Opinion corner: Last weekend beckonsThe last weekend of regular season play in the WCHA and Hockey East is upon us, and both conference championships are up for grabs. I’ll get to the playoff scenarios in both leagues shortly. But first, a recap of UND’s weekend at home against Bemidji State. North Dakota picked up three out of four points against BSU, with a 4-2 win on Friday and a 2-2 tie on Saturday.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm, For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
The last weekend of regular season play in the WCHA and Hockey East is upon us, and both conference championships are up for grabs.
I’ll get to the playoff scenarios in both leagues shortly. But first, a recap of UND’s weekend at home against Bemidji State. North Dakota picked up three out of four points against BSU, with a 4-2 win on Friday and a 2-2 tie on Saturday.
After a scoreless, lackluster first period Friday, UND began taking it to Bemidji, and the boys in green and white really carried the play for the rest of the weekend. Even though both teams tallied a goal in the second period, North Dakota had the clear territorial advantage and outshot BSU 10-2. UND broke it open in the third on goals by Mitch MacMillan and Joe Gleason. Clarke Saunders got the start in goal and was solid, but not spectacular.
The score sheet belonged to the MacMillan boys, Mark and Mitch. Mark had two goals and an assist, while Mitch chipped in with a goal and an assist. This is what coach Hakstol had in mind when he put the brothers on the same line back in early February.
The 2-2 tie on Saturday is a tough one to describe. There was no lack of effort on the part of North Dakota, for sure. UND took it to Bemidji for the majority of the game, but managed only 30 shots on goal. While BSU goalie Andrew Walsh played well, especially over the second half of the game, you can’t say he was sensational. My game notes are filled with comments like “Knight open in slot, shot missed,” “Rowney couple whacks at doorstep, NG,” and “another good shift for Kristo line.” The final shot chart tells the story. … 80 shots attempted by UND, 28 blocked by BSU, 22 missed the net, 30 shots on goal. Typically, about 50 percent of a teams attempted shots result in a shot on goal.
In the first period alone, UND attempted 30 shots, but only five reached goaltender Walsh. Mitch MacMillan and Jordan Schmaltz scored for North Dakota. Zane Gothberg got the call in goal, and much like Saunders the night before, was not very busy but did make some big saves when needed. It did appear to me that Corban Knight and Danny Kristo, especially Kristo, were pressing a bit out there.
Possibly the emotions of ‘Senior Night’ got the better of them. No matter. Both of them have had MVP-like seasons, and it’s been an honor watching them work together these past few years. Rocco Grimaldi, as usual, was all over the ice, creating scoring opportunities for UND and havoc for the opposition. UND drops one spot to 7th in the PairWise rankings. It’s on to Mankato to face the 21-10-3 Minnesota State Mavericks this weekend. North Dakota is assured of home ice in the first round, and could still finish anywhere from first to sixth. The scoreboard watching will be in full swing this weekend. UND fans should probably hope to finish no lower than third, which should be good enough to avoid both Minnesota-Duluth and Colorado College in the opening round.
Well, here we are. The last week of the regular season, and five teams still have a shot at the MacNaughton Cup, or at least a share of it. St. Cloud State has put itself in a tenuous position after managing just a split at home vs. Michigan Tech, following a split at CC. The Huskies head to Madison to play a very hot Badger team, needing three points to win the Cup, or two points to ensure at least a co-championship. Wisconsin, after a huge sweep at Nebraska-Omaha, is 15-4-4 since December 1. Minnesota, coming off a home split vs. Denver and heading up to Bemidji, is in great shape. A sweep up north and the Gophers might just repeat as WCHA champions. One area of concern for Minnesota is the power play, now just two for its last 18 chances. … The battle to finish in the top 6 is just as close. Denver, in seventh place with 29 points, entertains last place Alaska-Anchorage and can still overtake or catch four teams this weekend. Struggling sixth-place UNO heads to Duluth. Omaha is just 2-5 in its last seven, with the only wins coming against Alaska-Anchorage. … One thing to keep in mind is this, the first tie-breaker in the WCHA is head-to-head competition. UND would win a tie-breaker with Wisconsin, UNO, and Denver. A tie-breaker with St. Cloud and Minnesota would go the other way. So which squad has put up the best numbers against the top seven teams in the league? No surprise here as St. Cloud State leads the way with a 9-4-1 record, followed by UND at 6-4-4 and Minnesota at 8-6-2. Next week I’ll hand out some WCHA awards, including Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year, MVP, Top Goalie, and Cheap Shot Artist of the Year.
