After Further Review: February
by Tom Reale/CHN Correspondent
February — four weekends that decide champions. This February was no different, as some teams stepped up their game to grab titles (Notre Dame, RIT, St. Lawrence) while others have found some degree of turbulence (New Hampshire and Minnesota) on their way to glory.
As the calendar turns to March, we have already bid adieu and farewell to two teams — RIT and Merrimack. The Tigers knew well in advance that they would not see hockey in March, while the Warriors at least have two games against Providence left before they are finished, missing the Hockey East playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Every other team is still alive, which brings us into March with 57 potential national champions. That number will be down to 47 by next weekend, as one Hockey East, one Atlantic hockey, four ECAC, and four CCHA teams join RIT and Merrimack on the "wait until next year" bandwagon.
Grab a bowl of popcorn and send the kids to bed early — it's time for hockey's version of March Madness.
So without further ado ... the miscellany, the background, the utterly useless, and the truly intriguing about the February that was in college hockey.
Wake up the echoes: Notre Dame's regular season CCHA championship is their first league championship of any kind in program history. Their previous best CCHA finish was fourth, which they achieved in 1982 and 1999. David Brown and the Irish allowed only 51 goals in league play — 19 less than Miami's second place 'D'. That figure is the lowest since Ryan Miller and Michigan State allowed only 47 during the 2001-02 season. Did you know that when Notre Dame was first chartered, it was known as the University of Notre Dame du Lac, or "Our Lady of the Lake?" Of course you did.
The Tiger roars: RIT won the Atlantic Hockey regular season title in only its first season as a league member. This is the first time in the history of Division I college hockey that a team in its first year in a pre-existing conference has finished at the top of that conference's table. The Tigers did it in a convincing fashion, as well — with a three point gap over second place Sacred Heart, netting 18 more goals than any other team in league play, and with the second-stingiest defense — Air Force allowed one goal less than RIT in 28 Atlantic Hockey games.
Home ice advantage?: The current ECAC playoff system is in its fifth year, and the first round has been home to a pile of "upsets." In every year except for 2005, two of the road teams in the first round have advanced to the Quarterfinals. That second round, however, has not been as charitable to the underdogs — the home team has advanced to Albany ten out of twelve times in the last three years.
Patience of a Saint: St. Lawrence has been an ECAC member since the league's inception in 1961, but their Cleary Cup title is only their second regular season championship in the school's storied hockey history, the first having come in 2000. The Saints have been far more successful in the ECAC Tournament, where they have won six championships, third behind only Cornell and Harvard.
For MacNaught: Minnesota and St. Cloud State might as well play hot potato with the MacNaughton Cup this weekend. The last time a team which won the MacNaughton outright went on to win the national championship was 1991, when Northern Michigan accomplished the feat. Since then, only North Dakota, who split the cup with Minnesota in 1997, and Denver, who split with Colorado College in 2005, have been the only MacNaughton winners to win at the Frozen Four. Furthermore, Denver's 2002 triumph was the only time since 1991 that sole MacNaughton champion would go on to win the Broadmoor Trophy.
Members only: New Hampshire's regular season title marks the 23rd straight time — every year in the league's history — that one of the so-called "Big Four" has won the Hockey East regular season crown. That same group of four has also won every Hockey East Tournament trophy since 1996, when Providence became only the third "outsider" to win the automatic bid.
What's it take?: The Seawolves of Anchorage have won only twice in 2007 — both times, in Alaska — and will finish in last place in the WCHA for the second consecutive year despite their promising start, which included a home sweep of North Dakota. Completing the regular season with 17 points, the Seawolves have amassed the most points of any last-place team since the WCHA reduced its schedule from 32 games to 28 in 1998.
Year of the Husky: Michigan Tech enters the month of March with 25 points and a chance to host a WCHA playoff series for the first time since 1993. The Huskies are assured of finishing more points than any season since 1996, but the league was on a 32 game schedule that year. MTU's current winning percentage of .481 within the league is highest since that 1993 season. Whatever the outcome, the Huskies will be looking to win their first WCHA playoff game since 1998 — the team has lost their last 15 playoff games. With one more victory, MTU will be above 15 wins for the first time since 1988 — back when head coach Jamie Russell was a 21-year-old junior defenseman.
Fit to be tied: It's been said that a tie is like kissing your sister, but Boston University, Nebraska-Omaha, and Rensselaer should probably start to see a psychiatrist for sororophilia. BU tied a school record this year with 9 ties, and this year's senior class is the first in the history of college hockey to have two 9-tie seasons - the first being their freshman year in 2004. Meanwhile, RPI and UNO have 8 ties each, a school record for both, and now 16 schools have had campaigns of 8 ties or more. Jack Parker is the second coach to have two 9-tie seasons in his career, following Don Lucia, who set the NCAA record at the time with 9 ties as the coach of Alaska-Fairbanks in 1990, and later had a 9-tie season with Minnesota in 2003. BU also becomes the second school with two 9-tie seasons, as the Golden Gophers also amassed 9 ties in 1999 during Doug Woog's last season behind the bench at Mariucci. North Dakota (2001), Dartmouth (2004), and Bowling Green (2004) have also had 9-tie seasons. The current NCAA record of 10 - set by Minnesota State-Mankato in 2003 - is safe, as there must be a winner in all of the remaining games for the three schools, although UMass-Lowell could still reach 8 ties as well if they were to tie both games against Vermont this weekend.
Stately Wayne Manor: Two bits if you can figure out who has the longest unbeaten streak in the nation heading into the free-for-all that is March. It's not North Dakota, they were beaten in OT by Denver last weekend. It's not Boston College or Dartmouth, who are both hot (and have twin four-game win streaks) but not hot enough. No, it's Wayne State, unbeaten in five in a row, including last weekend's three point showing against Bemidji State which shook up the CHA playoff picture. It's the Warriors' longest unbeaten streak since they rattled off seven wins in a row in March 2003 to win the CHA title.
Circle the Date — March's Must See TV
See that calendar? Circle the weekends (except the last one). Proceed to watch every game played.