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League playoffs pave path to 2012 NCAA Tournament

by Bob Snow
Get out your scorecards.

At one end, the league champions for the regular season are Boston College in Hockey East, Air Force in Atlantic Hockey, Union in the ECACHL, Ferris State in the CCHA, and Minnesota in the WCHA.

Perched above all 57 teams at No. 1 overall are Jerry York's BC Eagles. 

At the other end, the season concluded last weekend for the Vermont Catamounts and Northeastern Huskies, who did not qualify for this weekend's Hockey East Tournament. The 10-team league is the only one in the NCAA to have non-qualifiers based on the final regular-season standings. 

Holy Cross sweeps February awards

The Holy Cross Crusaders made some noise heading into the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs this weekend. A recent announcement came that the Worcester, Mass., campus copped both of the monthly Hockey Commissioners' Association awards for national Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month in sophomore Adam Schmidt out of Warrington, Penn., and Lindsay, Ontario's Matt Ginn.

Schmidt's 7 goals and 16 points helped lead Holy Cross to a 7-0-1 run for the month, securing a top-tier league finish and home ice this weekend. The eight-game unbeaten streak is the second longest in the nation.

The junior forward posted at least one point in all eight games, including his first career hat trick in a 6-4 victory over Bentley on Feb. 25. Schmidt leads the team with career-bests of 15 goals and 32 points. He is tied for third in the AHA in goals and is fourth in points.

Ginn was in net for that entire 7-0-1 run in February, posting a 1.61 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage, also good for two Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week honors. He was also named AHA Goalie of the Week on Dec. 5. Ginn's 14-6-1 record and .682 winning percentage leads Atlantic Hockey and is seventh in the country. His 14 wins are tied for fourth all-time for a Division I season at the Cross.

-- Bob Snow
It was also curtains in the CCHA for Alaska (Fairbanks), Northern Michigan, and Ohio State; in the Atlantic for AIC, Sacred Heart, Canisius, and Army; and in the ECACHL for Brown, St. Lawrence, Princeton, and Clarkson. These 11 lost a best-of-three last weekend in respective first-round league tournament play.

By this Sunday night, the five league-tournament championships will pare the current 44-team field in half for the March 16 semifinal and March 17 championship games.

Those five winners earn the coveted automatic NCAA Tournament invitation. The other 11 teams in the final field of 16 are selected at-large based on the final PairWise power rankings.

"You can't be leaking any oil into the league and NCAA playoffs," Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard says about March play. His University of Minnesota Gophers are a good bet for a deep run in the WCHA's "Final Five" next weekend and a 33rd NCAA appearance in team history.

Only Michigan has more in NCAA history with a sure-bet 35th coming, and an astonishing NCAA record of 21 straight and counting, all under current head coach Red Berenson

"It was always about keep building and keep building till the end of the season," said the Sharks' Joe Pavelski who assisted on Tom Gilbert's game-winning goal for Wisconsin in the 2006 title-game 2-1 win over Boston College. "You can't turn on a switch. In each game, start fast; score the first goal."

Here's a capsule of each tournament that kicks off Thursday with Providence at Massachusetts-Lowell in Hockey East, all a best-of-three series on home-campus ice for the top seeds.

Each winner is then reseeded for the March 16-17 tournament finals on neutral ice: Hockey East at the TD Garden in Boston; CCHA at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit; ECACHL at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City; Atlantic Hockey at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York; and the WCHA at the Xcel Center in St. Paul.

Hockey East: Boston College hosts Massachusetts, Boston University hosts New Hampshire, Merrimack travels to Maine, and Providence to Massachusetts-Lowell.'s Top 10

1. Boston College 25-10-1
2. Ferris State 22-9-5
3. Minnesota-Duluth 22-8-6
4. Michigan 21-11-4
5. Minnesota 24-12-1
6. Boston University 21-12-1
7. Mass.-Lowell 22-10-1
8. Union 20-7-7
9. Denver 21-11-4
10. Maine 21-13-2
CCHA: Bowling Green is at Ferris State, Notre Dame at Michigan, Western Michigan hosts Lake Superior State, and Miami hosts Michigan State.

ECACHL: Union entertains Rensselaer, Cornell hosts Dartmouth, Quinnipiac heads to Colgate, and Yale to Harvard.

Atlantic Hockey: Air Force hosts Connecticut, Niagara hosts Robert Morris, Bentley busses to RIT, and Holy Cross to Mercyhurst.

WCHA: Alaska (Anchorage) heads to Minnesota, Minnesota State to Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech at Colorado College, Wisconsin at Denver, North Dakota hosts Bemidji State, and St. Cloud State hosts Nebraska-Omaha.

(Note: The 12-team WCHA sends actually sends a new alignment of six winners to the historic "Final Five Tournament." Reseeding comes for Nos. 1-6 from this weekend's outcomes. No. 1 and No. 2 receive a bye next week. Nos. 3-6 are seeded 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 for a one-game playoff Thursday March 15 in St. Paul; these two winners reseed with No. 1 and No. 2 for semifinals March 16 and the championship game March 17.)

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