Hockey East Glance
The top of the standings in Hockey East are as close as the WCHA. UMass-Lowell-32, New Hampshire-31, Providence-30, Boston College-30, Boston Univ-28, Merrimack-27. Last weekend’s results included splits between Providence/BC and Vermont/BU. Red hot UMass-Lowell swept a pair from struggling Merrimack, while UNH took a win and a tie against Massachusetts. Merrimack has lost 4 in a row. Lowell has won 7 in a row and is 17-2-1 in its last 20. Boston College has already lost three games since the Beanpot tournament. Who has the schedule edge this weekend? UNH seems to have it, with Maine coming in for a pair. BC has to travel to Vermont, and the Catamounts have been playing well for about a month now. Boston U and Northeastern have a home & home, as do Merrimack and Massachusetts. The only matchup between contenders is the Providence/UMass-Lowell home & home series. Scoreboard watching will no doubt be a spectator sport in New England this weekend.
A few ECAC notes: After losing to Harvard and beating Dartmouth, No.1 Quinnipiac is just 3-2-1 in its last six. … RPI is 9-1 in its last 10. … Inconsistent Yale has won three in a row, after losing five in a row. … . Even more inconsistent is Union, whose last four weekends consisted of two wins, two losses, two wins, two losses. … Dartmouth is just 5-8-3 in 2013 after a good start to the season. ... St. Lawrence has lost three in a row after a good run. The conference playoffs begin this weekend with a best two out of three format, all games hosted by the higher seeded team. Colgate is at St. Lawrence, Clarkson at Brown, Harvard at Dartmouth, and Cornell is at Princeton. Quinnipiac, RPI, Yale, and Union receive first round byes.
Miami wins the final CCHA regular season title. … Notre Dame, after sweeping Bowling Green, has gone 5-1-2 after a poor start to the second half. … Western Michigan is just 1-3-3 in its last seven. … Streaky Alaska has gone 6-0, 1-6, and 3-0 since Jan 1. Michigan is unbeaten in four, and needs to win the conference tournament to keep its NCAA tournament appearance streak alive. Conference playoffs start this weekend, same format as the ECAC. Bowling Green is at Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan at Michigan, and Michigan State is at Alaska. First round byes go to Miami, Notre Dame, WMU, Ohio State, and Ferris State.
Playoffs also start this weekend, same two out of three format. Byes go to Niagara, red hot Air Force (10-2-2, last 14), Holy Cross (unbeaten in 5), and surprising Connecticut (also unbeaten in five). Interesting thing about Atlantic Hockey right now is the effect this conference might have on the NCAA tournament. Only Niagara, at No. 13, is inside the top 16 in the PairWise. In my estimation, Robert Morris, Air Force, or Holy Cross could all win the conference tournament, and the automatic bid that goes with it, from outside the 16th position. That scenario could result in one less at-large bid being available for the NCAA tournament.
NCAA Tourney Watch
If nothing else, the PairWise rankings are volatile. Here are the top 20 right now. Quinnipiac, Minnesota, and Miami are all very safe. UMass-Lowell, UNH, BC, UND, Minnesota State, and Denver are all on solid ground. St. Cloud State, WMU, Yale, Niagara, Notre Dame, RPI, and Alaska are in but on the bubble. Union, BU, Dartmouth, and Wisconsin are outside looking in. And others can definitely play their way in. Stay tuned.
Look at the Poll
In this week’s uscho.com poll, UND moves up to No. 5 while UMass-Lowell jumps up five places to seventh. Union and RPI are in, Dartmouth and Merrimack are out. And my Frozen Dozen for this week looks like this. 1) Quinnipiac, 2) Minnesota, 3) Miami, 4) New Hampshire, 5) UMass-Lowell, 6) North Dakota, 7) Minnesota State, 8) Notre Dame, 9) Boston College, 10) St. Cloud State, 11) Denver, 12) Western Michigan.
Mark Schuttenhelm’s column on college hockey runs each Thursday in the Sun