Todd: Jim, there’s a lot for us to catch up on since our last edition — coaching records, tournament hits and misses, international success — but let’s start with last weekend. A lot of the teams that were in the middle of the pack of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll last week struggled.
No. 8 Dartmouth went 0-3 since last Monday. No. 12 Cornell fell twice at No. 11 Denver. No. 13 Union lost twice at Lake Superior State. No. 15 St. Cloud State was swept at home by Northern Michigan. Since it’s the time of the year when the PairWise Rankings mean more and more with every passing week, those losses stand out. Do you see any of those teams (or any others) starting toward a second-half tailspin?
Jim: I think I am concerned about Union. While it is easy to be impressed by the Dutchmen’s run to the Frozen Four last season, I think it is just as easy to understand that they may easily fall a year later. Dartmouth, as well, could be in jeopardy of falling.
That said, I have been most impressed by the ECAC’s play this season. So I should feel pretty middle-of-the-road about these predictions, right?
Todd: I guess so, but I think it’s fair to hedge your bets a little bit when it comes to ECAC teams and tournament hopes. Quinnipiac looks like a pretty solid bet. Dartmouth and Yale are still above the line in the PairWise. But Union and Cornell — and add Colgate to the mix now — can’t afford many more two-loss weekends.
Quinnipiac is a perfect 10-0 in the ECAC with a home game against Union on Saturday after hosting Rensselaer on Friday. The Bobcats are 12-0-2 in their last 14 games and have a 9-2-2 record against teams under consideration, and that’s second in the rankings. With that kind of setup, I don’t know that any heights they reach this season would be too much of a surprise.
Jim: Well, surprise is a relative factor, no? I don’t think at the beginning of this season that I could have thought of Quinnipiac as this much of a lock. It is impossible to think that the Bobcats could collapse enough to miss the tournament. There are very few teams in the nation that can say that at this point.
Is there another team you see today that surprises you that you also consider a near-lock for the NCAA tournament?
Todd: I think Quinnipiac is the only member of that list for me, maybe because it’s completely possible for a team to be at or near the top of the PairWise Rankings now and to be on the outside by the time the tournament starts. Ohio State’s fall from grace last season should be a reminder that a good first half doesn’t mean much unless you keep it up.
Shifting gears here, since we last published TMQ, Boston College’s Jerry York became the all-time winningest coach in college hockey history with a win over Alabama-Huntsville, but the Eagles were humbled by Minnesota the next day. How much do you think that loss took off the celebration for York and the school?
Jim: I actually think that the loss to Minnesota doesn’t take too much off the glare for BC. For one, I think York is an expert at keeping his Eagles in check in terms of emotion. The night following was the Gophers’ national championship game, one season removed. Minnesota remembers losing to the Eagles in the national semifinals and once it grabbed a lead, it was a quick dagger.
All that said, I don’t think BC is playing its best hockey right now. The Eagles are 1-1-2 in their last four, the only win that one against Alabama-Huntsville. I was able to watch in person the games against Providence and Yale. In neither games did BC play well. The Eagles were outshot, out-physicaled in both contests and were saved by solid goaltending.
I will say that the current BC team hardly has the best blue line: The Eagles lost Patch Alber, their top upperclassman blueliner, before the UAH game. He’s likely gone for the season, meaning the four freshmen on defense for BC will get a ton of ice time. That could be a concern.
Todd: That puts a little more pressure on goaltender Parker Milner. Not that he hasn’t shown he’s OK with a lot being put on his shoulders, though.
One of his BC teammates, Johnny Gaudreau, was one of the stars of the U.S. World Junior Championship team that won gold last Saturday. I’ll be interested to hear from general manager Jim Johannson on Tuesday night’s USCHO Live! on how the team came together to the point where it could peak down the stretch. That’s a hallmark of any successful team in that tournament.
Jim: I think that a major part of the offense, and Gaudreau, coming together was moving Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey onto Gaudreau’s line. After that, the BC sophomore scored seven goals in three games. Not that North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi, who was moved off the line, was to blame. He proved his value in the gold-medal game, scoring twice to lead the U.S.
It seems like everything was a matter of chemistry and all of that chemistry came together in the medal round. It is an accomplishment that the U.S. needed and one it can relish for years to come.
Todd: We’ve got what looks like a great week of games coming up, starting Tuesday with No. 1 Minnesota hosting No. 2 Notre Dame. No. 3 Boston College and No. 4 New Hampshire play a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday that could help determine the Hockey East champion two months from now. We mentioned No. 5 Quinnipiac hosting No. 16 Union on Saturday, and No. 9 Denver hosts No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha in a WCHA series.
There’s a good chance we’ll know quite a bit more about the nation’s top teams by this time next week, don’t you think?
Jim: This is no midseason weekend. This is seriously the best week of hockey we may see for the rest of the season. I don’t remember a week that features such a competitive mix as this one will. Personally, I’ll have my eye on BC-UNH but will do everything I can to find the broadcast of Minnesota-Notre Dame. This is all college hockey gold, and, based on seeding, could be a preview of the Frozen Four.