Arlan: The story of the week has to be No. 1 Wisconsin losing more games in a 24-hour period in Columbus than it had in its first 28 contests. Certainly, losing on the road to a sixth-ranked team is not all that damning, but there are a few concerning trends.Prior to last weekend, the Badgers had failed to score multiple goals in a game only twice; it happened both days at Ohio State, including suffering their first shutout this season. There may be cause for concern at the other end of the ice as well. Through 24 games, UW only allowed more than two goals once: the loss to Northeastern. Opponents have scored three times in half of the last six games. Combining the recent drop in effectiveness both offensively and defensively, the Badgers have only one win by a multi-goal margin in going 3-2-over their last six games.Ohio State outscored Wisconsin, 4-1, over the series, after being handled by a 10-1 margin when it visited Madison in November. This comes on the heels of Bemidji State reducing its deficit versus Wisconsin to 7-6 a couple of weeks back, after being thumped by a 10-2 composite in the fall. The Badgers can take comfort if that is just a result of playing on the road versus at home; they’ll make their final true road trip of the season this weekend to Duluth. However, it may be more of a cause for concern if it is an indication that the field is gaining on Wisconsin, as it did over the course of the 2016-17 campaign.Meanwhile, this was the most promising week of a season that has been a renaissance for OSU. The Buckeyes gained their 19th win and sit on the brink of their first 20-win season since 2006-07. After opening 2018 with a 5-1 beat down at the hands of Penn State that completed a 1-3-2 stretch, it appeared that hopes of a first national tournament berth were slipping away from Nadine Muzerall’s team. However, the sweep of the Badgers washed away the bad taste of getting swept by Minnesota Duluth the previous week and positions Ohio State solidly in the NCAA picture.In your opinion, will the Wisconsin at Ohio State series have a bigger impact on the Badgers or Buckeyes going forward?Candace: I think it has to be the Buckeyes. Yes, getting swept might be a confidence blow for the Badgers, but this is a team that made the national championship game last year. Wisconsin is going back to the NCAA tournament, and I don’t see whoever wins the CHA tournament defeating them, so they will advance to the Frozen Four. In those games, defense is huge, and Wisconsin’s defense is terrific. The one concern is that as Nicole pointed out a few weeks ago, Wisconsin could only muster a single goal in two Frozen Four games last year. Their offense has tended to disappear just when it is needed, as the Badgers don’t attack enough. If this weekend is a sign of that tendency creeping in, it could foreshadow another exit for Wisconsin.After getting swept by the Bulldogs, I was beginning to think that the Buckeyes were just going to be too inconsistent this year. Their top forwards are freshmen, and it would be natural for the exuberance of youth and the players’ inexperience to hurt them down the stretch. However, I think this weekend shows the Buckeyes that they do belong and should give them boatloads of confidence heading into the postseason. I think the weekend for sure solidifies Ohio State’s position for qualifying for the NCAA tournament, and it could give them the boost to perhaps dethrone Wisconsin in the WCHA tournament. At this point, a home ice spot in the first round of the tournament is a possibility.Ohio State’s sweep wasn’t the only surprise this weekend. Honestly, I was watching the scoreboard and at one point thought to myself, I don’t think I have ANY sort of handle on the game right now. In the ECAC, Cornell played to a draw with Harvard, and Rensselaer beat Princeton, but those results were tame compared to what went down in Hockey East. That conference really does seem to be BC and everyone else right now. I think BU is getting stronger again, and they get crushed by Vermont. Northeastern has beaten Wisconsin and BC, but lost this weekend to Connecticut. Maine seems to be coming on and then fades again, playing to a tie in one game with New Hampshire before winning. Then there’s Providence, which lost two games it couldn’t afford to.Of those results, I think the first to zero in on is Connecticut beating Northeastern. What did you take away from that?Arlan: The only thing I can conclude with any certainty is that two Hockey East teams not named Boston College played a game and one scored more goals than the other. Whatever I may try to read into it beyond that will have been proved incorrect by the next time I participate in this column.So before I venture deeper into the analyst’s quicksand of Hockey East, I’d like to follow up on your point about Wisconsin. The odds are very good that the Badgers will be hosting a team from the WCHA, rather than the CHA champion. If Minnesota gets into the tournament, the Gophers will be heading to Madison because that pairing does not require a flight. The same would also be true of Minnesota Duluth, another candidate to bus to Madison. A CHA team like Mercyhurst or Syracuse could play an Eastern host without flying, so even though it may not maintain bracket integrity, the selection committee would leave the Lakers or the Orange in the East and match Wisconsin with the Gophers or Bulldogs, and if neither of those teams are in the field, then the Buckeyes are the next likely choice.With that point made, let’s go back to the topsy-turvy world of Hockey East. UConn took