Jim: Well, Todd, instead of making a statement to start, I’ll head right to questions. Michigan Tech swept Wisconsin at home this weekend. So what does this say, first, about Michigan Tech and, secondly and possibly more importantly, about a much-talked-about Wisconsin team?
Todd: On Michigan Tech, I think we’re looking at a team that is energized — and gaining in that a little more each time it takes the ice — and a nice story, but let’s take things slow here. Yes, the Huskies swept American International and Wisconsin at home to go to 4-0 for the first time since the 1974-75 season, which ended in their last national title. Let’s look back at last season, though. Michigan Tech was 3-0-2 before things absolutely fell apart through injuries, and it won one more game the rest of the season. So it’s a promising start to the Mel Pearson era, but I think even the most die-hard of Huskies fans have to be a little cautious right now.
On the Wisconsin side, it might not be as bad as it looks. Starting 1-3 is not what anyone there hoped, but those three losses were all in overtime. It’s not like the Badgers have been dominated. They do need a few of their top-end players to take another step before they’ll be in top form, though, and until then the Badgers will be a question mark.
Jim: Well, one team from the West that may be as good as advertised is Denver. I got the chance to see the Pioneers defeat No. 1 Boston College on Friday and they are a very solid team. With goaltender Sam Brittain out injured, the question will be how good this team can be without him. I thought Adam Murray was solid on Friday but saw a couple of the goals he surrendered in Saturday’s loss to Boston University, and that could be a problem while the club waits for Brittain to return. At this point, it’s early to say but Denver seems to be the team to beat in the WCHA.
Todd: I’m interested to see how far Minnesota can take its strong start, but Denver is definitely one of the teams that is going to be in the mix in the WCHA. The Pioneers play nine of their next 11 games at home, which could be a good way for Murray to find his footing on a more longterm basis and a good way for the team to get some points on the board. Where do you see BC going after losing to Denver but rebounding with a win over a struggling New Hampshire team?
Jim: I don’t see BC’s loss on Friday having too much impact on the club. For one, the game was played in horrid ice conditions due to the extreme heat and humidity making the puck bounce around. Once Denver got the lead, it was able to sit back and play defense, frustrating the Eagles. In essence, Friday was a well-played game by both teams and the Pioneers came out on top. BC was able to rebound quickly, beating New Hampshire 5-1 the next night so all seems right in Chestnut Hill.
Speaking of New Hampshire, you certainly can’t say all things are right in Durham. The Wildcats are 0-3-0 in Hockey East after just two weekends and have been outscored 14-1. Now, I’m never one to press a panic button this early in the season, but I’d maybe be sweating a little if I’m Dick Umile.
Todd: One note on ice before getting to UNH: Maybe BC should play these high-profile games in October away from home, since it seems that it’s a problem just about every year (see the two-period game against North Dakota a few years back).
I don’t think anyone saw this kind of start coming for the Wildcats, especially the goal differential. If they can’t get things together in time for a trip West this week to play a St. Cloud State team that has lost three straight, the pressure is going to be high on that team.
Jim: Actually, in defense of BC, it has installed an entirely new unit for air conditioning in the building this year which did keep fog levels down last Friday. But I don’t think that any school could prevent the ice from getting a little soft, particularly if the stands are packed as they were at BC on Friday.
St. Cloud State might be the perfect opponent for New Hampshire this weekend, though I’m sure the Huskies will be hungry given their recent struggles. I honestly think that UNH will recover from this slow start but do think the turnaround needs to happen soon.
Before we close out this week, we should talk about our new No. 1 team in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, Michigan. Many may say that the Wolverines haven’t faced tough competition to this point and I somewhat agree, but they’ll face stiff competition in an upstart Northern Michigan team that already split with Wisconsin and swept the aforementioned St. Cloud State. It will be interesting to see if we end up with yet another new No. 1 team when Monday arrives.
Todd: For me, it’s not that Michigan is 4-0 against teams that probably won’t be close to the race for at-large NCAA tournament bids, it’s how the Wolverines got there. The 10-3 thrashing they put up on St. Lawrence last Thursday stood out to me in that all 10 Michigan goals were at even strength. But you’re right on the test ahead at Northern Michigan, a team that has looked impressive so far.
On that note, how about the Upper Peninsula as a whole? We already mentioned Michigan Tech at 4-0, but Lake Superior State is also 4-0 and Northern Michigan is 3-1. That’s a great start for a geographic area that could be excused for feeling a little underappreciated after this summer’s conference shuffling.
Jim: BINGO! I think some of those programs feel they have something to prove and no better time to do it than early in the season in non-conference play. The same can be said out East where three new Hockey East coaches all picked up their first wins (Jim Madigan at Northeastern, Norm Bazin at Massachusetts-Lowell and Nate Leaman at Providence). Those three schools were picked to make up the Hockey East cellar but went a combined 5-0-0 last weekend.
Todd: Before we go, I wanted to let everyone know our first weekly episode of USCHO Live! airs at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday. The talk show features guests from around college hockey and your phone calls. Check it out at USCHO Live! and give it a listen. Until next week …