NCAA: Conference races heating up

By DJ Powers





Sertich: Recruits boast skills to succeed






With two weeks left in the regular season, things are heating
up around the NCAA. These next two weeks will provide some insight on who’s getting home ice in the conference playoffs and who’s
not. Here’s a glimpse of what is shaping up in all six conferences. All
conferences except the ECAC have two weeks left in their respective regular
season schedules. The ECAC regular season concludes this weekend.

 

 

ATLANTIC
HOCKEY:
The Atlantic Hockey conference, like the CHA, is a weak
conference in relation to the top four, however, this conference race will be
an interesting one to watch going down the stretch. The Holy Cross Crusaders
have dominated the conference for much of the season and looks to be a lock for
the Atlantic Hockey regular season championship, but they could be in for a
challenge by reigning champion Mercyhurst Lakers.

 

The Holy Cross Crusaders led by the phenomenal goaltending
of sophomore Tony Quesada, currently
hold down the top seed in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. They moved within one
point of clinching the top seed when they defeated American International on
Tuesday. The Crusaders can clinch the conference title and top seed outright
with either a win or tie on Friday night when they host the visiting Mercyhurst Lakers at the
Hart
Rec
Center
.

 

The Mercyhurst Lakers led by top
scorer Mike Carter, is currently in
second place in the conference and will not only have to defeated visiting Holy
Cross in the crucial game on Friday but will also need some help to take the
top seed overall going into the conference playoffs. While the Lakers may not win
the Atlantic Hockey regular season title, they will be in a fight to hold on to
the second seed as third place Sacred Heart and fourth place Quinnipiac are
both within striking distance.

 

The Sacred Heart Pioneers and the Quinnipiac Bobcats are
separated by one point and both trail second place Mercyhurst
by three and four points respectively. Both teams could conceivably finish as
high as second and as low sixth in the seedings for
the upcoming conference playoffs. The crucial meeting between these two teams
will be on March 2nd when they will faceoff
at Sacred Heart’s Millford Ice Pavilion.

 

 

CCHA: A closely watched race is taking place over
in the CCHA were there’s a real dogfight in the middle of the pack.
Michigan,
Miami-Ohio and
Michigan
State

have all clinched a home ice spot, but there are still three spots remaining
among four closely bunched teams in the middle of the current CCHA standings:
Ohio
State
, Alaska
Fairbanks,
Western Michigan and Notre
Dame. The last weeks of the season will be critical for all these teams.

 

The University of Michigan Wolverines featuring the nation’s
current top rookie T. J. Hensick, have just about sewn up the top seeding in the
CCHA after crucial sweeps over Miami-Ohio last weekend and Bowling Green this
past weekend. The Wolverines can clinch the CCHA Regular Season title outright
with a win and tie against Notre Dame this weekend. If the Wolverines gain at
least a tie in one of the two games against the Fighting Irish this weekend,
they will have eliminated
Michigan
State

from regular season title contention. The Spartans are idle this week, but will
faceoff against the Wolverines in the final series of
the regular season for both teams next weekend.

 

The Michigan State Spartans, featuring early Hobey Baker candidate and Atlanta Thrashers prospect Jim Slater, are currently sitting in
second place in the CCHA going into this weekend. The Spartans are idle this
weekend and can only sit and watch what transpires to have an idea of where
they could wind up when they faceoff against
archrival Michigan on the final regular season weekend of March 5th
and 6th. While the Spartans have clinched home-ice advantage, they
could win up finishing as high as first (although it’s unlikely) and as low as
sixth. The have a slim one point lead over third place Miami-Ohio and three
points over fourth place
Ohio
State

going into this weekend.

 

The currently third place University
of
Miami-Ohio RedHawks
,
featuring another early Hobey Baker candidate in Derek Edwardson,
are still recovering from the devastating sweep at the
hands of the Michigan Wolverines two weeks ago. However, they are the only team
at this stage of the season that can compete with
Michigan
to win the CCHA Regular Season title. The Redhawks
will host sixth place
Western Michigan
at Goggin Arena this weekend in a must-win series for
both teams. The RedHawks will close out their regular
season in a home-and-home series with instate rival
Ohio
State

on March 5th and 6th.

