Ask us a year ago if we envisioned ourselves being glued to the second overtime of a scoreless hockey game between Boston College and Merrimack on Saturday night and the answer there is a hard “no.”
Such is life for the Texas transplant who was almost as much intrigued with the Eagles and Warriors as he was the Longhorns’ 20-point rout of Kansas in the finals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament. That’s two wins over the Jayhawks in eight days and we think Texas might just have taken the No. 1 seed when the bracket is revealed this afternoon.
Speaking of brackets, though, the focus here in Fairbanks is on hockey and what will happen with the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks, who as of Saturday night are holding at No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings. (Those are — altogether now —designed by the folks at U.S. College Hockey Online (uscho.com) to replicate the selections and seedings used by the NCAA to pick and place the 16 teams for postseason play.
You’re again in luck, Fairbanks, as I spend a disturbing amount of time from 2-5 a.m. weeknights watching “Barnaby Jones” and related whodunnits. Using the sleuthing skills I’ve learned from seeing Buddy Ebsen’s title character discover that Leslie Nielsen did, indeed, push his wife out of a small plane somewhere over the Pacific to cash in on the insurance money, I have been able to deduce where the Alaska Fairbanks hockey team stands in its quest for a bid for the NCAA Hockey tournament.
Six bids go to winners of their conference tournaments, which will all be determined on Saturday. Scores are on B2, but here’s where the leagues stand:
TOURNAMENT IMPACT: Whoever the conference champion is, it will have a PWR below UAF will get the nod here. RIT is the highest ranked at No. 21; Niagara (31), Canisius (44) and Holy Cross (46) and are all still alive in the best-of-3 semifinals.
WHO’S IN: Four teams are locks for the field (Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State).
TOURNAMENT IMPACT: Great news here Saturday night as Minnesota knocked out No. 16 Michigan State to ensure both the Spartans and No. 17 Notre Dame will be ranked below UAF in the Pairwise. Minnesota and Michigan play a single game Saturday for the league title.
WHO’S IN: Michigan Tech and Minnesota State
TOURNAMENT IMPACT: A couple of small bad breaks for UAF as Michigan Tech —right above the Nanooks at No. 14 in the Pairwise — jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Saturday and finished off Ferris State (38) 5-1. No. 26 Northern Michigan also upset tournament lock Michigan State. The Nanooks definitely want to see Minnesota State win Saturday’s single-game championship, lest another less-deserving conference champion secure a spot in the field of 16.
WHO’S IN: Quinnipiac, Harvard and Cornell
TOURNAMENT IMPACT: Most noteworthy is that Cornell has climbed to No. 12 with a sweep of Clarkson. Quinnipiac and Harvard also swept their series, meaning the key here is to see No. 28 Colgate lose in Friday’s semifinal or Saturday’s championship.
WHO’S IN: Boston University
TOURNAMENT IMPACT: Aside from the aforementioned Merrimack —hot on the Nanooks’ heels at No. 15 — winning the 1-0 marathon over Boston College, the hockey gods shined on UAF Saturday as No. 25 UMass Lowell beat No. 21 Connecticut 2-1 and No. 24 Providence beat 20 Northeastern 2-1. And No. 5 Boston U. advanced to hopefully continue its march to the conference title.
WHO’S IN: Denver, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan
TOURNAMENT IMPACT: Omaha and North Dakota are tied at No. 18 heading into today’s rubber match in their best-of-three quarterfinal. St. Cloud State knocking out No. 23 Minnesota-Duluth today is important for the Nanooks; should Minnesota-Duluth advance, UAF’s hopes are tied solely to Denver winning the conference crown in a super-competitive league.
So if an invitation is issued, where will they play? Out of the four Regional sites – Allentown, Pennsylvania; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Fargo, North Dakota – you can absolutely strike out the last one.
Minnesota is currently No. 1 in the Pairwise and after knocking off Michigan State 5-1 Saturday night has all but wrapped up the No. 1 overall seed for the tournament. They’ll be placed in Fargo (a 3.5-hour drive from Minneapolis) against the No. 16 seed. UAF can’t be the No. 16 seed as its Pairwise Ranking will be higher than the winner of the Atlantic Hockey conference tournament. The other seeds to be assigned to that region would ideally be the eighth and ninth seeds; the NCAA could make some tweaks for Regional parity to go as high as seven or as low as 10. But the Nanooks, somewhere between 12 and 14 in most projections, definitely won’t climb as high as a 10.
Thus, Fargo is out as far as the Nanooks are concerned.
The boon there is that if you’re planning to travel to see the Nanooks in person, two of the three sites (Bridgeport and Allentown) are within an hour or so of New York’s quartet of major airports and the third (Portsmouth) is just a four-hour drive. To ensure you get the seven-day advance purchase discount, you might try to lock in a ticket to Metropolis now.
Two of the three New England/Mid-Atlantic sites also have Friday and Sunday pairings while Fargo and Portsmouth are Thursday and Saturday games. Again, if you feel like playing the odds, you can book accordingly.
For bonus points, hope you get to see UAF hockey on Saturday and then have the Longhorns in the East Regional and playing in Madison Square Garden that Sunday.
YOUR DAD JOKE OF THE WEEK: Me (in a social media message to the four kiddos): DO NOT accept friend requests from Lizzie Borden’s parents. They’ve been hacked.
Contact sports editor Jeff Olsen at 907-459-7530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.