Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Second Round Conference Upsets Abound

The mighty fell over the college hockey weekend—and hard.

Upsets abounded in the best-of-three quarterfinal series for four of the five major NCAA Division I men’s leagues, most notably in Hockey East where top-seeded Boston College fell in three games to eighth-seeded Notre Dame. The Irish posted three wins in four games at BC this month, and are perhaps the hottest team in the nation with an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 outings.

Notre Dame won the opener, 7-2, on Friday, before the Eagles and Irish exchanged 4-2 wins on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. ND will now face UMass-Lowell, a three-game winner over Vermont, at TD Garden in Boston on Friday, with the winner to face the victor of Providence and New Hampshire on Saturday. BC, meanwhile, will lick its wounds and wait to see where it will be seeded when the NCAA Tournament bids are announced on Sunday.

In the “new” Western Collegiate Hockey Association, it was longtime league member and sixth-seeded Alaska Anchorage defeating long-time rival and new member Alaska (Fairbanks), the third seed, by a goal at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks on Saturday night, 5-4. The host Nanooks took the opener on Thursday, 3-2, in overtime before the visiting Seawolves rallied for a 2-1 triumph on Friday, setting the stage for Saturday’s winner-take-all contest that propelled UAA to the WCHA Final Five in Grand Rapids, Mich. next week against first-time WCHA regular-season champion Ferris State. It was also the first time UAA and the former UAF had met in postseason play since both were still Division I independents in 1992.

Atlantic Hockey saw second-seeded Bentley ousted by 2013 NCAA Tournament participant Canisius in three games. Third-seeded Air Force fell to sixth-seeded Niagara, which also played in last year’s nationals, in a deciding third game on Sunday, while fifth-seeded Robert Morris swept Connecticut, which played in its league swansong as the Huskies will join Hockey East next season. The league championship will be contested in Rochester, N.Y. this weekend, with the winner of Canisius and top-seeded Mercyhurst (which swept Holy Cross) to face the winner of Robert Morris and Niagara on Saturday for the conference crown.

In the nascent National Collegiate Hockey Conference, eighth-seeded Miami, which has qualified for the last eight NCAA Tournaments, swept top-seeded St. Cloud State by 5-4 (OT) and 4-3 scores to advance to the league semifinals in Minneapolis. The Red Hawks will take on the sixth-seeded Denver Pioneers, who rebounded from a 4-3 loss at third-seeded Nebraska-Omaha on Thursday with 5-1 and 2-0 wins over the weekend. 

Fifth-seeded Western Michigan edged fourth-seeded Minnesota-Duluth by 3-2 and 4-3 scores to advance to the others NCHC semifinal against North Dakota, which outlasted seventh-seeded Colorado College in three contests, including a 4-3 win on Sunday in Grand Forks.

The Eastern College Athletic Conference was the only league to see all four of its top seeds move on, in Union, Colgate, Quinnipiac and Cornell. Those four teams will face off in Lake Placid to see who will win the league’s auto-bid to the NCAAs.

The Big Ten will host its inaugural playoff tournament this weekend in St. Paul, Minn., beginning Thursday with Michigan against Penn State and Michigan State versus Ohio State. Waiting in the wings are top seeds Minnesota and Wisconsin on Friday, with the league title tilt set for Saturday.

There’s just 36 games remaining in the 2013-14 college hockey campaign, according to USCHO.com. The ultimate winner will be crowned on April 12 at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

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