Todd: Well, Jim, we’re a month into the college hockey season, and we’re starting to get some answers on those nagging preseason questions. We’re seeing last season’s national championship game teams go in opposite directions so far this season. We’re seeing some surprises in the East and in the West. But I want to start this week talking about one of the biggest upward movers in the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports Division I Men’s Poll: Bemidji State. At 7-0-1, the Beavers are up to seventh in this week’s poll. Should it matter that they haven’t played a ranked opponent, or does their record stand on its own?
Jim: A year ago, we were in a somewhat similar position as Air Force remained unbeaten through much of the opening months of the season and it ascended the polls, despite a weaker-than-the-rest schedule. Personally, I feel until a team loses, it deserves all the credit in the world. The fact that you’re not playing a schedule made up of national powers night in and night out shouldn’t impact that. Remaining unbeaten is difficult. Any team out there knows that the difference between the best team in the country and the 58th-best team in the country isn’t large enough to question perfection for teams that win their games. This isn’t college football, where the 300-plus teams create tiers of ability levels. Thus, a team that is 7-0-1 after eight games deserves to be a top-10 team. Don’t you think?
Todd: I agree to a point. Bemidji can’t control its CHA schedule, and it has taken care of Alabama-Huntsville and Robert Morris so far. But I went on record last year saying something along the lines that Air Force wasn’t a top-10 team until it beat an upper-level opponent, and it didn’t really have a chance until playing Colorado College and Denver around Thanksgiving. I’m still of the same mind-set. I do think which teams you beat matters, and I think the way the RPI and the PairWise follow that logic to a certain extent. One could argue that Ferris State, at 7-3, deserves to be in the top 20. But a lot of people will look at that two of the three losses came to Alaska — arguably the toughest opponent on the schedule — and say they don’t merit a top-20 spot because of the way they played against a ranked team. Without a doubt, there are different ways of ranking teams, and I guess it’s a fair argument either way. And it adds a little more intrigue to the Beavers’ series this weekend against unranked Minnesota at Mariucci Arena.
Jim: This weekend is certainly a big weekend for Bemidji, so we’ll so how that shakes out. Two other movers in this week’s poll come out of Hockey East, though both are moving in opposite directions. Massachusetts-Lowell jumped to fifth with a tie at Vermont and a solid win at home against New Hampshire. I’d say the jump is warranted but also believe this isn’t going to be a cakewalk for Lowell as Hockey East has far too many landmines to make it easy on a team with little experience handling a national ranking. On the other hand, Boston University fell 10 spot this week. Yes, that’s right — the Terriers dropped from from seventh to 17th after losses to Northeastern and Maine, two teams that, in their own right, are struggling. BU has lost three straight one-goal games following back-to-back single-goal wins against Michigan and Lowell. Personally, I couldn’t even give them a top-20 vote this week as it’s difficult for me to justify a 2-5-0 team to be nationally ranked.
Todd: That’s exactly the way I felt, too. For a few weeks, I think you can give what you think is going to be a good team a pass on its record. But now that we’re a month in, a 2-5 record doesn’t cut it for the national rankings. I still think BU can be a good team, but it clearly will not be through the same path as last season. Plus, with Hockey East not giving out many free points as far as I can tell, it’s going to be a tough climb back up the standings. On a related note, Maine’s victory over BU on Sunday was interesting to me in that it followed a victory over Vermont a week earlier. The Black Bears are still just 3-5 this season, but do you think there’s more reason now than before to be optimistic about Maine’s chances this season?
Jim: I’ve had a difficult time figuring out Maine this season and, for that matter, for the last two years. I was optimistic about their chances preseason, worried about the slow start and now hopeful that this will be the year the Black Bears turn things around. For the sake of coach Tim Whitehead and the program, I certainly hope they can get back to winning ways. Proud hockey programs don’t like to lose and, while a mediocre record gets you by in some towns, Orono isn’t one of them. One the other hand, you mentioned Miami earlier. Did the RedHawks’ manhandling of Michigan this weekend further cement the fact that Miami is the best team in college hockey right now?
Todd: It did to me. I was in Denver’s camp for a while, but seeing what Miami did at Yost and that Denver got run over on Saturday at Alaska-Anchorage, now there’s no doubt that Miami is, at least in this small window of time, the best team out there. I think a lot of people will chalk that up to the motivation coming out of the way last season ended, with being so close to the national championship and then seeing it fade away. I’m sure that’s in there somewhere, but I’d be willing to venture that the RedHawks are where they are now because, plain and simple, they’re a solid team, top to bottom. So many of those forwards that we got to know during their NCAA tournament run last season are chipping in early this season, and goaltender Cody Reichard has been on top of his game. I think this team would be in this position no matter how last season ended. What’s on the radar this weekend?
Jim: Well, personally, I’ll be seeing the Maine team we talked about earlier take on a Northeastern squad absolutely decimated by injuries. I’ll also see the two-game Vermont at Boston College series as well. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I’ll be watching one of college hockey’s top rivalries when Michigan takes on Michigan State. I’ll also be interested to see how Yale, a team that had very high hopes entering this season, fare with Cornell and Colgate after getting just a single point a week ago against Rensselaer and Union. How about you?
Todd: To me, that Michigan-Michigan State series has a lot of drawing power. It’s a rivalry series. Both teams are ranked in the top 13. Michigan has some swagger to regain after being humbled by Miami in its own barn. Michigan State has to continue to prove it’s going to be in the elite loop this season. And it’s the first game between the teams since that ugly scene last season that led to the suspensions of the Spartans’ Corey Tropp and Andrew Conboy. Time heals all wounds, but we’ll see if enough time has passed there.
Jim: It’s difficult to forget the ugly incident that marred the last game between these great rivals. But I think this weekend’s series is a good step in doing so, particularly if fans are treated to the hockey they expect. Really, this is the first time since Michigan State won the national title three years ago that these two powers have been playing at the same level. Should be fun. Well, until next week …