until almost mid January to win its first league game, and a couple of weeks back, it was languishing with a 1-10-5 conference mark. Then the Huskies rattled off a four-game winning streak on home ice, and they are now positioned well to not only reach the playoffs, but avoid BC in the first round. The good news is that they have four winnable games remaining versus teams that trail them in the standings. The bad news is that if the pendulum swings once more, as it does with regularity in Hockey East, and Connecticut cools off as quickly as it heated up, then the Huskies could be passed by both Vermont and Merrimack. It would be the kind of cruel joke that the HEA hockey gods like to play to give the Huskies hope only to snatch it away.Over its recent hot streak, Connecticut has been scoring three goals per game while allowing only one. Much of the credit for the latter goes to senior goalie Annie Belanger, but sophomore Morgan Fisher, who has slightly better numbers, got the start and the win over Northeastern. Offensively, the same names keep popping up in the scoring column in the recent wins. Natalie Snodgrass, Leah Lum, Briana Colangelo, Kayla Mee, Theresa Knutson, and Morgan Wabick are the team’s top six scorers, and they’ve netted all but one of the dozen goals over the last four games. If the players you count on to score do so, and your defense is on its game, then you can enjoy success.As far as the other Huskies are concerned, Northeastern is only 1-4-1 after upsetting Boston College on Jan. 12. Why? Northeastern simply is allowing too many goals, 23 over that stretch. It has a good offense, but it is difficult to win if scoring four goals won’t be enough. On one hand, the goaltending has been inconsistent. Junior Brittany Bugalski held the Eagles to two goals one day, and then surrendered three on just seven shots in 13-plus minutes the next. She picked up the team’s only recent win versus UConn, but didn’t make it through the second period in her next start versus Vermont before being pulled. It seems like Bugalski is the best option when she’s on, but freshman Aerin Frankel has been more consistent. Offensively, nobody is averaging a point a game, although seniors McKenna Brand and Denisa Krížová have done so in past years.It all adds up to Northeastern being a point shy of fourth place and an opportunity to host a quarterfinal, with three league games remaining to try to improve its lot. New Hampshire is only one point ahead, but the Wildcats have to travel to BC before finishing with a home-and-home series with Boston University. Normally, that would be a daunting road, but BU is as likely to frighten its supporters as its opponents this year. The Terriers will need to get points from the Wildcats, because it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could be the team that finishes ninth if they remain stuck on 17 points.How do you see it unfolding? Will Northeastern thwart UNH and get to host? And which team will be left without a chair when the music stops in Hockey East?Candace: I have no idea which team will not make the playoffs, except it won’t be Boston College. I could honestly almost see it being Boston University, and wouldn’t that be a shocker, except the teams trailing BU don’t have a favorable schedule, as they all play each other. BU is three points up on Merrimack in that last spot; the Warriors also trail Vermont and Connecticut by a point. Connecticut has four games left, and Merrimack and Vermont each have three. The Terriers play a home-and-home with New Hampshire, Merrimack has a game with Northeastern and a pair with Connecticut, UConn has those two games with Merrimack and two against Vermont, and Vermont has the two with UConn and one with Northeastern.Based on those remaining games and the recent play of Connecticut and Vermont, I think Merrimack will be the team on the outside looking in. Merrimack has had some good wins, beating Boston University, Maine, Minnesota, Providence, and Vermont, but has too many losses as well, and it seems like the Warriors just weren’t consistent enough. It will definitely play out in an interesting way.As for the remaining home ice spot, Northeastern has the more favorable schedule than New Hampshire, closing with Merrimack, Providence, and Vermont. However, the Huskies have been so inconsistent. They should be able to take at least two of those games, but it’s also possible they could lose two and if UNH can get one win against BU, the Wildcats will hold that last spot. Really though, I don’t think home ice makes much of a difference. It certainly hasn’t in previous games.Let’s move to the ECAC right now. Rensselaer scored a big win over Princeton to throw more of a tangle into the bottom three spots in that race. Who do you see on the outside looking in there?Arlan: I’ll get at least half the teams correct, because Brown and Dartmouth are mathematically out of it. The Big Green are nine points out of the final playoff spot, and all teams have only four games left. As for the Bears, it never came together for them this season.The numbers aren’t favorable to Union at this point either. The Dutchwomen finish at home for the final series, but that will be versus the ranked pair of Cornell and Colgate. They did pick up a tie earlier in Ithaca; it’s unlikely that we’ll see that repeated. So even if Union is able to go on the road this weekend and sweep at Harvard and Dartmouth, that alone won’t be enough, as the Dutchwomen are five points down.That leaves us with four teams competing for the final three playoff spots. Princeton sits alone in sixth