Starting next week, your attention at work will be diverted to sheets of paper being shoved into your face, random people asking you "How your bracket is doing?" and you’ll invariably sneak out for a late lunch (or crowd around a TV or computer) to catch a little bit of the fever. Yes, the incredibly over-hyped March Madness has returned, the three weeks where college basketball takes over the sporting landscape, and people fill out office pools without any knowledge of who half the teams involved are.
But why pay attention to that, when there’s college hockey doing the same thing?
Lost in the wide shadow cast by the college basketball tournament, the Road to the Frozen Four, college hockey’s version of the Final Four, is about to get underway. The Division I hockey conferences have or are about to wrap up their regular seasons, and are moving into the playoffs.
For those unfamiliar with the college hockey landscape, it’s essentially the same as college basketball. The first portion of the season is the non-conference games, a chance for teams to gear up and test themselves against teams from other conferences (NCAA has 5 conferences comprising 57 schools, and two other schools who are currently independent). The regular season schedule is the main body of the season, where each conference team plays against its rival conferences.
Based on the standings of the regular season, the teems are seeded for their conference tournament, which crown their playoff champions. Conference tournament champions earn an automatic berth into the National Tournament, the remaining teams being chosen by a tournament committee (aided by a computer ranking known as the Pairwise Rankings).
This weekend, three conferences kick off the preliminary rounds off their conference tournaments, with a best-of-three series (all three games taking place at the higher seeded school).
Atlantic (AHA) Conference
(5) Robert Morris vs. (12) Sacred Heart – season series; Robert Morris won 2-0
(6) Mercyhurst vs. (11) Army – season series; Mercyhurst won 1-0-1
(7) Canisius vs. (10) Bentley – season series; Bentley won 2-0
(8) RIT vs. (9) American International – season series; RIT won 1-0-1
The final weekend of the AHA series had a lot at stake, with a 5 team logjam between 3rd and 7th place, fighting for 2 byes through to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for them, Robert Morris and Mercyhurst cancelled out each others’ chances by drawing two straight games, and RIT blew a weekend series against Canisius to let the Griffins sneak by into 7th position (and earn what appears to be a less favourable matchup against Bentley).
(6) Alaska vs. (11) Michigan State – season series; tied 1-1
(7) Michigan vs. (10) Northern Michigan – season series; tied 1-1
(8) Lake Superior State vs. (9) Bowling Green – season series; Bowling Green won 2-0
The CCHA first round has a little bit of "Movable Object meets Stoppable Force" going on, with Alaska (tied for 9th in Goals Against) taking on Michigan State (last in Goals For), and Michigan (dead last in Goals Against) up against Northern Michigan (9th in Goals For). Lake Superior and Bowling Green stats are virtually identical, the difference in standings being the Falcons edge in the season series.
(5) Dartmouth vs. (12) Harvard – season series; Dartmouth won 1-0-1
(6) St. Lawrence vs. (11) Colgate – season series; St. Lawrence won 1-0-1
(7) Brown vs. (10) Clarkson – season series; Brown won 1-0-1
(8) Princeton vs. (9) Cornell – season series; Princeton won 2-0
This conference is rough. 1st place Quinnipiac finished 10 points clear of 2nd place Rensselaer. The difference between 4th place Union and last place Harvard was also 10 points. So with a big jumble of teams that don’t appear to have a lot of difference between one another, expect some pretty unpredictable results. Brown also features Maple Leaf draft pick Dennis Robertson, a junior defenceman for the Bears.
Hockey East Conference
The two power conferences in the college hockey world wrap up their regular season schedules this weekend. SBNation blog Western College Hockey has been doing some pretty stellar coverage of college hockey all season, specifically these two conferences. Check out these articles, previewing the final weekend of regular season play in Hockey East and the WCHA.