Between the Lines
What to Look Out For This Weekend
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
There are very few games taking place among two top teams. In almost every case, top echelon teams are playing bottom-rung teams. That means, more than likely, we will see very little movement in the Pairwise this week, unless it's due to the dreaded "TUC Cliff." That's the phenomenon where teams go above and below the "Team Under Consideration" threshhold (.500 or better RPI), which could have big ripple effects because of how the Pairwise works.
CCHA Scramble: 5-10 in the CCHA are separated by two points, and the top four of those will receive home ice in the first round of the CCHA Tournament, which starts next week. Ferris State, one of three teams with 24 points, has the tough task of facing Michigan. Ohio State, at 25 points, faces Northern Michigan, with 26. And two other teams with 24 apiece, Notre Dame and Alaska-Fairbanks, square off against each other. Ohio State has the most at stake, hanging on the plus side of the NCAA bubble, it needs Notre Dame to keep winning games, and win its own. If Notre Dame loses a pair this weekend, and falls in the CCHA first round, it probably won't matter what Ohio State does.
ECAC Homestretch: Two points separate the top four going into the final weekend — Cornell (27), Colgate (26), Dartmouth (26) and St. Lawrence (25). First place might be a big deal, if only to avoid three possibly pesky second-round opponents: Harvard, Union and Clarkson. Any of those three are capable of giving the top four a big fight in round two. Otherwise, these games mean the most to St. Lawrence, which is closest to the NCAA bubble, on the minus side right now. It's a good-news, bad-news scenario for the Saints: They have the toughest road, with road games at Harvard and Dartmouth, but wins there would be a huge boost to their NCAA chances because Harvard and Dartmouth are both TUCs. Cornell is in the best shape, with road games at Rensselaer and Union (tough, but easier) and holding the tiebreaker over Colgate. Cornell is clinging to a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs right now, but this weekend will have little effect unless it loses both.
Hockey East Happenings: Along with the WCHA, Hockey East has two weekends of regular-season play remaining. The best games are between Providence and New Hampshire, two teams tied with 28 points, sitting on the 4-5 spot, which will decide the final home ice placement in the HEA Tournament. New Hampshire still has NCAA aspirations, but at No. 17 in the Pairwise, probably needs at least three points in order to make inroads in that department. Maine stands a good chance to catch BU for second, with the Terriers playing two at Vermont, and Maine playing two at Merrimack. But the Warriors have played better lately, and Maine coach Tim Whiteside says he's wary of them. The best news for Maine these days is how captain Greg Moore is playing. Staying for his senior year has made him a hot pro property, and the New York Rangers are drooling right now. But Moore is hoping his current team still has a lot of hockey left.
WCHA Watch: The top three spots are most important here, because it helps you avoid the Thursday play-in game at the WCHA Final Five. And Wisconsin, Minnesota and Denver already have pulled away and secured the top three. From a national perspective, where they finish in that race doesn't really matter, although Denver has the most to play for. The Pioneers are on the NCAA bubble, but have a great opportunity to solidify things over the next four games, playing North Dakota and Colorado College twice each. North Dakota needs to do some serious winning to get in, and that won't be easy. Wisconsin and Minnesota are already all but assured being No. 1 seeds in the two Western Regionals, while CC is pretty much a lock as well to get in.
Elsewhere: Sacred Heart has a last chance to catch Holy Cross, with a home-and-home series. The Crusaders are four points up on the Pioneers entering the weekend in Atlantic Hockey. ... Alabama-Huntsville is tied for first with Bemidji State in the CHA, two points up on third-place Niagara. Thing is, UAH is playing last-place Wayne State this weekend, while BSU and Niagara face each other.
Other rumblings: Speaking of the CHA, we're starting to hear rumblings that not just the league will be in trouble, but some of the remaining programs, should the CHA not be able to find a sixth team. Six teams are needed, according to NCAA rules, for a conference to earn an autobid. Since Air Force announced last year that it was leaving the league as of the start of next season, the scramble has been on. But so far, the CHA has come up empty. If the league drops to five teams for any length of time, expect the whole thing to fold and there may be remaining schools that decide it's no longer worth having a program — ones you might not even imagine. Would other leagues be magnanimous and absorb those schools? That might be asking a lot. Hockey likes to help each other out, but that can only go so far. It's unfortunate.