Each week, USCHO.com columnists will pick the winners of the upcoming games in their respective conferences.
Atlantic Hockey (playoffs)
Canisius at Niagara
This series is going to be a lot more evenly played than the standings indicate. Niagara finished sixth but only had three more wins than Canisius, a team originally picked to finish second by the league’s coaching staff. That’s a couple of bounces of the puck, and I can pinpoint single periods where at least that many games got away from the Golden Griffins. So I don’t think this series is as lopsided as someone might think with a “6-vs-11” matchup. But like any series, I’m boiling it down to goaltending and home ice. Dwyer Arena is a very tough place to play, and Niagara’s Brian Wilson is a slight advantage this season over the Canisius tandem. Niagara in three.
Army West Point at Mercyhurst
Mercyhurst is one of those teams that has a roster built for the postseason. The Lakers’ top line experience is very good, and the top defenders can play with virtually anybody on the ice. They might have lacked scoring depth during the season, but teams tend to shorten benches, especially in late game situations. Army, meanwhile, found its groove a couple of weeks ago by taking three points from Mercyhurst, and that win at home was a little bit of the turning point the Black Knights wanted. Avoiding sweeps against Sacred Heart and Bentley shows they have upset potential here, but I’m still rolling with the home team. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Holy Cross at Robert Morris
I waited practically all season to write the article that Holy Cross was the team nobody wanted to see in the playoffs, and this series was going to the Hart Center right up until the Crusaders lost at Air Force in the season finale. Their 6-3-2 record down the stretch is one of the best in the league and sets them on a collision course with a potential Cinderella run. As for RMU, a sweep of Mercyhurst made this possible, but the Colonials only had two wins in the second half of the season prior to that. So while they did what they had to do for gaining home ice, I’m going to ride the hot hand here. What a surprise, it’s the postseason and I’m picking against RMU. Holy Cross in three.
— Dan Rubin
Big Ten Hockey (playoffs)
It’s the quarterfinal week of Big Ten hockey playoffs, with best-of-three series hosted by the second, third, and fourth seeds. With it regular-season championship, Ohio State has a bye. The three series winners play in single-elimination semi-final action next weekend, with the Buckeyes hosting the lowest remaining seed. All games are Friday and Saturday with Sunday games if necessary. I think all three series will go to three games, but I don’t know who will win on what nights.
No. 7 Michigan State at No. 2 Notre Dame
The Spartans enter the playoffs having gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, but Michigan State ended the regular season on a high note with a win 3-2 at Ohio State, salvaging a split in that series last weekend. Notre Dame is 5-5-1 in its last 11 games, a span that includes five B1G series and a single weeknight game against Michigan. The Fighting Irish split at home with Penn State last weekend, winning in overtime Friday before losing Saturday. Notre Dame was undefeated (3-0-1) against Michigan State for the regular season. Notre Dame wins this series that promises to be very tight and maybe a bit plodding.
No. 6 Michigan at No. 3 Minnesota
Michigan is 5-5-1 in its last 11 games – five B1G series and that single weeknight game against Notre Dame – and lost to Wisconsin twice in overtime last weekend when one single win would have given the Wolverines home ice in the first round of the playoffs. At 6-4-0 in their last 10 games and five wins in the last six games of the regular season, the Golden Gophers are the hottest team entering the Big Ten quarterfinals. Minnesota carries a three-game win streak into the playoffs, having swept Arizona State to end the regular season and split with Notre Dame the weekend before. Minnesota edged Michigan 2-1-1 during the regular season. I think this contest is the most difficult to call, and I’d be tempted to call it for Michigan if Minnesota hadn’t looked so good in the last weeks of the season. Minnesota prevails.
No. 5 Wisconsin at No. 4 Penn State
Wisconsin carries a three-game win streak into the weekend, having beaten Michigan twice in overtime last weekend and split with Penn State on the road the weekend before. The Badgers are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. Penn State is the other team entering the B1G quarterfinal weekend with a winning record. The Nittany Lions are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games and ended the season with a road split against Notre Dame, winning the last game of the regular season. The Badgers and Nittany Lions had a wild regular-season series, with Wisconsin going 2-1-1 against Penn State and the teams combining for 39 goals in their four games. The teams tied 3-3 Nov. 30 before Wisconsin beat Penn State 8-5 the following night. Just two weeks ago, the Badgers and Nittany Lions split two lopsided games, with Penn State winning 8-2 and Wisconsin winning 7-3. I’m calling this series for Wisconsin, but I doubt that the Badgers win on Friday night.
— Paula C. Weston
ECAC Hockey (playoffs)
No. 5 Dartmouth vs. No. 12 St. Lawrence
These two teams met last year in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs with the Big Green winning in three games. This year, the Big Green defeated the Saints 4-1 on Jan. 25. The two teams then skated to a 2-2 tie on Feb. 16. St. Lawrence has been playing teams tough the past month so this may be a closer game than people may expect. I think Dartmouth has the talent advantage. Dartmouth takes it in three games
No. 6 Yale vs. No. 11 Rensselaer
Yale is limping into the playoffs, losing its past four games. Rensselaer has lost three of its past four. The Bulldogs swept the Engineers in the season series, winning 4-2 and 3-2 respectively. It will be another close series, but I think it will be tough for RPI to stop Joe Snively. I think Owen Savory steals a game for RPI, but Yale wins in three.
No. 7 Union vs. No. 10 Colgate
This may be the most intriguing series of the weekend as both games have been blowouts this season. Union won 6-0 on Feb. 2 before Colgate won 5-1 on Feb. 22. The series comes down to if the Raiders can find scoring as they are 59th of 60 teams in goals per game. If Mitch Benson can make saves, then Colgate has a chance. The Dutchmen have played well at home with a 10-3-3 record. Union sweeps.
