Sunday, March 29, 2009

The parity (or parody) of college hockey

March Madness ain't just a reference to the NCAA men's tournament. Not after Saturday's craziness, which wasn't just limited to Nova's thrilling win over Pitt in Boston.

That was a pretty sick ending to the Iowa State-Michigan State Sweet 16 game, when the ninth-seeded Spartans, fresh off beating top seed Duke, almost ended up in the Elite Eight before the Cyclones advanced on a controversial non-call at the buzzer, leaving the Spartans coach in utter disbelief on the sidelines. Findlay completed an undefeated season in D-2 with a game-ending three by Tyler Evans to win the title 56-53 over Cal Poly-Pomona (hitting a three at the buzzer to win a championship...sweeeeeeet). And a lacrosse game between Virginia and Maryland went seven overtimes - one longer than Syracuse and Connecticut basketball at the Big East tournament - before the Cavs won 10-9.

And then, there's the annually overshadowed NCAA championship: the men's hockey tournament, leading up to the Frozen Four.

Don't like the chalk of the men's basketball tournament? Then hockey's your game this spring.

At least No. 1-ranked Boston University showed up, winning its first round 8-3. However, the 2-through-6 teams in the Poll - Notre Dame, Michigan, Denver, Yale, and Northeastern) went 0-5 in the first round, losing valiently by a combined score of 18-6. 18-6!

The five teams who beat them? Bemidji State (receiving votes in the poll), Air Force (ranked 18th), Miami (ranked 13th), Vermont (11th) and Cornell (9th), respectively. If you don't already know, only 16 teams make the tournament. So these dragon-slayers hardly belonged in the tournament to begin with.

And what's up with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's members forgetting how to play hockey? The WCHA, home to teams like Denver, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota (four of the five schools with at least five national titles) and five of the last seven champs, only qualified three teams for the 2009 tournament, down from six in '08. And those three schools didn't stick around very long, as Denver and UND were one-and-done, while Minnesota-Duluth won a round in overtime before falling to Miami (Ohio). After winning five straight championships from 2002-06, the WCHA will now suffer a Yankees-like, three-year title drought. Yuck.

That's the nature of hockey, though: a bounce of the puck here, a tipped shot there, and you've got teams like Bemidji State and Cornell crashing the Elite Eight or even Frozen Four. No, seriously. Those two teams are playing each other for a spot in the national semifinals. Not exactly household names like UNC or UConn, huh?

The six teams still competing are Boston U, New Hampshire, Vermont, Miami (Ohio), Cornell and Bemidji State. HUGE props to anybody who, without consulting Google, can name all six teams' nicknames off the top of their heads.

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