Friday, March 16, 2012

Conference Championships on the Line on Saturday

The final opportunity for several schools to gain access to the 2012 NCAA Division I Tournament will come down to Saturday night, when the championship games of the five major men's ice hockey leagues will take place.

Atlantic Hockey's past two champions will collide at Blue Cross Arena Rochester tomorrow when Air Force faces RIT. The AFA Falcons, who ousted Mercyhurst by a 5-2 score on Friday, went to the NCAAs last year, while the Tigers, who edged Niagara on Friday in overtime, made it all the way to the 2010 Frozen Four in Detroit.

Bowling Green's Cinderella run through the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs came to a close tonight in Detroit, with a 3-2 double OT loss to Michigan. The Wolverines will face Western Michigan in Saturday's title tilt, after the Broncos dumped Miami, 6-2, in the other semifinal. The Red Hawks will face BGSU in this year's consolation game.

Harvard shocked Cornell, 6-1, in the Eastern College Athletic Conference's late semifinal tonight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The Crimson will now line up tomorrow against league regular-season champion Union, which dispatched Colgate by a 6-2 count. Cornell and Colgate will meet in the ECAC consolation contest.

Hockey East saw top-ranked Boston College outlast upstart Providence, 4-2, in the first semifinal at TD Garden in Beantown tonight, while No. 11 Maine came back from two one-goal deficits to defeat No. 5 Boston University, 5-3. The Eagles and Black Bears last met in the HE conference championship contest in 2010, with BC winning in overtime.

Top-seeded Minnesota built a 3-0 lead over North Dakota in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul tonight, only to see the Fighting Sioux score six unanswered goals to earn a 6-3 victory and a berth in Saturday's title game against Denver. The Pioneers had earlier slipped past defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, 4-3, in two overtimes.

The winners in Saturday's five championship games will receive automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament. Schools that are likely already in the big dance, according to the latest Pairwise Rankings, include BC, Michigan, Union, North Dakota, Ferris State, Maine, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, Miami and BU, and Minnesota. Air Force, RIT and Harvard can only advance to the NCAAs by winning their respective conference championship games and gaining their league's automatic berth.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will be shown on Sunday on ESPNU at noon EDT.

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