It’s conference championship weekend, and our conference columnists make their picks.
RIT vs. Niagara
I’m putting this game first because I think it’s a little bit easier to call for me. I like RIT’s depth, but I think Niagara can go toe-to-toe with literally everyone. The Purple Eagles are starting to peak at just the right time, which I think sets this game up for potential disaster for the Tigers. In a game this even, I would stick with the team with the better goalie, which in my opinion, right now, is Brian Wilson. Plus, on top of it all, Niagara somehow feels underrated and overlooked in comparison to the other three teams. I have all of these reasons, so I should probably just take it at this point. Niagara wins.
Robert Morris vs. American International
Everything in my gut here is pushing me to RMU. I saw the Colonials last weekend, and they showed more fortitude and perseverance than any one team I’ve seen in a long time. They rallied in Game 2, then delivered one of the most courageous physical battles in Game 3 against a Bentley team that pounded them for the first two periods. RMU has the all-important goaltending advantage with Francis Marotte, and if forced to shorten the bench, this team has some major star power in its lineup. These skaters have done everything short of winning a championship, and I know I’m right when I say they have as good a chance this year as any.
But it’s AIC. It’s a team that has that certain something, that “it factor” that’s so hard to measure. The Yellow Jackets are one of the best third period teams in college hockey, and there’s a chemistry to that roster that is unmatched. This team’s been peaking since October, which is when I started beating that war drum about how good it could become. As much as my gut tells me RMU is the right team at the right time, I also can’t undo everything from this year in one moment or less.
One day in the future, I’m going to play back how often I pick against RMU in the postseason. Then Derek Schooley will serve me a big plate of boiled crow. AIC wins it here.
AIC vs. Niagara
I’ll start by saying this: if Niagara plays RMU, I’m taking the Colonials to win that game. If RMU knocks off both the first and second seeds in this tournament, it assumes the “team of destiny mantle” and wins that game, though I don’t know if it’s running away or one that drags into overtime. Then when Niagara wins, I’ll gladly take all of the blame.
— Dan Rubin
The Big Ten championship game will be played at 8 p.m. Saturday inside the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind. This is the first time two previous Big Ten playoff champions are facing off for the title, so it’s the first time in conference history that a repeat champ will be crowned. The game will be carried by the Big Ten Network and can be streamed online by BTN2Go and the Fox Sports app.
No. 4 Penn State at No. 2 Notre Dame
The Nittany Lions arrive in South Bend by beating Ohio State in Columbus last weekend, 5-1, after taking their first-round home quarterfinal series against Wisconsin in three games. Penn State is 5-5-0 in its last 10 games, which includes the last three regular-season series and four playoff games. In that stretch, the Nittany Lions outscored their opponents 44-34 and never scored fewer than three goals per game; however, in two of those contests, Penn State allowed five goals and in one game, seven.
The Fighting Irish swept Michigan State in quarterfinal action before defeating Minnesota 2-1 in overtime last weekend. Notre Dame is 7-3-0 in its last 10 games, which includes seven regular-season games. In that span, the Irish outscored opponents 27-18; in their last five games, they’ve scored more than two goals just once, but they won each of their playoff games with two or fewer goals.
During the regular season, the teams split their four games. The difference in three of those was a single goal. In their second meeting, Penn State won 9-1.
This game comes down to which team can dictate the style and pace of play. Penn State wants to play wide open. The Irish want a tight, controlled contest. Notre Dame’s Cale Morris is the 2018 Mike Richter winner and has look poised and solid in the second half. Penn State’s Peyton Jones has been on fire recently. If the Nittany Lions were hosting, I’d call it for them, but I think that Notre Dame wins in a close game.
