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College Hockey:
TMQ: National landscape opening up a bit before break

Jim: Well, Todd, it’s not a strange phenomenon this year, but yet again the No. 1 team in the nation goes down in the same week it is crowned. This time it was New Hampshire, losing to what may be a consistently underrated Boston University team. Once again, Boston College regains the top spot which, correct me if I’m wrong, makes it the only team to hold the ranking in consecutive weeks this season.

All that said, with four teams now receiving first-place votes, it’s safe to say that the national landscape feels a little more wide open than it did just two weeks ago.

Todd: You’re correct that BC is the only team to defend its top spot this season; Minnesota and New Hampshire both had a week at the top but the Eagles have been there the nine other weeks. And I think you’re right that the picture is opening up. Notre Dame has gone through a pretty good stretch and leads the nation with 13 wins. Boston University might be underrated as you say, but that won’t go on for long with high-profile victories like it has earned the last two weeks.

Jim: The team that we don’t mention a lot but that has begun to open my eyes is Western Michigan. The Broncos have won five in a row including last weekend’s sweep of Ferris State, a team that most people believe could get back to the national tournament. I’m impressed by what coach Andy Murray has been able to accomplish and have to wonder how legitimate this team could be. Do you think the Broncos could be big-time contenders?

Todd: If they aren’t contenders for the national championship this season, they’re not far away. I think I’d still put Notre Dame ahead of the Broncos in ranking my top CCHA teams, and I’d like to see Western Michigan play Miami (scheduled for Feb. 8-9 in Kalamazoo) to see how they stack up there. What’s surprising to me is that the Broncos are only plus-1 in scoring margin in league games yet they’re in third place at 7-2-1-1.

Normally, we’d expect a series like they have this weekend at Michigan to be a measuring stick, but the Wolverines haven’t held up their end of the bargain.

Jim: I think our earlier discussions about Michigan may have panned out: This team was being ranked on reputation and not results. We now see things shake out proving that Michigan simply isn’t a contender. I guess every team deserves an off season, and given that Michigan hasn’t had one since, say, the 1980s, they deserve a little leeway.

One team that I think had some high expectations this season was Harvard. As we learned on Monday night, the Crimson had a number of players leave the team in recent weeks, including three top defensemen in Max Everson, Patrick McNally and Mark Luzar.

A story in the Harvard Crimson included a quote from the team’s goaltender Raphael Girard that suggested the departures may have had some connection to the cheating scandal that made national news late in the summer when it was reported that as many as 125 students had similar answers on a take-home exam. It may be difficult to get to the bottom of this one, but either way this seemingly decimates a Harvard team for which many had high expectations.

Todd: The roster on Harvard’s website shows only 22 players left, and only six of them are defensemen so things are very thin there. You wonder what coach Ted Donato has in mind for the defensive corps going forward. Do you try to finish out the season with six and hope they all can play the rest of the way? Do you start moving forwards back in case they’re needed?

Cycling back to Michigan before we move on, I wouldn’t write the Wolverines off just yet, not as long as there’s a second-half run or a CCHA playoff title that could get them into the NCAA tournament. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Jim: Yes, the 2009-10 season was one of those cases. That Michigan team was still eight games over .500 at the end of the season, but did need to win the CCHA title to get into the NCAA tournament.

Going back to Harvard, Donato was asked on Monday night if he had any way of adding players to his roster, to which he simply shook his head no. So other than shifting a few players around, that Crimson blue line will sport no room for injuries.

Todd: That’s a potentially scary situation. And however it turns out, you’re elevating some players into new roles to which they’ll have to adjust. Maybe it’s a good time for the holiday break to come for the Crimson; they don’t play again until Dec. 29 against Northeastern.

They’re not the only team that has packed it up for the first semester, but there are still quite a few games ahead in the last full weekend of play before the break. The only series between ranked teams, though, comes in the WCHA, where No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha hosts No. 20 Minnesota State, which this week is in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for the first time since the 2008-09 season.


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