There's enough hockey going on to keep even a diehard hockey fan happy and busy.
Let's take a whirl around this great sport.
College men's hockey
UMD--> Can't hide the truth, can we? Not only was the weekend series against Alaska-Anchorage not what anyone expected or hoped for, it reminded us way too much of last year's UMD team.
There's a good reason why this is Alaska-Anchorage's first road sweep since November 10-11, 2000. It's just been a perpetual struggle for the Seawolves to find their legs when they make one of their insanely long road trips that they make every year. It's also a program that's been known for their disastrous meltdowns in the second half of every season.
Now, instead of the home series they could have had to open the WCHA playoffs, UMD is traveling, and it just so happens to be to Colorado Springs. These are tough roadies to make in the playoffs, because they involve the short-notice booking of a flight for a traveling party of approximately 30 people.
I saw Jeff Papas at the DECC Saturday night, and I told the radio voice of the Bulldogs to make sure he has a lot to read on this trip (I'm way late to the party, but if you're a baseball guy, I recommend David Halberstam's Summer of '49). There's a good chance they will have to leave a day earlier than normal (Wednesday instead of Thursday), and unlike most hotels on the civilized Earth, internet at the hotel in Colorado Springs is not free. Spend three or four nights there, and it can get quite pricey to be plugged in to the superhighway.
Anyway, on to things you care about ...
The boys need to find a way to put the last three games behind them. Ties in Houghton and Minneapolis are hardly shameful, but the way they lost the games to Minnesota (5-3) and Anchorage (5-4 and 4-3) just stinks, and it may be tough to recover from.
They have no choice.
UMD has slipped to 18th in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the process used to select teams for the NCAA Tournament. A spot anywhere higher than 15th is usually a good place to be, and 18th will leave UMD on the outside looking in.
Of course, a series win in the Springs would be a great help to UMD's position. Here's hoping that an 0-3-2 string to end the regular season wasn't a sign of things to come, as it's been in the past.
(The Mr. Pessimist in me can't help but remember the 2004-2005 season, when UMD went crazy late in the season, trying to recover from an early losing streak and poor performances in second-half home series against Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech. That Bulldog team fell short of home ice in the WCHA playoffs, and got absolutely whacked in a two-game series at North Dakota. This is not the type of history to repeat.)
While the NCHA Peters Cup Championship went to UW-Stout Saturday in Superior, the Yellowjackets should still get the top seed among Western teams selected for the NCAA Division III Championship. The pairings are due out Sunday night.
UWS is in a great position, thanks to a balanced attack and experienced goalie Chad Beiswenger, who reminds this observer of St. Norbert's Kyle Jones. You may remember Jones practically carrying the Green Knights to a national title a year ago, pitching back-to-back shutouts at the Frozen Four in Lake Placid. Well, Beiswenger has that kind of talent, and he's had that kind of season.
It's an absolute certainty that UWS will be in the field, a near certainty that they'll host a quarterfinal game Saturday at Wessman Arena, and they're in the best position yet to take home their second title.
There may be some bullets coming out of Mark Wick's forehead as I type this on Sunday evening. The Saints are on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament, and I wish I could reassure them.
There have been too many head-scratching decisions by the selection committee over the years, and while I find it illogical that CSS wouldn't make the tournament, I can't guarantee they will.
I can say UWS will make it because you might as well shut the tournament down forever if the Yellowjackets aren't in.
Scholastica presents a tough out in the tourney (assuming they make it), thanks to a senior class second-to-few in Division III. Goalie Steve Bounds keeps them in every game, which is always nice to have in the postseason. Goals, as you know, can be hard to come by in the playoffs.
College women's hockey
Both teams lost in their conference tournament semifinals. UMD is likely to make the NCAAs, while UWS is a longshot.
The problem for UMD is that they are clearly inferior to WCHA champion Wisconsin, and they are probably not as good as Minnesota, either.
The problem for the rest of the country is that nobody is likely as good as any of the above three.
UWS made the Frozen Four a year ago, but appear to have ended their season.
High school hockey
The state tournament begins with Class A games Wednesday at XCel Energy Center. Virginia/MIB represents the north, and they draw top seed Little Falls for a quarterfinal game Wednesday at 6pm.
I like this VMIB team, led by Chris Westin and Garrett Hendrickson, but Ben Hanowski and the Flyers are probably too tough. Will Lustig, the Blue Devils' goalie, holds the key. If he can slow down the unbeaten Flyers' attack, he gives his team a chance to win. If VMIB tries to match firepower with Little Falls, it could turn into a long night.
AA games start Thursday in St. Paul. Duluth East, the Section 7 champion, drew the fourth seed and will play Cretin-Derham Hall in the quarterfinals. The Greyhounds are very impressive, led by UMD recruit Max Tardy and North Dakota recruit Derek Forbort. They are clearly the 'Hounds two best players, and they were easily the two best on the ice in the section final Thursday, as East dismantled Elk River 4-1 (outshot them 42-10).
I think Duluth East has a puncher's chance at a state title, and the potential semifinal matchup with Edina Friday could be one of the best games in a long time at the state tournament.