Jim: Well, Todd, we’re officially three weeks into the college hockey season and most of the non-Ivy teams have played games that count. Lots of things stand out to me but none more than the performance of the defending national champion, Boston College.
The Eagles maybe had to eke out a win against Northeastern to begin the season but last weekend, BC was dominant against what many expect will be a very good Denver team. Northeastern coach Greg Cronin said before the season that he thought BC could win 40 games, something that hasn’t been done since Maine accomplished the feat in 1992-93.
I think there’s more parity these days than there was in the early ’90s, but still I think BC making a run at back-to-back national titles seems like a foregone conclusion, and the Eagles have only played three games.
Todd: I don’t think anyone would be terribly surprised if BC is there at the end. That’s a team that doesn’t look too much different than the one that won the title last year, so it knows how to handle itself in good times and bad.
I will be interested, though, to see how the season rolls along for the Eagles. Everyone knows they’re a good team, but they can’t start thinking they’re on Easy Street, and I don’t think Jerry York will let them. But it is something to keep an eye on.
My standout team has been Nebraska-Omaha, which entered the WCHA with a bang last weekend, sweeping Minnesota at Mariucci Arena. Before the season, I was pretty sure either UNO or Bemidji State was going to make some noise in its first season in the WCHA. I picked Bemidji for a higher spot, but I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to consider the Mavericks a team that could contend for a top-four spot.
Jim: I was very impressed to see that UNO pulled off the sweep of Minnesota on the road, but I’m not too surprised to see the Mavericks doing well in the WCHA. This is a good team with a great coach who has proven that he can take lesser known programs and make them brand names (hello, North Dakota).
Conversely to that series, what should we be thinking about Minnesota? I had heard a few WCHA pundits say this could be a down year for the Gophers. Might last weekend have been the precursor for what could be a tough year in the Twin Cities?
Todd: Well, talented rosters are nice to have, but talent doesn’t automatically earn victories. It seems like we’ve been saying that about Minnesota for a couple of years now, but it doesn’t get any less appropriate.
I don’t think being 2-2 through four games, or even 0-2 through two WCHA games, is anything to hit the panic button over, but if the Gophers don’t take last weekend as a wake-up call and get down to business against St. Cloud State, again at home, things can start to slip away quickly.
Speaking of slipping away quickly, it seems that’s what’s happening to anyone’s chance to buy tickets to The Big Chill at the Big House, the outdoor game scheduled for Michigan Stadium on Dec. 11. Michigan said Monday that 105,585 tickets have been sold, a mind-boggling figure. Should we be surprised that Michigan and Michigan State have sold that many tickets, given that they already did 70,000-plus?
Jim: I think the passion of those two schools — not just for hockey but to bleed their school colors — is shining through here. Michigan and Michigan State fans are so passionate for all of their sports. I’ve been to Munn, though never to Ann Arbor. Even watching Yost on TV sometimes gives me chills. Hockey is a special culture for those schools, and it’s no surprise to me that they’ll set the world record for attendance at a hockey game.
Speaking of big crowds, I was impressed that Rochester Institute of Technology sold out Blue Cross Arena on Saturday with a crowd of more than 10,000. As a Massachusetts-Lowell alum, knowing that the benefits of the game was going to former Lowell Chiefs player Craig Charron, who sadly passed away this week, was touching to say the least. I know that the home crowd was probably disappointed with a tie, but it certainly seems both teams played some great hockey.
Todd: The crowd was great to see, and it always impresses me how hockey people look out for one another. It doesn’t usually take long after someone in the hockey world is affected to see a positive reaction and an effort to help him or her. What games on this week’s docket pique your interest?
Jim: Well, two things I’ll be keeping my eyes on are both non-conference matchups involving Hockey East teams. Maine, coming off earning just a tie against Michigan State last weekend, now has the chance to return home to host No. 2 North Dakota in a key early-season clash. A lot of people believe this is Maine’s breakthrough year, and this could be a big weekend to make a major statement.
Boston College will renew its rivalry with Notre Dame. Though known more for their football clashes, you’ll recall these two teams met in the national title game in 2008 and have played some great regular season games in the last decade. How about you? What has your eye?
Todd: I agree — that North Dakota-Maine series could tell us a lot about both teams. And I already mentioned why the Minnesota-St. Cloud State series is important to the Gophers, but it holds a lot of weight for the Huskies, too.
I’ll be interested to see how the non-conference series between Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha turns out, and to see whether UNO can find success in another vaunted building. Two other series I’ll be watching closely: Alaska at Michigan State and Wisconsin at Denver. Plenty of intrigue around the country coming up. Until next week …