Jim: Well, Todd, it’s the first week of February, which means we have Beanpot hockey to talk about. Yet again, Boston University and Boston College will meet in next Monday’s title tilt after BC dismantled Harvard, 6-0, and BU held off Northeastern, 2-1. It’s the 20th time these teams have met for the title and I was intrigued after Monday night’s game when BU coach Jack Parker said he believes that because of the success of BC and BU of late, the tournament is beginning to lose its luster. Honestly, he has a point. Monday night, the Harvard fan section was as empty as I ever recall seeing it. The Crimson haven’t won the title since 1993. Northeastern brought its usual throng of fans — and any other non-BU fan in the building was rooting for the Huskies in the nightcap. But again all go home disappointed. Now I’ve followed the Beanpot all my life and I don’t see the tournament facing any sort of demise. But for certain I can say, even I’m sick of seeing BC and BU play for the title.
Todd: Maybe it would be something different if BU and BC didn’t already play at least three times a year, but, yeah, it’s getting a little old. And kudos to Parker for knowing that, even if it means his team is doing well in the tournament. The tricky thing is, if the Terriers and the Eagles are just that much better than Harvard and Northeastern historically — at least on the first two Mondays of February — what’s to stop them from meeting in the finals other than the years when they play in the first round? I don’t think there’s any question that BC and BU are Boston’s two powerhouses, so it only seems natural that they go for the title. But as far as the Beanpot having relevance outside of Boston, it’s a little hard to define. I typically follow the Beanpot fairly closely, even without having it on TV. I plan on seeing it in person some day. But I’m probably not your typical Midwesterner that way.
Jim: I agree. The e-mails I’ve gotten through the year shows that the Beanpot isn’t overly relevant outside of Boston. But as Parker points out, if BC and BU keep winning it will even lose its relevance in Boston. So Beanpot aside, plenty going on in the college hockey world last weekend. The marquee matchup between Denver and North Dakota resulted in a Denver sweep in which the Pioneers allowed just two goals to the Sioux. Two questions I have after this series: Just how good is Denver and is North Dakota a little bit overrated?
Todd: Very good, and very much so. First, to Denver. I think the Pioneers are solid all over the ice. I like the balance they throw at teams up front, with stars like Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger but also guys like Jesse Martin throwing in goals. The defense has some potential young stars in Patrick Wiercioch and Matt Donovan. And, probably most importantly, Marc Cheverie is more than you could ask for most nights in goal. Put that together and there’s a tough team to beat. As for North Dakota, I’ve been surprised at how high the Sioux been ranked in our poll for weeks, and I still am. I don’t think they’re a top-10 team — not that they don’t have the potential, just that they aren’t right now. They’re 14th in the RPI, out of the tournament in the PairWise (tied for 15th) and just not playing well right now. A lot of it goes back to losing team centerpiece Chay Genoway to a concussion, but if it really was just one player causing this team to go, things may not have been that solid there, anyway.
Jim: Your assessment of the Sioux is along the lines of what I thought. It’s been amazing that they’ve remained so high in our poll, even this week falling from fourth to ninth, despite having a losing record in league play. That could be a testament to the fact that none of the teams near the top of the poll are overpowering. Last week, only Miami, Denver and Cornell swept their weekend series. Boston College played only one game and won, but all of the other top 10 teams from last week’s poll dropped either one or both games. The bottom 10 was even worse. None of the teams picked up two wins and the teams ranked 11 through 20 last week had a combined record of 6-10-3 last weekend. So is this parity?
Todd: I guess you could call it that. Of course, a lot of the ranked teams played each other last week, too. Cornell’s one of those teams that interests me right now, because I honestly have no gut feeling on whether they’re going to be in or out when the NCAA field is announced. The Big Red are in first place in ECAC Hockey, but they’re just 13th in the RPI, and No. 35 in strength of schedule (one spot below Bemidji State, for the record). But it looks like they have a bit of a run going (5-1-1 since losing twice at the Florida College Classic), so maybe they’re surging to the finish. Any gut feeling on that?
Jim: I’ve seen Cornell play just once this year but was impressed that day with its dismantling of what has proven to be a very good New Hampshire team. The Big Red moved the puck very well that afternoon and had a Wildcats team that at that time was coming off a 23-day layoff running around all game. That, in fact, was the game that seemingly got things going for Cornell. The team’s only loss since then was against North Dakota, which is ironic given our conversation. Makes you feel like you’re on a merry-go-round, eh?
Todd: No kidding. And I see no signs of it stopping any time soon. We’re hearing a lot about the pack atop the WCHA standings, with five teams separated by three points. But the ECAC isn’t far off in terms of a race to the top in that its top four teams are separated by two points and the top six by just five points. Figures to be a good battle for the title and first-round byes there. One place where there’s no race for the title is the CHA, where Bemidji State has a 10-point lead over Robert Morris. In fact, if the Beavers had beaten the Colonials last Saturday, they would have wrapped up at least a share of the final CHA regular-season title. In January. I guess this is what happens when you have one really good team in a four-team league. Let’s hope we don’t ever see it again.
Jim: It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a team have a chance to clinch the league in January. I can remember the 1992-93 season when Maine lost just one game. Even that team didn’t clinch until mid-February. But you bring up a good point about league races. Though as close as the ECAC and WCHA are, the CCHA has become a runaway train for Miami. I haven’t followed things close enough and was shocked to see the RedHawks with a 10-point lead AND two games in hand over Michigan State. Think we can call this race based on exit polls. So what have you got an eye on this weekend?
Todd: It’s a relatively light week in terms of big-time matchups. The biggest in terms of attendance will be the Camp Randall Hockey Classic on Saturday in Madison, with Wisconsin hosting Michigan on an ice rink built on top of a football field. The crowd almost certainly won’t break the attendance record like was hoped in the beginning, and so, to me, it becomes just another outdoor game — without the mystique of Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and the like. But the game does have national picture importance, with Michigan trying to claw back into the race and Wisconsin looking to negate an earlier loss to the Wolverines. So that’ll get a lot of the attention this weekend. Until next week …