It’s March and the postseason begins this weekend in four of the six conferences (all except the NCHC and Hockey East). This is the perfect time to consider the teams to keep a close eye on this month.
Here are 11, ranging from NCAA tournament favorites to the most interesting bubble teams:
No one enters March hotter than the Big Red. Cornell, 23-2-4, begins the ECAC postseason with unfinished business and a national-best 9-0-0 record since Feb. 1. Mike Schafer’s team has found different ways to win, improving both offensively and on pace to lower last season’s remarkable defensive numbers by nearly half a goal.
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March is also an opportunity to find postseason success that eluded the three-time defending Cleary Cup champions. It helps to have a healthy Matthew Galajda, injured during last season’s ECAC championship game and who missed the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
The Beavers have not lost outside the state of Minnesota since Nov. 15. With Bemidji State staying in-state throughout the WCHA postseason, that’s not likely to change until the NCAA tournament. There remains work for the Beavers to make the tournament, but the team controls its own destiny.
Between contesting for the Jeff Sauer Cup and potentially getting an opportunity to win its first game outside the WCHA — despite 20 conference victories, BSU went 0-4-2 in non-conference play— teams continue to try and figure out how to solve the Bemidji State defense. Outside of opening night, goalie Zach Driscoll has not allowed more than three goals in a game.
The freshmen. Watch Boston College’s freshmen. No team is mixing its senior leadership with its star young players like the Eagles, who soar into March a lock for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016. The Hockey East regular-season champions have the top rookie scorer since Jan. 1 in Alex Newhook, who has 13 goals in 17 games. He spearheads an all-freshman line with Matt Boldy (third in points during that time) and Mike Hardman (T-11th). Add in Spencer Knight in goal and March will tell whether the Eagles do have the full package.
American International College
Another regular-season champion, the Yellow Jackets make the list for the opposite reason of BC. Winning back-to-back Atlantic Hockey titles and going 13-2-1 since the calendar turned to 2020, AIC needs to win the AHA automatic bid to return to the NCAA tournament. The Yellow Jackets face challenges from Sacred Heart, RIT and Army West Point, among others. Whether AIC, which returns the majority of last season’s lineup, can use its veteran presence to return to the NCAA Tournament or gets knocked off by the next Atlantic Hockey upset bid will be a story to watch.
Claiming at worst a share of the Penrose Cup, or “Penne Rosa” as it’s known in Grand Forks, the Fighting Hawks currently would be the team trying to stop any Atlantic Hockey upset bids. With one week of the regular season remaining, watching UND in March is to see the favorites. It’s to see what additional hardware North Dakota can add to the collection. Several players nationally have been making in-roads on Jordan Kawaguchi’s Hobey Baker Award case, in addition to the Frozen Faceoff championship and one that comes in April.
It can be intriguing to watch greatness consistently throughout the season, as is the case in several teams mentioned here. At the same time, March often showcases teams on the bubble putting things together after five months of play. That’s Quinnipiac, third in ECAC and on a bye this weekend. The Bobcats have work to do to make the NCAA tournament, but have found success after a 6-7-1 start thanks to Keith Petruzzelli stepping up in goal and the forward pair of Odeen Tufto and Wyatt Bongiovanni. Watching to see if Quinnipiac can find that consistency in March will be worthwhile.
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Michigan has moved up more spots in the Pairwise rankings (22) than any other team since Dec. 26. Once 0-6-1 in Big Ten play, the Wolverines earned home ice and are contending for an at-large bid. Michigan is 9-3-2 since Jan. 10.
It’s the second time in three seasons Mel Pearson’s team has found itself during the second half. While there are similarities to the 2018 team who advanced to the Frozen Four, this edition has found a different recipe for success. The senior leadership and the play of goaltender Strauss Mann is a major reason. Still, the Wolverines need to first get past a Wisconsin team finally feeling healthy and relying on leadership of its own.
The Huskies sit on both the NCAA and Hockey East tournament bubble. Only the top eight teams make the Hockey East conference tournament. Northeastern, in eighth and one point ahead of New Hampshire, is running out of time to turn things around after being swept by a Vermont team that had yet to win a conference game in 2019-20. NU has gone 1-4-0 since losing leading scorer Tyler Madden in a Feb. 15 win against UMass Lowell.
Northeastern is not the only Hockey East school in this situation. UMass Lowell finds itself on the NCAA tournament bubble, facing a hot UConn team this weekend that is 6-2-0 in its last eight games. Maine currently is the last team in the big dance. The good news for the Huskies is that Madden’s return appears to be near, however, is it enough for the Beanpot champions?
Notre Dame & Minnesota
Technically, this note features two teams to watch. There’s a reason. Of this weekend’s postseason series, only the Big Ten quarterfinal in Minneapolis between the Fighting Irish and Gophers features two teams on the bubble playing for an at-large bid. The loser’s season will end. The winner’s hopes continue for another week.
The Fighting Irish, two-time defending Big Ten conference tournament champions, have not put it all together yet still possess a veteran core who previously showed it can. Two weekends ago, Notre Dame rebounded from a tie and home loss to the Gophers by sweeping Michigan.
Minnesota, meanwhile, began the season as the youngest team in college hockey and grew into a more confident group, finishing tied for second in the Big Ten. Both teams are playing low-scoring games of late, with neither reaching four goals since Feb. 1.
Finally, the three-peat. UMD is always a team to watch. This time of year, however, takes on historical reasons. No team has won three straight national championships in men’s hockey since Michigan between 1951-53. The Bulldogs, a lock to return to the NCAA tournament, return several key pieces from the past two championships. Minnesota Duluth junior Scott Perunovich has been the best defender in the country all season. The scoring remains spread out with five players scoring 12 or more goals. Hunter Shepard, a brick wall in two previous NCAA tournaments, has allowed 1.88 goals per game over UMD’s current 7-1-0 stretch.
The Bulldogs do not give opponents too many opportunities. It’s time to watch whether a team takes advantage of those opportunities or whether Minnesota Duluth makes history.