Friday, December 13, 2013
By Rachel Lenzi firstname.lastname@example.org
There's still a pulse. A faint one.
Gustav Nyquist's decision on whether he'll return to Maine or head to the NHL likely awaits the outcome of Maine's NCAA hopes.
The University of Maine men's hockey team could still earn an NCAA tournament bid. But it would take several factors -- and a lot of help from other teams across the country -- for the Black Bears to return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2007.
Maine is 18th in the PairWise Rankings, the system that mimics the method the NCAA committee uses to determine the 16-team tournament field. PairWise prognosticators have mapped out scenarios in which Maine could finish in a three-way tie with Boston University and Colorado College for the final three berths.
"We'd love to have a second chance but we're not counting on it," Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. "We're not going to have false hopes but it's a legitimate shot and a mathematical possibility."
Because of the possibility, the Detroit Red Wings are holding off contract talks with Maine junior Gustav Nyquist until after the weekend.
Nyquist has yet to announce whether he intends to stay at Maine for his senior year or to join the Red Wings. Jim Nill, the Red Wings' assistant general manager, said Monday that the Red Wings will until next Monday to discuss Nyquist's future.
Likewise, Maine's five seniors have not yet announced their intentions to turn pro.
The Black Bears learned Monday morning they still have a mathematical chance to make the tournament. They will meet today and have an informal scrimmage after the team meeting.
Whitehead said the Black Bears plan to continue their weight-training schedule this week and have light practices prior to Friday's playoff games in the five Division I conferences.
"We want to be in a position that if we have to play next week, we'll be prepared," Whitehead said.
What was a hard path to the NCAA tournament got harder with Maine losing to Merrimack in the Hockey East quarterfinals, and it will become even more difficult because now the Black Bears will have to count on how other teams fare.
HERE'S ONE scenario, courtesy of College Hockey News and USCHO.com:
• Merrimack defeats Northeastern for the Hockey East championship.
• Air Force defeats Connecticut for the Atlantic Hockey Association title.
• North Dakota defeats Denver for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association title. Denver reaches the title game by beating Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota by defeating Alaska-Anchorage.
• Yale defeats Cornell for the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference title.
• Michigan defeats Miami for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association title.
• In the two tournaments with consolation games, Notre Dame defeats Western Michigan in the CCHA third-place game while Colgate defeats Dartmouth in the ECAC third-place game.
With all that, Maine would finish tied for 14th in the PairWise with Boston University and Colorado College, but the Black Bears would be seeded 15th.
"At least one scenario, if not more, would put us in the tournament," Whitehead said. "It's a bit of a long shot and the stars would have to align."
Because the Black Bears are in a holding pattern, so is the immediate future of a handful of players, including Nyquist.
Nill said that while the Red Wings would like Nyquist to turn pro after his junior year, the decision is ultimately his.
If Nyquist turns pro, he would be assigned to Detroit's AHL team in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Nyquist, a right wing from Malmo, Sweden, had 13 goals and 19 assists in 38 games in 2008-09, then became the nation's leading scorer and a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season with 19 goals and 42 assists in 39 games.
He had 18 goals and 33 assists in 36 games this season and has been widely lauded for his speed, vision on the ice and playmaking abilities.
Nill spoke in general terms about a player's decision to turn professional.
"You get in a position where you're playing at those levels that you've done all you can do and you're looking for the next challenge," Nill said. "There's the hockey challenge and the education challenge.
"When you're a really good player in three years, there's almost a time in your development to move on."
But, in this case, not until the pulse has disappeared.
Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be contacted at 791-6415 or at: email@example.com