With the 2012 portion of the schedule underway, it’s going to be a fast and furious marathon sprint to the finish for the world of college hockey. Although nearly two full months’ worth of games remain, the race for playoff seeding is well underway with teams separating themselves from first round byes and home ice advantage. In at least two of the conferences, there’s already a good idea of who’s in, who’s out, who’s on the road, and who’s probably not going very far.
With that in mind, we begin a look back and a look forward of the 2011 portion of the college hockey schedule before looking ahead to what could, might, should, and will happen in 2012.
We begin with the Hockey East Association:
Eating the Mushroom Makes Mario Bigger
Hockey East’s biggest news of the 2011 portion of the schedule was, without question, the addition of Notre Dame when realignment takes effect in 2013-2014. Bringing the Irish into the fold gives the HEA a national profile through Notre Dame’s contract with NBC Sports, and NBC Sports Channel (formerly Versus) has pledged to begin broadcasting Hockey East games. Hockey East is most likely to expand by another factor of one so they’ll have an even number, but that 12th team is unknown. Holy Cross is announced to be exploring the move publicly, while UConn is beginning an evaluation of their program. Other teams rumored included RPI, Quinnipiac, RIT, and possibly an expansion with a school like Syracuse. So, far, we don’t know.
Perseverance is key
Boston University lost Corey Trivino to legal matters and Charlie Coyle to Canadian junior hockey/academic issues this season alone. That means the Terriers are without their top two centers for the remainder of the year. Still, despite that, they remain currently tied for first place in Hockey east with a 9-4-1 record, identical to Boston College. At 11-6-1 overall, the Terriers are still a top ten team, but it’ll be a grind for them, especially with the Beanpot still on the way. They’ll need to run a gauntlet to get to their final two weekends against Northeastern and Vermont, with two games sprinkled in there against UMass-Lowell, who’s one of the surprise teams. Providence has shown upset capabilities, and Maine is still Maine. It’s possible the Terriers could find themselves as a lower seed for a home series, which usually doesn’t mean much if they draw a local team like a Northeastern of UML in the HEA playofs.
Still The One We Run To
Boston College has been vulnerable at times this year in losses to UMass, UMass-Lowell, and a shellacking at the hands of BU. They dropped back-to-back games this season for the first time in what feels like forever in losses to UML and Michigan. Still, BC is BC, and in a down year for college hockey that means they’re still ranked #4 in the nation. They have the inside track to a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, which shouldn’t be inhibited by foolish things like host schools this year (last year, UNH as a home seed sent BC out to St. Louis for a thrashing at the hands of Colorado College). A trip out to Worcester is almost certain as long as they take care of business, since Holy Cross is the host school and if the Crusaders win Atlantic Hockey, they’d never be higher than #4. The conference is theirs for the taking if they can close the deal; they only face really Merrimack down the stretch in terms of tough competition.
Welcome to Earth
Speaking of Merrimack, the Warriors crashed back to ground HARD after being ranked #1 nationally for the first time in program history. They backed into the top slot by virtue of losses to a couple of teams, including Boston College and Notre Dame. But since that time, they’ve won only twice. They were demolished by Providence in a weekend Friar sweep, and they lost to Union pretty badly. Their only two wins since becoming #1 in the nation have been against a team from Atlantic Hockey (Holy Cross) and Vermont. Yes, they just tied Boston College on Sunday, but they were coming off another stinging defeat to BU. It’s possible their #7 ranking will drop in the coming weeks, since their schedule fails to ease up. As the third place team in the conference, they’ll need to go through BC, BU, UNH, UML, UMass, and Providence. If they do well, they’ll be right back where they believe they belong. If not, they’ll be on the road for the playoffs and severely doubting if they were ever worthy of that top ranking spot.
Who’s In, Who’s out?
The race for the final playoff spot will ultimately come down to three teams at this rate – UMass, UNH, and Northeastern. Providence currently has a three point lead on UMass and UNH, with Northeastern one point behind the Minutemen and Wildcats. The Friars could conceivably collapse that away, but this will be a very different team with Nate Leaman at the helm; they won’t lose the playoffs. With Vermont comfortably out of it, that means a UNH team that should’ve been contending for the league championship will need to hope for strong performances from a shaky defense and goalie. Northeastern will need to overcome some of the weaknesses that’s killed them all season, coming from losing recruits and a new head coach. And UMass needs to avoid being…well…UMass. Whoever wins the derby to the end will most likely be rewarded with a trip to Boston College and/or Boston University.
How’re We Doing?
We picked UNH to finish first. Safe to say we blew that one. We also blew Providence as the last place team. But we didn’t flub that BU would contend for the top spot, or that Merrimack would be in the top quadrant of the league. And we’ve hit the nail almost on the head in regards to Maine and UMass-Lowell. But we really flunked our predictions thanks to the University of No Hardware…