday, December 9, 2017, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.The visiting Northeastern University Huskies defeated the Boston College Eagles 5-2 on Saturday, December 9, 2017, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Boston College and Northeastern battle in a game last month, a game the Huskies won 5-2 over the Eagles (photo: Melissa Wade).

If you’re tired of hearing me deliver continuous warning signals about Hockey East and the NCAA tournament, that’s fair.

Simply go to the bottom of this column and leave a complaint.

The reality is, though, this could be the worst showing in the NCAA field in conference history.

And that’s no hyperbole.

In 32 seasons, Hockey East has never placed less than two teams in the NCAA tournament field.

And while there is still a chance that three or four teams could possibly sneak into the field of 16, it’s actually most likely only two teams make it (that would tie an all-time low) and there is a very good possibility that Hockey East has just one NCAA entry.

That would be unprecedented. And for Hockey East fans, obviously, undesired.

But when looking at the current PairWise Rankings, there really isn’t a lot of security for Hockey East.

Providence, which is on a 7-1-2 stretch since the break, is the only Hockey East team standing on solid ground in the PWR. In ninth currently, there isn’t a lot of good news we can deliver at this point. As we approach the beginning of February, the only positive news can be delivered to PWR top four, which have never missed the tournament if ranked in the top four on Feb. 1.

But Providence, Northeastern and Boston College are all in position where if they can play themselves into the top 12 by the end of the shortest month, they’ll be looking good.

For Providence, that’s a lot of keeping on keeping on. The Friars basically have to avoid going .500 or below.

But for Northeastern, Boston College and any other team in Hockey East that might have some convoluted sense they can reach the top 12 by March 1, it requires work. For Northeastern, it’s less work of course. But for every other team, it means near perfection. Weekend splits hurt right now. Even getting three of four points when a team plays twice won’t help.

The most likely outcome for Hockey Est is that Providence will earn an at-large bid. If the Friars accomplish their goal of winning the Hockey East tournament, there is that distinct chance that the Friars the only NCAA bid for the league.

The best scenarios, though, include both Boston University, 5-1-1 since break, and Boston College (currently 20th in the PairWise) running near perfect down the stretch. If Northeastern plays decent hockey, there is a slight chance that three of those four make it to the top 15 of the PairWise and the fourth team wins the Hockey East title.

That, in all honesty, might be a fairy tale.

In essence, Hockey East’s 46-44-11 nonconference record to date might be the downfall for this league.

It’s a difficult scenario to imagine, but one that might leave Hockey East fans asking…

How much does Hockey East miss Notre Dame?

I know a good number of fans who wanted to wish Notre Dame “good riddance” when the Fighting Irish left the league almost a year ago.

It is no secret that Notre Dame was never a good fit for Hockey East. The team itself, as illustrated by some of the comments made by coach Jeff Jackson, never felt like Hockey East was a good fit.

But as the league is looking at potentially its worst performance when measured by NCAA participants, the thought of still having Notre Dame in the league now seems like something desirable.

The Irish just fell from the top spot in the poll, but are still tops in the PWR based on the tiebreaker. Notre Dame has a 6-3-1 mark out of conference including a win against Omaha and a tie against Denver. They also put together a 16-game winning streak, mostly comprised of Big Ten wins in a year when most of the Big Ten teams are nationally-ranked.

The reality is Notre Dame is gone.

Timing might not feel great for the league and might leave fans wondering what could’ve, should’ve and would’ve been had they stayed. It’s mostly food for thought but it’s difficult when you think of the dire NCAA expectations for Hockey East not to wonder, “what if?”

NCAA tournament aside, what should we think about?

If you don’t want to think of those worst case scenarios in Hockey East, what are the storylines you should look at with one month left in the regular season:

1. There are six teams battling for five byes

Five teams won’t have to play the first weekend of the Hockey East playoffs. Four of those teams will host quarterfinal games the next week and one will be the No. 5 seed and will travel to No. 4. Still, all five teams get a welcome weekend off.

Right now, there are six teams:

1. Boston College (26 points, 18 games played)
2. Northeastern (24 pts., 18 GP)
3. Providence (23 pts., 18 GP)
4. (tie) Boston University (20 pts., 18 GP)
4. (tie) UMass Lowell (20 pts., 18 GP)
6. Maine (19 pts., 17 GP)

There is also an outlier, who has a tougher road because it has played 20 games:

7. Connecticut (17 pts., 20 GP)

Honestly, I don’t see BC, Northeastern or Providence falling apart, so I’d pencil them in for three of the top five spots.

Thus, let’s look at BU, UMass Lowell and Maine.

BU might have the easiest slate remaining with five of its six games remaining against teams that are in the bottom four of the league right now. The other game comes against seventh-place UConn. Win that game and you might actually eliminate the Huskies from the top-five battle.

UMass Lowell’s schedule is interesting. Three of its games are against the bottom four (UMass, and two against Merrimack). But the other three are against Boston College and Providence (two).

Maine has a bonus game, but a very difficult slate. After playing Merrimack twice at home this weekend, they’ll travel to Providence and New Hampshire before closing with three games against BC, two of those coming on the road.

All of these teams can feel confident that they’ll either earn a first-round bye or will host a first-round series. But the desire to get to the top five (and more urgently, the top four) is what will be decided in the next four weekends.

That race begins now.