Three Things I Think: Hockey East, March 18, 2014

Posted by: Joe Meloni

Boston College will go a second straight season without winning a Lamoriello Trophy. The Eagles won’t even be in the championship game, nor will they be at TD Garden. It’s not mind-boggling from a hockey standpoint. Notre Dame’s a great team. Hockey East is a hard league to win — parity and stuff. But, thinking over the last decade in Hockey East, a Championship Weekend without the Eagles in plainly weird.

Massachusetts-Lowell’s win of Hockey East last season ended a three-year title reign for Boston College. Notre Dame’s defeat of the Eagles on Sunday afternoon, to complete a 2-1 series win, clinched the first semifinal group without BC since 2004. That year, the Eagles also lost to the No. 8 seed (Boston University) as the No. 1 seed in three games.

Ultimately, BC’s chances as a national title contender are still as strong as they were before the loss. There aren’t many teams in the country that can stifle BC like Notre Dame did on Friday and Sunday. The Irish are an uncommonly sound defensive team with the type of scoring talent that makes their possession-focused attack so effective. It’ll take a similar effort to prevent BC from coming out of Worcester and advancing to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

Even as BC ran away with the Hockey East Regular Season Championship, some problems still existed for BC. Like last season, the club’s young and talented defensive corps just never looked like a championship-level group. At different times, Mike Matheson has been great. At other points, it seemed like he took a step back in his development. Freshmen Steve Santini, Ian McCoshen and Scott Savage have all been great in their first seasons, but they’re still just rookies. Beyond Isaac MacLeod’s consistently strong play, the Eagles have serious issues on the blue line, especially when it comes to defensive breakdowns. The group moves the puck well ¬†and regularly dominates the physical side of the game. It also can make life awfully difficult for BC’s goaltenders.

Losing to Notre Dame won’t change much for BC in terms of tournament locale. The Eagles will still be the No. 1 seed in Worcester (more than likely) and will play a team they’re probably better than. However, a better performance in the Hockey East Tournament may’ve meant the difference between playing the Atlantic Hockey Champion and a strong team from one of college hockey’s power conferences.

BC is as much of a contender as it’s been at any point this season. That level seems to have been greatly exaggerated, though.

Scott Wilson getting going is bad for everyone else

There was, at a point this season, some consternation among Lowell fans and lazy commentators about the River Hawks’ offense. A couple ugly losses and some weird numbers were¬†justifiably a reason to dismiss UML as a contender for anything other than home ice and a lower-than-expected NCAA Tournament seed, they said.

It was funny to watch it all unfold, really. UML’s schedule backloaded Hockey East games substantially, so the River Hawks were in the middle of the Hockey East standings for a long while when it was pretty to clear that they were always among the class of the league. Scott Wilson’s season produced some equally bad conclusion-leaping. The winger is known, rightfully, as one of Hockey East’s premier snipers. Few players have the release he does. Moreover, few players can create a shot and scoring chance quite like Wilson. He scored 16 goals in each of his first two season with UML.

On Jan. 24, Wilson played his 22nd game of the season. He went without a goal or an assist in a 5-4 loss to PC that saw UML allow three third-period goals. It wasn’t a pretty night for anyone associated with UML. Wilson, apparently, suffered an injury of some sort in this game and missed the next eight games.

He had just five goals on year, so something, the storyline went, had to be wrong. The issue, however, wasn’t Wilson. The junior was the same player he’d always been. Pucks just weren’t falling for him. This happens sometimes. Great players have unlucky years. Wilson still generated a ton of shots for UML. He just couldn’t get any goals.

Since returning to the lineup on Feb. 28, Wilson has scored twice and added an assist in five games — all against Vermont. UML is 3-2-0 in those games, and it advanced to the Hockey East Semifinals against Notre Dame by winning the series with the Catamounts. So much of what Wilson does happened this year as it always has. He wasn’t playing any worse. He just couldn’t catch a break. Shooting percentage is a very real indicator of consistency or luck. Sometimes players just can’t catch a break. In his first 22 games, Wilson scored five times on 73 shots. A 6.8 percent shooting percentage for a career 16.2 percent shooter is nothing but rotten luck. Since he’s returned, he has two goals on 17 shots — 11.8 percent. This is the type of regression expected when a player has the type of poor luck Wilson had for so long this year.

He scored on Friday and Saturday and was, by all accounts, perfectly all right on Sunday. Heading into the semifinal with Notre Dame and beyond, Wilson’s numbers should keep rising. And that’s a bad sign for the rest of the country.

Polls are stupid

For the first time this season, the Pairwise is starting to take shape. This happens every year. Keeping an eye on the rankings and the influence each result has on the math is important, but it never really makes any sense until the few days prior to Championship Saturday. Naturally, there is some confusion coming from fans because of everyone’s favorite college hockey narrative driver — polls.

It’s already happened to an extent. Team A is ranked in Spot X in a poll but a few spots lower in the Pairwise. Fans don’t understand or use their lower status in either to complain about the other. From the first week of the season, the release of each poll is as misleading as the next. They have no value whatsoever. All they cause are headaches and lead to confusion among fans.

In a way, I understand their appeal in the early season. Gauging what everyone thinks about a certain team can give the college hockey world an idea what to think as the season gets going. Then, the inevitable complaints start about a big name program with a bad record receiving a higher ranking than a fledgling club off to hot start. Subjectivity is part of sports, even the Pairwise has its problems. Polls are, by definition, completely subjective. With 59 teams in the country, it’s impossible for anyone to give each club a fair shake.

As the conference tournaments end and the NCAA edition kicks off, it’ll get even worse. As new polls come out after each round of the tournament, someone will vote for a team already eliminated over a team that’s advancing. It won’t mean anything at all, but the symbolic disrespect will lead to arguments and pageviews. Nobody wins.

Just enjoy these next few weeks

As much fun as the end of the season is, it’s equally bittersweet. I walked by Agganis Arena Monday morning, and it was pretty disappointing to think that building won’t see anymore games this season. Leaving Conte Forum and Matthews Arena in the last couple weeks, it was the same feeling.

Around the nation, coaches, players, fans and media all experienced the same sentiment about different rinks. The college hockey community is small. Even as it stretches from Boston to Grand Forks, N.D., to Fairbanks, Alaska, everyone keeps an eye on every other team. We all talk to each other, whether on Twitter or in person, about the leagues we’re closely involved with or those we don’t get to see very often.

Thursday night in St. Paul, Minn., the final couple days of conference play begin. It’s going to be fun, watching teams win conference tournaments and others hope and pray that their seasons last at least a few more days. Inevitably, someone’s going to be disappointed, but it’s been a great ride so far this season. It only promises to get better. If your team’s been eliminated already, that doesn’t mean the season is over. Go to games. Watch them on TV. Argue about your chances next season. It’ll all start again in a few months, but there’s no reason to let it end in the first place.

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