Each week, USCHO.com will pick the top 10 moments from the past weekend in our Monday 10 feature.
1. Hockey East standings are bananas
This much we know about the Hockey East: Boston College will finish first, Merrimack will finish tenth and Vermont will bring up the rear in eleventh place.
The standings are, in a word, crazy. Except for the top and the bottom, nearly everything else is up in the air heading into the final weekend of the season.
Teams like Providence College and Northeastern, which were strong contenders for the NCAA tournament just a few weeks ago, are now fighting to avoid missing the Hockey East tournament.
In notable games over the weekend, white-hot BC clinched the Hockey East regular-season title with a decisive 5-1 win at Commonwealth Avenue rival Boston University on Saturday.
UMass and Connecticut went toe-to-toe in tight games for two nights in a row. The Huskies stunned the Minutemen by scoring twice in the last 1:31 to win 3-2 at home on Friday. The next night sizzling John Leonard – now leading the country with 27 goals in 32 games — scored once and assisted on three others as UMass won 4-3 on home ice.
Facing pretty much a must-win situation, PC slipped past Maine 3-2 on Saturday. A loss would have put the Friars in even greater jeopardy of missing the Hockey East playoffs a year after advancing to the Frozen Four.
Next weekend’s slate includes PC at Maine on Friday and home-and-homes for BU-Northeastern, UNH-BC and UConn-Lowell.
Buckle up. It will probably be Saturday night before the playoff matchups are set.
2. Nittany Lions finish on top in Big Ten
With help from Michigan and Wisconsin, Penn State clinched its first Big Ten regular-season championship.
Going into the weekend, Minnesota and Ohio State had a shot to least earn a share of the title, but both stumbled at home.
Behind 46 saves by Strauss Mann, the Wolverines tied the Gophers 2-2 on Friday night. Then Michigan pulled out a 2-1 win on Saturday.
Last place Wisconsin beat the Buckeyes on Friday and tied them on Saturday.
By finishing first, the Nittany Lions, who finished their schedule last weekend, earned a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
While Penn State rests up again for another weekend, the first round features a pair of big rivals going head to head as Michigan travels to Michigan State, and Wisconsin visits Ohio State. In the third series, Minnesota hosts Notre Dame.
3. Big Red continue to own the Cleary Cup
Cornell clinched its third straight Cleary Cup for the ECAC’s top regular-season record. Winners of nine in a row, the 23-2-4 Big Red are the top seed heading into the ECAC playoffs.
Goalie Matthew Galajda posted his third shutout in a row with a 5-0 win over St. Lawrence on Friday. Then the Big Red beat second-place Clarkson 5-1 on Saturday.
One night after watching from the stands as a scratch, freshman Ben Berard scored a hat trick, with the third goal coming on a power play with 9.4 seconds left.
“He responded exactly how you would want a good player to respond,” coach Mike Schafer said of Berard. “He worked hard; he was around the net; he created some good scoring chances.”
4. The Fighting Hawks rule the roost in NCHC
With a dramatic finish, North Dakota won a piece of the Penrose Cup as regular-season champions of the NCHC on Saturday night.
On Senior Night, freshman Shane Pinto’s overtime goal beat Western Michigan 2-1. Pinto’s goal came just 43 seconds after referees washed out an apparent game-winner by Western Michigan for goalie interference.
The Fighting Hawks can win the Penrose Cup outright by earning one point in next weekend’s series against Omaha.
After missing the NCAA tournament two seasons in a row, North Dakota has been on a mission all season.
5. Mavericks roll to another regular-season championship
Another year, another regular-season title for Minnesota State.
The Mavericks took home their third straight MacNaughton Cup and their fifth in six years with a 4-1 road win against Bemidji State on Saturday.
It was a closer game than the final score indicates, as Minnesota State scored two late empty-net goals. As usual, Dryden McKay delivered a top performance in goal, stopping 38 shots.
The night before, the Beavers beat the Mavericks for the second straight time, 3-1. Two of Minnesota State’s four losses in the WCHA came against Bemidji State.
Next up for 29-5-2 Minnesota State is a first-round matchup against Alaska Anchorage.
6. RPI goes on the road to earn fourth place in ECAC
How about those Engineers?
Rensselaer secured fourth place in the ECAC standings with a flourish on the final weekend, going on the road to beat Harvard 2-0 on Friday, and Dartmouth 4-1 on Saturday. The wins earned them a first-round bye and home ice in the second round.
The Engineers were picked for ninth in the ECAC coaches poll last September, but they’ve taken a solid step up, posting a 17-15-2 overall record, 13-8-1 in the league.
Coach Dave Smith has his program headed in the right direction. RPI won six games in his first season, 10 last year and now 17 so far this season.
7. Vermont breaks into Hockey East win column with stunning sweep
Vermont hadn’t won a Hockey East game in over a year – a league-record 27 games — before beating Northeastern on Friday night. Then the Catamounts made it two in a row by beating the Huskies again on Saturday.
The wins made for a feel-good weekend for coach Kevin Sneddon, who will resign at the end of the season.
Friday’s win was the 300th of his coaching career and his 250th at Vermont.
“I’m just really happy for our guys; they’ve had a lot of close games where they’ve played their hearts out and haven’t been rewarded. It was awesome to see them smiling,” Sneddon said after Friday’s victory.
8. Nanooks capture home ice in first round of WCHA playoffs by beating Alaska Anchorage
It was two for the price of one when Alaska beat Alaska Anchorage in the final game of the WCHA regular season.
Late Saturday or early Sunday (depending on which time zone you live in), the Nanooks topped the Seawolves 6-1, retaining the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup for the eighth straight season. More important, Alaska earned home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
Alaska coach Erik Largen, just 33 and a former Nanooks goaltender, has guided the team to 16-13-5 record after going 12-21-3 in his first season.
The Nanooks will host Bowling Green, the team they edged out for fourth place, in a best-of-three series starting on Friday.
9. Bemidji State on rise after strong second half
Bemidji State couldn’t quite catch up to first-place Minnesota State – splitting their weekend series and finishing second in the WCHA – but they are a dangerous opponent heading into the postseason.
A 12-2-2 run since Jan. 1 has catapulted the Beavers all the way to No. 10 in the Pairwise.
“This second half, we’ve just been rolling. We’ve come together as a team, working extremely hard and getting the job done. It’s been everyone, not just a select group of guys,’’ said senior captain Adam Brady after Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Minnesota State.
Now the focus turns to the postseason.
“It doesn’t matter what we did over the last two months,’’ said coach Tom Serratore. “Now it matters what we’re going to do next weekend and after that. We’re playing one of the hottest teams in the league in Lake Superior. They’re scoring goals, they’re winning games. They’re having a lot of success right now. These two out of threes, we have our hands full.’’
10. These postseason matchups look familiar
Two playoff matchups next weekend are between teams that just played last weekend. They are Northern Michigan vs. Michigan Tech in the WCHA and Ohio State against Wisconsin in the Big Ten.
And Michigan and Michigan State, Big Ten rivals going back for decades, went head to head in a two-game series just two weekends ago.
Familiarity has bred contempt between these rivals in the past so why should this time around be any different?