Archive for March, 2019
The final weekend of the 2018-19 regular season in the NCHC kicks off in about 90 minutes. Check out this article summarizing what’s at stake for each team.
St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota-Duluth
The marquee matchup of the weekend — a potential Frozen Four preview — features two of the top three teams in the Pairwise. It’s hard to imagine either team coming away with a sweep — I’ll take St. Cloud as the winners on Friday, UMD on Saturday. St. Cloud has already locked up the No. 1 seed in the NCHC playoffs, starting next weekend. With a weekend split, UMD would clinch the second seed.
Denver vs./at. Colorado College
Denver has an outside chance of moving up to the No. 2 seed this weekend, but will likely finish in third place — and therefore will likely host CC in the NCHC quarterfinals next weekend. So this weekend could serve as a playoff preview, too. Both games between the Pioneers and Tigers this season have been close, and I’d expect the same this weekend as well. I’ll take Denver with a regulation win at home on Friday, and a tie between the two teams on Saturday (with CC getting the extra point at home). In that scenario, Denver remains in third and CC remains in sixth.
The real intrigue heading into the final weekend is which team — Western Michigan or North Dakota — will earn the final home ice spot in the NCHC quarterfinals next weekend. Despite the Broncos’ blunders of late, I’m still taking Western Michigan — but that’s mostly because Miami seems unlikely to help out North Dakota. Western Michigan wins on Friday night to clinch the fourth seed, then Miami wins Saturday to move up into seventh place…
North Dakota vs. Nebraska-Omaha
North Dakota hasn’t been able to pull off a weekend sweep the last six weekends, but this may be the weekend they get it done. It won’t be enough though, if Western can win a game this weekend. Omaha finishes as the the 8th seed.
St. Cloud State vs. Nebraska-Omaha
Minnesota-Duluth vs. Miami
Denver vs. Colorado College
Western Michigan vs. North Dakota
The quarterfinals are set. I’ll have more on that later in an official preview, but Minnesota will host Michigan, Penn State will host Wisconsin and Notre Dame will host Michigan. The Buckeyes have the bye.
Ohio State is the only team on the inside of the tournament at seventh. Notre Dame and Penn State sit on the bubble at 15th and 16th, respectively. Minnesota is 21st.
Cale Morris will be the key
The Fighting Irish weren’t doing so well in the beginning of the year and, despite a Frozen Four appearance, have struggled this season. But Cale Morris has looked more and more like the goaltender of last year. Morris was key in the Friday game against Penn State last weekend, and his performance was key in helping the Fighting Irish hold onto home ice.
And it’s going to be the catalyst for the Fighting Irish as the playoffs progress. Right now Notre Dame is on the bubble, and this week will have heavy PairWise implications. While Notre Dame, which lost a few key players in the offseason, has become pretty solid. But goaltending is always what wins championships.
How good is Minnesota, really?
Quietly the Gophers picked up home ice and a third-place finish in the league, which is an improvement from their start to the season. The Gophers, though, are still 21st in the PairWise and likely to miss the NCAA tournament again (unless they earn the automatic bid) although in much less dramatic fashion and in a much more certain way.
Even though the Gophers will probably be a long shot instead of a near miss this season, I don’t think it means Minnesota is wose than it was before. There’s always a period of adjustment with a new coach, and the Gophers still have a top scorer in Rem Pitlick.
Of the top three teams, the Gophers have the shakiest goaltending, which doesn’t bode well for their NCAA tournament hopes. But Mat Robson is still a good goaltender, and he’d just need to get really hot at the right time. And the new Big Ten tournament format might be beneficial to teams without lights-out goaltending.
Give credit to Wisconsin
Heading into last weekend I assumed there was little chance Wisconsin would get home ice because they needed to sweep Michigan, and I doubted they would sweep Michigan – epecially without K’Andre Miller.
But the Badgers pulled through. After winning 5-4 in overtimeon Friday, Wisconsin won 4-3 again in overtime. They didn’t earn home ice, but that’s an impressive feat – especially without one of your top players.
The Atlantic Hockey regular season is now in the books, with teams finishing up regular season play this past weekend. Here are the final standings heading into playoffs:
- Air Force
- Sacred Heart
- Robert Morris
- Holy Cross