TMQ: Will the coronavirus situation have a ripple effect on the 2020 Frozen Four?

Little Caesars Arena in Detroit is home to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons (photo: Matt Mackinder).

Each week during the season, we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Paula: Jimmy, if there is one word that captures the weekend that was, it’s “drama.”

With four conferences beginning their playoffs last weekend and so much of the Hockey East final standings to be determined in the last week of the regular season, I know we all expected some interesting stories to emerge, but I was unprepared for certain developments over the course of the weekend.

In my own conference, I didn’t expect Ohio State to score 11 goals against Wisconsin. In fact, after the way the Buckeyes played against the Badgers the week before, I didn’t expect Ohio State to win that opening-round series. I certainly didn’t expect a four-goal performance from senior Carson Meyer Friday.

Also in the Big Ten, I didn’t expect Notre Dame to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years – even though I thought Minnesota would win that series.

I expected overtime in a few places, but I didn’t expect extended OT, like the three Michigan Tech needed to beat Northern Michigan and the two Yale needed to beat Union.

And no one could have envisioned the announcement of fans being prohibited from attending a playoff series because of a potential global pandemic. I knew there was a potential to see fans being kept away from sporting events because of the coronavirus, but I didn’t expect to see it happen so soon.

What are your thoughts about the chaos we just witnessed – and about what we may anticipate in the coming weeks?

Jim: I think there was plenty of playoff drama – and personally I really enjoy the multiple overtime games that the postseason can provide – but with all that drama, when all was said and done, only three series were won by the underdog. And none of the four Game 3s from the weekend were won by the visitor.

The conference that provided the most interesting playoffs was the WCHA.

Bowling Green made the most of their long trip to Fairbanks, sweeping the Nanooks. And in the playoff series with the best atmosphere, Michigan Tech pulled of the dramatic two-game sweep of rival Northern Michigan.

And, of course, Bemidji State survives Lake Superior State in three games, but rode the PairWise bubble moving from 10th to 13th after Saturday’s loss and likely facing the end of the season if they had lost on Sunday. They are now back to 12th in the PairWise and likely one win from clinching their NCAA bid.

As for your last piece of news, the announcement that RPI won’t allow fans at their quarterfinal games this weekend. I will say that I believe the threat of coronavirus is very real and needs to be taken seriously. But I also believe that keeping fans away from sporting events, while possibly preventing a small percentage of spreading the virus, isn’t the best decision. Particularly because there are only two known cases in the local area.

Let’s remember, three weeks from now, less than 15 miles down the road from RPI, the NCAA is scheduled to host a regional. Is this almost assuring that we won’t have spectators at that event as well?

Paula: That is my concern as well, Jim.

I understand the desire to contain the spread of a pathogen that is a serious threat not only to the local population but to a broader population as well. We can all see how easily the coronavirus has spread globally, and I’m guessing that RPI acted as it did not just because of the cases reported locally but also because there are reported cases in the Boston area as well.

I wonder, though, about the chilling effect this will have on the East regional if the NCAA hasn’t declared by the end of March that no spectators will be allowed in Albany or at other sites. We can’t predict the future, but I can’t imagine that the NCAA will prevent spectators from attending basketball playoff games unless something changes drastically soon.

Selection Sunday for March Madness is next Sunday. The NCAA is probably watching carefully the developments surrounding the coronavirus. I’m guessing that we’ll have a bit of a heads up for hockey given decisions the NCAA makes regarding basketball.

The Frozen Four is a month away. There are no known cases of COVID-19 reported in Michigan yet. There were attendance problems in Buffalo last year. I can only imagine what a nightmare this is becoming for Detroit.

Jim: I think one of the biggest issues that the Frozen Four faces is the number of people that must travel to reach the destination. For, I would guess 80 percent of the attendees, the Frozen Four is a plane ride.

That makes the thought of attending the event a question mark. I know personally, I am not scared of flying. I am a 46-year-old man who has pre-existing conditions like diabetes and asthma, but I also don’t feel the ability to be scared of the low chance of getting sick.

To me, doing a job is more responsible.

And I feel like much of the country feels that way.

But I don’t blame people who attend an event for leisure, which most people who will travel to Detroit see this, taking such an approach. There is a real chance that fans will stay home.

I hope that isn’t the case because Detroit is so very ready for this event. But the next two weeks will tell us a lot as we move through conference tournaments.

Paula: Here we are a decade later and Detroit as a city has steadily worked to reimagine itself.

Everything that fans loved in 2010 is waiting for them with so much more – including the beautiful Little Caesars Arena. You are correct. Detroit is completely ready for the Frozen Four and it should be one that fans who are willing to travel for it will love.

Between now and then, there is hockey to be played – and most of it in front of eager fans. As you mentioned before, in spite of the drama of the weekend, there were few upsets. The Big Ten saw a series go to three games for the first time ever, but all three home teams won. As tight as that conference finished, I’m surprised by that.

I still can’t get past how tight Hockey East was in the regular season and the interesting matches quarterfinal matches. During the regular season, every lower seed beat the higher seed it’s facing in the quarterfinals. Do you see any upsets there?

Are you thinking of any other potential upsets nationally? I’m looking at a practiced, ready Minnesota team playing a Penn State team that’s been off for nearly three weeks and wondering about how the rust may factor in there. The Gophers lost three of four games to the Nittany Lions during the regular season, but still.

I wonder about Air Force on the road against RIT, especially since the teams split a pair of games at the end of the regular season and the Falcons are playing so well now.

And I’m eager to see how the WCHA semifinals play out, because both series look fantastic.

Jim: Hockey East is such an interesting scenario.

The top two teams clinched playoff spot only to play the bottom two teams, which on the last day of the regular season were both nationally ranked. Providence has since fallen out (currently the top team receiving votes). Just the mental concept of that seems befuddling.

Then there is the NCHC, where the four home teams are all ranked and the bottom four are not. The one interesting stat in that is Colorado College. They head on the road to face North Dakota. And yes, this is a massive mismatch on paper. But CC has more road wins (7) than wins at home (4). It still seems like a mismatch, but Vegas gamblers would look at this stat and take notice.

Hopefully, this weekend provides the excitement we all expect – fans in the stands or not.