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Frozen Tide Enter Final Day of Pool Play Atop Standings

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After a dominating win over Pitt-Johnstown, and a gutty 4-4 tie versus Michigan State, Alabama finds itself holding the tiebreakers to advance to the weekend's final four.

One more night, and it may be a long one.
One more night, and it may be a long one.

When we discussed the ACHA playoff format, pool play, and advancement, one issue that was not addressed was breaking ties in the standings. In a short three-game round-robin, where individual games can end with a tie after a ten-minute overtime period, then it should come as no surprise that who advances often comes down to more than a simple win-loss record.

Going into today's action, three of the pools are straight-forward, win-and-in games: the winners of Florida Gulf Coast - Arkansas; Cal U - Oakland; and, Byrn Athyn - Hope College will make up 3/4ths of the semifinals field. However, wouldn't you know it, of the four pools, only one is undecided -- Pool B with the host Alabama Frozen Tide.

Here are the Pool B standings going into the final day of play

TEAM WINS LOSSES DRAWS GOALS FOR GOALS AGAINST DIFFERENTIAL
ALABAMA 1 0 1 10 5 +5
MICHIGAN STATE 1 0 1 9 7 +2
COLORADO STATE 1 1 0 8 6 +2
PITT-JOHNSTOWN 0 2 0 3 11 -8

Tiebreakers

The tiebreakers for pool play are well-balanced and intended to provide a barometer of overall play throughout the tourney. Let's look at the ACHA's tiebreakers before going into what-ifs. Your tiebreakers are, in order:

  1. Head-to-head
  2. Number of wins
  3. Fewest goals against in pool play
  4. Goal differential in pool play
  5. Fewest penalty minutes
  6. Fastest official goal scored
  7. Most periods won, which is determined by the goals for/against by period
  8. And, as it comes down to in most sports, a toss of the coin

As of this morning, Alabama holds most tiebreakers to advance, but some are narrower than others. Below are some of the more probable (and already-decided) scenarios as to how each team advances.

Pitt-Johnstown:

- UPJ, having gone 0-2-0 with one game remaining, have been mathematically eliminated. There is no possible way for the Mountain Cats advance. That was the easy one.

Colorado State:

- While some are positing there is a potential three-way tie, there is not: There are no series of tiebreakers whereby the Rams advance. A loss versus Alabama eliminates the Rams, and, oddly, either a win or loss by Michigan State eliminates the Rams as well.

- Regardless of a CSU win or loss over Alabama, if Michigan State prevails over UP-J, as they should, then the Rams are out. The first tie-breaker would apply. While a CSU victory over the Tide puts the Rams ahead of the Tide, and would give CSU a 2-1-0 record, the Rams head-to-head loss versus MSU advances the Spartans to the Seminfinals.

- Even assuming head-to-head weren't an issue, CSU would still have the hardest path of any of the three squads, and could only advance if: 1) Colorado State wins, 2) in a shutout, 3) over Alabama, 3) by greater than three goals, 4) with no penalty minutes, and 5) Michigan State loses, 6) scoring two goals or less, 7) and has 21+ minutes of penalty time.

- Going past the first few tiebreakers -- goals for/against, margin of victory etc., (and CSU is also behind Alabama and Sparty in those) Colorado State gets into a heap of trouble with the fifth tiebreaker, as they are the second-most penalized team thus far, with 34 minutes of naughty time. Michigan State has been the most disciplined, accruing just 14 minutes in the box. Meanwhile Alabama's 24 minutes of penalties are the second-fewest of Pool B.

- There is simply no way that even academically this improbable scenario would play out for the Rams (any of you with time who want to crunch the probabilities on this are welcome to do so in the comments.) And, in the end, the head-to-head loss to Michigan State sunk Colorado State before the puck even drops in tonight's game. Selfishlessly for the Frozen Tide, let's hope the Rams are dejected, flat, and don't mind getting blown out of the building: all of which would greatly assist Alabama.

Alabama / Michigan State

- Alabama presently sits in the catbird seat. With only one other team to contend with re: tiebreakers, we go straight to the ACHA enumerated list, where Alabama holds most of the tiebreakers over MSU.

