Jim: Well, Todd, we’re heading toward the holiday break and, while some teams may have hung up the skates for a few weeks, one team that it appears won’t be hanging up the skates come season’s end is Alabama-Huntsville. For now, at least, it looks like the administration is granting a stay of execution to this program, something that is obviously good news for the team. The only thing I worry about right now is how much damage has been done.
Todd: I think we’ll start to see some of that once the smoke clears from this latest turn of events. There are still the same long-term issues facing the Chargers program: a lack of a conference to call home, the low attendance, the battle to get recruits to commit to an uncertain situation, and the unbalanced home-and-away schedule.
To that last issue, there may be some hope if the NCAA allows for a waiver that would allow teams to play at UAH without it counting toward the 34-game regular season limit. I’m glad to see College Hockey Inc. step forward on that front.
Jim: I applaud CHI for trying to help in this situation. I will admit, I’m pessimistic anytime I see the need for NCAA legislation. When it comes to hockey, anything passing the NCAA is like an act of Congress. But the moves by Paul Kelly and his staff are admirable and show the beginnings of the college hockey world taking the necessary steps to save this team.
Todd: I guess my only question is, why wasn’t something like this done sooner? Or if it was, why wasn’t it publicized so the full weight of the college hockey community could get behind it? Even through all of the turmoil of last summer, with the hard feelings about conference splits, I’d like to think that college hockey can still get behind one of its own when it needs help. And there doesn’t seem to be much downside to the proposal, but you’re right that getting the NCAA to see that will be a challenge.
Jim: Your question is a good one, but I think that college hockey — and UAH — has to look to finding a future. It’s going to be a tough road, but saving this program should be everyone’s priority.
Looking at other action, not a lot of movement in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. You might think that’s because there wasn’t a lot of games played, but I think the real reason is that most teams were pretty mediocre over the past week. Do you agree?
Todd: I do agree, and I think it has been a first half of mediocrity for a lot of the schools that we expected to be pretty good this season. Same goes for some schools that may not have been picked for the top of their league but usually find a way to get near there. Michigan, Miami, Denver, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha and Yale — all NCAA tournament teams last season — are all within one game of .500. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of those teams go on second-half runs, though.
Jim: We’ve talked about it a number of times already but I really think this first half will be defined more by the quality performances of teams with low expectations as much as anything else. Certainly, another half of the season awaits and I agree that some of the teams will mature after the break and, in the end, it’s quite possible perrenial powerhouses such as Michigan and North Dakota will climb to the top. For now, though, at least out in the East, I’m enjoying story lines for teams like Providence, Massachusetts-Lowell, Northeastern and Colgate as much as anything. Speaking of, if you look at the current PairWise Rankings, which of these “non-traditional” powerhouses (for lack of a better term) do you think will be there come season’s end?
Todd: I like Colgate’s chances to come out of ECAC Hockey, but I’m guessing the Raiders will have a tougher road in the second half. Teams now know what to expect from them, and that second time playing a lot of those conference teams could be tricky. I think just about every team would take Austin Smith for their roster right now, and he could be the difference between just a good Colgate season and a special one.
Jim: I agree that Colgate could be the best team in the ECAC. As for the Hockey East emerging teams, Lowell is the only one currently in the top 15 of the PairWise. I’d like to think the River Hawks can hold on but if you look at their strength of schedule to this point, it’s pretty low. Thus, the second half will be a bit more difficult and, as you said about Colgate, few teams will underestimate them.
What about some of the CCHA teams like Lake Superior, Northern Michigan and Ohio State? Think all of that trio will grab spots to the dance come March?
Todd: Ohio State seems like a pretty good bet. I’m cautious on both Lake Superior and Northern Michigan. We’ve seen enough positives out of them to consider them to be in the mix for NCAA spots, but we’ve also seen where both can stumble. Having a bunch of good CCHA teams, though, should help in the strength of schedule matters.
The WCHA, on the other hand, has just Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota in the top 15 of the PairWise right now, and only the Bulldogs among the top 20 teams in strength of schedule. When you get past those two leading teams, only 9-5 Colorado College has a record of better than one game over .500. It has definitely been a first half to forget for a lot of WCHA teams.
Jim: I am surprised at the struggles of the WCHA. For me, I am having a tough time figuring out if the league is weak or a few bumps in the road combined with internal destruction of each other is the cause. I have to think that teams like Wisconsin and North Dakota can right the ship.
Todd: Both young but talented teams there, so you’d expect that the second half would be a little better for both. And we’ve learned over and over again to never count out North Dakota just because of a slow start to the season. Denver has been hit hard by injuries, so it’ll be worth watching to see how the Pioneers do once (if?) they get to full strength.
Jim: Well, the week ahead is a light one. Only major game on tap out East is Union at Merrimack. How about out West?
Todd: It’s pretty light in the West, too, but there’s a Northern Michigan-Michigan Tech game in Marquette on Friday, so keep an eye out for that one. And Colorado College and Denver finish out the first half of the WCHA schedule at Minnesota State and St. Cloud State, respectively.