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Tuesday @ The Rink With Jim Connelly

Welcome to CollegeSports.com and USCHO's "Tuesday At The Rink" series of moderated chats.

Conference Tournaments will be in action all around the country this weekend. Tuesday @ The Rink goes inside the postseason, first with the head coach of CCHA leader Michigan, Red Berenson, at 1:00pm ET, followed by USCHO's Jim Connelly at 2:00 P.m. ET.

At The Rink

Jim Connelly began in college hockey in 1992 an equipment manager at UMass-Lowell while attending school and have pretty much never left the game. He worked post-graduation for the River Hawks as a statistician. In 1997-98 season Jim worked as director of public relations for New Haven of the American Hockey League (team has since folded).

He began writing for USCHO in January of 1999, as a weekly columnist covering the then Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in its inaugural season. Two years ago that league became Atlantic Hockey.

By the 1999-2000 season Jim was covering games in and around Hockey East and has since covered annually the NCAA regional and Frozen Four tournament, as well as the NHL Entry Draft.

Besides writing for USCHO.com, Jim writes a weekly column for Hockey East Online. I've also written for The Hockey News, USCHO Magazine, New England Hockey Journal and a host of newspapers around the country.

While Jim is not joining us until Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. ET, feel free to leave him a question in advance.

CollegeSports.com Moderator: Hi and welcome to the second half of today's Tuesday @ The Rink. We are now joined by USCHO's Jim Connelly.
Jim Connelly: Hey everyone! Thanks for joining. It's definitely tough to follow a legend like Red, but I'll try my best! Feel free to ask any questions - about Altantic Hockey, Hockey East, even the national tournamnent picture! I'm ready to talk hockey!

Luke (Potsdam): What are the chances of another playoff upset at Lynah? What would Clarkson need to make that happen?
Jim Connelly: Well, I think of any venue in the ECAC, the Lynah is the toughest. Clarkson needs to bring a great road mentality: staying disciplined and not taking penalties, staying committed to a defense first game plan, and most importantly being opportunistic and taking maximum advantage of Cornell's mistakes.

Dan Serpico (Holliston): BC has had an interesting year and I can't put my fingers on it. They have beaten more top 15 non-conf opponents than anyone else in the NCAA, but have a loss against Notre Dame and 3 ties against Providence. In fact, during games, they seem to go to sleep for a time. Which BC team are we going to see for the tournaments?
Jim Connelly: Well, I think the first thing you need to do when talking about BC's downfalls is try to understand why. All of the games you mentioned, BC has run into top-notch goaltending. Now, that's not an excuse, and I believe that a lot of the time the Eagles have made other goaltenders look spectacular. To answer your question, though, BC has to put offensive pressure on UMass this weekend as if they're playing for their playoff lives. The Eagles power play has to be effective because BC's speed will allow them to draw a lot of penalties. I'll be very surprised if we don't see a high-octane offensive show from BC this weekend.

Dan (Wilmington, DE): With BC winning the regular season Hockey East title, and since they should take care of UMass to get the Hockey East semis, are they a lock to be a one seed at Worcester or Amherst?
Jim Connelly: All of the math I've done with the PairWise says that BC should be a lock at a number one seed. Whether or not that will be one of the Eastern regionals is what will be decided in the post-season. BC is currently tied for the top spot in the PairWise with Denver and Colorado College, but should they for some reason slip to fourth (which would only mean falling a spot), they wouldn't receive the geographic priority that they would if they were number one or number two in the PWR. Still, if BC makes the FleetCenter, I think that either Worcester or Amherst are a good bet.

Jason (New York): Hi Jim, what are Northeastern's chances going to UNH this week for the HE Quarter Finals? Especially since they lost all 3 in the regular season to UNH.
Jim Connelly: Northeastern enters the playoffs playing better than they've played for much of the season. The top line for the Huskies is clicking and Keni Gibson is playing like you'd expect a top-notch senior goaltender to play. That said, UNH is not an easy place to play in the playoffs. Still, when looking at the quarterfinal matchups, I think that NU and UNH are the two teams that, top to bottom, match up best.

Danica ( Shebrooke): Are you surprised UMass-Amherst finishing so low in the Hockey East standings?
Jim Connelly: Yes and no. I didn't think that UMass would take as bad a nose dive as it has, but there have been a lot of factors to contribute. People may not have realized how much Greg Mauldin and Thomas Pock meant to last year's squad that lost in the championship game. At the same time, losing a player like Matt Anderson (the kid only played 18 games and still finished third in scoring on the team) for the season as UMass did this year really hurt that team on both sides of the puck. I felt preseason that UMass wasn't a championship caliber team as they were a year ago, but I also never expected them to fall all the way to eighth.

