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College Hockey:
TMQ: How far can new No. 1 Merrimack take this run?

Todd: Well, Jim, we’re on to the eighth week of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, and we have our fifth different team atop the rankings. And what a story it is for Merrimack, which heads the poll for the first time in school history. It’s a program that’s three years removed from a nine-win season and coming off its only winning season of its Hockey East era, which dates to 1989. What does a meteoric rise like this do for the Warriors program?

Jim: We will see what the impact can be. The most important thing for Merrimack to do at this point is not get caught up in the ranking. The Warriors have never been the team with the bull’s-eye on the jersey. Now they are. We have seen this year that No. 1 teams struggle. Merrimack has a pretty easy schedule for the next two weekends, but, in the words of Shooter from the movie “Hoosiers,” you can’t get caught watching the paint dry.

Todd: It’s no stretch to think the Warriors will go into the season’s third month undefeated — they have only a game Wednesday against winless Alabama-Huntsville left before the calendar flips. And the rest of their schedule before the holiday break consists of a home-and-home series with Providence (receiving votes in the poll) and single games against Vermont, at No. 16 Colgate and against No. 13 Union.

So I think you’re right that the biggest focus for Merrimack has to be in doing what it has done to get here and to forget about the ranking. That, as we’ve seen time and time again over the years, is easier said than done.

Jim: We can list off teams that struggle with winning after earning No. 1 rankings. Notre Dame, Boston College and Minnesota all have faced that pain.

If anything strikes me about Merrimack’s schedule it is the lack of games it plays pre-December. Despite being undefeated, Merrimack does not hold the longest unbeaten streak, due entirely to the lack of early season games. Thus, while I am happy for Merrimack achieving the top spot, I caution that this team remains untested.

Todd: Let’s switch gears to a team that has certainly been tested, and recently. Ohio State is up to ninth in the rankings after a sweep at Michigan last weekend. The last time the Buckeyes swept at Yost Arena, coach Mark Osiecki was a few weeks shy of winning a Minnesota state high school title as a defenseman for Burnsville, and Red Berenson was in just his second season with the Wolverines. That was February 1986.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Osiecki is getting the most out of his players, but I have to admit that I didn’t think it was going to happen this soon. He’s in his second season at Ohio State, after a 15-18-4 season a year ago. But he’s a proven recruiter who’s an expert at molding talent, and it looks like OSU could be in the NCAA tournament mix this season.

Jim: I’m very impressed with how well Ohio State has played thus far. The Buckeyes have beaten tough competition and have won seven in a row. The few losses that dot the Ohio State schedule aren’t overly impressive (Notre Dame split is fine; Michigan State not bad; Quinnipiac is pretty inexplicable), but they happened so early in the season that I’m happy to call Ohio State one of the hottest teams in the nation right now. If the Buckeyes can keep things going against Lake Superior and Miami, the two series before the holiday break, it’s not too far fetched to think of OSU reaching the top 3, if not No. 1.

Todd: There are three teams with 10 wins or more in Division I men’s college hockey right now, and Ohio State is one of them at 10-3-1. (Minnesota has 11 and Ferris State has 10.) On the flip side, there are three programs that have already reached the 10-loss mark: Sacred Heart (11), Alabama-Huntsville (11) and Rensselaer (10).

RPI is the standout there to me, considering that it won 20 games last season and played in the NCAA tournament. But being shut out by North Dakota in the first round seems to have carried over — in 12 games this season, the Engineers have scored more than one goal only twice, with five shutouts. This has the makings of a long season for RPI.

Jim: Every time a team that makes the NCAA tournament after a long absence, it becomes a make-or-break moment. Merrimack, obviously, used its NCAA appearance as a catapult. But then there are teams like RPI that the appearance is a pinnacle for the program. I know that RPI lost some significant players to the program and that could explain things.

Things aren’t as bad for Nebraska-Omaha, also from last year’s NCAA field, but the Mavericks will have to improve significantly if they want to reach the dance again this year.

