Jim: Well, Todd, plenty going on over the last week, the least of which is a bit of controversy out of the CCHA. As we all know, the CCHA added a shootout to determine the winner of league games a year ago. Well, what seems like a pretty straightforward addition to games became a bit of debacle when the CCHA’s officiating crew for the Bowling Green at Nebraska-Omaha series, led by referees Derek Berkebile and Stephan McInchak, allowed Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who was serving a minor penalty at the end of overtime, to shoot and score the shootout-winning goal. Now, a lot of folks aren’t familiar with quirky rules in the shootout, one of them being that any player who is in the penalty box at the end of overtime is not eligible to participate in the shootout. But the people you hope would know the rules are the officials. No one caught this until the game was over, which according to the CCHA’s statement, is too late to correct the error. Now, a point for Bowling Green come season’s end isn’t likely to make much difference, but a fast start by UNO shows that school could be in a heated battle for, say, home ice or the league title. I’d hate to see a mistake like this have impact on the standings come season’s end.
Todd: I agree absolutely, but I’d hate for people to use this against the shootout concept when really, it’s a human error that caused the problem. Just like when Wisconsin was wrongly denied a tying goal at the end of regulation in a game two seasons ago at Denver, that was a referee’s incorrect interpretation of the video replay system — not the video replay system itself — that was the problem. In this case, it was the referees and the off-ice officials who erred, not the shootout system. There are plenty of feelings against the shootout — you don’t have to go much farther than many of the CCHA coaches — so I know there probably are some who will use this as fuel for their fire when it doesn’t belong in that category. Maybe we really should be talking about amending the rules to add a way to correct these kinds of situations when they arise. Speaking of UNO, however, I found it interesting that both the Mavericks and Bemidji State — the two teams about to enter the WCHA — are undefeated through six games this season. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, but it also goes to show those around the WCHA that there aren’t going to be any easier nights when the league expands to 12 next season.
Jim: I have to say that the early play of Bemidji State and UNO has impressed me. I think we all hoped that Bemidji could remain hot after its Frozen Four run a year ago. And Dean Blais behind any bench will be a great injection into a team, but those are two clubs that really have impressed me thus far. Another is Alaska. This is a team that has been knocking on the door for a few years now, but a 5-0-1 record to begin the season certainly warrants attention. Some may say the Nanooks have had a soft schedule, but Michigan certainly isn’t an easy way to kick of the season, and sweeping a weekend series against Ferris State is an accomplishment. This weekend will be a major test as Alaska hosts Notre Dame to end an eight-game season opening homestand.
Todd: I think Alaska had to make something out of that early-season homestand for no other reason than the number of road games the Nanooks have remaining after that stretch. After this weekend’s series against the Irish, they play Bowling Green and Lake Superior State on the road on back-to-back weekends. It’s often mentioned that the Alaska schools have the toughest travel demands in college hockey, and I looked at some numbers last season that showed how much Alaska-Anchorage falls off after the holiday break, with travel being one of the likely causes. I wonder if that happens to the Nanooks, too. But, hey, there’s always something to look forward to at the end of the season: Alaska and UAA play a home-and-home series to close the regular season — that’s only 355 miles one way! While we’re on the subject of home-and-home series, any surprise that Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell split theirs last weekend?
Jim: I think the only real surprise from the Lowell-BU series was that the home teams lost both games. Also ironic was that the home team never led in either game. Lowell almost had better fortune from the weekend as it, at least, took BU to overtime in Friday’s loss and could’ve taken three of four points. But I think when the dust settles this season, you can still expect BU and Lowell to be among the better teams in Hockey East. What was more interesting for that league this weekend was the number of split series. Hockey East isn’t known for early season home-and-home series. Each team plays three games versus one another and the “single” game from the three-pack usually seems to take place before Christmas with the home-and-home series (if there is one) after the break. Late season, you usually hear coaches of the top programs talking about how difficult it is to sweep those home-and-home series, and with all three being split this weekend (Providence and UMass split, as did Boston College and Merrimack), you can see their point.
Todd: The one place I was expecting to see a split — at least after Friday’s game — was at Wisconsin, where New Hampshire was embarrassed on Friday in a 4-1 loss, then humbled again the next night, 6-1. The Badgers had been inconsistent going into the series, but the Wildcats never put up much of a fight, which was a bit of a shock to me. UNH has a young team, so I’m sure some bumps along the way were expected, but a 2-4-1 start is probably something to be concerned about, don’t you think?
Jim: That series truly was the ultimate shocker of the weekend for me. UNH has seemed pretty strong to this point of the season and was playing a Wisconsin team that, as you put it, hasn’t been overly consistent in the early going. Getting smoked twice on the road just seems completely out of character for any Dick Umile-coached team. But maybe they asked for tricks and not treats on Halloween. So enough about the past. What games will you be monitoring this weekend?
Todd: Well, it’s a Minnesota-Wisconsin weekend, so that’s always near the top of the list. But I think the highlight this weekend will be No. 1 Miami at No. 4 Michigan for a pair of games. A split would be predictable; anything else would leave one team at an advantage early this season. I’m also interested to see how Vermont rebounds this week. The Catamounts are on a little bit of a roller coaster so far, aren’t they?
Jim: I wouldn’t want to be Vermont for the last two weekends. Nothing says brutal worse that a three-plus hour bus ride from Merrimack and a six-plus hour bus ride from Orono, Maine, after getting beaten solidly at both. The only thing that might make this weekend easier is that the Catamounts play at home. Lowell won’t be an easy opponent on Friday nor will a red-hot Providence squad on Sunday. But if Vermont is going to right the ship, now is the time. Another team — well, group of teams — looking to use this weekend to get back to reality is Atlantic Hockey. The conference has posted just three non-league wins thus far but will return all 10 teams to conference play beginning Friday.
Todd: In fact, there’s only one nonconference series on the schedule this weekend — Massachusetts and Niagara in a home-and-home series Friday and Sunday. That means there are a lot of points on the table and a lot of changes possible in the league standings.