Zack (W. Hartford, CT): What about UConn's chances in the upcoming tournament? Is the health of Scott Tomes still an issue?
Jim Connelly: UConn is probably the scariest of the underdogs in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. They've shown at times that they're capable of beating any team, but goaltending, as you mention is a major issue. Tomes is a goaltender whose back you can ride in the post-season. His health will be very important.

Steve (Hartford Ct): I've been around Atlantic Hockey and the MAAC since it's beginning and I've seen a spike in the talent. I think this years crop of Pierre Luc-O'brien, James Sixsmith, and Matt Craig are dynamite. Why aren't these players in a big school?
Jim Connelly: The great thing about college hockey is the players who slip through the cracks during the recruiting process. When I was at Lowell, we had two blue chips go unnoticed. One was Greg Bullock and the other was Greg Koehler. I believe the story with Bullock was that he was injured for much of the season prior to entering college. By the time he returned to college, many of the schools had already given out their maximum number of scholarships. When this is the case, players can end up at some of the 'lesser' schools. At the same time, Atlantic Hockey is beginning to gain recruiting respect. As this continues, look for more players like the ones you named to make their way onto AH lineups

Owen (Wilmette IL): Having the AHA semis and finals at campus sites on consecutive nights (Mar. 18/19) could be ridiculous - if it's Canisius v. Quinnipiac that means Canisius must ride the bus from Buffalo to Hamden, CT the morning of the championship. Your thoughts?
Jim Connelly: I believe that you don't understand the Atlantic Hockey playoff format. This year's format calls for the higher seed to host the play-in game and the quarterfinals, but both semifinals and the championship game will be played at the site of the highest remaining semifinal seed. Thus, if Quinnipiac makes it past this Saturday's quarterfinal, it would play host to the entire final four - both semifinals and the championship game.

Oscar -Mystic CT: With the top 4 teams of AH having what I would call 1 quality victory (QC over Dartmouth), are they really deserving of a auto bid in your mind? I know they get one, but is it right?
Jim Connelly: I believe that it is right for Atlantic Hockey and the CHA to each get an autobid. This is very similar to what other sports award in the NCAA tournament (basketball is the most visible example). Understand that, without Atlantic Hockey and the CHA, we'd still be watching a 12-team hockey tournament. The emergence of these two leagues allowed for four additional teams to experience the NCAA championship. For that, each of these leagues deserves to be part of that experience.

Ed Roseland NJ: How do you think Cornell will match up to the boys out west? It appears to me this year they may be a bit overrated and the west in general is stronger.
Jim Connelly: Cornell is still Cornell - they play a tight defensive game and take advantage of the offensive chances. When it comes tournament time and Cornell has to face a team like Denver or Minnesota, it will become a clash of offense versus defense. My experience in the game tells me that more often than not, defense wins, particularly in the post-season when goals are simply harder to come by. Am I predicting that Cornell will go all the way? No way. But I think they should have no problem holding their own.

Brendan (Garrison, N.Y.): Jim, how competitive do you see Army becoming under Brian Riley?
Jim Connelly: I think Brian Riley is a great coach. His team this year was just a few bounces of the puck away from being excellent. I believe that Army lost about 10 or 11 games by one goal - that shows that the team is right there on the brink. Given time, I'd expect Riley's club to remain competitive in the league. The toughest factor facing coach Riley is the military commitment that comes with being a player on Army's hockey team.

Terry (Colorado Springs): I was a little confused about where things stand with Air Force trying to join Atlantic Hockey. What exactly is going on?
Jim Connelly: I'm as confused as you are. My conversations around the league originally made Air Force's acceptance seem like a slam dunk. But the one thing we have to remember is that the coaches are not the ones who hold the final vote. Athletic Directors have to worry about the increased travel budget that accompanies playing a team like Air Force. When the travel issue got brought to the table, sources tell me that a few ADs (I believe three) buckled and said they wanted a disproportioned travel schedule (i.e. Air Force might have to play 15 road games and 12 home games). I've had people tell me this might have even been as much as 10 home games to 17 road games, something that no school would want to accept. The bottom line will be how badly do these ADs want to expand. It seems as if getting to 10 teams is a major goal of the league. The question is at what cost.

