Todd: Well, Jim, another week, another debate on who’s the No. 1 team in the country. Minnesota-Duluth lost the opener of a home series with No. 10 Denver in overtime on Friday before getting a split with a win on Saturday. Yale, which was tied for No. 2 in last week’s poll, earned wins over ranked teams Rensselaer and Union. I’ll come out and say that I put Yale at No. 1 on my ballot this week, but I had quite an internal debate about it. How about you?
Jim: I also put Yale at No. 1 on my ballot this week. It is a tough decision. But the fact of the matter is that the Bulldogs have just one loss and this weekend played two conference opponents that poll voters deemed were worthy of a top-20 ranking, winning both games. Minnesota-Duluth lost at home, albeit in overtime to a good Denver team. But based on records and this past weekend’s accomplishments I have no reservations about making Yale No. 1.
Todd: I was very impressed by the way Yale controlled the game Sunday against Union. In the part of the game I saw on TV, I didn’t ever get the feeling that Yale was letting its foot off the gas. And Union isn’t a team short on offense, so for Ryan Rondeau to get a 30-save shutout tells you that the Bulldogs’ goaltending situation has taken a step up from last season. His save percentage was .880 last season; it’s .926 now. His goals-against average was 4.06 a year ago; it’s 1.89 now. That makes a big difference when everything else seems to be clicking, too.
My debate was about whether Yale had beaten enough quality teams to justify the top spot, but in the end, the wins over the weekend were enough to show it has.
Jim: This reminds me a tiny bit of the debate from a few years back when Air Force had a perfect record at about this point in the season. Granted, Atlantic Hockey had even a worse perception than the ECAC back in those days, but still, it was impossible for voters to give the Falcons credit for the fact that no team had beat them.
They went into Colorado College and won to drive their record to 13-0-0 but then lost a squeaker the next night to Denver, which was ranked in the top 10 at the time. Still, the voters weren’t impressed and Air Force advanced just one spot, from 11th to 10th after that series, despite having by far the best record in the nation. It didn’t matter much, as Air Force went on to the NCAA tournament that season, beating Michigan in the first round before losing to Vermont in the regional final in double overtime. I feel like we could see the same from Yale, though my gut feeling is that the Bulldogs will get more credit than Air Force ever did.
Todd: You’re probably right, but I think ECAC Hockey is starting to show that it has some power in the upper levels of its standings, even in a year when Cornell isn’t where many expected it to be. Even putting Yale aside, Union and Rensselaer appear to be solid top-20 teams, and Dartmouth and Clarkson are having pretty good starts. The more you look into the depth of the league, the more you understand why Yale’s record is legit.
Turning now to the other team that was ranked second in last week’s poll, Boston University. I’ll put it simply: What happened?
Jim: I’m going to come straight out and say it: BU got outclassed by Boston College. I’ve been a bit critical of BC for being a Jekyll & Hyde team to this point, but this weekend, you saw one of the best efforts a BC team could put forward. Friday was a no-show performance for the Terriers and BC took full advantage jumping out to a 6-1 lead and winning 9-5. Saturday, BU put forth a much better effort and still lost by three goals.
BC’s offense is clicking on all cylinders right now. All four lines are scoring. Defense is jumping into the play. Everyone looks extremely confident. BU, on the other hand, looked careless at times and couldn’t take over the game like BC could. It was almost as if the Eagles could just flip a switch and go into overdrive and at that point the Terriers were screwed.
Todd: So it goes back to why BC is a Jekyll & Hyde team. If this is the potential this team holds, why isn’t it on display every night? Friday’s game made me think of last season’s regional final where Boston College was up big but didn’t really knock out Yale until late. At the time, that got me thinking there was a weakness for the Eagles, but quite clearly there wasn’t, judging from how they fared at the Frozen Four. I think some weaknesses have been exposed in the Eagles so far this year, but it’s still scary how good that team could be the rest of the way.
