Jim: Todd, yet another switch at the top of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll with Boston University returning to the No. 1 spot. What was surprising was that Minnesota actually got 10 more first-place votes than the Terriers, yet still finished second. It seems like the voters either thought the Gophers were the top team or didn’t even belong in the top two. I know I ended up in the latter category. What about you?
Todd: We’re in agreement on that one. I had Minnesota down a bit on my ballot — I guess in my mind I’m still downgrading the Gophers for the stretch with four losses in five games as opposed to upgrading them for the stretch that followed, with three straight wins. The Ratings Percentage Index is doing the same, it seems.
But Boston University, apart from its home losses to Maine two weekends ago, has solid credentials to be in the top spot. The Terriers are first in RPI, third in winning percentage and are second in record against teams under consideration. In the end, though, I think there are a handful of teams that could be No. 1.
Jim: There really are. Michigan feels to me like it came out of nowhere and is suddenly in position to get a No. 1 tournament seed based on the PairWise Rankings. With just one loss in the last 11 games, long forgotten is the Wolverines five-game losing streak from November/December. The sweep last weekend propelled Michigan back to third place in the CCHA, just a game out of first place. It’s safe to say the Wolverines are one of the nation’s hottest teams right now, although that group is pretty large.
Todd: I gave a long look at Ferris State, too. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since Dec. 30, and they’ve been playing some pretty good teams in the meantime. Massachusetts-Lowell is in the mix, too. I think what it tells us is what we probably should have known for a while now: There are a lot of teams that could be lifting the national championship trophy two months from today.
Jim: Important to note, too, there could be yet another first-time champ following Minnesota-Duluth last year. You mentioned both Ferris State and Lowell. Merrimack and Notre Dame are both playing some great hockey this year and could be competing for their first titles as well. There is a lot of time left in the season before we head to Tampa but the incredible parity at this point has me salivating.
Todd: How remarkable would that be, after it had been 1993 since we last had a first-time champion, to have it happen in consecutive seasons? Colorado College isn’t in that category — it won in 1950 and 1957 — but it has been so long that sometimes it feels like the Tigers might as well be included. But I think they showed last weekend that they’re going to be in contention, too. Shutting out Denver on the road and then rallying from a two-goal deficit for a tie that brought the Gold Pan back to the Springs was an important step for the team.
Jim: As a bubble team currently in the PairWise, the Tigers are going to need to play like that for a number of weekends, but last weekend’s series certainly was a statement-maker. Another team that may not have made a statement last weekend but keeps rolling is Maine. The Black Bears have a seven-game unbeaten streak going after a sweep of Alabama-Huntsville.
Maine was extremely lucky to win on Friday, rallying from 3-0 down in the third for an overtime win. It was an ultimate trap game for the Black Bears but after earning the win they dominated on Saturday and now hit the road to play Providence and a red-hot Lowell team.
Todd: I first saw the score of that Maine game last Friday when Alabama-Huntsville was leading 3-0 after two periods, and I thought Maine’s bubble was about to burst. Like you wrote in This Week in Hockey East last week, a loss to the Chargers could have been what would keep the Black Bears out of the tournament, and I’m guessing that came to mind for a few people.
Jim: But you have to give credit to Maine for the comeback as well. That, despite the fact it came against a team with just two wins, could be a defining moment for this team. It can be so difficult to get up for a game like last Friday’s, so when you actually dig yourself a major hole, coming out of it is a very big step. I’m not making any predictions here but I really believe Maine can use that win as a major positive.
Todd: Union took a big step toward a second straight ECAC Hockey title by beating Colgate and tying Cornell last weekend, gaining points on each to move three points clear at the top of the standings with three weeks to play. And the Dutchmen got a boost in the PairWise to boot. They’re not going to beat the 17-3-2 league record they put up last season, but they still have a chance at hardware, and two league titles in a row would be a pretty strong statement for the program.
Jim: I think it does, especially after losing head coach Nate Leaman to Providence after last season. Rick Bennett has done a fantastic job of picking up where Leaman left off.
Looking ahead, there are a few pretty big games on tap this weekend. Out East, the one being talked is Lowell and Merrimack. These two schools have been great rivals in all sports, separated by just miles. This, though, may be the first time in Hockey East history that these teams have played a game with such meaning.
In the ECAC, if Yale wants to play a role of spoiler, it will have the chance on Friday when it takes on Colgate, which grasping at its hopes for an ECAC title currently five points behind Union. There also will be yet another Beanpot final between Boston College and Boston University next Monday night, but that’s happened so many times in recent years I actually feel like it’s becoming a little ho-hum.
How about out West? What will you be watching?
Todd: For whatever reason, my eyes are on the teams that need to break out of a funk. Minnesota-Duluth, just 1-2-1 in its last four games, returns home to play North Dakota. Ohio State, winless in its last 10 games (it hasn’t even won any of the four shootouts it has played in that stretch), plays at Western Michigan, which is 4-6 in its last 10 games. And there’s a Michigan-Michigan State series, so that always demands attention. Plenty to watch, to be sure.