 

The Ohio State Buckeyes, led by top-flight goaltender Mike Betz, come into this weekend in
fourth place in the CCHA standings trailing third place Miami-Ohio by two
points. The Buckeyes are one of four teams bunched in the middle of the CCHA
pack. Like the Michigan State Spartans, the Buckeyes are also idle this weekend,
but you can bet that they’ll be watching the CCHA matchups
this weekend quite closely. The Buckeyes will finish out their regular season
on March 5th and 6th when they travel to Goggin Arena to take on host and instate rival, Miami-Ohio.
The matchups could be very crucial for both teams,
depending upon how things shape up this weekend.

 

Two points separates the next three teams: Alaska-Fairbanks,
Western Michigan and Notre
Dame. All of them will be in action this weekend and the results of their
respective series should give a better picture of how the CCHA standings are
shaping up heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The
Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks will travel to the Qwest
Center Omaha for a weekend series versus last place Nebraska-Omaha before
closing out their season at Taffy Abel Arena in a series with
Lake
Superior
State
.
The Western Michigan Broncos will travel to Goggin
Arena to take on third place Miami-Ohio in a crucial series for both teams
before coming home to faceoff against the Bowling
Green Falcons on March 4th to close out their regular season. The
Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host first place
Michigan
at the
Joyce
Center

this weekend in another crucial CCHA match up. The Fighting Irish will finish
out their regular season on March 5th and 6th when they
travel to Taffy Abel Arena to take on host
Lake
Superior
State
.

 

 

CHA:
A hotly contested race that’s likely to go down to the wire is taking place in
the CHA. Just one point separates the top two teams in the conference: the
Bemidji State Beavers and Niagara University Purples Eagles. They will likely
be the two teams that will be vying for the Peters Cup, which awarded to the
CHA Regular Season Champions.

 

The Bemidji
State Beavers, featuring lone the conference’s lone NHL prospect in Andrew Murray (CBJ), currently hold
down the top spot in the CHA. The Beavers clinched a playoff spot last weekend
after taking three of four points versus Alabama-Huntsville. The Beavers will
travel to Cadet Ice Arena in
Colorado
Springs
this weekend, to
take on host Air Force. But the crucial series for the Beavers will come the
following weekend in the final regular season matchup
against the visiting Niagara Purple Eagles for the Peters Cup and the top seed
going into the CHA Playoffs.

 

The Niagara Purple Eagles are the current second place team
in the conference. They could conceivably win the conference and the Peters
Cup, depending upon the outcome of the remainder of the season. The Purple
Eagles led by early Hobey Baker candidate Barret Ehgoetz,
will host the Findlay Oilers this weekend at Dwyer
Arena. The crucial series will take place the following weekend when they
travel to the John Glas Fieldhouse
to take on host Bemidji State that could determine who wins the Peters Cup.

 

The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, led by one of the nation’s
top scorers in Jared Ross, currently
sit in third place in the conference after a devastating series versus
Bemidji
State

last weekend. The Chargers could conceivably finish as high as first, but will
need some help. They are seven points behind
Niagara
for second place. The Chargers will host visiting
Wayne
State

this weekend at Von Braun Ice Arena. They will close out their regular season
schedule when they visit the Findlay Oilers at Clauss Ice Arena in what will be the final regular season
games for the Oilers. The
University
of
Findlay

announced back in January that the school is dropping its Men’s Ice Hockey
Program at the end of their season.

 

 

ECAC: The most
hotly contested conference race is happening over in the ECAC, where only five
points separate the top five teams. It has become a wide-open race that could
see any one of at least five teams finish atop the conference and have a chance
at clinching the Cleary Cup. The Cleary Cup is awarded to the team that wins
the ECAC Regular Season title. This weekend will be the final regular season
weekend for the ECAC and will determine how the standings will look as well as
determine the matchups of the upcoming conference
playoffs.

 

The only team thus far to have secured a playoff berth and
clinch an opening round bye in the upcoming ECAC Playoffs is the Colgate
Raiders. The Raiders, led by stellar goaltending of junior Steve Silverthorn, took over first place
in the ECAC after defeating RPI this past Saturday. They can clinch the Cleary
Cup outright with a win either on Friday against the visiting Clarkson Golden
Knights or on Saturday against the visiting St. Lawrence Saints.

