As is always the case on conference championship weekend, ECAC Hockey teams have much to play for starting tonight as they vie for PairWise positioning and NCAA tournament invitations.
As many as four ECAC Hockey teams could conceivably earn invitations to the NCAA tournament depending on how the final weekend plays out. ECAC regular-season champion Quinnipiac (26-6-5), which hosts seventh-seed Brown this afternoon at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., will be looking to earn its first conference title since joining the league. The Bobcats, who have been the top-ranked team in the PairWise since mid-January, are all but certain to lock up the top seed in the NCAA tournament, which will place them in Providence, R.I., for the opening round.
The only team that could potentially displace Quinnipiac in the first round is semifinal opponent Brown. The Bears need to win the ECAC tournament to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament, but if they do, they will be the top seed in the East Region. Brown also will be looking to win its first conference championship.
The other semifinal matchup between third-seeded Yale and fourth-seeded Union likely includes two NCAA tournament teams. Yale will be looking for its third ECAC title in five years, and has likely already clinched its fourth NCAA tournament berth in the same stretch. Union, the winner of last year's Whitelaw Cup for ECAC tournament champion, is right on the bubble along with RPI. But if the top seeds in the other conferences pull through on championship weekend, Union and RPI could both get in the NCAA tournament.
Top-seed Quinnipiac received everything it could handle from Cornell last weekend. The Big Red took the first game on the road, before getting croaked 10-0 in Game 2. The decisive game went to double overtime before the Bobcats escaped 3-2. Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said in a conference call Tuesday his team will have to expect a similar effort to the one Cornell put forth from the opposition the rest of the way.
“When you're No. 1 in the country, everybody comes to play,” Pecknold says. “Everybody wants to knock you off your perch, and we've dealt with that all year. I don't see that changing.”
Brown comes into this afternoon's matchup confident after serving as the only ECAC Hockey team to avoid losing to Quinnipiac this season. The teams played to a tie in both regular-season contests.
The Bears have been sparked in the second half of the season by senior goalie Anthony Borelli, who has posted 13 wins, a 1.87 GAA and a .942 save percentage since December. Brown coach Brendan Whittet insisted in the ECAC coaches' conference call this week that Borelli is not the sole reason his seventh-seeded team is still alive.
“I would disagree with that wholeheartedly,” Whittet says. “He's a big part of what we do, but it's not the Anthony Borelli show.”
Union coach Rick Bennett was not as averse to directing credit toward his goalie, Troy Grosenick, who carried the Dutchman all the way to the Frozen Four last season. The Dutchmen are again peaking at the right time, posting a 6-2 record over their last eight games.
“It all starts in net,” Bennett said. “Any time you get to the playoffs, late in the season, you rely on your goaltender. He’s been playing well throughout the year.”
Yale has also been sparked by strong goaltending down the stretch. The Bulldogs lost five in a row in January and February when goalie Jeff Malcolm was sidelined with an injury. They are 5-0-0 since, and they cruised past St. Lawence last weekend, outscoring the visitors 9-1 in two games.
Yale coach Keith Allain did not participate in the conference call Tuesday.
ECAC TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Friday, March 22 – Semifinals
No. 7 Brown vs. No. 1 Quinnipiac, 4 p.m. (Boardwalk Hall)
No. 4 Union vs. No. 3 Yale, 7:30 p.m. (Boardwalk Hall)
Saturday, March 23
Third-place game, 4 p.m. (Boardwalk Hall)
Championship game, 7 p.m. (Boardwalk Hall)