— Paula C. Weston
Brown vs. Cornell
Could Brown’s run continue? After sweeping the No. 1 seed, Quinnipiac, last weekend, they draw the No. 2 seed Cornell in the semifinals. It is a favorable matchup for the No. 8 Bears as both games this year have been close. The teams met in the second regular-season game for both teams where the Big Red scored three times in the second period for a 3-2 win. In Providence on Feb. 15, the Bears scored three times in a 53-second span for a 3-3 tie. I expect another close, tight game, but Brown can’t get into another three-goal deficit again. Cornell at 86.9 percent has a solid PK, so Brown will have to do its damage most likely 5-on-5. Cornell wins 4-2.
Harvard vs. Clarkson
This should be a contest that can go either way. The Golden Knights have scored 112 times this season while Harvard has found the back of the net 104 times this season. Will Clarkson be able to limit Harvard’s defensemen offensively and force them to make turnover? Will Harvard be able to limit Nico Sturm’s and Haralds Egle’s chances? The teams split the regular season with the home teams winning. Clarkson has the edge in goal with Jake Kielly. Clarkson wins 5-3.
Clarkson vs. Cornell
If these two meet, I expect a highly-skilled and a highly-physical game. Clarkson’s roster average is 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, according to Eliteprospects.com, while Cornell is 6-foot-1, 187 pounds. I think time and space will be limited on both ends of the ice for both teams. With two solid goalies in Kielly and Matthew Galajda, it may come down to who can pot in one or two chances or capitalize on mistakes by the other team. If there was an edge up front, I think it’s Clarkson. Clarkson wins 2-1.
— Nathan Fournier
Boston College vs. Massachusetts
BC has a lot of momentum coming off of last weekend’s series in Providence, but I still think that UMass is simply the better team. UMass wins.
Boston University vs. Northeastern
These teams have played on the big stage before with Northeastern winning. If BU plays defense and gets goaltending, they could win. I’m counting on that. BU wins.
As much as UMass feels like the team of destiny this season, I feel like if BU gets to the finals, they will win. I’ll give you all the possibilities anyway. BU beats UMass or BC; NU beats UMass or BC.
— Jim Connelly
St. Cloud State vs Colorado College
There’s a part of me that is tempted to call for the upset here as Colorado College has history in St. Paul, having reached the WCHA Final Five championship game in their final season in that conference. I do think, however, that the Huskies will have too much for CC. St. Cloud State 4-2.
Denver vs. Minnesota Duluth
This is a tough game to call, not least because the teams split their four-game regular season series. This is a toss-up for me, but I like UMD to eke it out. Minnesota Duluth 3-2.
Colorado College vs Denver: CC won the Gold Pan this year and will want to end their playoff run with a bang whether the Tigers are in this game or in the final. Let’s go out on a slight limb. Colorado College 3-2.
St. Cloud State vs Minnesota Duluth: If this is the game that we get, then it ought to be terrific. Another toss-up between two very solid teams, but I’m going to take the Huskies. St. Cloud State 3-1.
— Matthew Semisch
Bowling Green at Minnesota State
For the uninitiated, this might seem like an easy call. Minnesota State is the top seed, they’ve been virtually unbeatable at home (just one loss in Mankato all season) and are playing for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Slam dunk, right?
Even forgetting the fact that anything can happen in a one-game winner-takes-all title, Bowling Green has been a unique pain in Minnesota State’s side in the past few years of the WCHA. In the last five seasons, the Falcons are 7-5-2 against the Mavericks — including a sweep in the only series the teams played this season (BGSU won a pair of 4-1 games in Ohio in December.
That was the only time all year the Mavs were swept.
Minnesota State, for what it’s worth, has defeated BGSU twice in the WCHA postseason before (both in the Final Five semifinals).
Another interesting twist — the Falcons can still get in to the tournament without winning, but it will be close. a win would leave nothing to chance.
I think, despite the fact that BGSU finished third and not second in the WCHA, that these were the two best teams in the league over the course of the season. They’re pretty evenly matched, and I think this one will be close. Having said that, if any team has a chance to beat the Mavericks in Mankato, it’s the Falcons. I think they win a close one here (maybe in OT?) and make sure the WCHA has two teams in the NCAA tournament again.
— Jack Hittinger