Since we’re mentioning Jekyll & Hyde, I wanted to touch on Bemidji State’s sweep of No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha. We’ve seen that Bemidji State can play with the best of them, but this season had been going mostly against the Beavers until the Mavericks came to town last weekend. Maybe UNO was rusty after a weekend off, but Bemidji and goaltender Dan Bakala held the Mavericks to one goal on 65 shots over the two games. I still think there’s potential for the Beavers, but the poor first two months of the season may be too much to overcome.
Jim: I think for BC, when the Eagles aren’t playing well it’s simply for a lack of consistent effort across the entire team. We all know how easy it is to get overconfident and forget that it takes 100 percent effort every night in college hockey, particularly given the increased parity across the board. There simply are no nights off. BC seems to have learned that lesson but it will be interesting to see if there are further lapses in its season.
And speaking of lapses, you bring up a team that seems to have had such a lapse this past weekend. Nebraska-Omaha was on a roll before running into Dan Bakala. Obviously, Bemidji State played well but it sounds like the Mavericks may have run into a buzzsaw goalie. It will be interesting to see how UNO responds this weekend against Michigan Tech which is winless in its last nine.
Todd: One oddity I wanted to bring up this week before I forget: Our Paula C. Weston reported on Twitter Saturday that if Michigan State didn’t score in overtime of a scoreless game, fans who showed up with teddy bears for charity wouldn’t get to throw them on the ice, as I believe was scheduled for the first Spartans goal of the night. Of course, Ferris State beat MSU 1-0 in overtime, leaving those bears unthrown. The Teddy Bear Toss is one of those things that does so much good yet is so fraught with potential mishaps. Don’t get me wrong; I love that teams do charitable efforts like that. But not scoring a goal on Teddy Bear Toss night is a real sign that your season isn’t going as well as you’d hope.
Jim: Like the fish that is thrown for UNH’s first goal every game, I always wondered what would happen if there wasn’t a goal scored on Teddy Bear Toss night. I know at BU on Friday, they didn’t take that chance and simply had fans throw their teddy bears during intermission. Teddy bears aside, I’m surprised at the struggles that the Spartans are having on offense this season. They are tied for the least goals in league play and currently sit in ninth place. I really thought this team was going to be a heck of a lot better than it is this season.
Todd: November was just bad for the Spartans. They entered the month 3-0-3 and left it 5-7-3. You can’t afford to have a 2-7 month if you’re expecting to be in the national picture, and the Spartans may have played themselves out of it for the season last month. But they get a great chance to finish their first half with a bang on Saturday when they play Michigan in front of over 100,000 fans at Michigan Stadium. It seems that when other schools come up with niche game ideas, Michigan and Michigan State come along and show everyone how it’s done, just like in 2001.
Jim: The Spartans and Wolverines were the pioneers of the outdoor game, so it seems fitting that they will play what will be the biggest this weekend. Hopefully, though, this is the last college outdoor game for a while. I’m not a gimmick guy and I do believe it takes away from the game. It’s great to get exposure for college hockey, but the only way to “expose” is to put on display programs that need no exposure like Michigan, Michigan State, BC, BU and Wisconsin. At this point, all of the big draws have played in these types of games. Isn’t it time to give this outdoor game a rest?
Todd: I couldn’t say it any better. I wanted to laugh when I heard people talk last season about Wisconsin playing a game outdoors every four or five years. Let’s play hockey for the great game that it is, filled on its own with action and drama, and not for some spectacle.
Of the games of the indoor variety this weekend, things start to slow down ahead of the holiday break. But I think Alaska’s trip to Ferris State is worth watching, and we’ll see how Minnesota responds to being swept last weekend at Minnesota State when the Gophers host Minnesota-Duluth. What’s in your sights this weekend?
Jim: Well, out east we’ll renew another of college hockey’s great rivalries when New Hampshire travels to Maine this Friday night. The Black Bears responded well to being swept by BC by taking three points on the road against Providence this weekend (though probably wish it was four given the lead they had on Friday). New Hampshire continues to roll and their top line right now is dominant. When the puck drops this Friday in Orono, rest assured you’ll be in for one electric hockey game. Until next week …