Todd: I mentioned Alabama-Huntsville before as one of the teams that has reached double digits in losses. The Chargers are 0-11-1 and have already just about exhausted their home schedule for the season. It has been a few weeks since the school’s administration dropped the bomb on the program following the season, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any relief in sight. They play Hockey East and WCHA teams before the break, and you have to seriously wonder whether this team is going to get a win for Christmas.

Jim: I hand it to UAH for taking difficult trips before the break. Unfortunately, I think the Hockey East and WCHA schedules are disasters waiting to be had for this club. I guess there is the hope to be a spoiler, but this team dropped so far from the team that made an NCAA tournament a few years ago. It’s sad to see them go but also reality at this point.

Todd: Time to look at what’s ahead this week. New No. 2 Notre Dame continues a tough stretch with a game at No. 12 Western Michigan on Tuesday and a series at No. 13 Lake Superior State on Friday and Saturday. No. 4 Colorado College plays a series at North Dakota, which this week did not receive a vote in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for the first time since the end of the 2001-02 season. And a resurgent Miami team plays at No. 10 Denver in the Denver Cup on Saturday. What’s up out East?

Jim: Very light schedule out East, though Saturday night will see the renewal of the great rivalry between Boston University and Cornell at Madison Square Garden in New York. The past two installments of Red Hot Hockey, played Thanksgiving weekend every other year, have produced exciting battles and should do that once again. Until next week, have a wonderful Thanksgiving and don’t eat too much turkey.


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  • Tiger Paw

    Merrimack is considered to be the #1 team in the country??  Really??  What a joke! I guess barely beating some of the worst teams in college hockey constitutes a #1 ranking nowadays.  It sucks that we have to wait until they get around to playing an elite team before people finally admit they are mediocre at best.  It reminds me of how overrated Yale was last year.

    • chickenstrip6

      I somewhat agree with this.  The way the rankings are done doesn’t really account for the skill level of teams they beat.  I agree, Merrimack hasn’t played anyone good at all, I would like to see them play a team in the WCHA and still retain their unbeaten record, but nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore an undefeated team.

      • CommAve

        Wow, another completely blinded comment.  So Maine and BU are “no one good at all”?  Funny, Vermont beat Minnesota AT MINNESOTA.  So arguably the best WCHA team right now lost to a Hockey East team pegged to finish in bottom half and this is your response.  Nice.

        • Minnesota=state of hockey

          If you watched that game you would realize that Vermont’s goaltender had the game of his life that night. Yes he let in 4 goals but he alone stopped multiple scoring chances for Minnesota. Honestly, that game would’ve been 7 or 8-5 that night. Secondly, I don’t care what anyone says the WCHA is the best conference in the nation hands down and has been for quite some time. Anyone that disagrees look at the 2004 Frozen Four. Third, look at who’s played ranked opponents, Minnesota swept UMD at Duluth and North Dakota. Who has Merrimack beaten? Just BU once and in overtime at that. In my mind the strength of schedule is so important to look at. 

          • Causeyourejustthatawesome

            So we should always give the top spot in the polls to a team from the WCHA?

          • Gueroo

            Pretty Much!  Tell me how you couldn’t

          • Hockey Genius

            UMD is better than Rodents…if you watched that series and understand hockey you know its true and Rodents got a series of lucky bounces, (along with Sheppard officating – self admitted Rodent fan)

          • Phoenixfyre1313

            UMD lost the games to Minnesota because of one thing.  UMD got god awful goaltending in the series and MInnesota got spectacular goaltending in the series.  But that is how it goes, the old hockey saying, its not who you play its when you play them.  If they both keep playing as they are now, they will likely meet in the WCHA Final Five and/or the NCAA’s.  Your comment about the officiating is irrelevant.  In case you hadn’t noticed WCHA officiating sucks everywhere, every night.   That can’t be used as a excuse.   Move on.

