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It’s the last week of the regular season, and it’s all about the middle of the pack. This weekend isn’t changing anything at the top of the standings in either conference, but the closest competition among teams can be found in those crucial three-through-seven spots. All the games have serious playoff implications, either outright or by related tiebreaker. Teams are going to be playing just like the playoffs have already started, so the action should be great and the scores close.

Last week, I finished 7-3-0 for the weekend, which takes my season record overall to 54-21-8 (.699). While I finished 70 percent for the week, I am still just thousands of a percentage point short of my targeted 70 percent success rate for the season. Playoffs don’t count, so this is the last chance to push the number higher.

For some, it is an early start to win or go home, while for others it’s a chance to fine-tune the playoff game, and for very few, it is a chance to maybe rest and heal up a few nagging injuries before it is all on the line next weekend. Here is my best shot at the outcomes for the weekend — picking one conference set of games per night.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Babson vs. St. Michael’s
With Norwich looming on Saturday, Babson needs to take care of business if it wants to maintain its current third position in the standings. The Beavers have been a hot team since Frozen Fenway and their first meeting with St.Michael’s that kicked off their winning ways in the league in the second half. No reason to think the outcome is different less the need for overtime. Babson 5-3

New England College vs. Southern Maine
This game, of all the games I am picking, is the one that feels like a tie. The teams are that close overall in terms of talent and competitiveness. The edge goes to the home team, but not because of the location more the guy between the pipes. Give the two points to the Huskies for the “Torris Factor.” Southern Maine 4-3

Castleton vs. Skidmore
It’s the front end of a home-and-home series between the travel partners to end the season, and Skidmore needs points to maintain its current fourth and final home-ice berth. The Thoroughbreds slayed one giant last weekend, so why not a second on this Friday night? Mission accomplished. Skidmore 2-1

Massachusetts-Boston vs. Norwich
You may think the Cadets don’t have much to play for this weekend, having wrapped up the top seed last Saturday with their win over Castleton, but you would be wrong. Mass.-Boston knocked off the Cadets, removing them from the ranks of the unbeaten last month, so Norwich has all the motivation in the world to make any move in the standings for the Beacons stall in Northfield. It’s a full house on Friday night at Kreitzberg Arena and another win for the Cadets. Norwich 5-2

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trinity vs. Wesleyan
It’s the back half of the home-and-home series between the two Connecticut schools, and this one will ultimately decide who moves ahead in the standings for the playoffs. Home ice has made a difference all season for Wesleyan, and it won’t change here with a lot to play for. Coach Potter’s Cardinals have the better team and show it in Middletown. Wesleyan 4-3

Hamilton vs. Middlebury
Just a few short weeks ago, most were writing the obituary to Middlebury’s season after it fell below .500 during a difficult stretch at the end of January. The Panthers have yet to lose in February, and have the added motivation of avenging an earlier 3-0 loss to Hamilton. Somehow, Bill Beaney’s squad seems to find the magic at the right time of the season — Abracadabra! Middlebury 3-1

Bowdoin vs. Connecticut College
The Polar Bears aren’t looking at the desperation in Connecticut College to make the playoffs as motivation to play well. They want to finish on a high note, just like any other teams in the top half of the standings. Connecticut College has played better in the second half, but still has questions in goal, which is never a good sign for a team trying to get into the postseason. Experience rules in this one. Bowdoin 5-2

Amherst vs. Williams
One team is absolutely red hot and the other team is desperately trying to find the magic it had back in the first half. Amherst may have wrapped up its position atop the NESCAC standings, but it isn’t resting on any laurels just yet. Check the box for regular season success and note the intensity in getting ready for the playoffs. The Lord Jeffs are worthy of their number three ranking, and show the Ephs just how good they are. Amherst 3-0

It’s the final weekend, and final points available, so after Saturday, at least in the NESCAC conference, there are no tomorrows for two teams. What happens this weekend may create a great matchup in the playoffs for your team, or a road trip you wished upon someone else in the conference. It’s time to leave it all out on the ice!

As if this weekend didn’t create enough pressure, the playoffs start next week — drop the puck!