Connor Hellebuyck

Back to Class: Where March Madness is already underway

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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 Maine host No. 4 New Hampshire at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Hockey East and the WCHA will wrap up their final weekend of conference action this weekend while Atlantic Hockey, CCHA, and ECAC all start their conference playoffs. It’s a veritable full weekend of playoffs for everyone if you want to look at it that way as even those who aren’t yet in their postseason are still jockeying for position.

In Hockey East, the battle for the top spot is on between UMass-Lowell, Providence, New Hampshire, and Boston College. Any of those four teams could wind up in first, while Boston University and Merrimack are just outside the top four. Landing in the top four means getting home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs.

In the race for the No. 1 seed, the series to watch is between Lowell and Providence as they’ll have two games to see if they can figure things out. Lowell, thanks to freshman standout and Winnipeg Jets prospect goalie Connor Hellebuyck, lead Hockey East but Providence sits two points back. BC and New Hampshire are each one point out and they’ve got teams from the bottom end of the conference to deal with.

Boston College faces 7th place Vermont while UNH faces a Maine team trying to solidify their spot in the conference playoffs. Only the top eight move on and Maine is trying to keep UMass out. The Minutemen have a pair of games with Merrimack to contend with. Only Northeastern won’t be making the playoffs.

In the WCHA, there’s no threat of missing the playoffs as all 12 teams make it. Figuring out who wins the MacNaughton Cup (first place in the regular season) isn’t quite so easy. St. Cloud State could’ve wrapped it up last Saturday, but were humbled by Michigan Tech. Now, any one of five teams could win the regular season title.

SCSU has a two-point lead on Minnesota and North Dakota and are four up on Minnesota State and Wisconsin. The two weekend match-ups to watch here feature St. Cloud against Wisconsin and Minnesota St. facing North Dakota. Earning the top spot at the end of the season means getting to face a bad Alaska-Anchorage team in the opening round of the conference tourney.

If that’s not enough to get you juiced up, three conferences have their playoffs getting started on Friday night. Here’s how things shape up for them:

CCHA: The top-five teams here all get byes into the quarterfinals. Only difference being that No. 4 Ohio State gets No. 5 Ferris State there. Miami, Notre Dame, and Western Michigan are the top three teams here. Your first-round best of three matchups see the winners re-seeded. Alaska hosts Michigan State, Michigan hosts Northern Michigan, and Lake Superior State gets Bowling Green.

ECAC: All 12 teams make the playoffs and the top four get byes in the first round. Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, Yale, and Union can rest easy this weekend and wait to see what carnage is unleashed with the other eight teams in their best of three series. Dartmouth hosts Harvard, St. Lawrence faces Colgate, Brown hosts Clarkson, and Princeton takes on Cornell in New Jersey. Winning teams are reseeded for the second round. RPI blog Without A Peer shows off how the second round could play out.

Atlantic Hockey: Top four teams have byes (Niagara, Air Force, Holy Cross, UConn). Winners of the first round are re-seeded. The first-round best of three pairings are: Robert Morris-Sacred Heart, Mercyhurst-Army, Canisius-Bentley, and RIT-American International. Anyone on the NCAA tournament bubble (16th in Pairwise) is rooting for Niagara to steamroll through here without issue.

If, somehow, that’s not all enough for you the Division III NCAA tournament gets underway tonight and winds up on March 16 with the national championship game. St. Norbert will be looking for their third title in a row but this writer would like to see Oswego State take it all. That’s called an “alumni plug.”

(Photo: Lowell Sun)

Burns, Doughty, Karlsson named finalists for 2016 Norris Trophy

Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson poses with the James Norris Memorial Trophy after winning the award at the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been named finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but the debate about who should win is likely to persist right through to June 22 and the annual NHL Awards.

Not only did Karlsson, last year’s Norris winner, lead all blue liners is points with 82, he led the league in assists with 66 and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in the entire NHL in total points. Those lofty offensive totals could make the Ottawa Senators star the clear favorite to claim the award for a third time in his career.

From NHL.com:

Karlsson is the first NHL defenseman to score at least 82 in a season since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (85 points) and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins (82 points) in 1995-96.

Burns — is there an award for most outrageous beard? — is also coming off an impressive regular season, finishing just shy of the 30-goal mark with 27 and 75 points in 82 games for the Sharks. He’s also had a strong showing in the post-season, as well, with eight points in the opening round versus L.A.

Doughty’s offensive numbers don’t match up with the production from Karlsson or Burns, with 51 points in 82 games for the Kings. There were eight defensemen ahead of him in overall point production. But he’s often recognized for logging hefty amounts of ice time, averaging 28:01 in the regular season, on a Kings team that often dominates puck possession at even strength.

“If you’re going to win, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to have to play the other side of the puck,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi recently said to the Associated Press.

“You’re going to have to make those little plays that aren’t going to show up on the highlights. (Doughty’s) defensive partners — the little things he’ll do just to get his partner time to make a play. He’s three steps ahead of everything, and because he is that, he makes it look easy.”

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars – Game 1

St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester (19) checks Dallas Stars' Valeri Nichushkin (43), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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They were the top teams in the Western Conference during the regular season, with 109 and 107 points, respectively. And now, the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues clash with a second-round series in the playoffs. You can catch Game 1 between these Central Division foes on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Stars expect Seguin to miss at least first two games of Blues series

Here are PHT’s second-round playoff predictions

 

Canucks sign free agent goalie and Mike Richter Award nominee Garteig

Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig (34) eyes a save on a shot by North Dakota during the first period of an NCAA Frozen Four championship college hockey game Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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Nine days after getting prized prospect goalie Thatcher Demko under contract, the Vancouver Canucks have inked another college puck stopper.

The Canucks have signed college free agent goalie Michael Garteig to a one-year entry-level contract, the team announced Friday. Garteig recently completed his senior year with Quinnipiac University, which won the ECAC championship but lost the NCAA championship game to North Dakota earlier this month.

Garteig, 24, posted a 32-4-7 record with a .924 save percentage and a career best eight shutouts this season. He was also once again nominated for the 2016 Mike Richter Award.

Sabres extend Larsson: one year, $950,000

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Johan Larsson #22 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up before the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed forward Johan Larsson to a one-year contract.

Larsson was eligible to become a restricted free agent once his contract expired this summer. The Swedish-born player is coming off a season in which he set career bests with 10 goals, 17 points and 74 games. He also finished tied with rookie center Jack Eichel in scoring five game-winning goals.

Overall, he has 16 goals and 21 assists in 142 games for the Sabres.

Buffalo acquired Larsson in a trade that sent former Sabres captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota in April 2013. The Wild selected Larsson in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Contractual details, per the Buffalo News: