Stakes high for final weeks of season
Depending on the league in which your favorite team resides, this is either the penultimate or antepenultimate weekend of the regular season (a reader pointed out the word "antepenultimate", which means third to the last, to us a few years ago and now we use it whenever possible). Regardless of what that word means, we can tell you that the final few weekends of the college hockey regular season are the definition of high stakes -- which is a lot more fun when you're watching and not holding the cards.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
Both of these teams are in line for no. 1 seeds when the NCAA tournament starts next month, but it's possible that the winner of this series will have the inside track on getting sent to the West Regional in St. Paul rather than the East or Northeast Regional.
We'll save the various postseason permutations for later, however, because the Huskies and Badgers both have the WCHA title in their sights. St. Cloud State's chances for the conference crown are pretty slim -- they're just one point behind league-leading Denver but have played two more WCHA games than their counterparts. The Badgers, meanwhile, are tied for third place with Minnesota Duluth, three points back of DU. Part of the intrigue of this series will be seeing how SCSU bounces back from last Saturday's 8-1 home loss to North Dakota.
FRIDAY (at Big Rapids) AND SATURDAY (at East Lansing)
Michigan State vs. Ferris State (Friday at Big Rapids; Saturday at East Lansing): Speaking of the NCAA tournament -- and we promise, we won't mention during the remainder of this piece -- a sweep by either team likely knocks the other out of consideration for at-large bid. This home-and-home series has major CCHA implications as well; the Bulldogs and Spartans enter the weekend tied for second in the league standings with 43 points.
Neither team has played particularly well as of late. The Spartans, who peaked at seven games above .500 after beating Lake Superior State on Jan. 8, are 2-4-3 since. And the Bulldogs topped out at 12 games above .500 following a sweep of Notre Dame Jan. 9-10. They're 2-6-2 since.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
With their beloved Fighting Sioux four points behind Colorado College for the right to host a first-round league playoff series, North Dakota fans all week have been wondering if last weekend's 8-1 drubbing of St. Cloud State is a sign of things to come or a cruel tease. The Sioux, traditionally a strong second-half team, snapped a 1-5-1 run when they beat the Huskies last weekend.
UMD has been a little better than North Dakota recently, but not by much. The Bulldogs are 2-4-0 over their last six games, a stretch that ended with a split at 10th-place Michigan Tech. These two teams split their first series in December. A similar outcome from Engelstad Arena seems likely this time around, too.
Saturday's game at RPI doesn't feature the very best teams in ECAC Hockey, but does feature one of its best traditions -- and should be a compelling tilt on the ice as well. It's the annual Big Red Freakout! game at RPI's Houston Field House and Princeton is this year's guest. The Engineers have rolled up a remarkable record in the event, which brings scores or alumni and longtime fans back to the field house for a sort of hockey homecoming. RPI is 18-9-5 all-time in the Freakout! game and has a 17-year unbeaten streak at 12-0-5. The modern relevance is also significant. RPI enters the weekend tied for fourth in ECAC Hockey. Princeton is ninth, and will need to pick up some points in order to earn a home-ice playoff series in the first round.
Also: RIT can put more distance between itself and third-place Air Force when the Tigers welcome the defending Atlantic Hockey champion Falcons this weekend. … More clawing and scratching in Hockey East this weekend as Boston College, three points behind New Hampshire for first place in the circuit, plays a home-and-home with a rejuvenated Northeastern squad. … Two teams in the hunt for the final bye into the CCHA tournament quarterfinals have tough tasks this weekend. Nebraska-Omaha is at Miami and Northern Michigan is at Michigan.
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