Todd: Well, Jim, I’ll have to eat my words from last week about Boston College settling in for a long run as the No. 1 team in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. After a 4-2 loss at Massachusetts last Saturday, the Eagles are out of the top spot and Minnesota is in for the first time in nearly three years. Entering the season, I sure didn’t have the Gophers pegged as a team that would have been in the position they’re now in, did you?
Jim: Minnesota has really impressed me to date. The Gophers’ one loss was to Vermont — definitely a bad loss. But they have swept teams like Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota-Duluth and now, most impressively, North Dakota. Personally, I left Boston College at No. 1 on my ballot, but Minnesota was an easily swappable second. Now, though, the Gophers have to do what few teams have done well this year: Sustain a No. 1 ranking. Wisconsin may seem like a pushover, but two road games could spell nightmares. Remember, no one expected BC to lose at Massachusetts on Saturday.
Todd: That loss to Vermont was definitely a bad one, and, as time goes on, a more and more curious one. Minnesota has seemed to have a good blend of solid goaltending from Kent Patterson, timely goals and good special teams, but on that Sunday afternoon things just didn’t come together. I do think, though, that if you’re starting to look for your players of the season after a month, Patterson has to be pretty high on the list. He has five shutouts in 10 games.
Jim: That is almost getting towards Miller-esque numbers, which, should he remain on that pace, will make him the first legitimate goaltending candidate for the Hobey Baker Award in quite some time.
The team that Minnesota unseated at the top of the poll, of course, is Boston College. The Eagles put forth a great performance on Friday and then lost on the road at Massachusetts on Saturday. I’m not as concerned about the UMass loss as I am curious at the UMass win. The Minutemen have had such a strange start to their season. Last weekend, they took multi-goal leads against Boston University only to blow both and take home a tie and loss. Now they beat the No. 1 team in the country one night after getting routed by New Hampshire (which has had its own struggles this season). I guess what I’m saying is Hockey East is one strange little league right now.
Todd: Looks like Hockey East will give us plenty to talk about this season. How important a season do you think this is for Don Cahoon at Massachusetts? The Minutemen haven’t had a winning record since 2006-07, and their 6-23-6 season a year ago was a big disappointment on the heels of a .500 season.
Jim: I actually think that Toot Cahoon is fine. He’s very well liked on the campus, has a proven track record and has taken that program from the lowest of lows and proven he can succeed. I’d be very surprised to see him on the hot seat, at least this season.
Speaking of hot seats, two coaches who replaced those who fell off hot seats — Providence’s Nate Leaman and Massachusetts-Lowell’s Norm Bazin — have both shown flashes of brilliance in their teams recently. I have seen each team play in the last two weekends and both are significantly different clubs under their current head coach. We’ve talked about other new coaches that have done similar, like Michigan Tech’s Mel Pearson. Don’t know what it is but it seems to happen often that a little new blood can go a long way for programs.
Todd: I think as much as anything, a new coaching staff often brings a new sense of belief out of players. Now, an early string of losses is going to shake that belief just as much as it would under any coach — old or new — but if a new coach can get a few good wins early, it goes a long way toward building the bonds needed for a quality season. Whether quality in that statement means merely a .500 record or an NCAA tournament spot depends on the situation. I’d guess Providence and Lowell are in the former category for this season, wouldn’t you?
Jim: Oh, there’s no doubt about that. Both Leaman and Bazin have told me that the team has a long way to go to be successful. But you’re so correct: A couple of big wins — particularly at home, where you can energize a fan base — go a long way.
Getting back to last weekend, there was one score in the ECAC that caught my eye: Cornell 6, Yale 2. The game was played in New Haven and it seems the Big Red felt they had something to prove after a disappointing performance in last year’s ECAC title game. I wondered if this would be a miserable season in Ithaca after they lost to Mercyhurst but last Friday’s convincing win was a positive (though a loss to Brown the next night makes me feel like we’re seeing yet another Jekyll and Hyde).
Todd: It feels like the step forward from the win over Yale was negated by following it with a loss, especially a loss in which the Big Red had the lead with eight minutes to play. But it’s still early for Cornell — earlier than most other schools, of course, because of the late start to the season — and they have time to show whether the victory over Yale was the rule or the exception.
Let’s turn to this week’s slate of games. Minnesota puts its No. 1 ranking on the line in another rivalry series, at Wisconsin. That’s a tough couple of weeks for the Gophers, with North Dakota and the Badgers back to back. Colorado College and Denver open their season series with a single game Saturday in Denver. And the CCHA has a bunch of series to watch, including league-leading Lake Superior State going to Ferris State. What has your eye this week?
Jim: Well, the obvious game to watch out East is the renewal of arguably college hockey’s best rivalry: Boston College and Boston University. Though it’s being played on a Sunday afternoon in football season, the Patriots aren’t playing so the game is sure to attract a packed house. Another one to watch is Union and Yale on Saturday night. These are both teams that had incredible seasons last year. So it will be interesting to see what happens in their first meeting of the season. Until next week …