By Dan Rubin
With so many games on the docket, there were too many to break down individually. Plus, I’m lazy. So we’re taking a different look at the college hockey landscape this week, as we gear up for the quarterfinal rounds of the three major eastern conferences.
After a wild first weekend, the three lowest seeds in ECAC Hockey advanced, with only Brown being a low seed eliminated. That sets up some interesting matchups, including 10th-seeded Harvard visiting 3rd-seeded Dartmouth. Quinnipiac is the highest remaining first round seed, so they’ll head to a very beatable Cornell team. And Yale, the team’s highest ranked team in the national polls, is the second seed, but they draw St. Lawrence because Colgate bumped off Princeton. And no matter what happens this round, there is going to be a ripple fact with teams on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament.
One of those teams is Boston University. The Terriers were on the outside looking in on the tournament for the last three to four weeks. Then, Princeton and RPI lost, and Merrimack lost three of their final four games to let the Terriers slide into Hockey East’s third seed. BU is now the 15th ranked team in the NCAA Pairwise Rankings (which serves as a base for the selection committee). 16 teams make the dance.
Meanwhile, Atlantic Hockey continues its drive towards awarding one team an automatic bid. The league will not get any more than that because none of their teams rank in the Top 16 of the PWR. But the league took a turn for the surreal when both AIC and Sacred Heart won their first round games. The 11th and 12th seeds, both recognized among the worst of Division I, are in the quarterfinals.
So let’s throw down some questions and take a look at some of the keys to the weekend, along with some predictions. Hopefully I do better than last week, and trusty Magic 8 Ball is here to help me answer these questions.
Can Harvard Keep It Going?
The Crimson is the most dangerous team in the ECAC playoffs. Union and Yale are mortal locks for the dance being ranked #3 and #4 in the national polls. Cornell might be ranked fourth in the conference, but they had a .500 season and were swept by Brown, so they have to win out to win it all. Dartmouth is teetering on the bubble, but they only went [16-10-3], and the only way they could pass BU and Colorado College for a shot at the tournament is by winning their next four games. Winning that amount means they got lucky in Atlantic City (where the ECAC Championships are held).
If Harvard keeps winning, the dominoes will fall around the college hockey landscape. Right now, BU, Colorado College, and Western Michigan are vying for two bubble spots. Western Michigan is [16-10-10], which is also the most awkward record to judge. But they went [16-7-5] in the CCHA, which happens to be the best conference in college hockey. BU and Colorado are playing for the last spot. If Harvard wins the ECAC tournament, it becomes three teams for one spot. And with so much power in the east, BU’s not getting in.
Magic 8 Ball’s answer: Most Likely
My Answer: You’re not going to hear me dissent. They handled Clarkson on the road in a 2-game sweep, and by all accounts, they were allowed to muck it up at Cheel Arena. ECAC refs are going to let them play. Advantage: Crimson. Bank on them going to Atlantic City, and bank on a large inhale of air down the street when BU starts holding their breath.
Can Boston College Create a Hockey Dynasty?
This has been one of the weirder years in college hockey. Boston College spent most of the year ranked in the top two in the national polls, and after a weekend sweep of UNH, they’ll enter the Hockey East tournament as the top seed. They won the Beanpot, the Ledyard Bank Tournament on New Year’s Eve, and tape-to-tape, they’re probably the best east coast team in the nation.
But even they have question marks. John Muse hasn’t been forced to make 30 saves since February 7th against BU. He also hasn’t had to make 20 saves in four of the last six games of the seas. But he’s posted six shutouts this year. That’s a credit to a BC defensive unit that is by far the best in the nation, but if he’s forced to make a number of stops, will the Muse who dominated BU and Maine show up? Or will the Muse who got throttled by Northeastern and UMass show up? Add that pressure onto Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson, and company.
The positive for BC is that if these games become track meets, they have the horses to dominate anybody. Cam Atkinson notched 27 goals and 20 assists, and Brian Gibbons added 15 goals and 30 assists (which is absurd). Jimmy Hayes, Joe Whitney, Paul Carey, Chris Kreider, Pat Mullane – these guys not only can score but only Whitney and Gibbons are seniors. So even if the defense decides to take a night off, and if Bad Muse shows up, then the offense can kick it into gears previously unmatched.
The problem is that this might work against Hockey East opponents like Providence and Northeastern. It might even work against RIT, Harvard, or lower ranked western teams. Can it work against North Dakota? That remains to be seen.
Magic 8 Ball’s answer: Reply hazy, try again.
My answer: Damn you Magic 8 Ball. I’m not asking if the Eagle Dynasty is going to happen. I’m asking if it CAN happen. And quite honestly, I’m not sure if it’s going to happen this year since there are some good teams out there, but this team has a very very good chance to win its third national title in four years, with continued success into the future. If it doesn’t happen this year, they will win again before 2014. And there will be talk of a dynasty.
Can BU Make the Garden and Make the Tournament?
Even though Merrimack tanked the last two weekends, they’re still going to the NCAA tournament. They went [22-8-4] on the regular season and were a rumored top seed until the final weeks. They’re still good enough for a two seed if they can handle some business in the Hockey East tournament. They’ll draw Maine in the Quarterfinals. Meanwhile, BU went [4-0-1] over the final three weeks, working themselves to a #3 seed and drawing a rematch with Northeastern at Agganis.
This is a bad matchup for BU. These will be games four, five, and (if necessary) six against the Huskies this year. It’s a Beanpot school located 2.19 miles away; In fact, I can summarize how to get from Matthews Arena to Agganis Arena. Go left, left, bear right at the fork, cross the Pike and take a left onto Route 20. Stay straight; it is a big building on the left. And where Northeastern fans are ravenous for success, BU might not have home ice. To make matters worse, game one is on Thursday because BU is hosting the America East Tournament for basketball… also at Agganis. If BU is on Spring Break this week, which I honestly don’t remember, that could suck the life right out of the building.
Besides everything, BU also needs help. They need Wisconsin to beat Colorado College; Harvard to beat Dartmouth, then lose next weekend; Ferris State to upset Western Michigan. All that happens – BU becomes a lock. Otherwise, they put themselves at the mercy of the selection committee.
Magic 8 Ball: Outlook Not So Good
My answer: I want BU to make it, because the storyline of BC playing BU at some point in the Hockey East tournament with BU’s NCAA hopes hanging in the balance would make a juicy storyline. It would add another great chapter to the rivalry. BUT…I don’t think it’s going to happen. Northeastern wins the weekend. BU is out of the tourney for the 2nd straight year.
Dan’s Weekend Pick 6 – Can He Do Better?
Magic 8 Ball – As I see it, Yes.
Me: I love you. Onto the picks:
Harvard at Dartmouth – Crimson, 2 games to 1
Northeastern at BU – Northeastern, 2 games to 1
UMass at Boston College – BC, 2 games to none
Maine at Merrimack – Merrimack, 2 games to none
Mercyhurst at UConn – Mercyhurst, 2 games to none
Colgate at Union – Union, 2 games to 1