MAC Hockey Preview: Playoff Intensity Starting Early

UMass Media File

With just one week left in the regular season for three of our MAC schools, and the Hockey East tournament starting this week, the intense "win-or-go-home" mentality has already begun as two of our schools face possible elimination this weekend.

It's finally here folks!  After 5 long months of exciting play, we're down to the last week of play in the WCHA and NCHC this weekend, while the Hockey East begins their newly created First Round this weekend.  As of now, all four schools have a shot at still making the NCAA tournament, but that'll change quite soon.  Let's take a look at the full run-down.

UMass Prepping As Road Warriors

Well, UMass didn't finish so well.  5 straight losses, and they're the 10-seed in the 11-team Hockey East.  With that, they'll travel to 7-seed Vermont.  Under last season's format, Vermont would be headed to face UMass-Lowell (the 2-seed in the tournament), and UMass would miss the tournament entirely.  Howevah, this new format is the exact replica of similar to the old CCHA format, so everybody makes it.

EDIT:  I was given faulty information and didn't double check it lately.  UMass vs Vermont is a single elimination series.  They play Friday.  Everything else is correct.

For UMass, the road won't be easy.  They first travel to a Vermont team that took both games against the Minutemen earlier this season, and should they come away with the win (Playoff Status has them with 11% odds they win), they'll likely face Boston College, the 1-seed, unless 11-seed Merrimack can upset Maine (hey, the 11-seed in the CCHA did it the last 3 seasons, why not Hockey East? [because the Hockey East has a massive gap between the haves and haves nots that's why])

Nevertheless, UMass will have to win the Hockey East tournament, something they've never done, to make it to the NCAA Tournament for just the 2nd time ever in program history.  The other time was 2006 when a goaltender by the name of Jonathan Quick paced them to a 4-over-1 seed upset in the first round before falling in the Regional Final.

So yeah, UMass has more tournament wins than WMU, but has 5 fewer tournament appearances.  Huh......

Bowling Green Fighting For Their Playoff Lives

So the WCHA, NCHC (or CCHA for this reference), and Hockey East all traded tournaments.  Hockey East took the CCHA format, gave the WCHA theirs (10 teams, only 8 make the playoffs, a Best of 3 quarterfinals before a single elimination, neutral ice championship weekend), and the WCHA pawned somewhat of a version off to the Big Ten and NCHC.

Let me explain.  Before, every team of the 12-team league made the WCHA playoffs.  6 Best-of-Three series followed by the Final Five:  The best name in hockey.  No, not 5 teams making the neutral ice tournament.  5 games.  With the top two seeds (usually the 1- and 2-seeds, but sometimes a 3) getting byes and the bottom four playing two games.  Then two more to advance to the final.  5 games, one champion, one bad ass name.

Well, the NCHC has the old "errbody makes the playoffs and plays the Best of 3" format, although in an 8-team league, it's not uncommon, but I digress.  Meanwhile, the Big Ten completely jacked the Final Five as all 6 of their teams are seeded how they finish the regular season.  Man I miss the old WCHA and CCHA.......

OK, back to getting on topic.  Bowling Green.

So yeah, the team that at one point was 2nd in the league is now fighting for a spot in the WCHA playoffs.  The good news?  They sit in 5th, 3 points above current 9th place (and first team out) Northern Michigan, who split with the Falcons last weekend.  The bad news?  They face an equally bad-placed Bemidji State team, who could've been sitting pretty after last weekend, but split with lowly Alabama-Huntsville.  Northern will face that same UAH team this weekend with the possibility to jump back into the playoffs (and they should).

I could go through all of the possibilities, but I'd bore you to death.  There are just so many to count.  So let's just focus on four teams:  BG, LSSU, Bemidji, and Northern.  Also, let's just focus on getting into the playoffs, not home ice or where they'd finish in the standings, because nope....

Let's also assume that Northern sweeps UAH, because if they don't, they're going to need some help from Ferris State.  Ferris hosts Lake Superior State this weekend, and has lost just once at home this year.  But they've also been struggling a bit lately, so nothing is given.  The Lakers are the odds on favorite to miss the playoffs due to their opponent this weekend, and the fact they don't hold the tie-breaker over NMU.

However, should BG or Bemidji sweep the other, then the losing team is suddenly looking vulnerable.  BG should be safe still if that were to happen (they are above LSSU by 2 points, NMU by 3), but if Lake State steals a game (or ties both) against Ferris, the Falcons are on the outside looking in.  They pretty much hold 0 tie-breakers against the other teams, so any points this weekend will be welcome.

I'm sure we'll get something up after Friday's games (or on Saturday because the two Alaskan teams are playing each other this weekend, and their games usually end around 2 am and I actually enjoy sleep), but for now, just go look at the standings page and don't let your head explode.

NCHC Picture Clearing Up, Still Fights To Be Had

Let's just get this out of the way now:  Miami will finish last in the NCHC and will head to the 1-seed in the conference next weekend.  Reminder, this was the heavy favorite to win the conference this year.  They finish last.  What went wrong?

Colorado College is also locked into the 7-seed, and Nebraska-Omaha has a minute chance to finish 5th.  Everything else is just crazy.

North Dakota and St. Cloud State split last weekend, and remained tied for 1st in the conference.  The former Fighting Sioux host Western Michigan (more on them later) this weekend while the Huskies head to the Tigers.  Odds say that SCSU will hold the 1-seed at the end of the week, but don't count out NoDak.  Also, there is an outside chance UNO could grab the top spot as well, but yeah, let's just assume they'll finish 3rd because it's easier.

So that just leaves us with WMU, Minn-Duluth, and Denver for the 4,5,6 positions.  Minn-Duluth hosts UNO this weekend while Denver hosts Miami.  WMU might need some help here.  The Broncos currently lose the tie-breaker against both teams, and with a tough series against a red-hot NoDak team coming up, the Broncos could be looking at a road series.

Bronco fans are desperately hoping to not have to play in Denver, having been swept by the Pioneers earlier in the season and having gone 0-3-1 in the state of Colorado as a whole (altitude maybe?).  That said, the Broncos are 0-3-1 against both of the two teams they are battling for the 4-seed with, and are 1-1-0 against UNO, so maybe the 6-seed is good?

Either way, if the Broncos can match points with Denver (one up on them now) and manage to squeak out one more point than Minn-Duluth, then they'll make the 4-seed and host next weekend.  Otherwise, it'll be a tough road to Minneapolis.

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