With just a few weeks left in the regular season for most conferences, it is amazing how tight the races are across the conferences. Bemidji State is the only team that has already clinched a regular-season title, as the Beavers own a 10-point lead in the WCHA standings at this late stage.
Pretty much every other conference has a title up for grabs. The NCHC and ECAC each have one point separating its first- and second-place teams. Hockey East and Atlantic Hockey have three-point gaps between first and second. The Big Ten also has a three-point gap between first and second, but they also have four weeks left to play before their conference tournament.
With all of that said, this is a pretty big weekend across the country, rife with compelling matchups. It’s not just about winning the conference regular-season title, as many teams will just be happy with a higher seed and home ice at least in the first round of the conference tournaments.
Then, on top of the conference jockeying, there are a lot of teams that are going to have the Pairwise on their minds as the tournament bubble is getting a little crowded these days.
Here’s a look at some of the games to keep a closer eye on this weekend:
Friday, Feb. 17
Minnesota at Penn State, 6:30 p.m. ET (BTN): After sweeping Wisconsin on the road last weekend, Penn State has to feel its back in the Big Ten regular-season title mix. After that feel-good scenario, the Nittany Lions have to play a Minnesota squad they just saw two weeks ago. This time, Penn State will be enjoying the comforts of Pegula Arena as the home team. The Gophers, meanwhile, have a three-point lead over Wisconsin – thanks to Penn State’s handiwork last week – for first place in the conference. There is a lot of runway left in the Big Ten’s regular season, but this series has a certain feel of importance to it.
Harvard at Yale, 7 p.m. ET: The ECAC title race is pretty compelling. Union is maintaining a one-point lead for first, but Harvard has to be riding high after ending their Beanpot drought. Assuming there is no Beanpot hangover, they shouldn’t have much of a problem getting up for a big rivalry game as they look to extend their unbeaten streak to nine. Yale, however, played Harvard tough last time out, earning a 1-1 tie on Jan. 21. The Crimson’s offense seems to be clicking, led by seniors Alexander Kerfoot, Sean Malone and Tyler Moy, which could spell trouble for the Bulldogs.
Cornell at St. Lawrence, 7 p.m. ET: While Harvard and Union seem to be most likely to duke it out for the Cleary Cup as regular-season champs, Cornell and St. Lawrence are still within striking distance. There’s a chance only one of them will be after this big Friday-night contest. Both the Big Red and the Saints are within two points of first with identical 11-4-3 records in the ECAC. The last time these two clubs met, Cornell skated away with a 3-2 win, but St. Lawrence has only lost twice at home all season.
North Dakota at Western Michigan, 7:05 p.m. ET (CBSSN): A big series for seeding in the NCHC and national tournament, Western Michigan and North Dakota should put on a good show. The two clubs split in Grand Forks earlier in the year, but both will be looking to establish themselves a bit more as the postseason nears. Having gone 3-5-0 in their past eight games, this series seems like an awfully big one for North Dakota in particular.
Northern Michigan at Minnesota State, 8:07 p.m. ET: This one is all about watching history. Should Northern Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen go 39:23 without allowing a goal against the Mavericks, he will break former Lake Superior State goalie Blaine Lacher’s record for consecutive shutout minutes. Tolvanen has not allowed a goal in his past 335:39 of action and has registered five consecutive shutouts, which already ties him with Lacher, who set the record in 1993-94. It has been a remarkable run for Tolvanen, who has made 196 saves in his five shutout games. Managing to maintain a streak like this while averaging 39-plus shots against is nothing short of incredible.
Saturday, Feb. 18
Vermont at Boston College, 7 p.m. ET: A well-timed home series for Boston College could go a long way to helping the Eagles clinch the Hockey East regular-season title. However, they have a pretty tough opponent in Vermont. The Catamounts are one of the teams that technically is still alive in the title hunt, though they’re seven points behind BC and in fifth place in Hockey East. On top of all of this, these two teams currently are firmly on the bubble for the national tournament. Per the current Pairwise rankings, neither would make the tournament due to their position. Neither club has played inspiring hockey of late, but both desperately need a good showing this weekend.
Providence at Notre Dame, 7:05 p.m. ET (NBCSN): Another big one for Hockey East seeding, the Friars and Irish are very much in striking distance of a regular-season title. Notre Dame is four points out, while Providence is five. This will be the finale of what is turning out to be a pretty big late-season conference matchup. The Irish are heating up as they're riding a four-game unbeaten streak, but few teams have been hotter than Providence as the Friars have won nine straight.
Denver at Miami, 8:05 p.m. ET (ASN): NCHC watchers are going to want to keep a close eye on this one, and perhaps another eye on what happens in Minnesota Duluth’s series against Colorado College. Both UMD and DU are expected to handle their opponents, but if either falters, it could have major implications. Denver holds a one-point lead over UMD in the NCHC standings, while Miami is second to last. With this series being in Oxford and the stakes being so high for DU, it’s not a game or series they can overlook. The same goes for UMD, which will be in Colorado Springs for their date with the Tigers. Every game is a big one from here on out for the Pios and Bulldogs.