 

The previous top place team, the Brown University Bears
dropped to second in the conference after last weekend’s devastating sweep up
in the North Country by St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The
Bears, featuring possible Hobey Baker candidate
goaltender Yann Danis, will
look to move up to challenge Colgate for the top spot when they host the
visiting Dartmouth Big Green on Friday night in a crucial game for both teams.
Should the Bears defeat Dartmouth,
they will clinch their first Ivy League Championship (which is not the same as
the Cleary Cup) since 1995. On Saturday, Brown will close out their regular
season versus the visiting Vermont Catamounts.

 

The Dartmouth Big Green is currently tied for third place
in the conference with Cornell going into this weekend. The crucial game for
the Big Green will be on Friday night when they travel to Meehan Auditorium to
take on the Brown University Bears. In addition to jostling for positioning in
the ECAC standings, the two teams will also be vying for the Ivy League
Championship title. The Big Green, led by sophomore phenom
and New York Rangers prospect Hugh Jessiman, will close out their 2003-04 regular season
when travel to the Bright Center to take on host Harvard.

 

The Cornell Big Red, featuring one of the most exciting
lines in the NCAA in Matt Moulson (PIT), Ryan
Vesce
and Byron
Bitz
(BOS), currently shares third place in the
conference standings with Dartmouth.
The Big Red can finish as high as first and as low as fifth in the conference
this weekend. In order for Cornell to have a top four finish they will need to
take three of four points against the visiting St. Lawrence Saints on Friday
and Clarkson Golden Knights on Saturday at Lynah
Rink. With a top four finish, Cornell will be assured a first round bye and
home-ice advantage in the upcoming playoffs.

 

The RPI Engineers, led by top-flight netminder
and Los Angeles Kings prospect Nathan Marsters, currently hold down the number five spot in
the conference rankings going into this weekend. They will look to try and move
up to gain a top four spot and a first-round bye this weekend. The Engineers
will travel to Hobey Baker Rink on Friday to pay a
visit to the last place Princeton Tigers. The crucial match up for the
Engineers will take place on Saturday, when they will travel to Ingalls Rink to take on the Yale Bulldogs. Yale, who is
currently tied for sixth in the conference with Harvard
will also be looking to get into the top four this weekend as well.

 

 

HOCKEY
EAST:
The race for the regular season title and the top seed in
the Hockey East playoffs will come down to first place
Boston
College

and second place Maine Black Bears. They along with third ranked UMass have secured three of the four spots for home ice
advantage in the opening round of the upcoming Hockey East playoffs. The New
Hampshire Wildcats are the only other team thus far that has clinched a playoff
berth. The top eight teams in Hockey East advance to the conference playoffs
and will vie for the Lamoriello Trophy. The trophy,
which is named after former
Providence
College

head coach and current New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello, is awarded to the winner of the Conference
Playoffs.

 

The Boston College Eagles, who is currently the top ranked
team in the nation, has a 13-game unbeaten streak coming into this weekend. The
Eagles, featuring the talented trio of Tony
Voce
, Ben Eaves (PIT) and Patrick Eaves (OTT),
will look to lock up the top seed in the upcoming conference playoffs during
the next two weekends. The worst the Eagles can finish in the conference is
second. They will faceoff against the New Hampshire
Wildcats in a home-and-home series this weekend. They will finish the regular
season on March 5th and 6th when they travel to Alfond Arena to take on host Maine that will decide who
finishes atop Hockey East if it is not determined before then.

 

The Maine Black Bears, which boasts arguably the best
goaltending tandem in the nation in senior Frank
Doyle
and sophomore Jimmy Howard
(DET), currently sit in second place in the conference coming into this
weekend. The Black Bears can finish as high as first and as low as fourth in
the conference.
Maine
will travel to Tsongas Arena this weekend to take on host UMass-Lowell.
The crucial series for the Black Bears takes place on the final weekend when
they will host
Boston
College
.
Depending upon what happens this weekend with both teams, the top seed going
into the Hockey East playoffs could be determined in this match up. The Black
Bears currently trail the Eagles by five points in the conference standings.