Al (Victor, NY): Is R.I.T. going to be competitive in Atlantic Hockey, or are they going to be like Union in the ECACHL, competing against scholarship schools and Ivy League schools without the scholarships or the Ivy reputation?
Jim Connelly: Tough question, but a very good one. I don't know a lot about RIT's program. I've talked to some colleagues who have for years told me that they felt RIT could beat any team in the MAAC/Atlantic Hockey. The one thing to understand is that there are already schools in AH not awarding scholarships (Holy Cross is one). That doesn't mean that every student pays full tuition. In most cases at Holy Cross, they can build grant-in-aid packages through the financial aid office. That is the approach I would expect RIT to take.

e. wingz (Boston): Do you agree Patrick Eaves of Boston College deserves the Hobey Baker as the best college hockey player in the country? Who else plays offense, defense, scores, runs the power play, blocks shots and has a total all-around game like he does? Really, no one is even close in terms of all around play this season.
Jim Connelly: I think that Pat Eaves is a complete package as you mention, but I don't know if he's worthy of the Hobey Baker Award. Though his presence is felt in most games, I don't know if he's a dominant a player who controls the ice. There are definitely two other players at Colorado College - Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling - who are just as solid of players and more productive offensively. The game film I've seen of these two boys is outstanding. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Patrick Eaves fan - have been since day one. But I'm not sure he's Hobey material.

Bob (Hamden, Conn.): How competitive do you see Quinnipiac being next year in the ECACHL? Are Reid Cashman and Ben Nelson going to be able to continue to perform as well as they have this season?
Jim Connelly: I'll start with the second part first. Reid Cashman and Ben Nelson are natural players. Given the playing time that they get at Quinnipiac, I believe these players would be major impact players at most any school. This goes back to my earlier response about players that slip under the radar. These are definitely two of them. As for how competitive QU will be in the ECACHL, I'm cautiously optimistic that they won't "stink the joint out," but I wouldn't expect them to be challenging for a title any time soon. They do have some new advantages: a planned, on-campus facility that will rival any in the league, as well as an increase in scholarships from 11 to 18. But it's a hard jump to take. Anyone that saw UMass try to step into Hockey East will remember how long it took to be competitive. This is a bit of a different scenario, but I still don't believe we'll see positive results immediately.

Hurley (NYC): Should Dartmouth fans be worried about the Big Green's loss to Yale over the weekend? Or was that just a hiccup for an otherwise hot team?
Jim Connelly: It depends on the context of what the fans are worried about. If you're talking about the PairWise, it doesn't appear that the loss to Yale was that much of a problem. The game didn't affect Teams Under Consideration and had only a small impact on RPI (the index, not the school). If you're talking about being worried in the context of the playoffs, I say yes and no. Yes, any loss in the postseason, particularly to the worst team in the league, is a concern. But maybe it won't be that bad as often times those bumps in the road can be a wake-up call. Luckily the call came when there was still opportunity remaining.

Glen - Bangor, ME: Do you think we'll see Maine in the NCAAs this year if they don't win the HE Championship?
Jim Connelly: I've studied the numbers on this very closely over the last few days. Should Maine sweep Lowell this week, they'd improve two major NCAA tournament criteria: RPI and Record vs. Teams Under Consideration. Right now, Maine is on the bubble and the improvement in these two criteria definitely make them a better contender. Understand, though, that the PairWise is dynamic. In other words, Maine doesn't completely control its own destiny. Though they may improve in these two criteria, other bubble schools might, as well. I can tell you one thing for certain, though, if Maine doesn't get past Lowell, the season is over for the Black Bears.

Kevin (Long Island): Who do you expect to win the Atlantic Hockey Tournament? Quinnipiac has been on fire as of late and Canisius has battled through hardships, and Mercryhurst has turned this around. Or is there a darkhorse?
Jim Connelly: Man, that's a loaded question. I'm not sure I'm ready to make a prediction. Here's what I will tell you, though. Quinnipiac, if it plays to the top of its game, should be the favorite. I really like Holy Cross' offensive fire-power and the fact that, as defending champ, they've got an invaluable qualtiy: experience. Mercyhurst, as well, has playoff experience but needs to get goaltending. For me, Canisius is simply too inexperienced to survive in the single elimination format. How's that for confusing and ambiguous?!?
CollegeSports.com Moderator: And on that note, we need to wrap things up with Jim.
Jim Connelly: These were great questions. It's been a lot of fun talking hockey with all of you! I hope the team you're rooting for has some post-season success! Later!
CollegeSports.com Moderator: Join us next week for another Tuesday @ The Rink. We are still awaiting confirmation of our guests, so keep an eye on CollegeSports.com and USCHO.com to find out who they are.

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