          • Hockey Genius

            I don’t agree that officiating is always horrible.  There are some good refs in the WCHA.  The problem is that guys like Derek & Brad Shepard and Todd Anderson are soooo bad that they drag down the reputation of the entire officiating crew.  Its really a joke that the Shepards are allowed to ref Gopher games.  They are HUGE Gopher fans – very unabashed.  Todd Anderson escalates “discussions” with players and will follow a player to the box while “jawing” at him.  Unacceptable behavior from a ref.  They are not their to raise the level of tension or be a part of the game.  Anderson cannot keep his cool on the ice – shouldn’t be a ref.

          • guest

            Well I actually was in the seats for both games and I remember telling someone how because of the way they built their ice sheet there is barely any space behind the net and because of that to expect the puck to bounce right in front of the net. In the friday game it almost happened on the Gophers, unfortunately for the Bulldogs it happened to them during the saturday game.

            Also I would like to point out that Sandelin has changed his top line and that has created a spark and they have gone 8-0-1 in their last nine. In my mind both teams where equal in talent but Minnesota found a way to win. You say there is bad officiating? Well the power play opportunities were about the same, the only difference is Minnesota was able to capitalize on them and UMD wasn’t. It’s not like Shepard put the puck into the net.

    • Ladshjgals

      Welcome to Yale last year

    • Mr Hockey

      Tiger Paw what can we as fans do about the polls? I’ve watched about every team play this year. The one team I haven’t seen play that’s ranked high is Merrimack. The schedule seems weak so far. Maine doesn’t quite look like the normal Maine and BU is up and down. Merrimack beat them both, that being said Notre Dame, BC and Minnesota look like better teams to me. To me it’s hard to ignore the fact Minnesota has an high octane offense and has 6 shutouts in 14 games.

      • CommAve

        Mr Hockey – I agree with what you’re saying, but I just can’t criticize a team for being undefeated in one of the Top 2 leagues in the country.  Just like I also agree, no matter how down Wisconsin and North Dakota are (and they are both, WAY down), I’d never consider them poor clubs and other WCHA’s teams “playing nobody”.  Given what Merrimack has done in the early season, to me it’s absolutely warranted to give them the top spot.  And just like another commenter mentions below, as soon as they lose a game they’ll rightfully be moved out. 

      • Hockey Genius

        Mr. Hockey – you’re leaving one team out of the mix – UMD.  Hottest team in the country and take a look at their 3 losses in the 1st weeks of season. (1) after throttling Dame in the Friday opener, a saturday night loss to Dame but UMD dominated that game except for 10 mins in the 2nd where it gave up 3 quick goals; and (2) getting swept by Gophers but anybody who watched that series saw that UMD was the better overall team - that wknd, UMD had weak goaltending, 2 goals scored by their own D, 2 other “flukey” goals and some of the worst officiating I have ever seen (in fairness on both sides)…but that’s hockey…UMD is best team in the country…right now

      • Fan Man

        For once I can actually say “well said” to you Mr. Hockey.  Cant argue

    • CommAve

      Are you serious??  They’re 6-0-1 IN HOCKEY EAST.  I don’t care who’ve they’ve played that’s impressive.  CC’s best win is Nebraska-Omaha and you’re calling out Merrimack?!?  Minnesota lost to Vermont.  Merrimack has beaten Maine and BU and being undefeated on the road is impressive no matter who you’re playing.

      I’m not saying they’re going to win National Championship, but give me a break.  They deserve to be there right now.  Get a clue

      • guest

        Just to let you know, I don’t give credit to any Hockey East team unless they have “Boston” in their name.

        • Ryan D.

          That’s an intelligent way to look at the situation, just bury your head in the sand. Just to let you know, nobody gives any credit to comments made by people who don’t even identify themselves.

          • guest

            I’ll bet you 10 bucks half the people commenting on here didn’t put their real names so what’s the difference? Do you think you get more credit because you put “Ryan”? I don’t, and for the record I think most of the East Coast teams are overrated because they don’t play a tough schedule week in and week out. 

      • Ridingtimes

        Merrimack would not stand a chance week in and week out in the WCHA. Incase u have not noticed CC just gone done taking 2 from Wisconsin. Those game were not even close. Try something new then saying something about CC..As i recall the took out BC with no problem with a bunch of Freshman and Sophs…Come to the WCHA and see how long they last

    • Mark W.

