Todd: Well, Jim, the holiday tournament season is over and it’s now full steam ahead toward the end of the regular season. The question is, which teams will have the most steam coming out of the return from break? There were some unexpected tournament champions — the state of Minnesota produced three of them in St. Cloud State, Bemidji State and Minnesota State — but are there any teams that look like they’re on a fast track as we head into the second half?
Jim: Well, I’d say that Yale, despite playing just one official game, looked like it didn’t have any rust after a 10-3 win over Holy Cross on Sunday. And Boston College was able to pull out two victories at the Dartmouth tournament despite being without a plethora of players due to World Juniors and injury. So I feel like the Eagles are ready for a big second half. North Dakota’s 5-0 shellacking of No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth also says a lot about where that team is headed. So I think there are a handful of clubs in the top of the poll that are definitely ready for a second-half run. Then there are teams that might not be so ready. One that sticks out is one-time No. 1 Boston University. The Terriers continually eked out wins in the first half and that caught up with them last weekend when Brown spanked them 6-1. All I can say to that is ouch.
Todd: With that loss and a tie against Notre Dame, the Terriers slipped to 19th in the RPI, and that has to be of some concern to BU fans. Granted, there’s a long way to go, but you don’t want to start the second half in a hole.
Minnesota State won the Shillelagh Tournament that also featured BU and Notre Dame. St. Cloud State came out on top of the Florida College Classic field that had ranked teams Miami and Maine. Bemidji State was the only unranked team in the Mariucci Classic, yet it came out with two wins. Should we read much into the stumbles by the ranked teams, or just chalk it up to returning from the break?
Jim: I do believe that is can be difficult for teams coming off of breaks. For some teams there were struggles with players returning from the holiday breaks due to winter storms throughout the country. That can make it difficult to have any sort of cohesive practices prior to the first post-break game. All that said, you have to think that the WCHA teams (Minnesota aside) came out looking pretty good in the holiday tournaments. Maybe that’s a positive sign for your western conference?
Todd: I’d be hesitant to read too much into it, but all three of those teams I already mentioned needed exactly what happened to build some momentum into January. Everything gets a little more difficult over the next couple of months because of the toll of the long season, but a tourney win has to be seen as a shot in the arm for those teams.
St. Cloud State, in particular, had failed to live up to expectations before the break. I just wonder whether the deficit it racked up was too much to overcome in the second half.
On the topic of holiday tournaments, I got to thinking the other day how they seemed to be either more spread out or fewer in number, and it turns out the latter is true. The Badger Hockey Showdown is gone and the Denver Cup moved to Thanksgiving, leaving us with seven tournaments this holiday season. It seems more manageable to have that many, doesn’t it?
Jim: I agree that it does seem like the less tournaments around New Year’s makes it easier for fans (and journalists) to follow. There were story lines like the ones we discussed that people could connect with and not just a bunch of results and trophies.
And while we’re on the topic, I want your take on a topic that I go back and forth on: the pre-determined holiday tournament field. Vermont was the only tournament to use this format last week. It certainly makes for a strange situation in that a trophy can be awarded in a tournament where all four teams finish with a 1-1 record. (Vermont was fortunate that Ohio State won both games to take the title.) But it does guarantee that the hosts play the late game both nights, which is beneficial to their fans. So what are your thoughts? Take this format or leave it?
Todd: I say dump it. If you put together a tournament, let it play out like a tournament. If you want the home team to play the late games, that’s easy enough to do, even if it creates the odd situation where the championship is decided before the third-place game, like in Minnesota and in Notre Dame’s tournament in Illinois.
But here’s a related question taken out of what happened in Minnesota last weekend: Should the third-place game go to a shootout? Minnesota and Ferris State obviously thought not, because they scrapped the decider after playing to a tie after 65 minutes.
Jim: I don’t see any reason that the third-place game needs a shootout, unless the tournament is a little overboard and has a third-place trophy. I do recall in my days back at Lowell that the Syracuse Invitational awarded trophies for all FOUR places. When Lowell played there in the 1994-95 season, they forced the consolation game to play multiple overtimes. Talk about overkill. Not sure whatever happened to Lowell’s fourth-place trophy from that event.
Anyway, looking forward … what has your eye this week?
Todd: Well, there’s a Michigan-Michigan State home-and-home series, so there’s the potential for drama there, even if the teams appear to be heading in opposite directions. Ohio State hosts Miami, and I’ll be interested in seeing whether the Buckeyes can become a factor in the national picture. What games stand out to you?
Jim: Well, first, hats off to Ohio State (and Yale as well) for posting wins last weekend while their coaches are away coaching the U.S. World Junior team.
As for this week, Yale will be challenged by an upstart Dartmouth team on Friday night. And in Hockey East, the league’s two eye-openers — Merrimack and Providence — will face stiff challenges in Boston College and Maine, respectively. Both should be interesting as BC plays home and home and Merrimack hosts the Black Bears for a single game.
Until next week …