Division I men’s hockey teams will be making one final push to secure a spot in the NCAA championship 16-team bracket as the five conference tournaments wrap up play this weekend.
But as teams make their case for an at-large berth, or try to steal an automatic bid, there will be plenty of interesting side notes as well. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in the five league tournaments this weekend:
No. 1 seeded Niagara has been the cream of the crop in the AHA all season, and is certainly the favorite heading into the league semifinals on Friday at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y. But the Purple Eagles should not be making room for their first AHA trophy on the shelf just yet. First, they have to face No. 7 Canisius, who owns the nation’s longest winning streak at six games after knocking off defending conference champion Air Force in quarterfinal action last weekend. The Griffs (17-18-5) are also looking to boost their overall record, and claim their first AHA title. Niagara won two of the three games between the two squads in the regular season, but all three games were tightly contested. Canisius and Niagara drop the puck at 4 p.m. on Friday, while No. 3 Connecticut and No. 6 Mercyhurst will follow.
Central Collegiate Hockey Association
The final battle for the Mason Cup will be contended at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit beginning with semifinal action on Saturday. The conference will disband after this season as Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State will play in the Big Ten, which is now sponsoring hockey; Notre Dame is off to the Hockey East; and Western Michigan and Miami (Ohio) are going to the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Making waves in the final CCHA tournament is seventh-seeded Michigan, who knocked off Western Michigan in the league quarterfinals. The Wolverines are now 7-0-1 — seven wins and a shootout win — in their past eight games as they look to extend their streak of 22 consecutive NCAA appearances. Ohio State and Notre Dame will tangle in the first semifinal at 1 p.m., while the Wolverines and Miami (Ohio) face off in the second semifinal at 4:35 p.m. The Red Hawks have advanced to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. Both semifinals will be televised by FOX Sports Detroit PLUS, while the final on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. will be shown on FOX Sports Detroit.
No. 1 Quinnipiac will be seeking to add another accolade to the Bobcats’ historic run as they contend for their first ECAC Hockey title in Atlantic City, N.J., this weekend. The Bobcats will face another program trying for their first league title as they take on Brown on Friday at 4 p.m. While Quinnipiac holds a 6-1 record against the Bears in ECAC tournament play, the two teams tied in two regular season meetings this year. In the second semifinal, Union and Yale will clash at 7:30 p.m. Union will attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since St. Lawrence accomplished the feat in 2000 and 2001, while Yale will look to claim their third championship in the last five years. Fox College Sports will broadcast the entire weekend of games, including the final on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
While No. 1 seed UMass-Lowell will be going for its first Hockey East tournament title and fourth-seeded Providence is hoping to surprise fans with the Friars’ first championship since 1996, the story in the Hockey East will undoubtedly be Boston U. and Boston College meeting in the semifinals at the TD Garden on Friday. Adding to the storied history between the two rivals, will be the fact longtime BU head coach Jack Parker is retiring after the season. In addition, Boston College head coach Jerry York will most likely miss the tournament as he is recovering from surgery to repair a detached retina. Associate coaches Greg Brown and Mike Cavanaugh will be filling in for York. The Eagles and Terriers have combined to win the last eight Hockey East titles (BC 6, BU 2), and 18 (BC 11, BU 7) of the championships since the Hockey East tournament began in 1985.
“BC has always brought out the best in us and vice-versa,” BU head coach Jack Parker said. “It should be a great college hockey game. We can’t end their season, but I would like to extend ours by getting to the final.”
UMass-Lowell and Providence face off at 5 p.m. on Friday, and BC-BU follows at 8 p.m. Saturday’s championship final will be at 7 p.m. All three games will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
Western Collegiate Hockey Association
The WCHA Final Five – as college hockey fans know it – will be contested for the last time before reshuffling takes place next season. St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha are leaving to help form the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and Wisconsin and Minnesota are bolting for the Big Ten at the end of the season.
St. Cloud is the top seed in the tournament after the Huskies won their first regular season title, while top-ranked Minnesota is the No. 2 seed. Both squads received a bye to the semifinals, while No. 5 Minnesota and No. 4 Wisconsin (3 p.m.) will tangle in the quarterfinals on Thursday, followed by No. 6 Colorado College and No. 3 North Dakota (8 p.m.) at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn. The entire tournament will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.
North Dakota has won the last three Broadmoor Trophies and is the only team in WCHA history to claim three consecutive league tournament titles. UND has won eight consecutive WCHA Final Five games. Since Feb. 1, UND has posted an 8-3-2 record with all three losses coming by just one goal.
• Conference championship action also heats up in women’s gymnastics, and there is no tougher field that the Southeastern Conference. Of the eight teams competing, four are ranked in the top six nationally – No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 LSU. The Gators are the defending league champions and the top seed in this year’s event which will be held Saturday at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark.
• Cornell senior wrestler Kyle Dake will attempt to reach a historical collegiate wrestling milestone at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships this weekend when he looks to become the first student-athlete to win four national titles in four different weight classes. Dake heads into this year’s championships with a 32-0 record and is the No. 1 seed in the 165-pound bracket. In the last three years, he has won titles at 141, 149 and 157 pounds. The 165-pound match in the championship finals will be the last of 10 on Saturday, which will be broadcast live on ESPN at 8 p.m.
