Rocky road to conference tournaments
For a good chunk of the nation's top teams, last weekend was kind of a train wreck. Some of those results, we presume, were an anomaly. But for others, the swoon could be a precursor of things to come. So what does any of this have to do with this weekend's games? Probably nothing, but it certainly sounds better than simply stating, "Here are the best four series of the weekend in our view."
Denver at Nebraska-Omaha (Friday-Saturday): The Pioneers and Mavericks, along with Minnesota Duluth, are virtually assured of finishing no lower than fourth in the WCHA standings (North Dakota is guaranteed a top-four spot). Which order this quartet will find themselves in next weekend when the regular season ends is an entirely different matter. The Sioux are the clear favorites to win the league title because of a favorable schedule (vs. Bemidji State, at Michigan Tech) and because DU, UNO, and UMD will beat up on one another during the next two weekends.
This particular series could be a study of two teams trending in opposite directions. Denver is 3-3-0 after a three-month stretch during which they were 12-1-3. Nebraska-Omaha, meanwhile, has followed up a 3-6-1 stretch with a 7-3-0 mark. And, yeah, the crowd will be a factor -- the Mavs are 12-3-1 at home and have outscored visitors by a 61-29 margin
Merrimack at Maine (Friday-Saturday): Maine, which has won three straight on the heels of a 0-4-2 stretch, is still lurking on the fringe of the latest Pairwise projections. A couple wins against Merrimack this weekend would certainly enhance its NCAA tournament portfolio. But who's not rooting for Merrimack? The Warriors are near locks for an NCAA tournament invite and with a favorable outcome this weekend would give themselves a real chance to win the Hockey East regular-season crown. Interesting note about Merrimack: In 13 home league games this season, the Warriors have outscored league foes by a 55-28 margin but in 10 conference road games, the Warriors have a 24-22 edge in goals scored.
Princeton at Rensselaer (Friday), Princeton at Union (Saturday), Cornell at Yale (Saturday): Either Union or Yale will win the ECAC Hockey regular-season title, but the more intriguing battle in this league is the fight for the final two byes guaranteeing a weekend off during the first round of the conference tournament. Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Rensselaer are the teams jockeying for those spots, which is why Friday's game featuring the league's fifth- and sixth-place teams is so important -- it more or less serves as a knockout game for bye contention. Depending on the results of Union and Yale's games Friday, Saturday could evolve into a night of watching hockey and scoreboards.
Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan (Friday at Kalamazoo, Saturday at Notre Dame): In last Saturday's overtime loss to Michigan at Yost Ice Arena, Western Michigan looked like a tired team -- physically and mentally. The Broncos will have to regroup in a hurry for this weekend's home-and-home series with league leader Notre Dame, which has won four in a row and has a seven-game unbeaten streak. The Fighting Irish have really ratcheted up the intensity on defense, allowing two or fewer goals in six of their last seven games. Saturday's match also marks the final regular-season game at Notre Dame's Joyce Center, which is a decent place to watch hockey but seems like a better place to store road salt.
Also: Nothing to see in Atlantic Hockey? Guess again. Robert Morris is at Air Force for games Friday and Saturday; the Falcons trail the second-place Colonials by one point in the league standings. Fifth-place Niagara, meanwhile, is just two points behind RMU. There's probably a way the Purps could grab the two seed, but it would require a home-and-home sweep of league champion RIT. Northeastern is officially Hockey East's team with an interim head coach who no one wants to see in the first round of the league playoffs. The Huskies, who temporarily slowed Boston College's quest for the HEA regular-season title last weekend, play a home-and-home with first-place New Hampshire this weekend. May the Schwartz be with you: Colorado College welcomed high-scoring brothers Rylan (out three games) and Jaden (out 11 games) back to the lineup at Bemidji State last weekend. They'll be dressed for this weekend's series with visiting Minnesota Duluth. The question is, will Tyler Johnson, the Tigers' leading scorer, be able to go? Alaska Anchorage and Alaska play for the Governor's Cup this weekend. The series starts in Fairbanks on Friday then shifts to Anchorage the next night.
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