place with 17 points, followed by Harvard and Yale tied with 16, and RPI chasing with 14. The Engineers are Union’s travel partner, so they have the same path remaining. Harvard could go a long way toward locking up a spot if it can get wins on home ice over Union and Rensselaer this weekend, but the Crimson will have to deal with the distraction of the Beanpot bookending that series.Yale has the toughest schedule remaining. The Bulldogs games will all be against teams that sit in the top half of the standings: Cornell, Colgate, Princeton, and Quinnipiac. They lost the first meeting to each of the first three teams in that list. Oddly, they’ve already met in-state rival Quinnipiac three times and have found that to be a favorable matchup, earning two wins and a tie. I think Yale is going to need at least one point along the way, because RPI owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, and I think the Engineers are the favorite even on the road at Dartmouth.Princeton should be okay. Not only are the current standings on the Tigers’ side, but after hosting the North Country duo, they finish the season at Yale and Brown. That final game should be enough to earn them two points if they need them.Sorting through all of that, I see Brown, Dartmouth, Union, and RPI missing out. If there is a surprise to be sprung, then it will be the Engineers getting in at Yale’s expense.On the other end of the standings, do you think that Clarkson will be able to parlay its one-game lead over Colgate into a regular-season ECAC title?Candace: I think it’s likely, yes. The Golden Knights have a favorable schedule, playing Princeton, Quinnipiac, Dartmouth, and Harvard, and I don’t see them losing to any of those teams. Colgate has an equally good schedule down the stretch, with Rensselaer, Union, Brown, and Yale. I’m assuming both Colgate and Clarkson will run the table, which will leave the Golden Knights two points ahead. The two teams split their season series, with Colgate winning in OT and Clarkson winning earlier this month.Clarkson owns the goal differential between the two, but more importantly, looking at the tiebreaker procedures Clarkson only has one loss to the top four teams, while Colgate has three, losing to Cornell in December and St. Lawrence in October. Clarkson’s two losses are to Colgate and Quinnipiac. Even if one of the teams on Clarkson’s schedule were to beat them, it’s a team outside the top four. The tiebreakers in order are head-to-head record (a wash), wins (would be a wash if Colgate runs table and Clarkson loses one to leave the two tied), and then comparison of results against top four teams, which Clarkson owns. For Colgate to pass Clarkson and win the regular season, Clarkson needs to lose twice.The CHA was off last weekend, but the race is heating up. Mercyhurst and Robert Morris are tied at the top of the standings with 21 points, and the two have a series coming up in two weeks. Mercyhurst’s other two series are Penn State and RIT, and Robert Morris has Lindenwood and Syracuse. It would seem the Lakers have the edge then, unless Robert Morris sweeps the series in two weeks. What is your opinion on the CHA right now? It seems as chaotic as Hockey East to me!Arlan: At least in Hockey East, we can always count on knowing that BC will be on top. I guess from that perspective, it has been just as clear of late that RIT will be languishing in the CHA’s basement.Other than that, Lindenwood and Penn State are waging quite a battle for fourth place, but with the playoff format that the CHA has used in recent years with a single-elimination tournament at a single site, there isn’t much riding on it other than last change if they meet as the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds. I guess it’s possible that one of them could still catch Syracuse, but even if the Lions could sweep Syracuse in two weeks, they’d still need help to catch the Orange, who currently hold a five-point lead. It looks highly likely that Lindenwood and Syracuse will clash in a quarterfinal for the right to advance and face the regular-season champion.Meanwhile, if the Orange can sweep when they host RMU during the final weekend, they could move up from third place. But if they hope to contend for the title, they’ll also need help, as they’ve completed the head-to-head with Mercyhurst. It’s difficult to make up two games in the standings against two teams with so few games remaining.It definitely looks like the crown will be worn by either the Lakers or the Colonials, and if they split as they did in their first series, then perhaps they’ll wind up as co-champions. You’re correct that the schedule favors the Lakers, as Robert Morris will be on the road for that crucial series at Mercyhurst. The Colonials also finish on the road at Syracuse. They’ll have to avoid a letdown after what figures to be an emotional series versus their rivals, and both of the leaders have already dropped a game to the Orange.Even beyond all of that, I just get the sense that Mercyhurst has been the steadier team over the last couple of months. The Lakers definitely had their struggles early, losing 10 games in a nonconference schedule that included 10 games versus teams currently ranked eighth or higher. Perhaps that experience tempered them and made them that much stronger, and it’s paying dividends now.We talk often about parity, and for the most part, we’ve seen a lot of it this season. At times, it seems like nobody can hold onto the spots in the rankings from No. 5 on down. However, I’m not sure I remember a season where there has been such