Todd: I suppose it’s a sign of respect for your program that you can be 4-6-1, have an RPI of 38, have one win in your last seven games and still get enough votes to be 19th in the rankings. That’s Michigan in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, for better or worse. I’d guess that people give the Wolverines a ranking based on what kind of talent they have, but are they getting too much respect?
Jim: I am having a difficult time determining whether Michigan is real. The Wolverines haven’t exactly played a monster of a schedule, with three games against Atlantic Hockey opponents and a two-game series against a Michigan State team that has been consistently inconsistent.
There haven’t been a ton of highs for this Michigan team and last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Notre Dame makes me feel like your point is spot on: Michigan is getting votes based solely on reputation. That said, that reputation does somewhat warrant respect. The Wolverines haven’t missed the NCAA tournament since 1990 and have had seasons like the 2009-10 season where even when the team struggled, it pulled everything together in the home stretch to win the CCHA playoff title and earn the conference’s automatic qualifier.
That might be needed again this season but it certainly doesn’t warrant a poll position for a 4-6-1 record.
Todd: To quantify things, Michigan has played the 29th-toughest schedule in the country so far, but it should also be noted that most of the CCHA schools are right there with the Wolverines in the middle of the pack. They have a Wednesday night home game with a 2-8-3 Bowling Green team but then it’s off to Madison Square Garden for Saturday’s game against No. 13 Cornell. And they close the first half with series against No. 16 Ferris State and No. 9 Western Michigan. Things could turn very quickly for Michigan, it seems.
Jim: Yes, it certainly could change — for the positive or the extreme negative — depending on how Michigan fares down the stretch. On another more positive note, there have been a couple of notable goaltender performances recently. New Hampshire’s Casey DeSmith shut out Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday night, his third straight, before having that streak snapped on Sunday at Boston University. Still, his 204:40 mark without allowing a goal is a UNH record. DeSmith has given up just three goals in his last six starts combined.
Similarly, Niagara goaltender Carsen Chubak, who we mentioned last week, posted another shutout on Saturday night, his fifth whitewash in eight games. Chubak has allowed just three goals in his last eight starts combined. To me, all of these stats are mindblowing!
Todd: Maybe it’s only because we’re less than two months into the season, but goaltending seems to be better all over this season. There are 15 goalies with a goals against average under 2.00, compared to six last season. There are 19 goalies with a save percentage of .925 or better, compared to 15 last season.
What will be telling for both New Hampshire and Niagara, though, will be how they fare when their goaltenders don’t put up such extraordinary numbers. The Wildcats should get two pretty good tests this weekend when they head to Colorado to play No. 14 Colorado College and No. 2 Denver. The Pioneers lead the nation in scoring and the Tigers are seventh.
Jim: Though UNH has faced some tough league opponents to date, the Wildcats haven’t had a big road test out of league like they face this weekend. Denver continues to just chug along and a win over UNH would cement the Pioneers, in my mind, as a national title contender.
The WCHA team that I still can’t tell if is legitimate is North Dakota. I’m waiting for NoDak to put together some run of wins here but that hasn’t happened yet.
Todd: Keep in mind that North Dakota has had seven straight seasons in which it has been better after Jan. 1 than before. Between 2005-06 and last season, UND has a .569 winning percentage before Jan. 1 and a .735 mark after. So a slow start isn’t out of the ordinary, and a come-from-behind win like last Saturday’s against Minnesota-Duluth could be a good sign for North Dakota.
Jim: I guess that’s what makes good teams great: the ability to turn that switch to “on” at some point and salvage a season. We mentioned Michigan a few years back. And of course we remember Boston College last year, winning the last 19 games of the season and the national title.
Back to the present, there are a few interesting non-league games this weekend. We’ve mentioned New Hampshire facing both Denver and Colorado College. No. 1 Boston College will host No. 11 Dartmouth, a big test for the Big Green. And, speak of the devil, No. 7 North Dakota will play a big-time series against No. 6 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Lots of great hockey action to go along with those Thanksgiving leftovers!