Mike Collins - Merrimack

Back to Class: Being at the top of the conference doesn’t guarantee anything

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night as WCHA rivals Nebraska-Omaha and Wisconsin face off at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Until this past weekend happened, Merrimack College was feeling good and sitting atop Hockey East. With schools like Boston College, New Hampshire, UMass-Lowell, and Providence all in the mix for first as well, it would seem likely that Merrimack would be sitting well for a shot at the NCAA tournament.

Alas, that’s where the fun mathematics of the Pairwise Rankings (PWR) comes into play. Sure, Merrimack is near the top of one of the strongest conferences in the country (they’re now one point behind BC, UNH, and PC) but they sit tied for 23rd in PWR. Getting in the top 16 is what helps you stand your best chances at getting a spot in the tournament and as it stands now, unless Merrimack wins the Hockey East tournament, they’ll be sitting at home.

What’s killing them is their record against teams under consideration (TUC). They’re just 6-8-2 against schools who could wind up in the NCAAs. Compare that with their equals in the HEA standings. BC is 9-4-3 and UNH is 11-7-3. Providence finds themselves in a worse spot than Merrimack as they’re a miserable 4-8-5 against TUCs. Meanwhile, UMass-Lowell sits 11th in PWR with a 5-7-0 record against TUCs but are 18-9-2 overall this year.

What can teams like Merrimack and Providence do now to help their chances? Just win, baby. It’s the simplest of mathematics.

That’s the fun part of all this. With all the acronyms and records and varying ways of breaking things down, it just boils down to taking care of your own business and then hoping you get a little help elsewhere just in case.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Unless your team is sitting on that PWR bubble or hoping another team doesn’t fall off/climb over the TUC cliff to royally jumble things up.

All right, don’t lose the slide rules just yet.

***

Feel-good story of the weekend: Give it up for Colgate’s Spiro Goulakos. The sophomore played in his first game back since undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Friday night and scored the game-winning goal to help the Raiders beat Union College 4-1.

Conferences wrapping up: Both the ECAC and CCHA wrap up their conference schedules this weekend. Atlantic Hockey, Hockey East, and the WCHA are done next week. Let’s look at who gets done this week.

Quinnipiac has the top seed in the ECAC wrapped up. RPI, St. Lawrence, Yale, Union, and Dartmouth are hoping to finish in the top-four to get first round byes. SLU faces Union on Friday and RPI on Saturday.

In the CCHA, Miami, Notre Dame, Western Michigan, Ferris State, and Ohio State all have first round byes in their tourney secured. Miami has the top seed to themselves, but WMU and Notre Dame are duking it out for second and FSU and OSU are battling for fourth.

The rest of the conference is a bit of a mess below that. Alaska is all but certain to face Michigan State in the opening round while Bowling Green, Lake Superior State, Michigan and Northern Michigan could all find ways to jumble their pairings.

(Photo: Hockey East Online)

Kessel left off Team USA for World Cup

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on before a face off in the first period against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Phil Kessel‘s terrific playoff wasn’t enough to win over USA Hockey.

On Friday, the Americans completed their 23-man roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and passed on Kessel in favor of four other forwards: David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

Defensemen Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson and Matt Niskanen also made the team.

Kessel, who has nine goals and 18 points through 19 postseason contests, was one of the most noteworthy snubs. Others included another stellar playoff performer — Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson — Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo.

It’s worth mentioning that Ryan and Okposo were two of the most notable “snubs” from the American team that finished fourth in Sochi.

On defense, Carolina’s Justin Faulk (who played in Sochi), St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston’s Torey Krug and the Islanders’ Nick Leddy were all passed over.

The full 23-man roster:

G Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

D Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche *
D Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets *
D Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
D Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals *
D Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

F Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings
F David Backes, St. Louis Blues *
F Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning *
F Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets *
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
F T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
F Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
F Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
F James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs *
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

* named to roster today

It’s probably worth pointing out that two of the seven players named to the roster today — Dubinsky and Jack Johnson — play for Team USA head coach John Tortorella in Columbus.

A third, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, was the captain in New York when Tortorella coached the Rangers.

Here’s your TV schedule for the Stanley Cup Final on NBC Sports

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01:  The Stanley Cup trophy sits on a table during a ceremony before the Chicago Blackhawks tsake on the Washington Capitals at the United Center on October 1, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Capitals 6-4.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) NBC Sports is switching up its broadcast schedule for the Stanley Cup Final.

In recent years, Games 1 and 2 had been on NBC, with Games 3 and 4 on cable partner NBCSN. If necessary, the final three games returned to NBC.

This season, Monday’s Game 1 will air on NBC, but Wednesday’s Game 2 will be on NBCSN. NBC Sports announced Friday that if the series between Pittsburgh and San Jose is tied 1-1, Game 3 will be on NBC, putting that pivotal matchup on the main network. Game 4 would be on NBCSN.

