Jim: Well, Brownie, another weekend passes by and there’s plenty to talk about in the college hockey world. Let’s start with the poll. A week ago, you and I both said we weren’t sold on Colorado College as the number-one team in the nation. The Tigers traveled to Clarkson for two games last week and came away with two ties, yet the voters in the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll seem okay with once again placing the Tigers first, with CC earning 37 of the 50 first-place votes. Do you think that voters were actually rewarding the Tigers for earning ties on the road?
Scott: Jim, I was surprised this week. On Sunday night, I always do a little private guess at what the top of the poll will look like Monday, and I didn’t see the Tigers staying on top, let alone by a wide margin. CC still hasn’t won a game against a top-caliber opponent; even though the Tigers were on the road and Clarkson is a solid team that was already ranked at the time, I don’t think two ties should have been enough to keep them at No. 1 given the quality performances of some of the other top teams so far. I would have put Boston College back at No. 1 this week, and dropped CC to second or even third given Boston University’s domination of Michigan. You, unlike me, get a vote — what’s your take?
Jim:My ballot had BC back in the top spot with Colorado College second. I placed BU third thanks to its impressive win over Michigan on Saturday night. Denver was fourth and New Hampshire was fifth. Guess that’s why there are 50 balloters, though, correct? Speaking of the poll, two big movers this week came out of Hockey East. The aforementioned BU jumped up three spots to become a top-five club and Northeastern moved up five spots to crack the top ten for the first time I can remember. I guess it also warrants mention that Air Force out of Atlantic Hockey entered the poll, well-deservedly, after starting the season 6-0-0. Certainly an interesting bunch this early in the season.
Scott: I always like to see CHA and AHA teams getting some props, and Air Force deserves it with a perfect record. But back on Hockey East, it’s high time we address the numbers. I’m a big believer in the value of data (hence my love of the PWR, odd though it can sometimes be), and the facts are plain: Hockey East is the dominant conference in the nation right now. A look at USCHO.com’s interconference standings page shows HEA with the best record against other conferences, which is magnified when looking at just games against the “Big Four” leagues. And head-to-head, Hockey East is 5-1-0 against the WCHA in 2008-09. So hats off. Here’s your chance to pound your chest, buddy — go for it.
Jim:And I thought that having the reigning national champion out east was good enough for this season! Seriously, you have to love the way things continue to stack up for Hockey East. The nonconference record is incredible, and top to bottom there simply isn’t an easy team in the league. After three of the perennial powers — BC, BU and New Hampshire — you have Northeastern, Vermont, UMass and now even Massachusetts-Lowell who all have to be taken seriously. Providence will throw in an upset or two. Merrimack boasts a great goaltender and right now just needs to score some goals. And then there’s Maine, in a rebuilding year right now, I still guarantee the Black Bears will steal a few games. Now it’s time for all ten clubs to beat one another to a pulp in league play. While I’m dishing out props, by the way, wanted to give a tip of the hat to Canisius. Though 1-2-2 through its first five games, the Griffs have defeated Ferris State on the road and tied Merrimack at home. That’s a pretty good start for a school that has struggled against the “Big Four.”
Scott: Going from one extreme to the other, let’s grit our teeth and talk about difficult starts. Now, by “difficult” I don’t necessarily mean “bad,” although sometimes they’re the same. What I mean are teams that are looking back at the first few weeks of the season and saying, geez, that’s not how we thought things would go. With that in mind, the top of the list has got to be Wisconsin, at 0-5-1. The Badgers have played a brutal schedule, with all six of their games against teams currently in the top six of our poll, and two of their losses have been heartbreakers — losing a third-period lead against Boston College on opening night and blowing a three-goal second-period advantage to Denver. Even their one tie wasn’t very satisfying, since UW led Minnesota 2-0 early on at the Kohl Center before the Gophers rallied. Your tough-luck squads so far?
Jim:I think two teams to point out for tough-luck starts at Army and UMass-Lowell. A year after Army won the league championship, the Black Knights have stumbled to a 0-3-0 start, having led for a total of just 124 seconds this season. They returned an all-American goaltender in Josh Kassel and, though they lost some firepower up front, still should be competitive. Lowell certainly didn’t have other people’s expectations to worry about this year, ranked seventh in the Hockey East coaches’ poll. But the River Hawks have allowed just five goals in four games this year, yet sit at .500, having dropped 2-1 decisions against Colgate and Michigan State. Certainly if the River Hawks’ defense and goaltending continue to shine, you have to expect better fortune at some point.
Scott: Yeah, UML’s story so far goes to show how just a couple of goals one way or the other can dramatically change the outlook of a season early on. Minnesota is in the top five nationally at 3-0-1, with two of the three wins coming by a single goal — those are the kind of games the Gophers lost or tied last season. For that matter, there’s no way CC, looking down from its lofty perch, is unbeaten if not for Richard Bachman and his sub-1.00 goals against average given the Tigers’ two ties and a 1-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville. Until next week…