Here’s our weekly look at big events and big issues around Division I men’s college hockey.
Jim: This may have been a relatively quiet weekend due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but there wasn’t a shortage of interesting story lines. The biggest in my eyes was the upset of Boston College by Holy Cross.
These two schools were once the ultimate rivals in football but hockey has always been a lopsided matchup in favor of the Eagles. On Friday, Holy Cross jumped out to a 5-1 lead and hung on for a 5-4 victory, becoming the first Atlantic Hockey team to ever hand Boston College a loss. That’s a pretty good upset for such a quiet weekend on the schedule.
Todd: It sure seemed like the Eagles were going to claw all the way back in that one, but kudos to the Crusaders for being able to hold on when all the momentum was seemingly against them. And how improbable a result in a year where Atlantic Hockey teams have been taking a pounding in nonconference games.
Then again, when the season starts with Sacred Heart beating Massachusetts-Lowell, maybe the precedent has been set: Even if it is a punching bag for a lot of the season, Atlantic Hockey teams will throw in a few big upsets.
Jim: The other so-called-upset of the weekend was Northeastern beating Notre Dame in the finals of the Shillelagh Tournament on Saturday. The Huskies needed a shootout win over Western Michigan to even reach the finals and then had to overcome a 2-0 deficit for the 3-2 win.
As Dave Hendrickson wrote in his Hockey East blog, though, there comes a time when a Northeastern win isn’t considered an upset. This is a team playing well since the beginning of the season. Is it time that we need to expect Northeastern to win rather than consistently being shocked?
Todd: I think you described Northeastern a few weeks ago as a solid mid-range team in Hockey East, and it seems like that’s what we’re seeing. The Huskies have lost twice to Boston College and twice to New Hampshire, but they have put a few quality wins in the positive category. All in all, I think that evens out as a team that shouldn’t shock anybody either way.
Ferris State shouldn’t be shocking anyone by this point, either. The Bulldogs have gone 11 games without a loss and sit sixth in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. I can’t say there’s any one part of their game that jumps off the stats sheet to me, but I think that might be why they’re on such a successful run. With enough balance, a team can get by when one part of its game has an off night.
Jim: I think that a team like Ferris State, when it can be described by clowns like you and me as balanced, has somewhat achieved what it wants. Balance in college hockey is often the lacking ingredient.
But I will also say that rarely do you see a team win the national championship without balance. You have to have the offense, defense, goaltending and special teams that is competitive to win a title. I don’t think this is a secret formula, but I do think that as fans you can ignore one or two of these aspects and still believe your team is complete.
Todd: The Bulldogs just started a stretch that will see them play 12 of 14 games away from home, and a run of games like that will be a great test. Ferris State is one of six teams nationally that has already reached the 10-win plateau, joining Quinnipiac, Minnesota, Providence, Massachusetts-Lowell and Clarkson.
We get our last look at the Golden Knights before the holiday break this weekend when they play a home-and-home series with St. Lawrence. Do you see Clarkson taking a high national ranking deep into the second half?
Jim: I don’t want to seem negative on Clarkson, particularly as I’ve been very impressed with its play thus far, but I’m not sold that the Knights will be in the mix come season’s end. Clarkson still needs to play twice against the tops of the ECAC (Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, Union, Cornell) and will also play three nonleague games against Massachusetts-Lowell. Maybe they come through those games relatively unscathed, but right now I’m not sure that will happen.
Looking ahead to this week, New Hampshire and Boston College will play a big two-game series, while Lowell will travel to Maine for a single game on Sunday. Harvard and Yale, the famous football rivalry, will also be on display on Saturday. Northeastern will also get to prove its worth on Friday night when it faces Providence. What about out west?
Todd: No. 2 St. Cloud State and No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth both had last weekend off, so both will be equally rested or rusty, depending on your point of view, when they meet in Duluth for an NCHC series.
And the WCHA’s two ranked teams — No. 6 Ferris State and No. 14 Lake Superior State — get together in Sault Ste. Marie. We’ll see whether the Lakers can put an end to the Bulldogs’ streak and pull a little closer in the WCHA standings.