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The next to last weekend of the regular season has some intriguing matchups at both the upper and lower levels of the standings. One thing all the games have in common is their playoff implications. At this point of the season, rest assured that no one is taking any opponent lightly, and everyone is doing a bit of scoreboard watching. Last week, I finished 6-2-0 for the weekend, which takes my season record overall to 47-18-8 (.699). No rounding up here to claim any 70 percent winning percentage. I will have to earn it the old fashioned way — keep picking games right.

After a hot start last weekend, the additional picks didn’t hurt, so I will super-size the picks this weekend to 10 games and see if the hot streak can continue.

While the normal picks are published on Fridays, I am writing this up on Monday so there is no misconception on trying to claim a score after the game has been played with the Thursday Middlebury vs. Williams matchup. So, here are the picks for the games that may have the biggest impact on the standings this weekend.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Middlebury vs. Williams
Both of these teams have had their struggles over the past few weeks, but while Middlebury showed signs of life in Connecticut, the games against Trinity and Wesleyan had the Ephs in fifth place by Sunday night. This is the first of two games in the weekend between the two rivals, and someone needs to set the tone for the home stretch in this rare Thursday night engagement. It will be low scoring for sure, and the road team has just been playing better overall lately. Middlebury 3-2

Friday, February 10, 2012

Southern Maine vs. Babson
The Huskies got back into the win column and took all four points last weekend with a strong offensive showing against University of New England, while Babson extended its unbeaten streak to seven games with a win over Skidmore and tie with Castleton. The home team has got it going pretty well right now, and still has a chance to move into the top two with a little help from some other teams.  Beavers keep the momentum going. Babson 5-3

New England College vs. St. Anselm
It’s game one of two on the weekend between the two opponents where NEC would like to improve its playoff position and St. Anselm, who is not ECAC East playoff eligible, is playing for pride and a chance to fine tune its game for an NE-10 Conference playoff run.  You can literally throw a rock between the two schools, and all of the games tend to be very close. The points mean more to the Pilgrims. NEC 4-3

Tufts vs. Amherst
Last weekend, it was the big matchup with Bowdoin, and this week a red-hot Tufts team behind Kyle Gallegos and Scott Barchard tries to solve what few teams have been able to do all season — beat Amherst. Both teams have quietly played very good hockey all season, and of late the Tufts surge up the standings has garnered them more attention than the first place Lord Jeffs. I can’t pick a tie, so will go with the fact that La Rose has been a bit better than Barchard, and that’s enough here. Amherst 2-1

Wesleyan vs. Bowdoin
Bowdoin doesn’t have a great shot at catching Amherst, but it certainly has had a solid run at holding on to second place in the conference. Wesleyan looked to be making its move in January, but has fallen off the pace in February. Home cooking at “The Sid” will get the Polar Bears growling again toward the playoffs. Bowdoin 5-2

Saturday, February 11, 2012

St. Michael’s vs. Skidmore
For some reason, when I see this game on the schedule I see a track meet and a lot of goals. No I haven’t been drinking! Seriously, the Thoroughbreds are far more prolific at home and are 3-1-0 in their last four games overall. St. Michael’s can get it going too, and on the big sheet in Saratoga Springs there had better be a lot of Gatorade on the bench. This is a high-tempo game and a much needed two points for the home team. Skidmore 6-5

Norwich vs. Castleton
Going into last week with just one point separating first and second, this game seemed to be for all of the marbles in the ECAC East.  That was before Castleton took only one point in its two games and the Cadets swept. Still expect a lot of emotion in this game from the home team, which will be looking to send a message to Norwich in advance of the playoffs — just not a message the Cadets want to hear from their cross-state rivals. Norwich 5-3

Connecticut College vs. Hamilton
These two teams are fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot, so not only do the two points mean a lot at this time of the year, but the tiebreaker is also a bonus in the matchup. The irony between these two combatants is that the road team is actually a .500 team away from New London, where it struggles mightily. Like the camels in an upset. Connecticut College 4-2

Trinity vs. Bowdoin
Coach Terry Meagher’s mantra has been to “take care of business at home and strive to be .500 or better on the road.” Do that and you will be right in the thick of things. Bowdoin has proven that it is lethal in the second game of the weekend, winning the cherished “fifth period” and dominating third periods. Trinity probably won’t like the first period either in this one. Bowdoin 4-0

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tufts vs. Hamilton
Many coaches consider the Amherst and Hamilton road trip to be among the most difficult to “stay and play” in the conference. If I am correct and both teams lose on Saturday, this matchup is going to be an all-important opportunity to salvage points out of the weekend. Tufts has proven it can play with the big boys, and now Hamilton gets to show its stuff against the Jumbos. There is just not enough in the tank for the Continentals. Tufts 4-2

It’s the final countdown to the season, and chances for redemption are dwindling with the passing weeks — now’s the time to step it up boys. Remember nobody’s out yet — drop the puck!