The final two conference regular season champions were crowned over the weekend, meaning the entirety of college hockey is in the postseason. Boston College wrapped up the Hockey East regular season crown with a win over Vermont Friday, while Minnesota took the WCHA title thanks to a Minnesota Duluth loss at St. Cloud State.
The college hockey postseason is always full of unexpected twists and turns, which is what makes it so fun. The conference tournaments offer some really unique match-ups this year, which should lead to an entertaining couple of weeks of hockey.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some of the more intriguing postseason match-ups this weekend for each conference.
The CCHA was an “everybody-beats-everybody” type league this season, which should make for some interesting match-ups this week. Pretty much everything is up in the air in terms of who has a shot at the title. Wide open field this year. Here are the match-ups I’ll be watching most closely this weekend.
Notre Dame @ Michigan — Michigan has to be shaking its head at drawing Notre Dame as a postseason opponent, but Bowling Green’s upset of Northern Michigan really upset the apple cart. Notre Dame fell well below expectations in the regular season, but is as good a team as any on paper.
Michigan came down to the final regular-season weekend in the hunt for the CCHA title, but a loss to pesky Bowling Green ended that. Still, Michigan has been one of the more consistent teams in college hockey (which isn’t that hard to do this year), having only lost three times since the calendar turned to 2012.
These two teams played a heated two-game series in late January and split, with Notre Dame holding the edge on aggregate score, 4-3. Could be an awfully compelling postseason match-up at Yost Arena.
Bowling Green @ Ferris State — Ferris State is going to have a lot to prove in the postseason. The unlikely CCHA regular-season champ is no fluke. Good goaltending and balanced scoring have taken them to this level. When the margin of error is so thin, you never know what can happen. As mentioned before, Bowling Green is awfully pesky. Still think the Bulldogs pull out the series and head to Joe Louis arena riding high.
Michigan State @ Miami — This should be interesting just due to the sheer talent on these teams. Both possibly underachieved a bit this year, but either could still threaten for the CCHA title. Whoever makes it out of this series will have a tough road to the CCHA title, but that’s true for everybody at this point.
It’s hard to decide which league was tougher this year, CCHA or Hockey East, but there’s no question these were the two best conferences in college hockey this year. Hockey East has been as unpredictable as any, but it appears order has been restored as Boston College is riding an 11-game winning streak. Will it carry into the postseason?
UMass @ Boston College — This match-up will get national exposure as NBC Sports Network has picked up Friday night’s contest for “Friday Night Ice.” What makes this match-up so intriguing is that UMass actually won the season series between these two teams, 2-1. However, both of the Minutemen’s wins came on home ice. They won’t have that luxury in the playoffs.
Boston College is on a roll right now and has been scoring in bunches on this 11-game streak. Still, UMass has the confidence of having won the season series. Will it be enough to put up an honest fight against the mighty Eagles? We’ll find out soon.
Merrimack @ Maine — At one point this season, Merrimack was the N0. 1 team in the country, after rattling off a 10-game unbeaten streak to start the season. Since then, the Warriors have battled consistency and somewhat regressed. Meanwhile, Maine has been surging in the late going of the season, unbeaten in 11 of its last 13.
Merrimack, however, did not lose to Maine in the regular season, winning twice and tying once (ties, yuck).
Maine boasts the nation’s leading scorer in Spencer Abbott, while Merrimack will look to senior goaltender Joe Cannata, who has been excellent with a 2.19 GAA and .923 save percentage. Should be a thrilling contest.
The WCHA has been a bit wacky this year, with many teams battling consistency issues, but the battle to get to the Final Five is always interesting.
Wisconsin @ Denver — Wisconsin is a team that’s impossible to predict. Some nights they look like they’ll score their opponents right out of the building, other nights they look listless. They’ll need their best effort against the higher seeded Denver, who is always a tough out in the postseason.
The Badgers have the nation’s best defenseman in Justin Schultz and sophomore Mark Zengerle has had a surprise breakout season. Denver has some elite players in Drew Shore, Jason Zucker and freshman sensation Joey LaLeggia. The Pioneers also have home ice.
In the only series between these two, the pair split a January series in Madison. It was another feast or famine weekend for Wisconsin, which broke out for six goals in the second game after being blanked the night before. Denver is an awfully dangerous team, unbeaten in 12 of its last 15. This should be a highly intriguing series.
Quinnipiac @ Colgate — Colgate was the surprise of the conference this year. After managing just four wins all of last season, the Red Raiders boast the nation’s leading goal scorer in Austin Smith and a home series in the postseason.
These two squads split the regular-season home-and-home series. At home, Colgate rode an Austin Smith hat trick to a 3-1 victory, while Quinnipiac answered back with a 7-1 home win later in the season. Additionally, Colgate is coming into the postseason on a four-game slide. Meanwhile the Bobcats come in after beating Brown in three games in the ECAC tournament’s first round.
