Big game on Tuesday night!!!

Most of the season has whizzed by but, as per usual, the top NESCAC teams are bunched together, with the first six teams (Bowdoin, Hamilton, Middlebury, Williams, Amherst, and Colby) separated by a mere 3 points. This means we probably won’t know the no. 1 seed or even the top 4 seeds until the last day of the regular season (Feb 19). But Tuesday night, one of those six teams, Middlebury, has the chance to seize control of its destiny by winning its game with its travel partner, Williams.

The Middlebury-Williams game is a game in hand as the other top four teams long ago played their travel partners so it provides the Panthers with a real opportunity. Middlebury sits in a three-way tie for third place with Amherst and Williams with 17 points but holds the tie-breaker over the current no. 1 team, Bowdoin. With a win on Tuesday over Williams, Middlebury would move into a tie for first place with Bowdoin at 19 points and, under the tie-breaker rules, could gain the no. 1 seed by winning out its remaining four games regardless of what Bowdoin does in its remaining games. That’s no easy proposition for Middlebury as its four remaining games are home games with Babson, UMB, Castleton, and Skidmore, all four of which have winning records in the interlock and one of which, Castleton is having its best season in its short history and has surged to a no. 3 ranking in the USCHO poll and is in a dog fight with Norwich for the no. 1 seed in the ECAC East. In a normal year, the home schedule would be to Middlebury’s advantage but this year the Panthers have a losing record on home ice and an excellent  5-1-2 interlock record on the road. But still opportunities abound for the Panthers despite the dismal way in which they began this season . . .

Williams does not have the same clear path to the no. 1 spot as it does not hold the tie-breaker over Bowdoin as Middlebury does due to its 4-2 win over Bowdoin. However, in the anything goes NESCAC, it is easy to imagine that one of the other top contenders will stumble in its remaining 4 games, giving Williams the opportunity to move into first place. Still, the Ephs’ prospects do not look promising due to  Williams’ dismal record against the top teams (losses to Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton as well as Norwich; it has yet to play 4 of the better ECAC East teams in Babson, UMB, Castleton, and Skidmore). But Williams has the goaltending in Ryan Purdy, a superb defense, and a better-than-expected offense and could surprise in the mad dash to the finish line.

Here’s a link to coverage opportunities for the Williams-Middlebury game in Middlebury at 7PM this Tuesday (Feb. 8). The video coverage is fee based (and you need to set up an account) while the audio coverage looks to be free.

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