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|Season-ending momentum means little to NCAA champs|
|Written by Steve Wozniak|
|Friday, 24 February 2012 13:27|
Last year’s NCAA champion, Minnesota-Duluth, won only two of eight games in February before going 3-2-0 in March in the run-up to the tournament. Meanwhile, North Dakota, which hit last year’s tournament on an 11-0-1 tear, finally ran out of gas in the semifinals.This weekend marks the final series of the college hockey regular season for teams in the CCHA, ECAC and Atlantic Hockey conferences. It’s only natural, then, that some of those teams may feel a small sense of panic creeping in. The time to make some ground in the conference standings and, more importantly, in the Pairwise rankings, has almost elapsed.
Commentators in sports love to talk about momentum, about how teams that come into the playoffs on a roll are more likely to succeed. The truth is – at least in college hockey – that the eventual champions are more likely to experience struggles during the stretch run. As the coaches love to perpetually remind anyone who will listen, they only have to get in the tournament; after that, anything can happen.
Last year’s champion, Minnesota-Duluth, won only two of eight games in February before going 3-2-0 in March in the run-up to the tournament. Meanwhile, North Dakota, which hit last year’s tournament on an 11-0-1 tear, finally ran out of gas in the semifinals.
In 2008, neither of the teams that met in the final – champion Boston College and runner-up Notre Dame – had impressive ends to the regular season. The Eagles went 4-5-0 in February while the Irish struggled through a 2-3-3 homestretch. That same year, North Dakota rolled through February unbeaten before getting routed by BC in the semifinal.
The year before that, Michigan State went 3-4-2 in February, then had to win the consolation game of the CCHA playoffs just to get into the tournament. And in 2007, Maine advanced to the Frozen Four despite entering the tournament on a four-game losing streak.
In this corner of the hockey world, it would seem, momentum means nothing. It’s not about building a winning streak now; it’s about just squeezing into the tournament. And on that front, there are plenty of teams with a lot to gain or lose in the final hours of the season.
In Atlantic Hockey, three points separate the top six teams. Air Force can clinch the regular-season crown and home-ice advantage throughout the conference tournament with a sweep at Robert Morris this weekend. No one from Atlantic Hockey is getting an at-large bid; the only tournament invitation is going to the winner of the conference playoffs. Thus every little advantage at this point is paramount. RIT, Mercyhurst, Bentley, Niagara and Holy Cross can all make the road to that elusive bid a little easier with games this weekend.
Both Ohio State and Miami are on the tournament bubble. Currently, Miami also holds the last first-round bye in the CCHA conference playoffs. But a sweep by Ohio State can not only secure that bye, but move the Buckeyes up in the Pairwise rankings used to determine bids and seeds in the NCAA Tournament. In that conference, Michigan State visits Notre Dame; both teams are in dire need of quality wins to earn a tournament berth, while the Irish will try to earn home ice for the first round of the CCHA tournament. Two more bubble teams, rivals Lake Superior and Northern Michigan, battle to try and earn the CCHA a possible seven bids to the 16-team tournament field.
Union visits Cornell on Friday night for a game that essentially will decide the ECAC regular-season crown. Those are the only two teams in the conference with any shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Hockey East and WCHA conferences still have a week of the regular season left after this one, so nothing will be officially determined other than home-ice in the conference playoffs. But for tournament watchers, North Dakota’s visit to Denver needs to be a successful one. Either team could knock the other rival off the tournament bubble with a sweep in the Mile High City this weekend. Colorado College could bump its way back into tournament chatter with a sweep of the defending champions in Duluth.
In Hockey East, Merrimack – once the top team in the country but now in jeopardy of slipping out of the tournament picture – can reestablish itself with a big home-and-home against No. 3 UMass-Lowell.
NOTESPaul Kelly resigned as head of College Hockey Inc. College Hockey Inc. was created by the commissioners of the various hockey conferences to act as a marketing and recruiting wing of the NCAA hockey effort. Kelly will be replaced by Nate Ewell, the former communications director for the Washington Capitals, who was serving in the same capacity under Kelly. … The ice rink being built at Comerica Park as part of next year’s Winter Classic festival will play host to the Great Lakes Invitational. The GLI, which has traditionally included Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and a rotating fourth team, has taken place at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena since 1979. … Heavy snow in Colorado caused Colorado College to miss its flight to Duluth out of Denver International Airport. The Tigers were instead routed to Minneapolis, where they took a 160-mile bus trip from the Twin Cities to their final destination for this weekend’s series with Minnesota-Duluth. … Two players being charged with sexual assault in less than three months may throw up a red flag in Boston University’s hockey program. Corey Trivino was arrested on those charges in December and kicked out of school. Now Max Nicastro is facing two counts of rape. As a result, university president Robert Brown has created a task force to further investigate what might be described as a harmful “jock culture” surrounding the team.
|Last Updated on Friday, 24 February 2012 18:29|