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Chris Peters | | March 17, 2017

National tournament spots on the line as conference playoffs wrap up

  Despite a good pairwise ranking, Penn State sits on the bubble.

If you love college hockey, then it simply doesn't get better than these next three weeks. Starting this week with the men’s conference tournament finales, the Women’s Frozen Four, going into next weekend’s NCAA regionals for the men and concluding with the Men’s Frozen Four April 6 and 8, how can you not love this?

FROZEN FOUR: Championship Details | Tickets

The fun starts Thursday with the Big Ten’s quarterfinals kicking things off in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena and keeps rolling right through the next two days, with conference champions crowned Saturday. Those conference champions will also guarantee themselves a spot in the 2017 NCAA tournament. Eight teams are pretty much in the tournament no matter the results this weekend, but everyone else is playing not only for conference hardware, but to extend their season for at least one more week.

The teams breathing relatively easy, per’s Pairwise Probability Matrix, are Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Harvard, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Boston University, Union and UMass-Lowell. Others like Notre Dame, Cornell, North Dakota and Providence are all in pretty good shape to get in, but there are some scenarios that could knock them out. Penn State, Ohio State, Air Force and Boston College, meanwhile, are in rather precarious position heading into the weekend despite being in the top 16 in the Pairwise right now. Each has to help themselves, with Air Force and BC almost certainly facing must-win scenarios when it comes to their conference tournament finales.

RANKINGS: | USA Today/ USA Hockey Magazine | RPI

Regardless of if a team is on the bubble or not, every single team still alive is playing to hoist a trophy Saturday. Winning the conference tournament still carries a lot of weight, even if it isn’t the primary trophy all of these teams are still actively chasing.

Here’s a look at each conference’s tournament finale so you can plan your weekend out:

All times ET

Big Ten Tournament – Detroit – Joe Louis Arena – TV: Big Ten Network

Thursday, March 16

Ohio State vs. Michigan State, 4:30 p.m.

Michigan vs. Penn State, 8 p.m.

Friday, March 17

Michigan State/Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, 4:30 p.m.

Michigan/Penn State vs. Minnesota, 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 18

Championship Game, 8 p.m.

Preview: With only Minnesota sitting comfortably in the national tournament, winning this tournament becomes a priority for everyone else. Penn State and Ohio State each still have a chance to get in without winning the Big Ten, but there’s enough room for error that both should do what they can to control their own fate.

It all starts with Thursday’s quarterfinals. Penn State has to take on a Michigan team that just swept them last weekend. Meanwhile, Ohio State split with Michigan State two weeks ago. It’s going to be a pretty tense weekend for the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes as each looks to make a splash.

Minnesota and Wisconsin will be able to kick back until Friday, when they’ll take on the winners of Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Badgers are looking like they’ll need to win the Big Ten to advance to the national tournament in what has been a relatively quick turnaround job by new coach Tony Granato.

With the way the Big Ten has played all year, this would appear to be the least predictable tournament of them all. That’s a big reason why the rest of the bubble teams outside of the conference will be keeping very close tabs on this one.

ECAC Tournament – Lake Placid, N.Y. – Olympic Center – TV: American Sports Network

Friday, March 17

Quinnipiac vs. Harvard, 4:05 p.m.

Cornell vs. Union, 7:35 p.m.

Saturday, March 18

Championship Game, 7:35 p.m.

Preview: With three teams with a relatively comfortable outlook in the national tournament picture, Quinnipiac is the only one scrapping for an auto-bid. They’ll have a tough battle ahead of them with Harvard as the Crimson have been making a habit of collecting hardware this year. Don’t expect Harvard to sleep on the Bobcats, though, as the two teams split the season series.

In the nightcap, Union should have its hands full with Cornell as the Big Red took the season series with a win and a tie. Cornell is also unbeaten in 11 of their last 12. This could be one of the best semifinals of the weekend.

Hockey East Tournament – Boston – TD Garden – TV: NESN/Stream: ESPN3

Friday, March 17

Notre Dame vs. UMass-Lowell, 5:05 p.m.

Boston College vs. Boston University, 8:05 p.m.