a clear gap between the top four and everyone else. The top four teams all have winning percentages of .850 or above; the next best is Ohio State at .700. Do you have any theories as to why such a clear divide has emerged?Candace: I really don’t. In an Olympic year, normally you’d expect the teams to be even closer as the top squads lose their best players to centralization. BC lost three defensemen to Team USA, and Wisconsin had one player on Team Canada and another on Team USA, as did Minnesota. Yet BC and Wisconsin are both chugging along and dominating, and Minnesota is poised to make the NCAA tournament. I suppose it could be that three of the teams in the top four, BC, Clarkson, and Wisconsin, have been dominant programs for the last decade or so. They are established as teams that are well-coached and that go to the NCAA tournament every year, and, along with Minnesota, are the teams that in any given year have a good chance to win the national championship. When that’s the case, the programs are what Air Force coach Frank Serratore once called “reload programs.” Good players graduate, and then good players come in. Look at BC this year, getting an offensive powerhouse like Daryl Watts. Wisconsin graduated a Patty Kazmaier Award-winning goalie, and then got a transfer who is doing outstandingly well.Players want to play for these programs, and as such, these schools can afford to pick the absolute best players. In that regard though, the emergence of Colgate and Ohio State has been refreshing, and it would be outstanding if one of those two schools went to the Frozen Four. However, we still have only four schools that have actually won the national championship: Clarkson, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, and Wisconsin. Whether that will change any time soon is anybody’s guess.Let’s turn to something more local. The Beanpot happened tonight. I always have a soft spot for that tournament, having gone to school in Massachusetts. Those schools are also very good teams. What did you take away from those games tonight?Arlan: I took away that the players who sit atop the scoring stats are there for a reason, or, more accurately, a number of reasons.Nobody has found the net at a higher rate than the Terriers’ Victoria Bach, and she needed only 6:09 to do sufficient damage to knock Harvard into the consolation bracket. Bach scored 3:48 into the game, she made it 2-0 a couple of minutes later, and she had the primary assist on Jesse Compher’s goal after another 14 ticks off the clock. After that brilliant start, BU’s offense was done producing, and within a period, the Crimson had narrowed the margin to a single goal. The Terriers managed to make that 3-2 lead stand up until the final horn, in spite of Harvard’s best efforts, including a minute plus with an extra attacker. Their reward is BU’s first appearance in a Beanpot Championship since 2012; it’s actually played in an NCAA final more recently.The second game started out in very similar fashion. Daryl Watts is BC’s most prolific scorer, and she matched Bach’s early performance with two goals, although hers were spread over more than 15 minutes. The Huskies’ defense didn’t play with enough discipline, getting constantly caught out of position and allowing one two-on-one break after another, and the Eagles are too good to be given so many chances. Northeastern tightened up from that point and responded with more energy and better judgement. Shelby Herrington scored to tie it midway through the game, but BC regained the lead with a pair of pretty snipes from McKenna Newkirk, one in each of the final two periods. Newkirk completed her hat trick into an empty net for a 5-2 final.So that gives us a championship game that will match BU vs BC, each led by a dynamic duo: Bach and Rebecca Leslie for the Terriers, Watts and Caitrin Lonergan for the Eagles. The big difference is that the young stars for BC have a much stronger supporting cast than do the two seniors of BU. The Eagles can fire another barrel with a second line featuring Newkirk and Kenzie Kent. For BU, there are fewer options, as Compher is the only other forward with more than 13 points. Perhaps the biggest advantage for BC is that it is backed by Katie Burt, who will be going for her third straight Beanpot.What were your Beanpot observations?Candace: My observations were more about how that tournament is usually competitive, no matter the relative strengths of the teams. Perhaps it’s because they play each other a lot anyway, so some natural rivalries have developed. Harvard looked out of the first game after one period, but like you said, the Crimson clawed their way back and made it a game. BC was only up a goal on Northeastern heading into the third period before pulling away. There’s something special about the Beanpot that seems to bring out the best in the four teams that play it.As for the results, I do agree that BC is the likely favorite. The Eagles have so much depth. However, BU has give the Eagles fits all season long, no matter what the Terriers were doing elsewhere. The first game was a 4-3 win for BC, the second a 2-2 tie, and the third a 4-2 win for the Eagles. As we have noted before, BC’s defense is not as strong with three players off playing for Team USA, so Bach and Leslie can definitely exploit that. BC’s superior depth may win the day, but it won’t be easy.In the consolation, both Harvard and Northeastern have struggled with inconsistency, so I don’t feel comfortable picking a winner in that one. It could go either way.
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