The holidays are long gone, but it truly is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Ladies and gentlemen: playoff hockey is upon us.

While regular-season hockey is still going on in most conferences, the NCHA playoffs began this past weekend with the conference quarterfinals, and Wisconsin-River Falls, Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin-Superior have punched their tickets to the conference semifinals, single games set to be played on campus next weekend at St. Norbert and Wisconsin-Superior.

The surprise winner on the weekend was River Falls, which finished sixth in the regular season, but was able to upset Wisconsin-Stout, which finished tied for second but dropped the tiebreaker to Wisconsin-Superior. The Falcons dropped a 3-2 decision to the Blue Devils on Friday, but Josh Calleja scored with eight seconds remaining in regulation on Saturday to force overtime in the second game, which set up Sean Roadhouse’s extra-attacker goal at 4:31 of the extra session. With the series tied at one game apiece, a minigame ensued to break the tie, and Martin Sundstedt scored his first collegiate goal to give the Falcons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and Justin Brossman picked up an empty-net goal with 49 seconds left to play to give UWRF a 2-0 win, sending the Falcons on to face No. 2 St. Norbert next Saturday in the NCHA semifinals.

Meanwhile, Superior, which finished second in the regular season, needed no minigame, as the Yellowjackets swept St. Scholastica by scores of 4-2 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday. They’ll host their semifinal on Saturday, facing Stevens Point, which dropped its series opener to Wisconsin-Eau Claire, but held the Blugolds without a goal in both Saturday’s rematch and the ensuing minigame for a 1-0 win and a 2-0 series-clincher, respectively.

The NCHA title game will be played on March 5 at the home rink of the highest remaining seed.


• After trying to match offensive firepower with No. 1 Boston College through two games this week, Northeastern turned to its defense – most notably sophomore goaltender Chris Rawlings – and finally knocked off the top-ranked Eagles. The Huskies, who lost Monday’s Beanpot championship game to BC in overtime, 7-6, tied the Eagles, 7-7 on Friday at Conte Forum, with Bill Arnold tying the game for the Eagles with 39 seconds to play. On Saturday, however, the Huskies got the win in front of a sold-out crowd at their own Matthews Arena, as Rawlings stopped 36 of 37 shots to backstop Northeastern to a 2-1 victory. Brodie Reid and Braden Pimm scored the goals for Northeastern, which is playing without head coach Greg Cronin and assistant coach Albie O’Connell. With Cronin and O’Connell suspended while the school investigates potential recruiting violations, assistant coach Sebastian LaPlante has taken the reins of the Huskies, who face No. 9 New Hampshire next weekend in a home-and-home series.

• The nation’s longest active unbeaten streak still belongs to Adrian. The Bulldogs scored a pair of 3-1 wins over MCHA rival Milwaukee School of Engineering to extend their current run to 14 games (13-0-1) and clinch the MCHA regular-season title. The wins allowed Adrian to finish with 37 points (18-1-1), while MSOE finished with 33 (16-3-1).

• Division I’s longest unbeaten streak was snapped on Saturday, as RIT – which has already wrapped up the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title – fell to Robert Morris, 5-3, in Moon Township. Ron Cramer had a goal and an assist for the Colonials, who took a one-point lead on Air Force and Holy Cross for second place in the conference standings, and a two-point lead on fifth-place Niagara.

• Division I and III schools took the game outside this past weekend, as Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 featured college action as part of a two-week hockey extravaganza at Rentschler Field in Hartford. On Feburary 15, Sean McCarthy scored the game-winning goal 1:31 into the third period as Trinity defeated Wesleyan, 3-1, in NESCAC action. On Saturday, Army used a three-goal second period – with Mike Hull assisting on all three tallies – to defeat Atlantic Hockey rival American International, 4-1. While attendance for both games hovered around the 1,000 mark – not exactly the sellout crowds one associates with outdoor hockey – there was a magic to it all the same for the participants. “I think they really enjoyed the experience,” said AIC head coach Gary Wright. “I think the whole setting of the stadium and the elements added to the whole thing. On the whole, it was a great experience, and it really shows you why the NHL and some of college hockey is going back to this.”


• No. 3 Yale’s offense is going great guns once again. The Bulldogs – leading Division I with an average of 4.41 goals per game - scored 11 goals in two contests this weekend, a 6-1 win over local rival Quinnipiac on Friday, followed by a 5-4 win over Princeton Sunday.

• Coming off the loss to Trinity at Rentschler Field and a 4-3 overtime loss to Southern Maine on Friday, Wesleyan took its frustrations out on the University of New England on Saturday afternoon. Nik Tasiopoulos had a hat trick and assisted on three other goals, Geoff Mucha had two goals and three assists, and the Cardinals steamrolled the Nor’easters, 14-1.

• No. 5 Union is riding high atop the ECAC Hockey standings, but the Dutchmen are also riding the longest win streak in Division I. Union has won nine straight since a January 21 loss to Dartmouth, and also leads the nation in scoring defense with 2.09 goals allowed per game.

• Hamilton freshman forward Michael DiMare was named the NESCAC Player of the Week after he helped the No. 13 Continentals clinch the top seed for the conference playoffs. DiMare scored two goals in each of Hamilton’s wins – a 5-4 win at UMass Boston on Friday and a 3-1 win at Babson on Saturday), including the game-winning goal in each contest.

• Merrimack junior goaltender Joe Cannata was named the Athletic Republic Player of the Week by Hockey East after backstopping the Warriors to a pair of wins over conference rival UMass. Playing without top scorer Stephane Da Costa, the Warriors edged the Minutemen 4-3 in overtime on Friday and 2-1 in 60 minutes on Sunday, with Cannata stopping 27 shots and 38 shots, respectively, in the two contests.