Todd: Plenty to get to this week, but I’m still shaking my head a little bit at what we saw last Friday night at the top of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. Of the top 10 teams in the rankings, seven lost, including each of the top four. Granted, two of the seven losses were to teams that were also in the top 10, but I’m struggling to find new ways to explain what’s going on in college hockey this season. Do you have any fresh insight there?
Jim: We’ve used the word a million times this year it seems, but it’s all about parity. I couldn’t even figure out who to vote for as the No. 1 team after last weekend. In the end, I think Ferris State is most deserving with the streak it has put together.
I think there were six or seven teams that deserved to be No. 1 this weekend, but certainly I think the voters got it right. The Bulldogs became the second team this season, joining Merrimack, to earn a No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history. Hats off to them.
Todd: I went back and looked to see where Ferris State was picked in the CCHA this season because I didn’t remember hearing much about the Bulldogs entering the season. The coaches had them ninth in the 11-team league; the media had them tied for seventh. And now they’re the top-ranked team in the country and the first this season to 20 wins.
It deserves mention, too, that Ferris State is doing all this with a roster that does not include an NHL draft pick. Of course, Merrimack, which you mentioned, has just two. I guess it just goes to show that if you have a good blend of players that have matured, you don’t need the NHL pedigrees.
Jim: I think that draft picks can be a decent measuring stick, but there’s still no measuring heart. I look at a team like Massachusetts-Lowell, similar to Ferris State, picked near the bottom in Hockey East’s preseason poll and now it leads the league with three weekends left. That team, from what I’ve seen, wins each night with a whole lot of hustle and great goaltending. So it’s hard to tell what the magic formula is but it’s safe to say there are a whole bunch of teams that seem to know the formula.
Todd: In Ferris State’s case, a lot of comparisons to the Bulldogs’ 2002-03 team are going to be made, since that was the best team the school has ever had. They won 31 games and had the misfortune of being sent to defending national champion Minnesota for the regionals and fell short of the Frozen Four. I don’t know if this team is as strong as that one was, but I guess time will tell.
Switching gears, Boston College took home its third straight Beanpot with a 3-2 overtime victory over Boston University on Monday. For as disappointing as the opening-night crowd was, did the championship game make up for it?
Jim: I think the title tilt definitely made up for last Monday’s disappointing showing. The Garden was packed from opening faceoff to Bill Arnold’s OT winner with 6.4 seconds left. The fans got their money’s worth. And if anything, the title game proved what makes the Beanpot special. Yes, it was yet another BC-BU game when all was said and done, but it was an incredibly intense game that proved why BU is No. 2 and BC is No. 3.
Todd: I guess whether people like it or not, there’s really only one matchup that pushes the Beanpot title game to maximum intrigue, and it’s what we saw Monday night. Would it be nice to see Harvard and Northeastern win it at some point? Absolutely. But if it’s going to be BC and BU, let it be the kind of game they put out there this year.
So we’ve mentioned Ferris State, which has the longest active unbeaten streak at 12 games. And we’ve mentioned Boston College, which is tied for third with a five-game streak. Right in the middle is Air Force, which has gone 5-0-3 in its last eight games to jump into the lead in Atlantic Hockey. The Falcons host third-place Mercyhurst, which is just two points back, on this, the penultimate weekend of the AHA regular season, but I still think that title is going to go down to the last day of the season.
Jim: It seems almost every league is going down to the last day, no? Kidding aside, Air Force seems to be the team that every year puts on some magical run at the end of the regular season that then carries over to the postseason. I would need to do some research, but my guess is that Air Force has the best postseason record in the AHA since the team joined the league. Somehow, Frank Serratore has the ability to have his team playing its best hockey come March, which pays dividends, no doubt.
Speaking of teams that play well in March, it certainly looks like Michigan will extend its NCAA tournament streak. They took the hard road two years ago, having to win the CCHA title to get to the Big Dance. But at this point, it seems certain that the Wolverines will once again be there on Selection Sunday.
Todd: That seems pretty solid, yes. If there’s anything that would concern me with the Wolverines out of last weekend’s split with Michigan State, its that they twice allowed two goals within a couple of minutes of each other. In Friday’s loss, it was the tying goal and the go-ahead goal less than three minutes apart. Again on Saturday, the Spartans tied and then went ahead inside of three minutes. I’m guessing that Red Berenson didn’t like seeing momentum swing the other way so quickly.
Jim: There are three things any coach hates and that’s giving up a goal in the first minute of a period, the last minute of the period or multiple goals in the same minute. Michigan’s ability to take a couple of shifts off and let pucks in the net can be a concern. I do believe that Red Berenson is one of those coaches who can get his team through such an issue, but it’s something to watch for as the Wolverines head down the stretch and into the postseason.
Speaking of concerns, do you think there’s a reason to have a major concern about Minnesota? The Gophers sit in first place in the WCHA, though their lead is now razor thin — just a single point over Minnesota-Duluth and two points over Denver. Worse, though, is that Minnesota is a bubble team in the PairWise Rankings. I know that Goldy really wants to make the NCAA tournament as one of the regional hosts, but that seems to be in jeopardy despite a pretty decent season to date.
Todd: I think there absolutely has to be some concern on multiple fronts. First, the Gophers got out to a terrific start but haven’t really backed it up. Since starting 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the WCHA, they’re 10-10-1 and 9-7 — not exactly awe-inspiring numbers. Second, losing like they did last Saturday at Denver — taking a lead into the final two minutes and letting it slip away — can’t do much for the confidence.
Finally, this is the last of four straight seasons where part of the NCAA tournament has been in the Twin Cities — three regionals and last year’s Frozen Four. Minnesota missed out on being in the mix for the first three, and a fourth at this point would be almost unforgivable.
This weekend, the Gophers host a Bemidji State team that just swept Colorado College at home, handing the Tigers a big setback in their drive for an NCAA tournament spot. CC has to get back on track this weekend, but Nebraska-Omaha comes to town tied with the Tigers for fourth place in the WCHA and just two points ahead of seventh-place Michigan Tech, so there’s some home-ice drama unfolding there.
Elsewhere this weekend, Western Michigan plays at Lake Superior State as both teams try to stay in the race for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame and Miami, which square off in Oxford, Ohio, are in the same boat. And Michigan hosts Northern Michigan after the teams had some unpleasantries in Marquette earlier this season. What’s up out East?
Jim: I think Hockey East has the ultimate marquee matchups with two series featuring top-10 teams. Boston College and Merrimack play a home-and-home series, as do Boston University and Lowell. Those two series will have a major impact on the Hockey East standings, which has two points separating the top five teams right now. In the ECAC, there are plenty of games that’ll impact the standings, but the one that always stands out to me is the good ol’ Harvard-Yale rivalry. And lest we forget the aforementioned Mercyhurst-Air Force meeting, which will be the series of the weekend in Atlantic Hockey. Lots of action, for sure. Until next week …