Todd: I guess it just had to happen this way. Riding a 21-game unbeaten streak, Quinnipiac took over as the No. 1 team in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll last week. It brought out fanfare from many circles but then the Bobcats got back on the ice and — poof — there went the streak.
They lost to St. Lawrence at home last Friday and scraped out a one-goal victory over Clarkson a night later. Does it change your opinion on Quinnipiac at all?
Jim: In a way, it does. I loved Quinnipiac’s unbeaten streak but also felt like Quinnipiac was winning too many borderline games by slim margins. I think the Bobcats are a good team but also wonder what type of NCAA tournament team this is. Will it be like many ECAC teams in years past (remember, before Union, the ECAC was an NCAA bust for more than a decade).
Part of me feels, particularly given the Bobcats’ NCAA inexperience, that they could easily be a one-and-done team in late March. Friday did little to dispel this notion.
Todd: To be fair, I also feel that Boston College could be a one-and-done team right now, and there was a time not too long ago when I wouldn’t have said that. So much depends on the matchup a team is given, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
The Bobcats have games against Yale, Brown, Harvard and Dartmouth left before they get a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs, so they’ll get tested again.
Looking west, I was at Soldier Field on Sunday for the Hockey City Classic, which gave us two entertaining games even if the ice conditions weren’t exactly cooperative. Notre Dame and Wisconsin claimed one-goal victories, holding off late charges by Miami and Minnesota, respectively. Minnesota’s loss kept it three points behind first-place St. Cloud State in the WCHA. Miami missed a chance to go up by five points in the CCHA. I still would rather have seen these important games played on better ice inside but I’m glad the fans got their money’s worth out of the experience.
We got to talking in the press box about where the outdoor phenomenon will turn next. Where would you like to see outdoor college hockey?
Jim: I think you know my opinion that it is time to end these outdoor games. They’re cliché and passé and, as you mention, provide less than optimal conditions for critical games.
That said, this isn’t going away soon. I’m sure Fenway Park will see another series of games next winter and there are certainly others in the works. In terms of venues I would like to see, the new Yankee Stadium would be a cool place. Pittsburgh is a city that certainly embraces hockey so PNC Park might be a nice venue as well. How about you?
Todd: I’ll echo what you said about not doing them, but since that’s not a popular opinion with the people that actually stage the games, it seems like it’s probably time to do some sort of large-scale event in Minnesota. Our list of outdoor games shows one in Minnesota, the Concordia (Minn.) women beating St. Benedict 9-1 in front of 100 fans in 2011. Minnesota’s on-campus football stadium has been mentioned as a possible host for an outdoor event, and you have to think it’s only a matter of time before the NHL heads to Minnesota with a Winter Classic.
Circling back to unbeaten streaks, the schools now tied for the longest in the country at six games are Rensselaer and American International. The Yellow Jackets are still well below .500 but with six straight wins the Engineers are knocking on the NCAA tournament door, sitting tied for 17th in the PairWise Rankings. They’re also up to second place in ECAC Hockey. Not bad for a team that was 1-6-3 in the league a little more than a month ago, don’t you think?
Jim: As I was filling out my poll ballot and looking for a possible 18th, 19th or 20th team, I came upon RPI. I knew the Engineers had been playing well of late but had to check that winning streak out for myself. Wins over Harvard, Clarkson and Brown may not open too many eyes (though I think with the way Brown is capable of playing, that’s a decent victory). But certainly wins over St. Lawrence (see: beating Quinnipiac), Yale and Dartmouth all need to be looked at as quality.
It will be difficult but there is no reason that RPI can’t enter the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak with remaining games against lowly Cornell, a Colgate team that lost to Harvard and St. Lawrence and Clarkson, two teams RPI recently beat.
Todd: In looking up who else is hovering around the PairWise bubble you find Merrimack, in first place in Hockey East with three weeks to play yet on the outside of the NCAA tournament picture in a tie for 17th with Rensselaer (and actually occupying the 18th spot).
My guess is that if the Warriors actually do win the regular season title they’ll have gained enough meaningful victories to improve their PairWise situation, but what an unusual situation for Merrimack to find itself in.
Jim: Right now for Merrimack, it mostly comes down to the Ratings Percentage Index. Losses earlier in the season to Connecticut, Alaska-Anchorage and Northeastern hurt Merrimack’s RPI. Add in a loss against Alaska, a CCHA team, that negatively impacts Merrimack’s common opponent mark with CCHA teams.
But as you said, if Merrimack is to hang on and win the Hockey East regular season title, it will likely have to post some quality wins which will raise the Warriors’ RPI and also improve its record against teams under consideration (Merrimack has just two games left against Massachusetts that won’t qualify as TUCs). That said, if the Warriors lose against BC, Boston University or Massachusetts-Lowell, that could negatively impact their record against TUCs to the point of no return.
Todd: That No. 17 Merrimack game against No. 4 Boston College on Sunday is one of eight games between ranked teams on this week’s schedule. On Friday, No. 1 Quinnipiac hosts No. 13 Yale, which has lost four in a row and five of its last six.
No. 6 North Dakota plays a series at No. 10 Denver on Friday and Saturday, the same days that No. 8 Western Michigan hosts No. 11 Notre Dame. No. 12 Massachusetts-Lowell and No. 15 Boston University play a home-and-home series, with the Terriers hosting Friday before the series shifts to Lowell. Anything stand out to you?
Jim: I think you can’t overlook the St. Cloud State-Colorado College series in the Springs given how tight the top of the WCHA standings are. The same goes for any Hockey East game this weekend. If you’re a top-six team in the league, you’re in the battle for first place (that’s just crazy, by the way). If you’re not, you’re battling for the final two playoff spots.
This is the time of year we love, right? Drop the puck!