• The Tennessee women’s basketball program will be making its 32nd appearance in the NCAA championship – the only team to earn a berth in every season of the tournament’s existence. However, this will be the first year former Hall of Fame head coach Pat Summitt will not be on the bench. First-year head coach Holly Warlick, Summitt’s longtime assistant, is stalking the sidelines now and has already led the Lady Vols to the SEC championship. Second-seeded Tennessee plays No. 15 seed Oral Roberts in an Oklahoma City Region first-round game in Knoxville on Saturday at 1:50 p.m. on ESPN2.
• Top-ranked St. Thomas (Minn.) will look to continue its run in the Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament when the Tommies (29-1) face Williams College (26-4) in quarterfinal action on Friday in Salem, Va. St. Thomas, who leads the nation in scoring margin (21.4) and field-goal percentage (52.9), is seeking its second title in the last three years. The semifinal round will be played in Salem on Saturday, but the finals will be held on April 7 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Ga.
• The NCAA Fencing Championships get underway on Thursday at Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas. Two teams – Princeton and Notre Dame – qualified the maximum number of participants for the event, each heading to the Lone Star State with 12 fencers. Ohio State is the defending national champion, and returns two 2012 champions – Zain Shaito (men’s foil) and Katazyna Dabrowa (women’s epee).
• The No. 1 Minnesota women’s hockey team is looking to make history – again – as the Golden Gophers attempt to conclude their unprecedented season as the first undefeated team in Division I women’s hockey. The Gophers, who are riding an NCAA-record 47-game winning streak, enter the 2013 Frozen Four with a 39-0-0 record and an eye on their second consecutive national championship. Minnesota will host the event at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. The Gophers will play Boston College at 6 p.m., followed by Boston U. and Mercyhurst at 9 p.m. The winners will meet on Sunday at 4 p.m. Minnesota is the only one of the four teams to have ever one a national title.
• Georgia heads to the Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships with a full complement of 17 performers, including senior Allison Schmitt, who returned to the Bulldogs this season after taking a redshirt in order to compete at the 2012 Olympics. Schmitt came back from London with a neck full of medals, but she’s not done yet as the Bulldogs look to claim their first NCAA team title since 2005. Schmitt enters the meet with the nation’s fastest time in the 200-meter freestyle (1:42.25), and the sixth-best time in the 500-meter freestyle (4:36.54). She will be trying for her third NCAA title in the 200 free (2010, 2011), and fourth victory in the 500 free (2009, 2010, 2011).
• No. 1 BYU men’s volleyball hits the road after a one-week hiatus as the Cougars visit No. 9 Cal State Northridge on Friday and No. 4 Long Beach State on Saturday for a pair of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation contests. The Cougars look to stretch their three-match lead in the MPSF standings. BYU tops the league in hitting percentage with a .322 clip, and is holding opponents to a .241 hitting percentage – the best in the MPSF. One of the Cougars’ three losses came in five sets to Long Beach on Feb. 1.
• The No. 4 Oregon State baseball team opens its Pac-12 home slate on Friday as the Beavers welcome Arizona State for a three-game series. The Beavers boast the nation’s top ERA, and are fresh off a sweep of defending NCAA champion Arizona. Senior left-hander Matt Boyd, the reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, will start Friday for Oregon State. Last week, Boyd tossed seven innings of two-hit ball against Arizona and became the school’s all-time leader in winning percentage at .938 (15-1). He enters the weekend 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 31 strikeouts in five starts this season.
• The Bellarmine men’s lacrosse team is off to its best start since 2008 after downing Mercer 12-5 last weekend. The Knights are off to a 6-1 start with their only loss coming to defending NCAA champion Loyola (Md.) on March 2. Bellarmine, who is receiving votes in both national polls, will host No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday in a pivotal ECAC lacrosse matchup.
• LIU Post junior attacker Jackie Sileo established a new NCAA Division II career assists mark as she collected eight helpers in the No. 1 Pioneers’ 16-13 victory against No. 8 Dowling on Wednesday. Sileo’s record-breaker came midway through the first half as she broke the previous mark of 204, held by former Adelphi player Claire Peterson (2010-11). The native of Wantagh, N.Y., now has 212 in her three-year career, and currently leads the nation with 47 assists and 63 points on the season. The Pioneers are undefeated heading into their next contest on Saturday against No. 15 Bloomsburg.
• The Hope College men’s lacrosse team is enjoying a spectacular start to its inaugural varsity season. The Flying Dutchmen are off to a 5-0 start in their debut as a Division III program following Monday’s 22-4 win against Wilmington (Ohio). Senior captain Josh Kamstra leads the squad with 28 goals, and entered the week as the nation’s second-leading scorer. The Flying Dutchmen are back in action on Saturday at Carthage (Wis.).
• The No. 1 Oklahoma softball team may boast the nation’s best ERA (0.67) behind the nation’s top two pitchers in Michelle Gascoigne (0.59) and Keilani Ricketts (0.72), but the Sooners’ offense isn’t too shabby either. The Sooners are hitting .325, which ranks 21st in the nation, led by Lauren Chamberlain’s impressive .507 average, which tops Division I. Chamberlain also paces the nation with 0.57 home runs per game. The Sooners will put their seven-game shutout streak and 10-game winning streak on the line when they host No. 11 Louisville for a three-game series beginning Saturday.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy