As January comes to a close and we inch closer and closer to conference tournament time, our beloved MAC hockey teams are not sitting very pretty. UMass is third from the bottom in Hockey East with only eight points in 13 conference games. Western Michigan and Miami sit in 5th (20 points) and 7th (14 points), respectively, in the eight-team NCHC. And while Bowling Green is in an impressive 3rd place in the WCHA, their relatively weak strength of schedule is starting to catch up with them.
We've reached the point in the year where everyone's eyes turn to the PairWise rankings, the statistical ledger that determines who makes it into the 16-team NCAA tournament field. The top 16 teams in the rankings make it in, unless any conference tournament champions come from below the line, in which case the higher teams get bumped out accordingly. As you can see, not a single MAC team sits in the tournament right now, with Western Michigan the closest, in a tie for 20th.
What does all that mean? Unless they go on some very strong runs to end the season, we might see a MAC-less NCAA tournament. Western Michigan is still in a good enough position that a solid stretch run could get them an at-large bid, but for Miami, BGSU, and UMass, it's starting to look like a conference tournament win will be their only ticket to the dance.
After taking the weekend off, the Broncos will host Minnesota-Duluth for a pair of games this weekend. A sweep could potentially see them rise as high as third place in the conference standings, with the two teams ahead of them squaring off against each other. But perhaps even more importantly, Duluth sits in a tie for 14th in the PairWise, so a couple wins would not only help Western in the NCHC, but in the national picture as well.
After falling 5-3 on Friday night at home to Lake Superior State, the Falcons were able to right the ship and posted a 6-2 win over the Lakers behind two goals each from Mark Cooper and Adam Berkle. The win put BG only five points behind Ferris State in the WCHA standings, and with a home series against second-to-last-place Michigan Tech, they'll look to close that gap even further this weekend. Ferris State isn't playing this weekend,
so the Falcons could overtake them in the standings with a sweep. Wins are worth only two points in the WCHA, so a sweep would only get them to one point behind Ferris.
It figured to be a weekend for a struggling Miami team to get back on track, as they traveled to Colorado Springs to face Colorado College, who had only won two games all season. But nothing has been easy for Miami this year, and they were never really competitive on Friday, losing 4-1 after giving up three goals in the first period. The RedHawks were able to salvage a split after putting on a 6-1 thrashing on Saturday, behind four power play goals, two of which came from Riley Barber, who also added an assist.
But the simple fact remains that this team, poised for glory at the beginning of the season, has not been playing good hockey. They haven't managed to sweep a conference foe yet this season, which doesn't bode well for a team that will need to rattle off a string of victories just to make it to the tournament. Miami has next weekend off before hosting Western Michigan for a crucial two-game set that kicks off a brutal February for the RedHawks, who follow that up with a trip to North Dakota before hosting St. Cloud State. Hopefully coach Enrico Blasi can use the momentum from the six goal outburst on Saturday to inspire a winning streak. If not, the season will likely come to an end much sooner than the team would like.
The Minutemen scored the first four goals of the game against Merrimack at home on Friday, eventually winning 5-2, but couldn't quite complete the weekend sweep on the road, falling on Saturday 3-2 despite two goals from Michael Pereira. UMass has almost certainly sealed their fate as needing to win the conference tournament to get in. With a 7-16-3 overall record, it doesn't look great for them. UMass plays just one game this weekend, at home against a struggling Boston University team, before playing Northeastern and UMass-Lowell in the following two weekends.