- The first elimination scenario is that Alabama loses and Michigan State prevails. Very simple: Sparty advances. Likewise, if the Spartans fall, and Alabama wins, then the Tide is your Pool B winner and moves on to the semifinals.

- The second elimination scenario, one unique to 'Bama, involves both Alabama and Michigan State winning. If both teams win, and the Tide give up a ton of goals while Michigan State does not, then Sparty would advance. In this scenario, the first two tiebreakers result in both teams still deadlocked. We then go to the third tiebreaker, goals against in pool play. Tide goalie Tommy Condon has been solid in net. Even in the first game versus MSU, where he allowed four goals, two were relatively "soft" ones that were either flukish or the product of a one-off mental error. Those errors did not occur down the stretch in that game (where he had to make a few difficult saves, even while being screened) nor did they surface last night. Holding a two-goal advantage, and playing solidly in two appearances, it would take a monumental Tide collapse, coupled with a shutout (or near-shutout) effort by Sparty, for Michigan State to advance on this one.Tonight, your rooting interest is not just that the Spartans lose: If MSU win, and shuts out or allows just one goal, then you must pull for a Tide win in a low-scoring affair, or, in event allowing no more than three goals. Alabama, which holds a two-goal lead here, must not, at the end of the day, give up a ton of scores, even in victory.

- Assuming both teams win, Alabama improbably gives up a lot of scores, and the teams are tied with respect to goal-keeping, we are then left with scoring differential (margin of victory.) Alabama draws a tough Colorado State team tonight, while the Spartans play a disappointing UPJ squad. Michigan State can advance if they blast UPJ, while giving up one or no goals, sufficient to overcome Alabama's present 3-goal margin of victory tiebreaker. Suffice it to say, the last thing Alabama fans want is to see something like a 9-1 Michigan State victory while Alabama wins 5-3. Such a result would even the goal tending margin, and then give MSU the nod on the differential tiebreaker.

- The fifth tiebreaker, assuming we make it that far, is a clear advantage for Michigan State, and is based on penalty minutes. Alabama presently has 24 minutes in the box, while MSU almost half that many (14.) Of all the tiebreakers, this is the worst, as spotty officiating on Wednesday can be responsible for sending someone to the seminfinals on a Friday. And, if any of you saw Michigan State's goalie goon it up Tuesday, too-many-men plays, as well as MSU's numerous uncalled obstructions and cross-checks, there is no indication that we should trust officiating for a playoff outcome. Come what may, this is still the tiebreaker. If the tiebreakers advance this far, Alabama is in trouble and would need to be staffed with six Mother Theresas tonight, while MSU would have to be called for every ticky-tac penalty imaginable.

- The final possible (though highly improbable) tie-breaker is fastest official goal scored between the two. This is a very easy one, and also is in the Tide's favor, as Alabama scored 58 seconds into opening the tourney. Michigan State would have to exceed this effort tonight.

- In the event both teams lose tonight, and the tiebreakers are between Michigan State-Colorado State-Alabama, then 1. Alabama is eliminated, 2. Colorado State is eliminated, and 3. Michigan State advances. This result arises because Colorado State holds the head-to-head over Alabama, who would have no head to head wins over MSU or CSU (ignoring UPJ, the Tide's record would be (0-1-1.) We would then turn to Michigan State, which holds the head-to-head to over the Rams.

TL; DR Version

It is a two-team race to advance to the semifinals. Alabama presently holds most of the tiebreakers, however, the Frozen Tide cannot let up. The easiest way to advance, the Tide must win while Michigan State loses. However, if both teams win, Alabama fans need to hope for a shaky effort from the Spartans coupled with an excellent all-around game from the Tide. If Alabama gives up too many goals, even in a victory, they could be left out of the semifinals if Michigan State runs it up on UPJ. Let's hope UPJ has too much pride and that Alabama has too much talent for these to occur.

You can get liveupdates from FastHOCKEY.com (also on Twitter @fasthockey) and from the RBR and Frozen Tide Twitter accounts. We'll obviously keep you posted with breaking updates and on social media.

Goal Tide!