Finally, the month we have all been waiting for. It’s nothing but conference action from here on out for both the NCHA and MCHA, and both are figuring not to have much of anything figured out until the final weekend of the season.
The NCHA finished up with the MIAC Interlock portion of its schedule on Monday as Stout dropped a 4-2 contest at St. Mary’s. Despite the loss, the NCHA once again claims bragging rights over its Minnesota foes, having finished the season with a 29-20-8 record against its cross-border brethren.
On the national scene, for the fourth week in a row St. Norbert finds itself atop the USCHO.com Division III poll. The Green Knights are currently in the midst of a 15 game unbeaten streak and obtained 18 of 20 possible first place votes.
A big win by River Falls over Stout last week moves the Falcons up a spot to fourth while the loss drops the Blue Devils a spot to No. 10. Adrian’s 9-1, 14-2 sweep of Crookston was enough to slide the Bulldogs up two spots to no. 13, while Marian’s road split at Finlandia cost it the lone vote it garnered last week.
It should only be a few weeks until the NCAA Regional Rankings emerge and we can begin to follow the NCAA tournament hopes of some of the region’s elites. For the time being however, conference play it shall be.
With eight games remaining in the MCHA regular season, there will be plenty to follow in the weeks to come. For now, though, let’s take a look back at the MCHA and where it stands in its first season with eight teams.
As discussed in the MCHA season preview, this is a banner year for the league. Between its expansion to eight teams, the hopes for an NCAA autobid, the buzz created by Adrian, and the continually improving on-ice product of the league as a whole, the MCHA has garnered more attention this season than in perhaps all other years combined.
One needs to go no farther than the USCHO Fan Forum to see this as the MCHA Regular Season thread has been one of, if not the most, active discussion of the season.
With all the positive signs around a league that I’m quite frankly beginning to love, its play in non-conference action cannot be ignored, as on-ice performance is of course the most important factor of all.
Last year it was discussed here among some MCHA coaches that for the league to earn respect they would have to perform in non-conference play.
Let’s see how they did.
Overall: 3-2-0 (29 GF, 20 GA)
Wins: Potsdam, Neumann, Geneseo
Losses: Potsdam, Neumann
Overall: 1-4-0 (15 GF, 20 GA)
Wins: Gustavus Adolphus
Losses: Stout, Bethel, Bethel, River Falls
Overall: 1-2-2 (10GF, 16 GA)
Losses: Superior, Superior
Ties: Stevens Point, Augsburg
Overall: 2-3-0 (9 GF, 19 GA)
Wins: Lake Forest, Lake Forest
Losses: Superior, St. Norbert, St. Norbert
Overall: 0-3-2 (11 GF, 23 GA)
Losses: St. Norbert, Eau Claire, St. Mary’s
Ties: Lake Forest, Bethel
Overall: 0-5-0 (3 GF, 37 GA)
Losses: Stout, River Falls, Superior, Stevens Point, St. Scholastica
Overall: 1-4-0 (11 GF, 24 GA)
Losses: Franklin Pierce, Bethel, Bethel, Hamline
Overall: 0-5-0 (6 GF, 44 GA)
Losses: Stout, St. Olaf, Stevens Point, Hamline, Hamline
Looking inside these numbers, the MCHA was 8-28-4 in its non-conference games. In those 40 contests, the league was outscored by a wide margin, 199-94. Dismissing Adrian and Concordia, the two first-year programs, the league was 5-21-4 in out of conference competition while being outscored 135-59.
Surprisingly, this is actually a regression from last season when the MCHA as a whole was 9-19-1 in non-conference games while being outscored 136-85.
So far this season, the MCHA’s records against other leagues are as follows:
Breaking things down even further and looking at only Adrian, Marian, Finlandia and MSOE, the current top four teams in the league, they posted a collective record of 7-11-2 in non-conference play, with Adrian and MSOE accounting for five of the seven wins.
Marian appears to be the league’s biggest hard luck story, as after playing all five of its non-conference games against teams who have received votes in the national poll this season, they are only 1-4-0 despite only being outscored by five goals.
Among the leagues notable performances this season are Adrian’s wins over Neumann and Geneseo, Marian’s 4-0 shutout of Gustavus Adolphus, Finlandia’s 1-1 tie with Stevens Point, and MSOE’s two game sweep of Lake Forest. Additionally, just this week Lawrence scored a 6-6 tie with Bethel — last season’s MIAC NCAA tournament representative.
The fact remains, however, that the MCHA’s 8-28-4 out of conference record speaks for itself and with quality non-conference wins few and far between, it’s bound to draw criticism from those who are willing to write the league off as a joke. This despite the fact that these same critics are more often than not the same people who have never seen a MCHA game.
But with perception greatly influencing reality, it would certainly do the league good to kick it up a notch against teams from other leagues.
Along with MSOE, Finlandia has fared respectable well in non-conference play, and has defeated St. Olaf, Superior and Augsburg over the past two seasons. Still, in that span the Lions are only 3-5-2 against out of conference opponents.
“Obviously we didn’t do as well as we’d like to,” said Lions head coach Joe Burcar. “I think our league is continuing to improve though, and we are slowly closing the gap on the MIAC and NCHA.”
He continued: “We are still a pretty new league, comparatively speaking. We really haven’t been around that long. A lot of those other teams everyone knows and I just think they may be getting the better players right now.”
Anyone who has seen any MCHA action would certainly agree with Burcar regarding the league’s progress, but this season’s non-conference record is certainly not going to win the league any sympathy from outsiders.
“We have to, overall as a league, be over .500,” said Burcar. “All of us. We have to come out of it with a winning record to start gaining that respect.
“We beat Superior last year and everyone said it’s a fluke. Marian ties River Falls and everyone says it’s a fluke. Until we can start playing like that on a consistent basis, especially at least the top echelon of the league, and keep all these games tight we aren’t going to get rid of that tag right now.
“It’s not just one game. I think you’re seeing five teams in our league start to beat people and keep games close. I also think you’re seeing teams from our conference play better teams and I really think we are starting to close that gap.”
Considering the MCHA hit list has grown to include teams like St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus, Lake Forest, Babson, Neumann, Geneseo, Potsdam, Superior and Augsburg, it would remain wise not to look over MCHA teams no matter what the numbers say.
Although many ill-informed fans consider this league to be nothing more than a glorified beer league, it would probably be best served to trust me when I say that numbers don’t lie, but they sure can mislead.
The Crystal Ball is Back
With St. Norbert atop the league, I had originally intended on spending this week on River Falls, Stout, and Superior — the other three teams in the top half of the NCHA standings. But as River Falls and Stout square off with Superior and St. Scholastica this weekend, its possible that by this time next week, the standings are drastically different than they are now. Instead, lets recap the league at its season midpoint and take a stab at how things might look come Peters Cup playoff time.
Its hard to tell at times whether they are actually a hockey team or merely a pin