Mike Collins - Merrimack

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


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)

With Kucherov day-to-day, Lightning recall Conacher

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Nikita Kucherov is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury after Thursday’s unfortunate spill.

(You can see that crash in the video above.)

That’s a bummer, no doubt, especially if there are a lot of “days” missed. On the bright side, the Lightning have some reasonable depth to help stem the tide; in this case, that means recalling familiar face Cory Conacher.

The 26-year-old has been bouncing around hockey a bit lately, playing in the Swiss league last season. He’s something of an AHL/NHL ‘tweener at this point, but Bolts fans can look back fondly at him scoring 24 points in 35 games with the Bolts back in 2012-13, a span that inspired enough interest in Conacher that he was the main piece Ottawa received in the Ben Bishop trade.

So, hey, if you’re a Bolts fan feeling sad about Kucherov … just take a look at Conacher. It will probably remind you that you have, you know, one of the best GMs in hockey.

Get this: Bruins aren’t happy with Pastrnak’s suspension


You’re not going to believe this, but the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers don’t see eye-to-eye on David Pastrnak‘s two-game suspension for a hit on Dan Girardi.

In discussing the decision, the NHL provided the following explanation:

“Rather than staying low and hitting through his opponent’s body, Pastrnak unnecessarily extends up and into this hit, picking the head and making it the main point of contact,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Claude Julien provided the Bruins’ side of the argument, as CSNNE.com reports.

“To me I see a guy [in David Pastrnak] whose feet are still on the ice,” Julien said. “I just think that was an attempt to finish his check, but certainly not to injure.”

Julien insists that Pastrnak didn’t go “full-tilt.”

The Rangers, meanwhile, believe that it is the sort of check that needs to be eliminated.

“Initially when watching it, we didn’t feel it was the type of hit that the game wants, and the league took a stand,” Alain Vigneault said, according to Newsday’s Steve Zipay.

Now, if the roles were reversed, would we see Vigneault griping about a suspension and Julien backing it up? Perhaps.

Ultimately, what we know for sure is that the top-heavy Bruins will be without a red-hot performer in Pastrnak for two games.

Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK , NY - JANUARY 01:  Photo 210 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
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It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

From USA Hockey:

The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.

Help on the way? Rask practices, could return during Bruins road trip

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins have been outscored 14-4 during their current three-game losing streak. Help might be on the way just in time for the Bruins to start a difficult road trip against three Atlantic Division rivals.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask practiced with the Bruins on Friday and should be available to at least serve as the backup against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Rask hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates because of an undisclosed injury since he made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 20.

Rask isn’t completely healed so he and the Bruins are trying to strike a balance between being able to play and not risking further damage.

“That’s the thing we’re kind of talking about, we talked about last week, risk/reward, what it is and how should be proceed,” Rask said. “It feels good enough now that I can comfortably practice.”

Coach Claude Julien saw enough Friday to have confidence Rask could dress against the Red Wings and be in consideration to start. The Bruins were expected to send one of their other goaltenders, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban, to Providence of the American Hockey League before departing for Detroit.

“If he’s great, and he practiced well today, and if he’s good (Saturday) and there’s no issues there (he can play),” Julien said. “He looked good to me today. So we’ll make that decision but I think we’ve gone this far, we’re going to make sure we make the right decision, not the reckless one.”

Rask started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in his career and had a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. But he was hardly healthy. The injury began to bother him on opening night in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Two nights later he didn’t start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rask said he felt fine when made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 17. But he had to battle through the injury against the Devils three nights later.

“The Jersey game was the toughest one. It wasn’t too tough. It’s just nagging, painful sometimes, but I didn’t feel like I hurt anything,” he said.

With forward David Backes still out after elbow surgery and forward David Pastrnak suspended two games for an illegal check to the head in the 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Bruins needed some positive news before leaving for their road trip, which continues against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) after Detroit.

“I’m excited to get back out on the road with this team,” Julien said. “You control what you can and we can control our enthusiasm, our commitment and everything else. And then go about our business that way and I think that’s all we can do right now.”