ASNetminding: It's March Madness in college hockey, too

It’s been a crazy week and the conference tournament quarterfinals haven’t even started.

Just hours after UMass dropped its Hockey East opening playoff series 2-1 in overtime and 5-4 to Boston University, head coach John Micheletto (right) was fired.

The Minutemen finished 8-24-4 this season and 39-88-13 in Micheletto’s four seasons.

On Tuesday, the first player departed for the NHL when New Hampshire’s leading scorer and the No. 2 scorer in the nation, sophomore Andrew Poturalski, tweeted out that he couldn’t wait to get started with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Poturalski will report to Carolina’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, on an amateur tryout for the remainder of the 2015-16 season, according to a press release. He had 22 goals and 30 assists in 37 games this season. He averaged 1.41 points per game and led the nation in power play points with 24 from eight goals and 16 assists.

More signings are expected to follow as teams see their Frozen Four hopes end. Here’s an overview of the conference tournaments.
Hockey East: Lots of beasts
Defending national champion Providence has won eight in a row, but for its quarterfinal matchup against seventh-seeded Merrimack the Friars will be without the services of top defenseman Jake Walman.

Friars coach Nate Leaman said in a press conference that the sophomore Hobey Baker Award candidate is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury he suffered in the first period of a 3-2 overtime win against Notre Dame on Feb. 19.

The Friars are deep enough to get past Merrimack, but if Walman remains out it could be a telling loss. Povidence is 20-3-4 with Walman, and 5-2-0 without him. Two of the wins came against struggling UMass.

Hockey East is filled with intriguing quarterfinal matchups.

On paper, No. 1 seed Boston College looks like a lock to get past Vermont, which finished ninth in league play. However, the Catamounts ousted BC last year and though they were swept by the Eagles during the regular season, they played them tough. Colin White returns for BC, which is basically healthy for its tournament run.

Boston University travels to UMass Lowell and Friday’s game will be televised and live streamed on ASN, but another great matchup pits No. 3 Notre Dame against No. 6 Northeastern.

The Huskies (18-13-5) are 16-1-2 in their last 19 games and one of the hottest teams in the nation. Notre Dame is 14-4-3 over its last 21 games.

“We’ll probably have five teams going to the national tournament,” BC coach Jerry York said. “That’s significant when looking at other leagues. That speaks to the strength of our league this year.”

  • Our picks: BC, Providence, UMass Lowell, Northeastern

ECAC: The Mighty Quinn?
Quinnipiac is 25-2-7 with one loss and five ties in ECAC play, so while the Bobcats are a lock for the NCAA Tournament, they are far from a sure thing in their conference tourney.

There is no shortage of talent in the ECAC. Yale goalie Alex Lyon, Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey, Quinnipiac’s Sam Anas, St. Lawrence goalie Kyle Hayton and Quinn goalie Michael Garteig are some of top players in the country and all the contests figure to be tight.

Quinnipiac opens against Clarkson (15-9-7) and the teams tied 2-2 in early February.

They may also have to contend again with Yale (19-6-4) winners of eight of its final nine games. The Elis host Dartmouth (16-15-1) in their quarterfinal matchup.

Rounding out the field is No. 6 RPI (18-3-7) at No. 3 Harvard (16-9-4), and No. 5 Clarkson (20-13-3) at No. 4 St. Lawrence (17-13-4).

Lots of bubble teams here.

  • Our picks: Quinnipiac, Yale, Harvard and St. Lawrence.

NCHC: Two No. 1 seeds?
North Dakota and St. Cloud State are expected to join Quinnipiac and either Boston College or Providence as No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but maybe the most dangerous team in the conference right now is Denver.

The Pioneers (21-8-5) are the tournament’s No. 3 seed and riding an NCAA-best nine-game winning streak. Their final two wins of the regular season came against this weekend’s opponent — Omaha. The 18-15-1 Mavs have dropped six straight but have the talent to give any team fits.

