The end of the regular season and first round of conference tournaments is here.
Yes there is much still to battle for in many of the conferences, NE-10 semifinals and for the NEHC teams in the quarterfinals, it is win or go home!
The picks from last week saw a playoff-like performance at 6-0-2 (.875) for the weekend. The season record now stands at 52-29-9 (.628), which puts the overall record at a season high. There are no easy games to pick because at this point in the season, there really aren’t any upsets anymore – if you aren’t playing good hockey right now, you don’t deserve to win!
Here are my picks (including all four NEHC quarterfinals and NE-10 semifinal games) for the East this week:
Thursday, Feb. 18
Framingham State @ Westfield State
The last game of the three-game season series finds the Owls in need of stepping up their game to be ready for playoff hockey. They better not look past the Rams, who would love to play the role of spoiler. Still too much offense from WSU – Westfield State 6, Framingham State 2.
Friday, Feb. 19
Manhattanville @ Neumann
This season has been a wild in-conference affair in the ECAC West and the home team usually gets the better of their opponent on the first night in a two-game series. Not deviating from the equation here as the hosts eke by the Valiants for an important two points – Neumann 4, Manhattanville 3.
Geneseo @ Potsdam
This game might go a long way in deciding the second, third or fourth seed in the SUNYAC tournament. Both teams are in a battle with Buffalo State and scoreboard watching is not the way to get it done. Geneseo takes care of business, but needs some extra time to get it done – Geneseo 3, Potsdam 2.
Saturday, Feb. 20
Southern Maine @ Massachusetts-Boston
The quarterfinal round of the NEHC conference tournament finds the top-seeded hosts hosting the Huskies – a team they beat twice in the regular season. Last time at Clark Center, the Beacons took the game by a 5-2 score and that sounds about right this time around – Massachusetts-Boston 5, Southern Maine 2.
Skidmore @ Babson
The No. 7 vs. No. 2 quarterfinal sees a Babson team with All-American goaltender Jamie Murray back between the pipes facing a Thoroughbred team that hasn’t scored on the Beavers in either game this season. Home ice plus Murray equals final four next week – Babson 3, Skidmore 0.
Castleton @ Norwich
The Cadets are in a very unfamiliar position as the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament and face an opponent who split the season series in two very close low scoring games. I am looking for a tight checking defensive battle in this one that goes to the home team, barely – Norwich 3, Castleton 2.
New England College @ University of New England
The dreaded No. 4 vs. No. 5 quarterfinal game is seriously not an easy choice. Both teams split the season series and won on the opponent’s home ice, so throw out that advantage for the Nor’easters. Who to pick? After tons of analysis, it comes down to gut and I like the home team in an overtime thriller – UNE 5, NEC 4.
Assumption @ Stonehill
The No. 1 vs. No. 4 game sees the Greyhounds entering as the four seed on the basis of a head-to-head tiebreaker with St. Michael’s, who they defeated. Stonehill was undefeated in conference play until the very final week of the season and definitely had Assumption’s number during the regular season. The Skyhawks keep the momentum going despite Brandon Bete’s prolific goal-scoring capabilities – Stonehill 4, Assumption 1
Southern New Hampshire @ St. Anselm
The No. 2 vs. No. 3 seeds play the battle for Manchester, N.H., when these two neighbor schools get together. The regular-season game went to the Hawks 3-2, despite outshooting SNHU by a 45-15 margin. Slatky against Joyce between the pipes and one of them decides the outcome – St. Anselm 3, SNHU 2
Sunday, Feb. 21
Amherst @ Middlebury
This is a game that likely has seeding implications for the conference tournament with both teams eyeing a possible five seed. It has been a tough year by Amherst standards, but they seem to peak at the right time and with Dave Cunningham back in goal, a late-season run is very possible – Amherst 3, Middlebury 2.
It already feels like playoff hockey, because it is – drop the puck!
