Four key matchups on slate
League playoffs are looming, which has college hockey fans across the country excited. But thanks to some fortuitous scheduling, there are a number of matchups this weekend that will have a postseason feel. Take a look at our four faves for the last weekend in February.
The final regular-season weekend at Lynah Rink features substantial on-ice matchups and significant ceremonial activity. The Dutchmen and Big Red, currently tied for second place in ECAC Hockey, meet Friday night. Cornell will also retire the uniform numbers of Ken Dryden and Joe Nieuwendyk. Saturday's game against RPI is senior night and the school will honor the 1970 undefeated and untied national championship team.
Both Cornell and Union need points and help to catch Yale for first place, and Rensselaer is in the mix for the fourth home-ice playoff spot. The other half of this travel partner weekend shows RPI and Union playing at Colgate, also in the mix for a first-round playoff bye. Friday's game between the Engineers and Raiders gives the winner the upper hand in that battle for position, and the right to nurse the inevitable bumps and bruises from the season with a week off before starting the postseason.
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These two teams enter the weekend tied for fifth in the WCHA standings, so this series virtually boils down to determining whether the Sioux will host the Tigers in a 5-6 playoff series in two weeks or vice versa.
Over the last decade or so, this series has been evenly matched. The last time one team swept the other was Jan. 14-15, 2005, when the host Tigers beat the Sioux on consecutive nights. You've got to go all the way back to Oct. 12-13, 2001, to find the last time NoDak swept CC.
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Minnesota's sweep of Colorado College last weekend was significant in that a) it was the Gophers' first back-to-back wins in the WCHA since sweeping Michigan Tech in Houghton more than two months ago and b) it gave their fans unrealistic expectations of hosting a first-round league playoff series.
Unless meteors take out Colorado Springs and Grand Forks, the Gophs will be on the road for the playoffs; in fact, Duluth is the likely destination. The Bulldogs need three points in their last four games to clinch a first-round home date, but UMD has lost six of its last eight, the most recent defeats coming last weekend in an uninspired showing at North Dakota. Mike Connolly is expected to be back in the Bulldog lineup after getting his bell rung Saturday against the Sioux.
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The Catamounts, who advanced to the Frozen Four last season, are in danger of missing not only the NCAA Tournament, but the Hockey East tournament as well-with a 7-10-6 league record, UVM trails Merrimack by one point for the final berth in the league playoffs. The defending national champion Terriers, meanwhile have battled back from a lackluster first half of the season to get into a position to earn a home series for the Hockey East tournament quarterfinals. BU is 10-4-0 since Jan. 1, while the Catamounts have a rather odd-looking 1-3-4 record over the last month.
Also: Alaska and Alaska Anchorage play a home-and-home series to determine the winner of the annual Governor's Cup. The Seawolves have won the series three years in a row. … Future WCHA members collide in Omaha this weekend as Bemidji State faces Nebraska-Omaha. … New Hampshire enters its home-and-home series with Northeastern with a chance extend its lead in the Hockey East standings over second-place Boston College. The Eagles, who trail UNH by two games, have a single game against Massachusetts Friday.
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