Riding a high tide in Erie
Notes: Mercyhurst clinches first conference crown
The college hockey regular season is coming to a close and some of the conference races are coming down to the wire. Three conferences have one weekend in the regular season remaining -- Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey and Hockey East, while the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) have two remaining and the Big Ten has three remaining.
In Atlantic Hockey, Mercyhurst claimed its first conference crown in school history last weekend with three points against Niagara. The first four teams claim first-round byes and the Lakers are the only team that has guaranteed itself to watch from home the first weekend. The other three spots will be decided between Bentley, Air Force, Connecticut and Robert Morris. All four teams are within two points of each other and they each have two games this weekend. Interestingly enough, none of the four teams battling for the last three bye spots play each other this weekend.
In Big Ten action, the top two teams will receive a bye, but all six teams will advance to the finals site in Saint Paul, Minn. With three weekends of regular season action remaining, plenty of movement can still be had, but Minnesota appears to have a stronghold on the top spot. The Golden Gophers have a one point lead on Wisconsin and have played two less games than the Badgers. Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State can all break into the top two spots if they can get on a hot streak. Penn State, in just its second season of varsity play, has seen significant improvement during the season, including two wins against the Wolverines.
Union (N.Y.) has already captured the ECAC Hockey regular-season crown. The top four teams receive byes into the quarterfinals, while the bottom eight teams play each other in the first round. Colgate is the only other team to have clinched a first-round bye, while Quinnipiac and Cornell hold down the other spots for the time being. The Bobcats travel to Clarkson is a game which could go a long way in determining who gets one of the top four spots. Yale is the other team besides Clarkson with a shot at a top-four seed.
Boston College ran away with the Hockey East regular-season title and therefore it receives a first-round bye and will host a quarterfinal series. Massachusetts-Lowell is the only other team to have clinched a top-five seed and a first-round bye. Northeastern, Maine, New Hampshire and Providence all have a shot at the No. 2 overall seed in the conference tournament along with the River Hawks. Vermont is the only other team with a shot at a first-round bye. The bottom six teams will play each other in single-elimination games with the winners advancing to the campuses of the higher remaining seeds for quarterfinal series.
In the NCHC, North Dakota and St. Cloud State are tied atop the standings with two weeks left. They face each other in St. Cloud this weekend, and if one team can sweep it would capture at least a tie for the conference crown. All eight teams play in quarterfinal series with the top four seeds serving as hosts. Nebraska-Omaha and Western Michigan are holding down the other two hosting spots currently, but Denver and Minnesota-Duluth are only a game back. Miami (Ohio) is the only team guaranteed to be on the road for the quarterfinal weekend.
With two weekends remaining in WCHA action, Ferris State and Minnesota State-Mankato have guaranteed themselves the top two spots. The Bulldogs hold a four-point lead on the Mavericks and can clinch at least a share of the conference title with two wins this weekend. Only the top eight of the 10 teams in the conference make the playoffs. Alabama-Huntsville has already been eliminated but the other spot has a long way to go to be determined. The top four seeds will host seeds five through eight in the quarterfinals. Michigan Tech has a slim hold on third spot, while Alaska-Anchorage maintains the fourth spot. There is only three points separating the fifth through ninth spots in the standings.
Crossing the blue line
Maine sophomore defenseman Ben Hutton (Prescott, Ontario) leads the nation in goals scored by a defenseman with 13. He has also tied the Maine record for goals in a season by a defenseman of 13, set in 1979-80 by Dwight Montgomery. The record was tied in 1987-88 by current New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano and in 1994-95 by Jeff Tory. Hutton has 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points this season. He leads the team in blocked shots with 33 on the season.
• Union (N.Y.) has quietly put together a tremendous season so far this year. It is 10-0 versus Ivy League opponents, 10-1-2 against ranked opponents and has won 10 consecutivve home games (dating to Nov. 9) -- the second-longest active streak in the nation (Minnesota State-Mankato has 11). In addition, the Dutchmen are unbeaten in 29 of 38 games (23-9-6, .684) against ranked teams in Rick Bennett's three seasons.
• Notre Dame’s Steven Summerhays has posted seven shutouts between the pipes this season. It is two more than Quinnipiac’s Michael Garteig and three more than anyone else in the nation. 179. He has shut out his last three opponents, and enters this weekend’s game at Boston College with a streak of 190 minutes without allowing a goal, the longest such streak in the nation all season.
Minding the net
Denver will be making its first regular season trip to Kalamazoo since the 1983-84 season when the Pioneers dropped a pair of contests to the Broncos on Nov. 25-26, 1983, by the scores of 4-3 and 3-2. … If Providence were to win or tie vs. Maine on Friday night, it would mark the Friars first four-game unbeaten streak against the Black Bears since winning eight in a row from 1981-84. … Saturday’s home game for Rochester Institute is the final game ever to be played at Ritter Arena before moving into the Gene Polisseni Center in 2014-15. RIT has played 46 seasons at Ritter Arena and since moving to Division I in 2005, is 85-47-18 at the 2,100-seat arena. … Nebraska-Omaha’s Josh Archibald is just one goal from tying the school record for goals in a season set by Bill Thomas during the 2005-06 season. … Clay Witt leads the nation with a .940 save percentage. His 16-8-3 record this season is tied for fourth in single-season victories at Northeastern, while his four shutouts are tied for third on the NU record list, one shy of tying the program record. … North Dakota is winless in its last five games against St. Cloud State. …Colorado College has done a complete 180 on its season. The Tigers started the season 2-18-4, but have rebounded and are 4-2-2 in their last eight games, including a four-game unbeaten streak. … In the first period, RPI has outscored its opponents 39-18. … Bowling Green went unbeaten in conference play in an eight-game stretch from Dec. 6-Jan. 4, but have only been able to come away with a 2-4-2 record since, averaging 2.8 goals-per-game and giving up 3.25 GPG. The Orange and Brown have held leads entering the final period in five of those games, coming away with a record of 0-3-2. … Alaska-Anchorage is 11-4-2 when scoring first, 9-0-0 when leading after the first and 9-0-1 when leading after the second. … Wisconsin is 17-2-1 at home on the year, but just 2-7-1 on the road.