Getting Down to Business
I’ve been getting a lot of email forwarded to me by the support staff at USCHO. Most of it has been asking, to paraphrase, “When the #%[email protected] is the first regular-season Division III poll coming out?”
We’ve gotten the message. The first regular-season poll appears the evening of Monday, November 27.
We made the decision in October to wait until each team had played at least two games before doing a regular-season poll. We’ve done this the past two seasons, with some mild grumblings from Division III fans that we were taking too darn long.
This year, that grumble has turned into a dull roar, getting louder each week.
We may change things next season. After all, other major polls, including the USCHO.com Division I poll, often start before all the teams are in action.
But for now, expect a new poll each Monday evening throughout the season
So who will be number one?
The top slot is Plattsburgh’s to lose. The Cardinals, ranked first in the preseason poll, are a perfect 5-0 going into the Primelink Tournament, which also includes host Middlebury, Norwich, and Potsdam. If Plattsburgh goes down in the Primelink, the eventual tournament winner has a good shot of being number one.
Let’s look at the contenders for national recognition in each conference:
The Cardinals will stay atop the poll if they can win the Primelink. Plattsburgh faces off against host Middlebury (ranked fifth in the preseason poll) on Friday, and will play either third-ranked Norwich or Potsdam on Saturday.
With three of the top five teams in the country, plus a Potsdam team that also collected some votes in the preseason poll, this should be quite a weekend.
Speaking of Potsdam, what if the Bears upset the apple cart and win the Primelink? Could they vault all the way to the top spot? Probably not, but they could pave the way for Wisconsin-Stevens Point or St. Norbert to grab the prize.
Potsdam is off to a 4-0-2 start and has a habit of playing the other North Country teams close, so there’s no gimmes in this tournament.
The other marquee tournament this weekend is the Elmira Invitational, and the Soaring Eagles have outdone themselves this time around. All four teams in attendance are ranked in the top ten in the USCHO.com preseason poll: Wisconsin-Stevens Point (second), Elmira (seventh), St. Thomas (eighth) and Williams (tied for tenth).
Only the Pointers (4-2) are above .500 at this point, however. The Tommies are off to a disappointing 1-4-1 start, Williams split its first two games, and Elmira is 3-4 coming off a 5-2 loss in Plattsburgh last weekend. The Soaring Eagles, who play the Pointers in the first round on Saturday, have the unenviable task of playing the number-one and -two teams in the nation back-to-back.
The Elmira tournament is a fixed-format affair, to ensure four East-West matchups. So is the Bowdoin-Colby tournament hosted by each school on successive days this weekend. RIT and Brockport will make the trip, with the sixth-ranked Tigers getting the tougher job: they’ll be playing both host schools, starting with Colby on Saturday and then Bowdoin Sunday afternoon.
RIT is 6-0 going into the tournament, and could move as high as the top three nationally based on this weekend’s results.
Bowdoin and Colby are off to quick 2-0 starts, and both can make a case for a top-ten ranking with a weekend sweep of RIT and Brockport. The travel partners each knocked off Skidmore and Hamilton last weekend to open the season.
Middlebury racked up an impressive pair of 8-0 wins over St. Anselm and New England College in its opening weekend, and now hopes to keep alive the tradition of the host school winning the Primelink tournament. The Panthers host Plattsburgh on Friday, and then play either Potsdam or arch-rival Norwich on Saturday.
Friday’s matchup is especially interesting. It’s a rematch of last year’s awesome NCAA quarterfinal series, won by Plattsburgh in sudden death to end Middlebury’s run of five consecutive national titles. The game pits the more experienced Cardinals against a relatively young Panther team, but will take place on Middlebury’s near Olympic-sized rink, a distinct home advantage.
Norwich will most certainly reclaim the number-one ranking it held for most of last season if it wins the Primelink. The young Cadets raised their national championship banner last Friday before getting down to business: a weekend sweep of St. Anselm and New England College by a combined score of 20-1. It looks like the reports of a great freshman class were correct, as Norwich reloads rather than rebuilds.
The surprise of the weekend was the pair of wins by Babson, 2-1 over Williams and 6-2 over MCLA. The Beavers, once a D-III power (including a 1984 national title) might be able to sneak into the picture if they capture their own tournament this weekend. Babson will face St. Michael’s in the first round, followed by either MCLA or Cortland.
Both defending champ Wentworth and Johnson and Wales are off to 4-0 starts in conference play, but neither squad is likely to crack the top ten. Wentworth is 0-1 out of conference, J&W 0-2. Wentworth has a chance to make some noise out of conference this coming week with games against Skidmore and New England College.
Lebanon Valley (2-1 in conference, 4-3 overall) did pull off a nice nonconference win with a 5-1 home-ice victory over Hobart. Flying Dutchman goaltender Lincoln Matlock was amazing in net, recording 53 saves.
Last year, the NCHA didn’t fare that well against its MIAC rivals, and it may have cost an NCHA team a slot in last year’s NCAA tournament, as the MIAC sent two teams to the dance, while only Wisconsin-Superior made it from the NCHA.
This season, the MIAC appears to be on the downswing, and the NCHA is out to make a statement. Last week’s interleague play saw the NCHA come away with a 13-2-1 record. It’s probably too early to start talking about Pool “C” slots, but these games may be looked at come March.
Wisconsin-River Falls, ranked ninth in the preseason poll, is 8-0-1 and should move up several places. The Falcons are 4-0 in conference, and have outscored their opposition 23-7 in those games, and 47-17 overall.
The Marian Sabres had a nice week, going 3-0, including a conference sweep of Lawrence to solidify their hold on second place. Mark Ewing, a freshman from Langley, B.C., tallied seven points in the three games, including the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Gustavus Adolphus. He was named MCHA Player of the Week.
This weekend will feature several nonconference games, including Northland hosting Finlandia, a new program playing a mostly club schedule.
This week we’re reminded of things to be thankful for, and besides the obvious blessings, I’m grateful for your continued support of USCHO. The large amount of mail I’ve gotten concerning the poll and other topics means you’re reading, and for that I’m thankful indeed.
Enjoy the holiday, and get to a game if you can.
Last week: 5-1
On the season: 11-4
Plattsburgh at Middlebury (11/24) – A rematch of last year’s NCAA quarterfinals, won by the Cardinals. But each team seems to win on home ice, so I’m going with the Panthers. Middlebury 4, Plattsburgh 3
Norwich vs. Potsdam (11/24) – The Bears usually play the Cadets tough, but I think Norwich will use the big ice surface to its advantage. Norwich 6, Potsdam 2.
Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Elmira (11/25) – Elmira lost to the number-one ranked team last weekend, and will probably go down to number two this weekend. UWSP 4, Elmira 2
St. Thomas at Elmira (11/26) – The Soaring Eagles get a split in the all-purple tournament (Elmira, Williams, UWSP and St. Thomas all have purple among their school colors). Elmira 5, St. Thomas 3
RIT at Colby (11/25) and Bowdoin (11/26) – The teams are a combined 10-0 so far, but something’s got to give. RIT has been playing for over a month, Bowdoin and Colby for a week. Advantage, Tigers. RIT 4, Bowdoin 1; RIT 3, Colby 2.