April 04, 2020

Much is at stake for Maine in Hockey East playoffs

There is a lot at stake in the Hockey East playoffs for the University of Maine’s Black Bears.

Especially if strength of schedule is taken into consideration by the NCAA tournament committee.

Following the playoffs, there will be five or six teams chosen from the East and five or six chosen from the West for the 12-team NCAA Tournament. One spot will go to the best independent team and that appears to be Alaska-Anchorage.

Alaska-Anchorage could be placed in either the East or the West.

The way it looks now, Boston College, Maine, and Eastern College Athletic Conference regular-season winner Colgate are virtual shoo-ins for the NCAAs; Boston University and Providence should get in if they win their Hockey East quarterfinal series against Northeastern and New Hampshire, respectively.

If Colgate wins the ECAC Tournament title, it should be the only representative from that league, although I have been informed by Hockey East Commissioner Stu Haskell that the NCAA has a guideline that specifies that each league should receive at least two berths.

If Colgate doesn’t win the ECAC title, just the tourney champ and Colgate should get in.

The ECAC has always been the weakest league in Division I college hockey and its scheduling limitations and scheduling philosophy hampers its credibility.

With the exception of Hockey East schools, ECAC teams rarely play teams from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

For example, Colgate has played six games against teams ranked in the Top 15 of the final NCAA regular-season poll. Five of those games were against teams in its own league, Clarkson and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The other game, a loss, was against BU. Colgate is 3-3 against Top 15 teams.

Maine has played 14 of its 38 games against teams that finished among the top 15 teams in the final NCAA regular-season poll.

The Bears are 9-4-1 against Top 15 teams, which is the best mark in the East.

Boston College is 7-7 against Top 15 teams.

In other words, if Boston College and Maine meet for the Hockey East tourney title, they should be the top two seeds in the East and receive the first-round byes for the NCAA Tournament – regardless of what Colgate does.

A good showing in the upcoming HE playoffs should give Maine a first-round bye and a subsequent home ice advantage in the NCAA quarterfinals. Should the Bears stumble badly, they run the risk of ending up on the road for the NCAA tournament’s quarterfinals.

Colgate is 24-5-1, but there is no doubt in my mind that BC and Maine would have finished with better records if they had played Colgate’s schedule.

By the way, Hockey East teams went 25-12-2 against ECAC teams.

There is no question in my mind that Hockey East’s bottom three teams, Northeastern, Lowell, and Merrimack, would have finished among the top eight in the 12-team ECAC. – – –

Some recommendations for the Hockey East hierarchy: how about a more balanced schedule for the teams next year?

No team should have more than four league home games in a row or more than four HE road games in succession. That’s unfair.

And one team should not play league games on consecutive nights unless it’s against the same opponent, or it’s against an opponent that also played the previous night. – – –

Shifting gears, the University of Maine’s baseball team bolts for Hawaii and the start of its two-week spring trip on Friday. The trip will also take the Bears to Fresno, Cal., for the Best of the West Classic.

Maine will play 12 of its 15 North Atlantic Conference games at home, including the first nine, and if it qualifies for the six-team ECAC Tournament, it will host the double-elimination affair.

This team has the pitching and defense to win the ECAC Tournament, but the offense is still very much a question mark, especially against good pitching.

If the Bears can receive run production from guys in the middle of the order like Craig Ender, Mike DeLucia, Andy Hartung, and Gary Taylor, they’ll have a great chance to win the ECAC Tournament.

I know Mark Sweeney will deliver, but at least two of those four will have to have good seasons.

A lack of run production has kept them out of the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive years.

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