Commentary

Braun keys UMass' playoff hopes

Updated: March 9, 2010, 1:19 PM ET
By Mike Eidelbes and Joe Gladziszewski | Inside College Hockey

Justin Braun
Massachusetts
Sr. | D | Vadnais Heights, Minn.

His Statistics: 4-1 -- 5, +5 rating in two wins at Maine.

His Impact: A six-game losing streak late in the year had UMass on the outside of the Hockey East playoff border, but there was one regular-season weekend remaining. The Minutemen played themselves in and finished the year as the seventh seed after sweeping third-place Maine on the road at Alfond Arena.

Justin Braun, a senior defenseman and second team all-league selection last year, led the way from the blueline with two goals and an assist in Friday's 5-2 win. Braun scored twice in the second period and assisted on Matthew Irwin's goal as the Minutemen stretched their lead to 4-0.

The following night was a 4-3 win for UMass. They took a 3-1 lead after the first period as Braun scored two more goals in that run.

Runners-Up: Garrett Bartus, Connecticut; Louie Caporusso, Michigan; Jason Gregoire, North Dakota; Egor Mironov, Niagara; Aaron Volpatti, Brown.

Stick Salute

It's been a tough run for Brown's hockey program over the last several years, but they've made some memories in the postseason. One year after the 12th-seeded Bears upset Harvard in the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs, they moved up a spot in the standings and finished 11th. They repeated last year's playoff success with a three-game series win this past weekend at sixth-seed RPI. Senior Aaron Volpatti scored a goal in each game and had two assists on the weekend to help Brown advance. Their reward? A little more symmetry to last year -- a quarterfinal series at top-seeded Yale.

Bench Minor

A number of teams saw their seasons come to an end this past weekend, as early-round playoff series sent some teams home and Hockey East wrapped up its regular season. It's absolutely amazing that two of those teams are Princeton and Notre Dame, who came into the year with expectations to be back in the NCAA Tournament. Injuries hit these two team's lineups as hard as any team in the nation. Last year's first-round NCAA Tournament defeats were shocking in Notre Dame's case, and a late-game meltdown in Princeton's case -- and these teams never could turn momentum in 2009-10.

There is good news … it's lacrosse season. Notre Dame is third and Princeton is sixth in the latest national rankings.

Say What?

"It's a good rivalry so it should bring out the best in our team." -- Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick, when asked by AnnArbor.com's Jeff Arnold about the Wolverines' upcoming playoff series against Michigan State.

"It's going to be a battle." -- Minnesota coach Don Lucia, talking to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press about the Gophers' playoff series at North Dakota this weekend.

The playoffs are great, no question. So, too, are heated rivalries. So when the two collide with you-put-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter magnitude, the end result can be nothing short of fantastic.

Three of this weekend's conference playoff series feature rivalries that are among the most storied in college hockey. Michigan and Michigan State square off in a CCHA quarterfinal series in East Lansing, Harvard and Cornell battle in an ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series in Ithaca, and Minnesota and North Dakota tangle in a WCHA first-round series in Grand Forks.

We could even toss Ohio State-Miami and Minnesota State-St. Cloud State (the two teams have a long history against one another dating back to 1969-70) into that mix. The bottom line is that what is already an exciting weekend of hockey becomes even more interesting.

Rankings Outrage

By no means are we here at INCH absolved of blame in this matter -- witness Colorado College at no. 16 in this week's Power Rankings -- but the number of teams with sub-.500 league records earning mentions in this week's voter-driven polls is … well, it's kind of disconcerting. In addition to Colorado College, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Minnesota all got votes despite having more wins than losses in league play. It's further proof that dominant theme in college hockey this season is mediocrity.

Tweet Of The Week

SteveRushin Putting the pub back in publicity tour, signing my novel The Pint Man in bars, not just bookstores. Have a favorite bar?

INCH favorite Steve Rushin -- a native of Bloomington, Minn., one of the country's finest hockey communities -- is dabbling in the fiction genre with his recently released novel. We like his marketing plan. That's capturing the spirit.

For more on college hockey, check out Inside College Hockey.