Dear Hockey East,
Please reconsider the new playoff plan you’re implementing next season. Vermont just swept Northeastern in a huge series. Northeastern now heads to UMass on Tuesday for what is essentially a must-win game. Then this coming weekend, UMass hosts Maine in a series that could wind up deciding both teams’ seasons. Why are all these games so important? Because of that race for the eighth and final playoff spot. Because not all of those teams are going to make the postseason.
This is what makes the Hockey East regular season better than the regular season in any other conference. In other leagues, none of those games I just mentioned would be nearly as important. Sure, they might decide seeding, but they wouldn’t decide seasons. I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say that in a league where everyone makes the playoffs, I don’t really care if someone finishes ninth instead of 10th. Home ice in that new first round is something to shoot for, but there’s no way that race will ever be as exciting or as meaningful as a race for the final playoff spot.
I’m not saying you have to stick to the same eight-team format. In fact, I’d be worried that an eight-team playoff in a 12-team league would lead to too many meaningless games at the end of the regular season for the bottom couple teams. A 10-team playoff would be ideal in my opinion. There are several ways to make this work. One would be the old WCHA format, with first-round series pitting 1 vs. 10, 2 vs. 9, etc., followed by a play-in game between the two lowest remaining seeds prior to the semifinals. Another would be having two play-in games pit 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 prior to the quarterfinals.
When the new playoff format was first announced, I was honestly kind of indifferent. I saw some positives in including every team — namely an extra weekend of playoff hockey — and I even told a bunch of fans on Twitter to stop complaining. But now I realize that the extra weekend of playoffs doesn’t make up for all the regular-season games that will become a lot less meaningful. The WCHA recently scrapped its new postseason plan in favor of a better one. Please consider doing the same.
Scott (and probably many others)
1. Boston College (17-8-3, 12-7-2 HE) — Last week: 1
BC mustered just one point on the weekend, losing in overtime to Merrimack on Friday before tying UNH 4-4 on Sunday. The Eagles stay at the top of my power rankings, though, thanks to the fact that UNH also got just one point. In the standings, however, they fell one point behind first-place Merrimack. They also slid one spot to fifth in the Pairwise. Parker Milner had a tough game on Sunday, as he gave up four goals for just the fourth time this season. On Friday, Jerry York announced that Kevin Hayes has been suspended indefinitely.
2. New Hampshire (16-8-4, 11-7-3 HE) — Last week: 2
The Wildcats lost 1-0 to Providence on Wednesday, then tied BC on Sunday. That extended their winless streak to four games. The good news, though, is that Sunday wrapped up the toughest stretch of their schedule, and they still find themselves fourth in the Pairwise and two points out of first in the league. They end the season with series against Vermont, UMass and Maine, so a regular-season title could certainly be within reach if they play well.
3. Merrimack (14-10-6, 12-6-3 HE) — Last week: 3
The Warriors took over first place when Connor Toomey scored with 34.7 seconds left in overtime to give them a 2-1 win over BC on Friday. Then they held onto it by tying Providence 2-2 on Sunday, a result that extended their unbeaten streak to five games. They stay at three in my rankings, though, due mostly to the fact that they’re still just 18th in the Pairwise. Vinny Scotti scored both goals on Sunday.
4. Massachusetts-Lowell (16-9-2, 10-8-2 HE) — Last week: 4
The River Hawks swept UMass to pull within two points of home ice. Derek Arnold recorded two goals and an assist in Friday’s 6-3 win, then tallied two more points in Saturday’s 3-2 triumph. Riley Wetmore and Christian Folin also had big weekends, as they posted four points apiece. Connor Hellebuyck got both starts in his first weekend back from injury and improved to 8-0-0 in his last eight starts. Lowell moved up to 14th in the Pairwise.
5. Providence (11-10-7, 9-6-6 HE) — Last week: 5
The Friars beat UNH 1-0 on Wednesday, then tied Merrimack on Sunday. They’re undefeated in their last five games, although four of those have been ties. Still, they remain tied for fourth in the standings and are now just three points out of first. Stefan Demopoulos scored the lone goal on Wednesday, while Jon Gillies stopped all 37 shots he faced to earn his fourth shutout of the season. The Friars will likely have to win the Hockey East tournament to make NCAAs.
6. Boston University (14-12-2, 11-7-2 HE) — Last week: 6
The Terriers snapped a three-game losing streak by taking three of four points from Maine. Matt Nieto notched a goal and an assist in Friday’s 3-3 tie, then scored with 3.8 seconds left in overtime to give BU a 5-4 win on Saturday. Danny O’Regan had two goals and an assist on Saturday and is now tied with Kevin Roy for the freshman scoring lead in conference play. The Terriers are just three points out of first, but I still need to see more before I consider them a contender for any trophies. On Thursday, Jack Parker announced that Alexx Privitera has been suspended for the rest of the season.
7. Vermont (10-14-4, 7-10-4 HE) — Last week: 8
Don’t look now, but the Catamounts have won three straight and are 4-1-0 in their last five. They swept Northeastern over the weekend, winning 2-1 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday. They’re now alone in seventh place and, more importantly, they have a four-point cushion over ninth-place Maine. They might need that safety net, as their last three series are against UNH, BU and BC. Chris McCarthy scored twice on Saturday.
8. Massachusetts (10-15-2, 7-12-1 HE) — Last week: 7
The Minutemen have gone the exact opposite direction as Vermont. They got swept by Lowell over the weekend, dropping them to 1-4-0 in their last five. It wasn’t too long ago that UMass was in Vermont’s position, hovering a little above the race for eighth. Now the Minutemen are squarely on the bubble, sitting just one point ahead of Maine. Kevin Boyle gave up six goals on 19 shots Friday.
9. Maine (8-16-6, 4-11-6 HE) — Last week: 9
After tying BU on Friday, the Black Bears came back from a 4-1 deficit to force overtime on Saturday. But then they got caught with five guys up ice in the final seconds and wound up losing. They’re just one point out of eighth, but UMass has a game in hand. Those two meet in Amherst this weekend for a series that could end up deciding who gets in. Devin Shore had five points against BU, while Steven Swavely scored three goals.
10. Northeastern (8-16-3, 4-13-3 HE) — Last week: 10
I’m not quite ready to stick a fork in the Huskies, but my arm’s raised with fork in hand. They got swept at home by Vermont and are now four points out of a playoff spot. Tuesday’s game at UMass is pretty much a must-win, as a loss would drop them to six points out.