Unusual suspects achieve top seeds in college hockey tournaments

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It took 23 years at St. Cloud State. It took an even longer -- 29 years -- at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

The two programs clinched the No. 1 seed in the in their respective conference tournaments for the first time this past weekend.

St. Cloud State earned the Western Collegiate Hockey Association top seed at the wire, marking the first for the program in its final year in the conference.

"We've been close," St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. "We needed to put one away. Now we've got to tell our guys, 'Greed is good.' "

Massachusetts-Lowell did the same in the jam-packed Hockey East, where four teams were in the running for that coveted No. 1 seed heading into the final game.

In fact, four of the five No. 1 seeds in the college hockey postseason this season are first-timers, a striking anomaly that might speak to the game's budding parity.

Quinnipiac cruised to a top seed for the first time since joining the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference in 2005.

Niagara took top billing in the Atlantic Hockey Association for its first crown since entering the conference three years ago, and St. Cloud State shared the WCHA regular-season title with Minnesota, but gets the No. 1 seed because of tiebreakers.

"I think it speaks to the overall competitiveness of Division I college hockey," said Tom Nevala, chair of the Division I men's ice hockey committee and senior associate athletic director at Notre Dame. "It really doesn't matter which program you play for if you play as a team and keep fighting night in and night out."

Massachusetts-Lowell got off to a slow start in October, but has gone 18-2-1 in the past 21 games and climbed from sixth place to first in the past 31/2 weeks.

"It's so close [in Hockey East] that four different teams could have had that title until the last game," Massachusetts-Lowell coach Norm Bazin said "It's special. It was very satisfying for both the hockey program and the school."

The hockey team was the school's only Division I team until a recent announcement that 18 more programs will compete at the Division I level next year.

"We started off 2-5, then 4-7-1," Bazin said. "Wasn't the type of start that's going to blow anybody's doors up. But we feel like it's how you finish."

St. Cloud State will leave the WCHA and join the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference next year.

"It's a great way to go out," Motzko said. "One of the hardest trophies to win is our McNaughton Cup because we're such a competitive league. The fact we can do it in our last year is awfully special."

Poll update

Quinnipiac, which did not play this weekend, remained No. 1 in the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, followed by No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Miami of Ohio and No.4 North Dakota, which jumped past now-No. 5 Boston College.

Coaching legend retires

No head coach in college hockey was at it longer than Jack Parker at Boston University. Parker announced Monday he will retire after the season, ending a 40-year tenure as the program's leader.

Parker has three national titles, 24 NCAA tournament appearances and 21 Beanpot titles, a Boston-area four-team tournament.

"It's been a great run. Had a great time doing it," Parker said at a news conference. "It's time. I've been coaching the team for 40 years ... and 48 of the last 49 years, I've been reporting to duty for BU hockey. That's enough. It's a tough job."

Parker's first season was 1973-74, and he famously coached three players who went on to win the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 Olympic gold medal when amateurs still played for the U.S. team -- Mike Eruzione, David Silk and goalie Jim Craig.

"More than anything else, I had a great time with my players," said Parker, who added that the timing of his announcement was to make sure his players knew their final games with him were coming up.

Parker said he wanted to avoid a "farewell tour of all the other rinks in the league. That's not me."

Boston went 18-15-2 this year and earned the No. 3 seed in the Hockey East tournament.

Did you know?

Robert Morris currently owns the longest unbeaten streak in college hockey at seven games after a weekend sweep of Sacred Heart in the opening round of the Atlantic Hockey Association tournament.

The No. 5 seed Colonials (13-11-3) will travel to No. 4 Connecticut (14-10-3) Wednesday to try to oust the Huskies in a best-of-three series to reach the conference semifinals in Rochester, N.Y.

The two teams split in the regular season, and Connecticut is coming off a first-round bye.

"These are two teams hot at the right time," Colonials coach Derek Schooley said "It's going to be a battle. We have to make sure we get off to a good start.

"We didn't have to go to three games and expend a lot of energy [in our first series]. We have to make sure we capitalize on us playing and keeping our legs while they were home resting, and hopefully get off to a good start."

Robert Morris forward Adam Brace was named Atlantic Hockey co-player of the week after a goal and four assists in the sweep.

Brace leads the conference with 26 assists and is tied for the lead in scoring with 40 points.

Stat watch

The Division I leader in goals is Greg Carey of St. Lawrence, who has scored 28 in 36 games. The leader in assists is Drew LeBlanc of St. Cloud State with 34 in 36 games.

But points per game? That's Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau, who has 18 goals and 28 assists in 31 games, a 1.48-point-per-game clip.

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Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter: @JennMenendez.


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