No. 8 Brown vs. No. 9 Princeton
Probably not the matchup the Bears were looking forward to as Princeton beat them in the regular-season finale 5-1. Seems like the Tigers are getting hot at the right time, going 3-0-1 the last two weekends. Brown needs to possess the puck and not allow Princeton’s top line to beat them. Princeton has that experience of last year’s run. I think this one is going the distance with Princeton winning in three games.
— Nathan Fournier
Boston College at Providence
I’m not sure where PC is right now, but I think they are a little bit better than BC right now. PC wins.
New Hampshire at Northeastern
I loved the way UNH played against Lowell, but you can’t forget the fact they were manhandled by NU two weeks ago. NU wins.
Massachusetts at Connecticut
Who knows what type of a lineup UMass puts out. You would think this win is important for PairWise. Regardless, I’ll take the Minutemen. UMass wins.
UMass Lowell at Vermont
It won’t be easy, but I think UMass Lowell should win. UML wins.
Boston University at Maine
For some reason, I really like Maine at home in this one. It will be close. Maine wins.
— Jim Connelly
Western Michigan at Miami
Both teams enter this series on three-game losing streaks, but while a split would ensure that Western plays at home in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, Miami won’t be an easy out here. The RedHawks scored seven goals in two games last weekend at Minnesota Duluth and should be motivated to perform well in their last two home games of the season. Western is the better team, but I don’t think a sweep is very likely. Miami 4-2, Western Michigan 3-1.
Minnesota Duluth at St. Cloud State
St. Cloud has already wrapped up the NCHC regular season title, so this isn’t quite as big a series as it could have been, but it remains important for both teams. SCSU won’t want to let up just ahead of the league playoffs, and UMD will aim to further solidify its claim to a top regional seed. I’ll take the safe route and call for a split. Minnesota Duluth 4-2, St. Cloud State 4-2.
Omaha at North Dakota
I’m feeling a UND sweep here, and the Fighting Hawks still have an outside chance at home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. However, this is also an important series for Omaha as the Mavericks want to be playing their hockey at the right time of the season. Both teams have hills to climb regardless of what their first-round pairings will be, but no matter what happens in this series, how the teams perform will give a window to what they could look like in the postseason. North Dakota 3-1, 3-1.
Denver vs./at Colorado College
It looks likely that these in-state rivals will meet again next week in the first round of the league playoffs. If that turns out to be the case, this series could provide a very intriguing preview. Denver earned a shootout win over CC in mid-January and won a 1-0 game last Tuesday in Colorado Springs, so I’m expecting tight games again here. Not an easy series to call, but I’ll say the home teams win. Denver 3-2, Colorado College 2-1.
— Matthew Semisch
It’s crunch time for seven of the eight WCHA playoff teams. Top-seeded Minnesota State is virtually assured of an NCAA tournament appearance. Everyone else, though, likely needs to win it all. Bowling Green is sitting at No. 20 in the Pairwise, Lake Superior No. 22 and Northern Michigan 23 — all very slim chances of getting an at-large bid. Everyone else has zero chance of it. So some upsets will need to happen if the WCHA wants to avoid being a one-bid league this season. Without further ado, here’s my first-round playoff picks.
No. 8 Alabama Huntsville at No. 1 Minnesota State
The Mavericks are coming off yet another MacNaughton Cup season. They’ve only lose one game at home in that entire span (against Lake Superior in January). They already beat the Chargers twice this season, too — 6-1 and 4-0, both at home. UAH has been known to play tough in the playoffs (last season they forced a decisive third game in their series with Northern Michigan) but I think they won’t have that luck this season. Mavericks sweep.
No. 7 Alaska at No. 2 Northern Michigan
Despite struggling more than expected, Northern Michigan managed to play well enough down the stretch — they went 4-0 in their last four games — to snatch the No. 2 seed from Bowling Green. Alaska also played much better down the stretch, and they actually had a solid record against the league’s top teams — they beat MSU, BGSU, LSSU and BSU at least once during the regular season. The one team they couldn’t beat, though, was Northern Michigan. I think they’ll play tough again this weekend — but maybe not enough to get a series win. Wildcats in three.
No. 6 Michigan Tech at No. 3 Bowling Green
Something of a disappointment for both teams to be where they are. The Huskies had the biggest drop. They were in first place in the league standings at the holiday break. After that, they went just 4-10-2 in the 2019 calendar year and fell all the way to sixth. Bowling Green, too, had designs on winning the league title but could never be consistent enough to keep up with Minnesota State. They also had the chance to finish second and had the chance to control their fate but a loss to Alabama Huntsville in the second-to-last game of the regular season opened the door for Northern Michigan and pushed the Falcons to third. (That loss to UAH might also have torpedoed their at-large chances for good.) Now, the Falcons likely need to win the league title for that elusive NCAA tournament bid. I think they’ll get off to a good start this weekend, at least. Bowling Green sweeps.
No. 5 Bemidji State at No. 4 Lake Superior State
As one would expect for the 4/5 series, this should be the best of the bunch this week. The Beavers have played fairly well down the stretch, despite going winless in their last four games. It was still good enough to secure the No. 5 seed against a Lake Superior team that won 20 games for the first time since 1995-96. The Lakers, too, were in the running for an at-large bid but it appears that might be the longest of long shots, so they’ll need to run the table here. The Lakers and Beavers split when they met in Sault Ste. Marie in January. I think this one is close, too. Lakers in three.
— Jack Hittinger