 

The UMass Minutemen currently hold
down third place in the conference. They are one of two Hockey East schools
(Merrimack being the other) have benefited from the previous forfeiture of
points that the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks
were forced to make due to having an ineligible player on their active roster. UMass, which features the nation’s top scoring defenseman
in Thomas Pöck, can
finish as high as second and as low as fourth in the conference heading into
the playoffs. However, they also have the fewest number of games remaining on
their regular season schedule. The Minutemen will finish out their regular
season this weekend in a home-and-home series versus last place Northeastern.
Northeastern will be looking to just to make the top eight and avoid being sent
home at the conclusion of the regular season.

 

The New Hampshire Wildcats are the currently in fourth place
in the conference. They can finish as high as second and as low as seventh at
regular season’s end. The Wildcats, led by early Hobey
Baker hopeful Steve Saviano,
will look to lock down the final spot for home ice advantage beginning this
weekend. UNH will have their toughest test when they play a home-and-home
weekend series against first place
Boston
College

beginning on Friday at the
Whittemore
Center
.
UNH will close out their regular season in another home and home series versus
eighth ranked Boston University Terriers on March 4th and March 6th.

 

 

WCHA:
In arguably the most closely watched conference race is over in the WCHA. The
race for the MacNaughton Cup is one race that could
go down to the wire. The top five finishing teams at the end of the regular
season will gain home ice advantage in the beginning of the WCHA Playoffs.

 

The first place Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and second place
North Dakota Fighting Sioux have both clinched a home ice spot for the opening
round of the WCHA Playoffs. However, this weekend’s crucial matchup
between the two teams at the DECC in
Duluth
could decide the winner of the MacNaughton Cup,
awarded to the team that wins the WCHA Regular Season title. In order for the
Bulldogs to win the MacNaughton Cup outright, they
will need to sweep the Fighting Sioux. However, they can still get a share of
the WCHA lead going into the final weekend of the regular season if they can
take three of four points in this weekend’s crucial match up. The Bulldogs, led
by the talented Junior Lessard, will finish out their regular season schedule
on March 5th and 6th when they travel to the
Kohl
Center

to take on host
Wisconsin.

 

The second place North Dakota Fighting Sioux held on to the
top spot in the WCHA for much of the season until the slump in early February
that saw the Fighting Sioux get swept by Wisconsin and then earn a split with
Colorado College in a span of two weeks. However, the Fighting Sioux are still
in contention for the MacNaughton Cup going into this
weekend’s crucial series versus first place Minnesota-Duluth.
North
Dakota
bounced back nicely
last weekend when they swept Minnesota State-Mankato. The Fighting Sioux, led
by arguably the nation’s most potent trio of Brady Murray (LA), Zach Parise (NJ) and Brandon
Bochenski
(OTT), will need to take at least two
points from the Bulldogs this weekend to remain in contention for the
conference’s top spot. The Fighting Sioux will close out their regular season
schedule on March 5th and 6th when they travel to MacInnes Ice Arena to take on host Michigan Tech.

 

The Wisconsin Badgers, who took over sole possession of
third place in the WCHA standings following a three-point weekend over St.
Cloud State last weekend, need just one point in their next two series to
clinch home ice in the opening round of the WCHA Playoffs. The Badgers,
featuring top-notch defenseman and Nashville Predators prospect Ryan Suter,
will travel to Sullivan Arena this weekend to take on host Alaska-Anchorage and
finish their regular season at home versus the current top WCHA team,
Minnesota-Duluth.

 

After a devastating series with Wisconsin
last weekend, the St. Cloud State Huskies will host the Colorado College Tigers
this weekend and will look to clinch home-ice in the first round of the
conference playoffs. In order to do so, the Huskies will need to sweep the
Tigers. The Huskies, led by top-flight senior Matt Hendricks (NSH), will then travel to Mariucci
Arena to take on host
Minnesota
for the final regular season match up on the weekend of March 5th.

 

After a slow start to their season, the Minnesota Golden
Gophers have gotten themselves in the thick of the WCHA race, currently sitting
in the number five spot. However, the best they can hope to finish is second
overall in the conference. The Gophers will travel to Denver this weekend to faceoff against host University of Denver in a crucial
series for both teams that could determine who will gain home ice in the
opening round of the conference playoffs and who won’t. The Gophers, led by
arguably the best all-around defenseman in the nation in Keith Ballard (
COL),
will conclude their regular season at home hosting the visiting St. Cloud State
Huskies.