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Chris Peters | | February 16, 2018

Regular season conference races heat up in hockey

College Hockey | Top Five Plays

The intensity with which the regular season should close with is going to make these next few weeks of hockey awfully fun and a great appetizer for the conference and national tournaments. Only the Big Ten’s regular-season champion has already been decided with tight races just about everywhere else.

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There is probably no more wide open a race than the one in Atlantic hockey currently. It’s really incredible how tightly bunched that conference is. Canisius currently has a two point lead over Mercyhurst and Holy Cross in Atlantic Hockey, but Robert Morris is only five points back. Beyond the race for the regular-season title, the 11th place team – Sacred Heart – is only five points behind fifth-place RIT. Seeding for the conference tournament is going to come down to the final day of the regular season.

Over in the ECAC, Cornell is in the driver’s seat with a four-point lead over both Clarkson and Union. Of the four games the Big Red have left, three are against teams in the bottom half of the standings, while they close out their regular season against Union. The Big Red appear poised to end the season with the Cleary Cup in hand assuming they can finish strong.

Meanwhile, over in Hockey East, there’s a familiar name at the top in the race for the regular-season title. Boston College, which went 0-7-3 in non-conference play this year, has a four-point advantage over second-place Providence in the standings with only three games remaining for the Eagles. Still within striking distance is Beanpot champion Northeastern. The Huskies trail by five points, but have a game in hand. Both Northeastern and Providence will need some help if they want to catch the Eagles, but it’s not over yet. Because of that poor non-conference record, BC still likely has to win their conference tournament to get a NCAA berth.

The NCHC race for the Penrose Cup is awfully tight as well, but it’s a two-horse race. Defending regular-season champion St. Cloud State has a three-point advantage over last year’s conference tournament and national champion Denver. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, nothing is decided yet. Especially since these two teams will be playing each other next weekend.

It’s also a two-horse race in the WCHA with just two weeks remaining in that conference’s regular season. Northern Michigan has a slim one-point lead over Minnesota State, but the Wildcats only have two games left. The Mavericks, however, have four with a series this weekend against Ferris State before closing the year out against Bemidji State.

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Let’s have a look at some games to keep a close eye on this weekend.

Friday-Saturday, Feb. 16-17 series

Mercyhurst at Robert Morris, 7:05 p.m. 
Robert Morris at Mercyhurst, 7:05 p.m. 

As noted, these two teams are right in the thick of the tight race in Atlantic Hockey. Robert Morris swept the first home-and-home series between these two, outscoring the Lakers 10-5 over the two games. Brady Ferguson, RMU’s top scorer was a major factor in that series with seven points over the two games. Ferguson has 38 points in 30 games this season, which puts him fifth in the nation presently. Both of these teams need the points badly from these games to try to catch Canisius. Additionally, the Colonials will be playing with heavy hearts this weekend as they mourn the loss of former associate head coach Mark Workman, who passed away earlier this week following a battle with cancer.

Denver at Colorado College, 9:37 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Colorado College at Denver, 9:05 p.m. (Altitude)

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The Gold Pan is on the line this weekend between these two fierce, longtime rivals. In early December, Denver and CC couldn’t have been tighter. Both games ended in ties, with each team picking up an extra conference standings point in overtime over that weekend series. So it’s anyone’s Pan at this point. Denver will be playing without junior forward Troy Terry, who is currently starring for Team USA at the Olympics, but the Pioneers are on a seven-game unbeaten streak. Colorado College, meanwhile, boasts one of the nation’s top scorers in Nick Halloran, who is third in the country with 40 points in 28 games. He scored a late goal to force overtime in the first meeting between these two teams this year. It is always a great battle when these two get together, but with NCHC and Gold Pan implications, this should be a particularly fun rivalry matchup.

Ohio State at Minnesota, 9 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Ohio State at Minnesota, 5 p.m. (ESPNU)

The Big Ten regular-season title may be decided, but seeding for the tournament is still a work in progress. Ohio State is in second place with a 12-7-1 Big Ten record, but it’s tight behind them. Minnesota currently sits fourth in the league after going on a run of five wins in their last six games including a convincing sweep of Wisconsin last weekend. The Gophers are surging right now, but Ohio State swept the earlier matchup between the two sides on home ice. Both teams appear on relatively solid footing the for the national tournament, but this will be a good test for what’s to come the rest of the way.

Friday-Sunday Feb. 16, 18 series

Michigan at Notre Dame, 7:35 p.m.
Notre Dame at Michigan, 5:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

Notre Dame can feel really good about themselves having already won the conference’s regular-season title in their first year in the Big Ten, but Michigan is still fighting for their postseason lives. The Wolverines are currently ranked 15th in the Pairwise, which has them in the mix for a national tournament berth in head coach Mel Pearson’s first year at the helm. After beating Michigan State last weekend in a tight series, Michigan is slowly building up a little bit of momentum. They’ve battled consistency all year. Meanwhile, Notre Dame might have the title already, but they’re in a position where they want to be playing their best hockey heading into the postseason. They only have four games between now and the tournament where they’ll have a bye to the semifinals, so staying on top of their game is a priority. It might be easier to do with the nation’s top goaltender, Cale Morris, whose save percentage remains at a stunning .950.

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