Harvard’s soaring hockey team was on a bus Sunday afternoon, coming down from its Adirondack high after winning the ECAC title in Lake Placid when it learned that its next destination will be a much quicker trip.
“We were all watching [the NCAA selection show] on our cellphones,” said coach Ted Donato, whose third-seeded (overall) Crimson (26-5-2) will take on 14th-seeded Providence (22-11-5) in the East Regional on Friday afternoon at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, a couple of miles from the Friars’ campus. “We were excited about being able to stay in the East.”
So was fifth-seeded UMass-Lowell (26-10-3), which will take on 11th-seeded Cornell (21-8-5) Saturday at noon in the Northeast Regional at Manchester’s SNHU Arena, less than 40 miles away. “It’s a huge bonus,” said coach Norm Bazin, whose River Hawks held off Boston College on Saturday night to win their third Hockey East crown in five years. “We don’t have to fly and we can have our home fans.”
Not so seventh-seeded Boston University (23-11-3), which has to head to faraway Fargo, N.D., to face 10th-seeded North Dakota (21-15-3) on Friday afternoon in the West Regional.
“When you sit down and look at the PairWise rankings that certainly was one of the options,” said Terriers coach David Quinn, whose squad was bounced by Denver in St. Paul last year. “If we had won Friday night [against BC] we probably would have eliminated this option, but we didn’t.”
At least BU will see familiar faces in Fargo. Two years ago the Terriers beat Minnesota-Duluth in Manchester and then North Dakota in the Garden en route to the final. Lowell hasn’t faced the Big Red in a decade.
“I don’t know anything about them,” said Bazin, who was brushing up on the ECAC finalists in his office Sunday afternoon. “I just know that in the past they’ve been big and strong and heavy.”
Harvard, which earned a No. 1 regional seed for the first time since 1983, hasn’t faced Providence since 1984 and never in the NCAAs. But the Crimson, who were one period away from winning the 1986 title in that building, aren’t daunted by competing on what amounts to home ice for the Friars, who upended another No. 1 seed (Miami) there two years ago en route to the championship.
“What we need to focus on,” said Donato, “is how we play.”
The Crimson, who are unbeaten in their last 16 outings and who’ve collected four trophies in the past five weeks, are on an historic run with an experienced and explosive squad.
“They’re probably one of the best Ivy League teams in the last 20 years,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman, a former Crimson assistant. “We have a really big challenge.”
The Friars, who were swept at Notre Dame in the Hockey East quarters and were on the NCAA bubble, weren’t sure until Saturday night when Lowell beat Boston College in the final, that they’d qualify.
“Last week we knew there was a high-percentage chance that we would still be playing,” said Leaman, whose team was tied for 13th in the PairWise rankings going into the weekend. “But we also knew which upsets had to happen for us to get knocked out.”
Harvard, which had been a solid third in the rankings for a while, didn’t have to worry about an invitation. It’s been unbeatable since mid-January, claiming the Beanpot, the Ivy title, a share of the ECAC regular-season title (with Union) and its second tournament crown in three years.
Now comes what has been a barrier for more than two decades — surviving the regional. Seven times since the Crimson reached the 1994 Frozen Four they’ve gone out in the opening game, most recently to BC last season.
“This is a new year,” said Donato, who played on the 1989 national champions. “A new team.”