Breaking it down
Notes: With conference tourneys looming, here's what to watch
Conference tournaments are heating up as the first full weekend of tournament play is upon us. Here is a breakdown of the conferences and what to look out for:
Niagara dominated the regular season so they are without a doubt the team to beat. They start conference playoff action against Rochester Institute of Technology. If the Purple Eagles lose in the conference final, it is conceivable that two teams from Atlantic Hockey will make the NCAA tournament, the first time that has happened in league history.
|CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP CENTRAL|
First-round games in many conferences begin this week. Check out the 2013 Division I Men's Hockey Conference Championship Central.
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Air Force has never gone down without a fight and are veterans of NCAA tournament play, having won five of the past six Atlantic Hockey Tournaments. They are also one of the hottest teams in the league having gone 11-2-3 in its last 16 games and will face Canisius in the first round, a team they are unbeaten against in the past 10 meetings (5-0-5).
With its NCAA first-round upset against Minnesota in 2006 still the greatest victory in conference history, Holy Cross is looking to get back to the NCAAs and will have to get by Mercyhurst this weekend to continue its quest.
Robert Morris, this year’s Frozen Four host institution, is looking to keep its season alive when it travels for its best-of-three at Connecticut a team it split with at home during the regular season.
The final tournament in this conference’s illustrious history appears to be Miami’s to lose. The regular-season champions have been playing some of their best hockey down the stretch as they have won 10 of its last 13 games heading into tournament action against Michigan State. The RedHawks are in the conversation for a No. 1 seed, but need to keep advancing to hold down their top spot.
After a mid-season slide, Notre Dame appears headed back on the right track and they will face Bowling Green in the quarterfinal round. Michigan heads to Western Michigan playing its best hockey of the season with a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) knowing they need to win the CCHA Tournament to advance to the NCAA championship. Ohio State and Ferris State play in the 4 vs. 5 match-up this weekend with both teams likely needing to win the entire tournament to keep its season alive.
Quinnipiac, the No. 1 team in the nation, takes on Cornell in what could be a very intriguing match-up. Although seeded ninth, the Big Red come in as one of the hottest teams in the nation and they know they must win the entire thing if they are to make the NCAA tournament. Cornell is 6-1-1 in its past eight games, including a first-round sweep of Princeton last weekend. Quinnipiac has the nation’s best record at 20-5-4, but two of those losses have come in its past six games.
In the other three quarterfinal match-ups, Brown faces Rensselaer, St. Lawrence meets Yale and Dartmouth meets up with Union (N.Y.). The Dutchmen advanced to the Frozen Four last year and certainly need to defeat the Big Green if they hope to make it back to the NCAA tournament this year. Yale and Rensselaer are also NCAA tournament candidates that would like to bolster their cases by continuing to advance through the conference tournament bracket.
This is probably the most wide-open conference tournament of them all as five teams finished within two points of first place in the regular season. UMass Lowell, the regular-season champion, opens with a series against Maine.
Boston University is the perhaps the most intriguing team in the nation as legendary head coach Jack Parker announced he is retiring at the end of this season after 40 years at BU. The Terriers are on the proverbial NCAA tournament bubble so its series against Merrimack is likely a must-win to keep Parker’s career alive.
Boston College, the defending national champion, starts its conference postseason against Vermont. New Hampshire and Providence play in the four-five match-up with the Friars posting a 2-0-1 record against the Wildcats in regular-season action. Freshman goaltender John Gillies has been especially hot for Providence lately as he has allowed two goals or less in six of his past eight games.
There is a ton of disparity at the top of the WCHA this season, so who will win the conference tournament is anybody’s guess.
St. Cloud State, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin are the top four seeds, but there are several other candidates that can emerge from the pile including Denver, Minnesota State and Nebraska-Omaha. St. Cloud State and Minnesota shared the regular-season conference crown and are both looking to advance against Alaska-Anchorage and Bemidji State, respectively to make it to the Final Five next weekend at the Xcel Energy Center. It was the first regular season crown for the Huskies since they joined the league in 1990-91.
In other first-round action, North Dakota hosts Michigan Tech, Denver hosts Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha travels to Minnesota State and Wisconsin hosts Minnesota-Duluth.
St. Cloud State, Minnesota, North Dakota, Denver and Minnesota State are virtual locks for the NCAA tournament, while Wisconsin has work left to keep its NCAA postseason hopes alive.
• Six of the last eight meetings between RIT and Niagara have gone to overtime in Atlantic Hockey play. RIT will look for its first wins at Dwyer Arena this weekend, previously going 0-6-4. In addition, Niagara is undefeated at home this season, with a 13-0-2 mark. RIT Sophomore forward Matt Garbowsky has eight goals in his past eight games and 17 points (8-9-17) during a nine-game point-scoring streak and is plus-11 over that stretch. His 19 points lead the nation in scoring during the last month (since Feb. 1).
• Nebraska-Omaha forwards Ryan Walters, a Hobey Baker candidate, and Matt White are poised to reach 100 career points this season. Each goes into action this weekend against Minnesota State with 98 points. Only 12 Mavericks have ever scored 100 or more points in their careers. Cornell senior forward Greg Miller is also closing in on the century mark. He has 97 career points heading into this weekend’s quarterfinals at Quinnipiac. He is looking to become the 48th player in program history to reach 100 career points.
• Two Colorado College players on are the verge of career milestones as senior center Rylan Schwartz's next point will be his 150th as a Tiger, he also is only five assists away from 100 in his career. Senior goaltender Joe Howe backstopped his 50th career victory at Michigan Tech last Saturday night and needs just seven more saves to reach 3,000 for his collegiate career (only three previous CC goalies in history have accomplished that feat).
St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey leads the nation in goals scored with 28 … With 107 assists, Yale’s Andrew Miller needs just six more to become the school’s all-time leader in that category … Dating back to 2006, Miami has won five of its past seven second-round series, including winning each of its last three to move on to Detroit. The RedHawks have had a first-round bye each of the last eight seasons, something no other team in the league has done … Minnesota-Duluth goalie Matt McNeely, who is 10-11-3 on the year, has made 23 starts thus far. The last Bulldog rookie goaltender to make more was Isaac Reichmuth, who accrued 32 starts in 2002-03 on his way to being just the second freshman ever to be voted UMD’s Most Valuable … American International senior goalie Ben Meisner finished his time with a school and Atlantic Hockey record 3,684 career saves, placing him 12th on the NCAA Division I career saves list … Bowling Green sophomore forward Dan DeSalvo has 12 goals in 11 career playoff games … In just the CCHA Tournament Western Michigan is 7-2 in its last nine games.