      Like others have said: The polls don’t matter; and the only one that does is the PairWise at the end of the season.  Just hope your team is in the top sixteen in March.

  • RENCEB

    How far can they take this run as #1?  Until their 1st loss, when I think the voters will drop them more than a couple of spots. Regardless of who they have played, 5 wins on the road (including 2 in OT) is commendable.  With a top notch goalie, a strong core of defensemen, and physical, hardworking forwards, they’re going to continue to be a very tough  team to play against, wherever they are ranked.

  • B Ho

    This ranking made me pretty upset. How you can gain rank while being idle is beyond me; CC would’ve been my first choice. AND, as you’ve said, they are ranked first without being tested. Lastly, they play once within three weeks. ONCE?!? So, if they beat Alabama-Huntsville, it will be hard to drop them from the #1 rank even though most teams would have played at least 4 games in that period.

  • hockey

    1.gophers (dominant even when they lose, best goaltender in the nation, best powerplay, 13 or 14 drafted players vs merrimack with 2)  2. bulldogs 3. Nortre dame 4. cc

    Merrimack at #1 will not last if any of the teams above sweep, regardless of what merrimack does to Alabama-huntsville.  Merrimack will not make the frozen4…way too much firepower elsewhere.  I see them as efficient winners but they are untested and will be overpowered in every fashion when they come west.

    • mike

      @hockey talk to me in april and we’ll see who makes the frozen four..

  • Ridingtimes

    Rankings do not mean  a thing until the end of the season…Helps u get into the NCAA Tourney…I dont recall how long it has been that the Number 1 team in the season won the National Championship….

    • Guest

      Poll rankings have no influence on making the NCAA tournament, you dolt.

      • Ridingtimes

        Ok moron then explain why every number 1 team gets in or in that case the top 10 rank teams get in. Strength of Schedule…Poll ranks…all are the format they use.

        • Anonymous

          Correlation != causality

          The number one team always gets into the tournament because they do well in the committee’s criteria, but the poll is not part of the criteria

          • Fan Man

            look at how the uscho predicts the national tourney…  They are usually spot on and im sure that is why almost everyone (who knows) comes on here mondays to check out the ranks..  The correlation is strong

      • Ridingtimes

        Yes the Objective Numerical Polls have  a influence on who makes the NCAA tourney. Look it up…you dolt.

        • Anonymous

          The objective rankings do, the subjective ones don’t. The article was about the subjective rankings.

    • Skibum66

      April 2009.  BU was ranked #1 in the last poll on 3/23

  • Anonymous

    All your bum teams had the chance to wow the voters and have failed, so just keep hatin’ ok

  • JackHammer

    Are we talking about the Pairwise Rankings?  If not, this entire discussion means absolutely nothing.

  • Fishtown74

    Well.  How bout just celebrating the tiny engine that could.  2.100 students and a #1 DI program is incredible.  First time ever.  CELEBRATE, don’t hate.  This is GREAT for hockey.  New blood at the top. Keep it up Warriors!  Merrimack College #1 in the Land. 

  • Mark W.

    What I’d like to add is that nearly all of these college hockey teams are good.  On just about any given night the Sacred Heart’s and Al-Hunt’s can play with the best of the 58 teams.  If you look at college hockey rosters, all these kids come from the same junior hockey feeder systems, etc.  They have acquired the same hockey skills and smarts to varying degrees–some are just a little better than others.  When you mix them all up between the 58 teams, there’s not a whole lot of difference.  Some schools are just a little bit better at recruiting, their facilities are a bit better, and the coaching varies from team to team.  But, all in all, nowadays the margins are very slim and Minnesota and UND and UoM and BC and all the big dogs have to bring it every time they step on the ice.  That’s what makes college hockey, I think, one of the most exciting of college sports.  I’ll shut up now…  

  • Ryan D.

    Since everyone is an expert on rankings in here, how many games does Merrimack have to go unbeaten before not losing a game actually means something to you? You obviously have some formula in your head since you’re downgrading them at this point.

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