Conference Finals Preview

Equal parts desire and boredom compelled me to whip up the at-a-glanciest of previews for this weekend’s conference tournament action. Even if you disagree with everything written below, do me one favor: push the math majors to the side for a couple days and just enjoy what’s taking place on the ice. Life is for the living!

ATLANTIC HOCKEY
Blue Cross Arena | Rochester, N.Y. | TV: None

Friday: (5) Mercyhurst (18-15-4) vs. (1) Robert Morris (24-7-5), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (3) RIT (17-14-5) vs. (2) Canisius (18-11-7), 8:05 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:05 p.m. ET

action_rmu_wydoWho should win: Robert Morris. Though the Colonials, Canisius, and RIT have been on roughly the same arc since launching into league play in early January—all three teams have 12 wins since Jan. 9—Robert Morris has been the most consistent from day one.

Who will win: Robert Morris. Coach Derek Schooley’s team, led by Hobey Baker Award finalist Cody Wydo (pictured, right), ranked first in Atlantic Hockey in scoring offense, third in scoring defense, first in power-play success, and second in penalty killing. The Colonials will get past RIT and the Tigers’ terrific forward Matt Garbowsky, another Hobey finalist, in the title match en route to a second NCAA Tournament berth in as many seasons.

BIG TEN
Joe Louis Arena | Detroit | TV: Big Ten Network

Friday: (5) Ohio State vs. (1) Minnesota (21-12-3), 4:30 p.m. ET
Friday: (3) Michigan vs. (2) Michigan State (17-15-2), 8 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 8 p.m. ET

Who should win: Minnesota. Unlike the rest of the Big Ten, the Gophers’ flaws appear to be primarily mental. Provided they show up in Detroit with the proper frame of mind, they’re the league’s most-balanced team.

Who will win: Minnesota. Whom do you trust to win two or three games in a row? Michigan might score seven goals one night, then allow seven the next. Michigan State goalie Jake Hildebrand was named B1G POY earlier this week but, in spite of his brilliance, the Spartans are 6-13-2 when allowing two or more goals. Think about that—in games in which its opponents put up a crooked number, MSU has a .333 winning percentage. That’s absurd. Do you like Spartans’ chances of keeping Michigan and (likely) Minnesota to zero or one goals on consecutive nights? Neither do I.

ECAC HOCKEY
Herb Brooks Arena | Lake Placid, N.Y. | TV: Fox College Sports

Friday: (6) Harvard (19-12-3) vs. (1) Quinnipiac (23-10-4), 4:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (4) Colgate (21-11-4) vs. (2) St. Lawrence (20-13-3), 7:35 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:35 p.m. ET

Who should win: I … don’t …know. One can make a compelling case for each of the four teams. Quinnipiac, which pretty much coasted to the league’s regular-season title, has the best balance. St. Lawrence, led by freshman netminder Kyle Hanlon’s 1.66 GAA and .947 save percentage over the Saints’ last 15 games—SLU was 11-3-1 during that span—has the best goaltender. Colgate, unbeaten in its last seven games and 7-2-1 since Feb. 1, is peaking at the right time. Then there’s Harvard, which brings the most talent to Lake Placid.

Who will win: Colgate. Logic would most likely dictate Quinnipiac in this spot, I suppose, but the Raiders enter the weekend on a bit of a roll—not as hot as they were a year ago when an extraordinary second half propelled them to an ECAC Hockey championship game appearance and an NCAA Tournament bid, but pretty good nonetheless. We’re rolling the dice on the ‘gate.

HOCKEY EAST
TD Garden | Boston | TV: NESN and NBC Sports Network

Friday: (7) Vermont (22-14-4) vs. (4) UMass Lowell (20-11-6), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (8) New Hampshire (19-18-2) vs. (1) Boston University (23-7-5), 8:05 p.m., ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:05 p.m. ET

action_bu_eichelWho should win: Boston University. Take a look at the Terriers’ roster beyond Jack Eichel (pictured, right). A ton of talent and a good deal of experience would seem to be enough to allow BU to forge ahead, especially with probable NCAA Tournament teams Boston College and Providence bounced during last weekend’s quarterfinals.

Who will win: Boston University. UMass Lowell, the defending league postseason champion and the best bet to challenge the Terriers this weekend, pulled out of a month-long mid-winter skid to go 4-1-3 in its last seven games. The River Hawks have one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses and a solid goalie in Kevin Boyle; BU has the country’s most prolific offense and a better goalie in Matt O’Connor. Plus, you know, Jack Eichel.

NATIONAL COLLEGIATE HOCKEY CONFERENCE
Target Center | Minneapolis | TV: CBS Sports Network

Friday: (6) St. Cloud State (18-17-1) vs. (1) North Dakota (27-7-3), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (4) Denver (22-12-2) vs. (2) Miami (23-13-1), 8:35 p.m. ET
Saturday: Third-place game, 4:35 p.m. ET (not televised)
Saturday: Championship game, 8:35 p.m. ET

Who should win: North Dakota. You’d expect the nation’s top-ranked team to come into this weekend with a chip on its collective shoulder after entering this tournament a year ago as a massive favorite only to flop in the semifinals against a sub-.500 Miami team.

Who will win: North Dakota. It won’t be easy—any time NoDak and St. Cloud State play it’s going to be a war, and Denver and Miami are both very good. But the hunch here is NoDak gets past the Huskies, who could be without key players Andrew Prochno (hand) and Kalle Kossila (upper body). Have to believe the winner of the Denver-Miami game (which, on paper, looks like the weekend’s best regardless of league) enters the the title match with less in its tank than North Dakota; that, plus goaltender Zane McIntyre, should be just enough to give NoDak the edge.

WCHA
Xcel Energy Center | St. Paul, Minn. | TV: Fox Sports North

Friday: (6) Ferris State (18-19-2) vs. (1) Minnesota State (27-7-3), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (3) Bowling Green (23-10-3) vs. (2) Michigan Tech (28-8-2), 8:35 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:05 p.m. ET

action_mnk_lafontaineWho should win: Minnesota State. If North Dakota is the country’s most consistent team, the Mavericks are second on that list. Coach Mike Hastings’ squad is ridiculously deep, too; senior forward Jean-Paul Lafontaine (pictured, right), who enters the weekend with 127 points in 154 career games, ranks seventh on the team in scoring this season with 24 points in 33 games.

Who will win: Minnesota State. Picking top seeds to win five of the six league titles. Way to go out on a limb. Seriously, however, the Mavericks are, in this writer’s opinion, the nation’s best team. Ferris State and goalie C.J. Motte can be a dangerous semifinal matchup, but the Bulldogs won’t score enough to topple the Mavs. Michigan Tech is the sentimental favorite and, hey, they’re really good, too, with a 13-2-1 mark since Jan. 16, but the Mavericks—with all that scoring balance and stellar goaltending from Stephon Williams—are too good to be denied.

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