Saturday, March 18

Championship Game, 7 p.m. ET

Preview: The quartet of teams vying for the Hockey East title were packed tightly at the top of the conference’s regular-season standings. UMass-Lowell, BC and BU tied for the regular-season title, while Notre Dame finished just one point behind. There will be no sharing this championship, though.

Boston College is firmly on the bubble and pretty much has to win this tournament to secure their spot. There are a few scenarios where they might still be able to sneak in, but the Eagles shouldn’t leave it to chance. Only problem for them is that they drew the Terriers in the semis. BU has won all three meetings between the Commonwealth Ave. rivals this season. All of that adds up to this being one of the biggest games of the entire weekend.

Meanwhile, the early game will feature a pair of teams who are likely already tournament-bound. Both teams are rolling right now, too. The Irish come into the semi with seven wins over their last nine games including a series sweep of Providence in last week’s quarterfinals. UMass-Lowell is similarly hot, however, as the River Hawks have won nine of their last 10. They’re also looking for their third conference tournament title in five years.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff – Minneapolis – Target Center – TV: CBS Sports Network

Friday, March 17

Western Michigan vs. Minnesota Duluth, 5:08 p.m.

North Dakota vs. Denver, 8:38 p.m.

Saturday, March 18

Championship Game, 8:30 p.m.
Consolation Game, 4:30 p.m.

Preview: The top four teams in the regular season are the last four teams standing at the end of the NCHC tournament. That means we’ve got two incredible semifinal matchups and what will surely be a doozy of a final. Of the four teams, the defending national champion North Dakota Fighting Hawks have the most to lose, with their national tournament fate not quite decided just yet. The other three are essentially already in, but don’t expect any of them to take their foot off the gas for this event.

That WMU-UMD semi should be really fun with the two clubs having split the regular-season series. Most of the games were relatively high-scoring, too. And how can you not love two of the wests bluebloods going toe-to-toe in the night cap? Denver has the inside track on being the No. 1 overall seed in the national tournament, while North Dakota could be playing for even having the opportunity to defend its national title. The two clubs only met once earlier this year, with Denver coming away with a win and a tie.

This tournament will easily be one of the most compelling of the weekend.

Atlantic Hockey Tournament – Rochester, N.Y. – Blue Cross Arena

Friday, March 17

Robert Morris vs. Canisius, 4:35 p.m.

Army West Point vs. Air Force, 8:05 p.m.

Saturday, March 18

Championship Game, 7:05 p.m.

Preview: All eyes will be on Charles Williams, the nation’s top goalie statistically, and Canisius to see if they can sustain this incredible 17-game unbeaten streak they’re on. Despite this crazy run, a tournament win is their only path to the national tournament. Robert Morris could prove to be a handful in the semis as the Colonials have a number of dangerous offensive threats led by junior Brady Ferguson, who has 55 points in 36 games this season.

While the Golden Griffins have been stealing headlines of late, the Air Force Falcons have been pretty darn good all season. Heading into the weekend, Air Force is actually in the top 16 in the Pairwise. Still, they’re essentially in must-win mode if they want to make it to next week’s regionals. Army West Point, coming off of a tense three-game series against Mercyhurst in the quarters will be a tough out in the semis despite USAFA’s 3-1 record against the Black Knights this season.

WCHA Broadmoor Trophy Championship – Houghton, Mich. – MacInnes Student Ice Arena

Saturday, March 18

Bowling Green State at Michigan Tech, 7:07 p.m.

Preview: After a change in format, the WCHA’s coveted Broadmoor Trophy is on the line in a single winner-take-all final. After eliminating regular-season champion Bemidji State in a sweep, Bowling Green is taking a seven-game winning streak into the final. It’s their longest streak since the 1987-88 season, which coincidentally was also the last year the Falcons played in a conference final. A win here puts BGSU in the national tournament for the first time since 1990.

To do it, they’ll have to get through a Michigan Tech squad that finished second in the league during the regular season and will be playing on home ice. The Huskies own a 2-0 record over the Falcons so far this season as well. After skating past Minnesota State in last weekend’s semifinal, Michigan Tech has a chance to go to its second NCAA tournament in the last three years.

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