WEST PICKS – Brian Lester
The regular season ends this weekend and several matchups have a lot riding on them, including a showdown between St. John’s and Augsburg in the MIAC. Adrian and St. Scholastica highlight the NCHA schedule.
St. John’s (10-9-4) vs. Augsburg (15-6-2, 11-1-2)
The Johnnies are in third place in the league standings, but are just one point out of second as they head into this series against Augsburg, which has already clinched the regular-season title.
St. John’s has won its last two games and will open this series on the road, where it is 7-2-1 on the season. Neal Smith leads the team in goals with nine and Saxton Soley is 7-8-4 on the year with a 2.50 GAA. The Johnnies have scored 68 goals while allowing 55.
Augsburg is unbeaten in its last eight games and wants to keep its momentum rolling in the right direction. Nate Flynn has been sensational offensively, scoring 15 goals while dishing out 12 assists. Augsburg has come through with 85 goals in all.
Jordyn Kaufer has been sensational in goal all season and has a 14-4-1 record. He is allowing only 1.88 goals per game and has come through with three shutouts in the last five games.
Augsburg, 4-2 and 3-0
St. Thomas (11-7-5, 8-3-3) vs. St. Olaf (6-12-5, 4-6-4)
St. Thomas has lost only once in its last seven games and is looking to maintain its hold on the No. 2 spot in the standings. Connor McBride leads the offense, having scored 12 goals to go along with five assists. Michael Dockry has been a consistent contributor as well, tallying seven goals and eight assists. Joe Morris has won 11 games as the goaltender for the Tommies and ranks second in the conference in GAA (2.19) and save percentage (.924).
St. Olaf goes into this series fighting for its playoff life. The Oles are tied with St. Mary’s for fifth. They have won three of four games. Peter Lindblad has come through with nine goals and 11 assists for an Oles team that has scored 73 goals in all. Goaltender Erick Hancock has started 12 games this year and is 4-3-2 with a 3.47 GAA.
St. Thomas, 5-3 and 4-2.
Milwaukee School of Engineering (14-8-1, 9-8-1) at St. Norbert (19-2-2, 15-2-1)
The Raiders and top-ranked Green Knights will close out the regular season with a showdown in their series finale Friday night.
MSOE has won two in a row. Interestingly enough, the Raiders don’t have a player on the team who has scored 10 or more goals this season. The top goal scorer is Omar Mullan, who has come through with nine goals and nine assists. Gage Christianson leads the team in assists with 19. He has scored three goals as well.
St. Norbert takes aim at ending the regular season as the No. 1 team in the country. The Green Knights have won six of seven and haven’t lost since falling 5-4 to Adrian Jan. 22. St. Norbert features a high-powered offense that has cranked out 104 goals on 143 assists. The Green Knights have allowed only 31 goals. Four players have scored at least 10 goals, including Michael Hill and Pijus Rulevicius, who have come up with 12 apiece.
St. Norbert, 5-4
Adrian (19-3-1, 15-2-1) at St. Scholastica (14-6-3, 12-5-1)
The No. 3 Bulldogs close out the season against the No. 14 Saints in a matchup that will have a playoff-like feel to it. Adrian will be looking to wrap up the South Division title, while the Saints are hoping to close out the regular season on a high note. They are in second in the North Division.
Adrian has won its last two games and has scored 133 goals off 223 assists this year. Five players have scored 11 or more goals for one of the nation’s best offenses, including Mathew Thompson, who has struck for 16 goals. He has also dished out 17 assists. Connor Armour has been a phenomenal play-maker, racking up 29 assists. He has scored six goals this season.
The Saints have been led by Brandon Millin, who has tallied 13 goals and 14 assists. Dylan Nowakowski has also been an integral part of the offense, punching in 12 goals and dishing out 21 assists. St. Scholastica has 84 goals on the year.
Adrian, 5-3, St. Scholastica, 4-3