But if one team leads 2-0, Game 3 will air on NBCSN, with a possible championship-clinching Game 4 on NBC. The potential final three games will remain on NBC.

schedule

The Canucks preached patience, then made a ‘right now’ trade for Gudbranson

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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A few months ago, when the Vancouver Canucks’ miserable season was drawing to a merciful close, club president Trevor Linden went on the radio and said, “When we look at getting ourselves out of this situation, it’s about drafting and developing, and that’s where our focus lies.”

Linden’s remarks were music to the ears of a large segment of the fan base that felt the Canucks had been too impatient, too focused on trying to make the playoffs with an aging roster that was in dire need of a rebuild.

“What we really need is patience,” Linden said at a season-ticket holders event. “It’s going to require some patience from our fan base and some patience from us.”

And so Canucks fans entered the offseason expecting the Canucks to be patient.

And then, on Wednesday, GM Jim Benning traded one of his top forward prospects in 20-year-old Jared McCannplus he threw in the 33rd overall draft pick this summer — for a 24-year-old, stay-at-home defenseman in Erik Gudbranson.

And how did Benning justify that move?

“I come from a scouting background, so to trade second-round picks away, it kills me,” he told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central (audio). “But where we’re at right now, I think we owe it to our fans to try to field the most competitive team that we can right now.”

You’ll note how Benning twice used the phrase “right now.”

And the Canucks wonder why their fans are confused.

To be fair, the Canucks are probably a better team with Gudbranson on it. They had a glaring hole on the right side of their defense, and Benning was determined to fill it. Also, it’s not like Gudbranson is old.

The worry, though, is that the Canucks are trying to serve two masters, the present and the future, and as a result, serving neither master particularly well.

A lot of people in Vancouver — not everyone, mind you, but a lot of people — see what they’re doing in Toronto, and they want the Canucks to do that. Trade veterans. Acquire picks. Lose now to win later, while accepting that there will be some “pain.”

What they don’t want is to travel down the same road the Maple Leafs had to travel — the years and years of mediocrity, or worse — before they finally tore everything down and started again.

In response to that line of thinking, the Canucks have used the Edmonton Oilers as the cautionary, tanking tale. Once a team accepts losing, it can be hard to get that winning culture back, or so the theory goes.

That’s why Benning acquired Brandon Sutter last offseason, and Gudbranson on Wednesday. To him — maybe not to others, but to him — those are “foundation” players, established enough to contribute in the present, while also young enough to be part of the future.

“Once we get the pieces in place from a team-building perspective, we’re going to hold on to those draft picks,” Benning promised.

We shall see.

Currently, Vancouver has just six selections in this summer’s draft, and only two of them are in the first four rounds.

Toronto, on the other hand, has 12 picks, including two in the first round, two in the second, two in the third, and two in the fourth.

Related: McCann’s frustrations illustrate ‘fine line’ Canucks are trying to walk

Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 29: Brenden Dillon #4 of the San Jose Sharks skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on March 29, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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It will be speed vs. speed in the Stanley Cup final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

San Jose got through the Western Conference the same way Pittsburgh got through the East: with plenty of depth and speed to kill. The final will feature the three top playoff scorers in the Sharks’ Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns against Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said after the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the East final Thursday night. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous. … It’s going to be quite the series.”

The Sharks are in the Cup final for the first time in their 24-season franchise history and in Peter DeBoer’s first year as coach. The Penguins are back for the first time since winning it all in 2009 and made it after Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach in December.

In his first meeting with them, Sullivan challenged his players to be great and told them that’s how they win in the NHL. They’ve won in the playoffs on the strength of scoring from Crosby and speedy wingers Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Game 7 hero Bryan Rust, not to mention the goaltending of 22-year-old rookie Matt Murray.

Kessel is Pittsburgh’s leading scorer with 18 points on nine goals and nine assists after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade last summer.

“I don’t think you could dream about that. You never could expect this,” Kessel said. “This is a huge moment in my career and my life.”

San Jose is also rolling along thanks to a summer pickup in goaltender Martin Jones, who was the Los Angeles Kings’ backup when they won the Cup in 2014. Couture, Pavelski and Burns are piling up the points, but this run is about aging veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally breaking through.

Thornton and Marleau, the top two picks in the 1997 draft, made the playoffs together with the Sharks in nine of 10 previous seasons but had yet to make the Cup final until now.

Crosby and Malkin made it twice, losing in 2008 to the Detroit Red Wings before winning the following season. At the time, it looked like the young core that also featured defenseman Kris Letang would challenge for the Cup every year.

Now they have a chance to add to their legacy, but it won’t be easy even with home-ice advantage in the series that starts Monday night in Pittsburgh. The Sharks are the Penguins’ deepest opponent yet.

“The Penguins should expect a team that’s deeper, quicker than Tampa, and a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” NBC Sports analyst Ed Olczyk said.

Confidence isn’t lacking for either team. The Sharks knocked off the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues to get here, while the Penguins beat the New York Rangers, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals and defending East-champion Lightning.