UND (28-5-3) won its second consecutive Penrose Cup and set the league record for points (59), conference wins (19). Winner of six in a row, UND hosts Colorado College (6-27-1). The Fighting Hawks are No. 1 in the Pairwise rankings.

The biggest first-round favorite would have to be second-seeded St. Cloud (27-8-1, third in Pairwise), which outscored Western Michigan 31-8 in the four regular-season matchups.

The flip-a-coin matchup is fourth-seeded Minnesota Duluth (15-4-5) hosting Miami Ohio (15-16-3). UMD, the preseason favorite, was 3-0-1 against the RedHawks during the regular season.

Last year six of eight NCHC teams made the NCAA Tournament. The only locks right now look like UND, St. Cloud and Denver with Duluth, UNO and Miami needing strong conference tourney showings.

  • Our picks: North Dakota, St. Cloud, Denver and Duluth

WCHA: ‘Teching’ care of business
Michigan Tech (21-8-5) and Minnesota State tied for the WCHA title, but the Huskies took home the McNaughton Cup on a tiebreaker.

Tech is the hottest team in the WCHA and on a five-game win streak. The Huskies have lost just once in 2016 and will open with Alaska (10-20-4).

This conference is known for its parity, and one of the best series may be Bemidji State (16-14-6) at Bowling Green (20-12-6). The Falcons are coming off a disappointing split against Alabama Huntsville, one of two teams that didn’t qualify for the conference tourney. The split prevented BG from earning a share of the regular-season title.

Minnesota State (18-11-7) plays host to Lake Superior State (13-20-5) and Ferris State (15-14-6) hosts Northern Michigan 15-14-7 in the other two playoff series.

Tech is the only WCHA team in the PairWise Top 20 (14th), so it’s likely only the tournament winner will get into the NCAAs.

  • Our picks: Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, Bemidji State and Northern Michigan

Big Ten: Big Finish in Store?
The Big Ten is another league that may get just one team into the NCAAs, but so far not even the regular season has been figured out.

The one known is Minnesota has once again earned at least a share of the Big Ten title. Just 18-15-0 overall, the Gophers are 13-5-0 in conference play and can earn the title outright with a win against rival Wisconsin.

The real fight is for No. 2 spot and the other first-round bye. Michigan (20-7-5) hosts Penn State in a matchup of the country’s No. 1- and No. 5-ranked offenses in the country. It’s also a matchup of the country’s 44th (Michigan) and 35th (Penn State) ranked defensive teams.

Minnesota is ranked 34th, defensively, so if you believe in the old adage that defense wins championships, the conference tournament will have plenty of fireworks but difficulty in the NCAAs.

  • Our picks: Penn State, Minnesota

Women: It’s NCAA showtime
So far the women’s hockey season is going according to script — and that sets up some fantastic story lines heading into this weekend’s quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament.

Boston College (38-0-0) is three games from perfection and opens against familiar rival Northeastern. It’s one final chance to watch one of the greatest rivalries in sports: Alex Carpenter of BC vs. Kendall Coyne of Northeastern. The two have traded the lead in the national scoring race all season and last week the Eagles ripped the Huskies, 5-0, to earn the Hockey East title.

The winner of the Hockey East rematch will face the winner of ECAC rematch between Quinnipiac and Clarkson, two teams that dominated their conference all season.

The opposite bracket is just as intriguing, if not more.

Wisconsin, the No. 2 seed, will host Mercyhurst and No. 3 Minnesota will host Princeton.

Other than two losses to each other, the only blemishes for both Wisconsin and Minnesota were at the hands of North Dakota. That said, the Badgers beat Minnesota 1-0 for the conference title last week when goalie Ann-Marie Desbienes came up several times late in the game.

The Gophers, however, have won three of the past four national championships and its 2012-2013 squad is the only team in women’s college hockey history to ever go unbeaten.

  • Our picks: Boston College, Quinnipiac, Wisconsin, Minnesota

  • Frozen Four: BC over Quinnipiac; Minnesota over Wisconsin

  • Title game: Minnesota over BC

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