I’m definitely a writer who is happy to give the ol’ mea culpa when I screw something up. So I’m here to tip my hat to the UMass Minutemen. On Thursday, I said that I expected Maine to pretty much walk all over them in their best-of-three quarterfinal series. Instead, the Minutemen played in a business-as-usual form and swept the Black Bears at home – for the second straight weekend nonetheless – and earned their third-ever berth in the Hockey East final four at the TD Banknorth Garden.
Besides just playing impeccible hockey for two nights, particularly in Saturday’s game two where the Minutemen jumped out to a 4-1 lead en route to a 5-2 decision, the UMass community has to be commended for putting forth by far a record turnout for a Hockey East quarterfinal series. Not hampered by Spring Break or any other excuse, the UMass faithful turned out in force with 7,119 in attendance on Friday and another 8,062 for Saturday’s clincher. I can’t speak with absolute certainty, but I’m thinking that has to be a league quarterfinal record for a two-game series. Only BC would ever have a chance of putting in those numbers based on building capacity, and having covered their beat for nearly a decade and following them as a kid growing up, I never remember anywhere near that in terms of attendance.
Back on the ice, the fact that UMass was able to successfully beat Maine four straight games over two weekends to both earn home ice and earn a final four berth is almost unheard of.
Said coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon, who chalked up his 100th victory at UMass with Saturday’s win, “We tried not to get caught up in playing Maine four times in a row. We really spent more time preparing for the things that they do and bearing down on the game and the execution and, believe it or not, the discipline of being able to play and stay with them. For the most part, we had a pretty good time of it.”
The four wins certainly helped UMass’ case for an NCAA bid. The Minutemen – who won 20 games for the first time in the program’s history – two weeks ago were on the far outside looking in in terms of the PairWise Rankings, but the four victories (as of 10:10 ET Saturday) put UMass 10th in the PWR and given the fact that they can only lose one game – either the semifinal against New Hampshire or the championship game – between now and the selection process, it seems UMass is in pretty good position for their first-ever NCAA berth.
“The 20 wins is always a benchmark of a real solid Division I season… hopefully it doesn’t stop at 20,” said Cahoon. “As far as the NCAAs, we’ve been nicked out of this thing a couple of times in the past so we’re not worried about the NCAAs right now. We’re worried about the Hockey East championship and specifically the semifinal game. If we take care of business, the NCAA thing will take care of itself.”
The same can’t exactly be said for the Black Bears. Maine, which seemed a lock for the tournament a few weeks back, lost their final seven road games and now are put in an unfortunate wait-and-see position. After Saturday’s loss, the Black Bears are 16th in the PWR, two positions from the final NCAA berth. But if you add in a bonus of .003 points to Maine’s RPI for quality non-conference road wins (Maine beat Minnesota once and North Dakota twice on the road), the Black Bears jump to 14th in the PWR, literally the final spot. Translation: without any surprise champions at the conference tournament levels, Maine may still have a prayer.
“It’s an uneasy feeling,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “The odds are against us getting into the NCAA tournament. We’d have to have a lot of help from the teams that we beat out west. We’ll have to look at the PairWise but I’d think it’s very unlikely that we’ll be in the tournament.”
The fact that Maine is unsure of its future leaves the Black Bears in limbo for the next week.
“We’ve got to wait and see. We’ll look at the PairWise and what happened this weekend,” said Whitehead. “We’ll look at the teams that are still around and see if there’s a possibility that we could be in. If there is, obviously, we’ll prepare. If not, we’ll close it out right there.”
Other Playoff Musings…Ã‚Â
SoÃ‚Â Much for That ThoughtÃ‚Â
Interesting, if you look at the Hockey East playoffs, a lot was made coming into the weekend about the parity of the four pairings. Every higher seed had lost to their first-round opponent. BC had split its season series with Northeastern and BU actually lost its series with Vermont.
All of that said, when push came to shove, it was the home seed that advance in every single series. The only team that even had trouble was BU, which needed overtime in game three to finish off Vermont after falling behind one game to none.
The Harbinger of the Upset?
In my earlier blog posting this week, I picked one series in each conference that I felt could be an upset, and looking at the results I have to pat myself on the back.
- In Hockey East, I picked Vermont over BU. There wasn’t a single upset in that league, as I just mentioned, but the Catamounts certainly came the closest.
- In the CCHA, I picked Lake Superior over Miami. I received a lot of flack for that one only to see that the Lakers finished off a two-game sweep on Saturday by identical 2-1 margins.
- In the CHA, I picked anyone over Niagara (there was a play-in game to decide their opponent). Niagara fell to Alamaba-Huntsville, 5-3, on Saturday.
- In Atlantic Hockey, I picked Mercyhurst over Connecticut. Close, but no cigar. UConn won, 5-4.
- The ECAC was my only bomb, picking Clarkson over Harvard. The Golden Knights sailed in a two-game sweep.
- The WCHA is still to be seen as I write this, but my Wisconsin over Denver picked worked in game one. The Badgers won 3-2 on Friday nightÃ‚Â and have a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes in Saturday’s game two.