Due to the potential Hobey Baker implications in this game (see below), this is going to be a thriller.
Yale @ Harvard — Yale is one of many teams in college hockey that didn’t live up to lofty expectations. I don’t think anyone predicted Harvard would be the home team in this postseason series, but here we are.
Yale split the season series with Harvard, but has the aggregate advantage 10-5, for whatever that’s worth. It’s always intriguing when a pair of college hockey’s oldest rivals go at it with higher stakes. Should be a fun one.
There really isn’t any one series I could pinpoint as overwhelmingly intriguing in this conference. You never know what you’re going to get coming out of this conference tournament. Whoever gets out of Atlantic Hockey will get the auto-berth into the NCAA Tournament and usually proves to be a pretty tough out, providing some exciting upsets at the big dance. Air Force took the regular season title and looks like it could be as competitive as anybody in the tournament. They’ve got to get past UConn in the first round, first.
This should be an exciting weekend and will set the tone for the last month of college hockey.
You Can Play Goes to College
Monday on the MvsW podcast, Patrick Burke revealed that the newly launched You Can Play Project has three college hockey programs signed on to particpate.
Miami University was an obvious one. Brendan Burke famously came out to the Miami hockey team, where he went to school and served as the team’s student manager.
Miami’s acceptance of Brendan was a major factor in proving that a gay man can have a place in college hockey. It set an example for how teams should react to a gay staff member or teammate, by treating Brendan no differently than before they knew he was gay.
Miami has taken a leading role, as head coach Rico Blasi and alumni Tommy Wingels and 2011 Hobey Baker Winner Andy Miele serve on You Can Play’s advisory board.
Monday, Miami hockey team’s official twitter feed confirmed that the school has participated in You Can Play by filming a PSA with some of its top players.
— The Brotherhood (@MiamiIceHockey) March 5, 2012
While Miami has taken the lead, they will not be alone in joining the You Can Play Cause.
I’m also hearing that the University of Denver hockey team will also be one of the three college teams participating.
You Can Play co-founders Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman reside in Denver and Kitts is an adjunct professor at the University. Seemed like a no brainer to have the Pioneers involved, but these programs are participating by choice, not because of convenience.
We’re talking about two heavy hitters in college hockey signing on to this most important project (and potentially a third big name). With many NHL stars already signed on, You Can Play is reaching out to another very important audience through its partnerships with major Division I institutions. Athletes are often the best known students on college campuses, so having strong and noticeable voices speaking strongly about acceptance should go a long way.
In the lead up to the Frozen Four, I have plans to talk to Patrick Burke about You Can Play’s efforts with NCAA teams. So stay tuned for that.
Smith has upped his total to 34 goals this season. Four more and he’ll tie Ryan Potulny’s mark from the 2005-06 season, marking the best goal-scoring season of the last decade.
Smith will have a chance to boost his already strong resume in the ECAC playoffs against Quinnipiac this weekend.
If the senior forward from Dallas is able to take his team on a run in the postseason, there will be no stopping him for college hockey’s ultimate individual honor.
Other key Hobey facts about Smith:
– He has 22 more goals than his next closest teammates and has accounted for 31 percent of Colgate’s goals this year.
– Smith has scored 21 goals at even strength, seven on the power play and six shorties. He’s also potted five game-winners. Twenty five of his goals have come against the ECAC, while nine came against a strong non-conference schedule.
Maine senior Spencer Abbott is the nation’s leading point-getter with 56, including 37 assists which puts him in a three-way tie for the national lead in that category. The Black Bears have a tough Hockey East tournament match-up against Merrimack. It’s going to be hard to overtake Smith, but if Abbott and Maine can get a spark in the postseason, he’ll position himself well.
Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz is arguably the best NHL prospect playing in college hockey this season. With 42 points, Schultz is the nation’s top-scoring defenseman and tied for 12th overall in the nation. Going against Schultz is Wisconsin’s disappointing 16-16-2 record. While he might be the college game’s most talented player, he may not be having the most outstanding overall season. Not to mention, if Wisco gets bounced by Denver this weekend, Schultz my sign with Anaheim and see some NHL action this year.
Jack Connolly of Minnesota Duluth is absolutely still in the mix as well. With 55 points this season, the Bulldogs senior is just four points away from tying his career best. Despite a late-season stumble, UMD is still very much a national title contender and they won’t get there without Connolly. The forward’s brilliant college career is about to come to a close, so don’t count out Connolly from putting on a show. He’s had statistical improvement in each of his four collegiate seasons and will look to end on the highest of notes.
Others of note:
Shawn Hunwick, Michigan; Troy Grosenick, Union; Drew Shore, Denver; Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin; Reilly Smith, Miami; Jaden Schwartz, Colorado College; Chris Kreider, Boston College; J.T. Brown, Minnesota Duluth; Brock Nelson, North Dakota; Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota.