It was a hard loss to take—a bad bounce in the second period and a broken stick in overtime led to two Notre Dame goals—but Joe Shawhan and the Huskies have nothing to hang their heads about after losing in the NCAA Regional in Bridgeport, Connecticut. As I suggested last week, they almost certainly gave the Irish more than they wanted, and came within inches of snagging a huge upset.
In sum, Them Dogs can walk away from the rink this year with their heads high, as they had several accomplishments that any team would love to claim. That includes the Ice Breaker championship and being the first team with their name on the new Jeff Sauer Cup as WCHA playoff champs. They also showed that they can play with anyone, anywhere, and they have the special memory of beating arch-rival Northern Michigan to win the playoff title.
While the Old Dog could recount the Notre Dame game, there have been plenty of recaps published on websites and newspapers across the country, and there’s no need to suffer through all of the details that sent the Irish into the regional finals against Providence. Tech clearly outplayed Notre Dame for long periods, and was far and away the better team in the overtime period. Still, full credit goes to the Irish—they followed their win against Tech by scoring a last minute goal to defeat the Friars and move on to the Frozen Four.
So, instead of rehashing the loss again, I thought it would be interesting to see how the six conferences compared after the Regional games were played.
The Big Ten is clearly the Big Winner in this—they’ll have three teams in the Frozen Four. Ohio State really surprised me by thumping Denver in the Midwest Regional final 5-1. They did it by handing the Pioneers a meal they’ve never really liked all season, namely iron-clad defense, counter-punching offense, and superb goaltending.
The Michigan Wolverines used their high-flying offense to offset their less-than-perfect defense and at-times shaky goaltending in the Northeastern Regional to grind down Boston University with three third period goals and move on to St. Paul. And Minnesota Duluth, after a come-from-behind overtime win over Minnesota State, grabbed two first period goals against Air Force and then hung on for a 2-1 victory in the West final.
There were other surprises in the Regionals, though. Air Force, the #16 overall seed, thoroughly controlled St. Cloud, handing the #1 overall seed NCHC champions a convincing 4-1 loss—albeit with two empty net goals. BU also scored a big upset, dispensing with Cornell, the #3 overall seed, via a 3-1 victory by scoring twice in the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
So those are the highlights. But we’re Michigan Tech. Can we come up with a better way to evaluate how the six Division I conferences fared in the Regionals?
Of course we can—we are, we are, we are the engineers. So here’s what I did. I said that each regulation victory was worth three points for the winning conference. Overtime wins are worth two points, and overtime losses are worth one point. However, because all of the conferences played a different number of games, just counting points doesn’t give you the full picture.
So, I divided the number of points that each conference won by the number of points they could have totaled if they had won every game. For example, the Big Ten (well, Big Seven technically) played in seven games. They racked up five wins, one loss, and one overtime win for 17 points, yielding a winning percentage of 0.810 (i.e., 17/21).
When you do that for all twelve games over the weekend, here is what you’ll get:
|Conference||Wins||Losses||OT Wins||OT Losses||Points||Games Played||%|
What does this tell us about the conferences this year? First, after some rocky times in the first couple of Big Ten seasons, the B1G teams—with the addition of Notre Dame—have, at least for one year, have morphed into what the Big Television Network wanted them to be: the best conference in college hockey. I’m not sure that would hold up if all of the non-conference records were compared, but at the end of the year, it’s hard to argue with the proposition that the best of the Big Seven are playing better than any other conference. And most of us can gloat that the not-so-Golden Gophers didn’t make the tournament.
The boys from NACHO land (NACHO is a term fans coined when the NCHC was formed, joking that other schools should “be glad it’s NaCHo league” -Ed.) were something of a disappointment, even though they came in second in this scheme. Their best team, the #1 ranked squad in the nation, lost to the lowest seed in the tournament, and their playoff champion was utterly shut down by a Big Ten team. However, the Up North Bulldogs saved some face for the NCHC and will carry their banner into the Frozen Four.
Air Force Hockey (how can a team from Colorado be in an Atlantic coast league?) did a great job, doing it the way they usually do, with superstar goaltending, extraordinary positional discipline, and great special teams. In their two games against NACHO teams, they didn’t give up a powerplay goal in seven chances. And they scored one powerplay goal in four chances.
It was something of a down year for Hockey East, as they had two teams that were supposed to be tournament contenders but had mediocre seasons (I’m looking at you, U-Mass Lowell and Boston College). They continued that trend in the tournament, with BU and Providence each notching a win but then losing in their next game. Toss in Northeastern’s loss to Michigan, and the mediocre trend is clear.
The WCHA got two teams into the tournament this year, and both of them lost heartbreaking overtime games. Both Tech and Mankato could have advanced but the bounces just didn’t go their way. The Old Dog will have more to say about the WCHA in the off-season, but right now, it’s enough to say that the league was better this year than last year.
The ECAC (or the mostly Ivy League) was, by any standard, embarrassed in the Regionals. With three teams, they didn’t win a game. Clarkson’s 1-0 loss to Providence was a tough one, but ECAC tournament champion Princeton was smacked around by Ohio State. Cornell, who was ranked fourth in the polls going into the Regionals, played their usual strong defensive game against Boston University, but somehow the Terriers scored two goals on four shots in the third period to bounce Big Red from the tournament.
When the ice chips cleared, the WCHA faithful got far less than they wanted, or possibly deserved. But, as we all know, that’s why they play the games. You don’t get what your regular season record says you should have. You get what you earn on the ice.