Close, But No Recount Necessary
The first USCHO.com regular season Division III men’s poll is out, and, much like the preseason version, one team doesn’t stand out. A total of 19 squads were mentioned, with four different teams getting at least two first-place votes.
Middlebury claimed the top spot, on the basis of opening its season with four consecutive shutout wins, and claiming the championship of the Primelink tournament. That’s a worthy Number One in my book.
Turkey and Tournaments
No less than seven tournaments took place last weekend, including the two best of the season, the Primelink Great Northern Shootout and the Elmira Invitational. All eight teams involved were either ranked in the top ten in the USCHO.com preseason poll, or are ranked in the top ten now.
Two of the tournaments, the Bowdoin/Colby Faceoff Classic and the Elmira Invitational, were using the dreaded “fixed” format, where the pairings are predetermined. But in both cases, all’s well that ended well.
The two teams which won on the first day wound up meeting on the second day anyway. In Maine, RIT defeated Colby 8-2 after each team had won the previous day. In Elmira, Wisconsin-Stevens Point met Williams on Sunday after they had both triumphed on Saturday. Point won that one, 5-1.
The Primelink was dominated by the host Middlebury Panthers, who held Plattsburgh and Potsdam to a total of 11 and 10 shots, respectively, winning each game 3-0. The young Panthers held Potsdam to a total of two shots throughout the first two periods of the championship game. Wow.
The upset of the week also happened in the Primelink. Defending national champion Norwich, coming off a pair of opening-weekend blowout wins, was beaten by Potsdam, 4-3, in the opening round. That game dropped the Cadets out of the top ten for the first time in over a year, and vaulted the Bears into the eighth spot.
While the host of the Primelink has now won all three titles, the homestanding Elmira Soaring Eagles came in last in their own tournament, losing to Wisconsin-Stevens Point and St. Thomas by identical 6-4 scores. Elmira has played an absolutely killer schedule, already taking on five ranked teams in its first 10 games. They’re the best 4-6 team in the nation right now.
“We played the No. 2 team in the nation (Stevens Point) evenly most of the way. It was anyone’s game, ” Elmira head coach Glenn Thomaris told the press after the loss on Sunday. “And we did well against No. 10 (St. Thomas).”
At the other end of the spectrum is Elmira’s ECAC West rival, RIT. The third-ranked Tigers (8-0) really haven’t been tested yet, having only played one ranked team so far, a 6-3 win over number ten Oswego in the season opener for both teams. That three goal margin of victory is the closest any team has come to RIT all season (Bowdoin also lost to the Tigers 6-3).
RIT’s strength so far has been its power play, which is clicking at a whopping 50% through eight games (27/54). That average has remained consistent since their first game of the season. How long can they keep it up?
The Tigers will face their toughest challenge to date this weekend when they host the U.S. Under-18 National Developmental Team for a pair of games. The NDT features the best young American-born players, most of whom will go on to Division I schools and pro careers. The team has already beaten Michigan State this season, so RIT should get a much better gauge on where it stands.
The only bad news for RIT is that both games, while exhibitions, must count towards RIT’s 25-game limit.
“We were hoping to get an exemption from the limit for at least one of the games,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson. “That’s the way it works in Division I and with women’s teams, but there was no provision for Division III.”
Sources indicate that the rule will be amended next season to include Division III. Good news for the Tigers, who will play the NTD again next season, this time in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Another East-West Showdown Ahead
There’s another East-West matchup this weekend, and for the first time this season, it doesn’t involve Elmira. The Soaring Eagles have hosted Wisconsin-Superior for a pair, as well as St. Thomas and Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
This time the West will play host, as Point and St. Norbert entertain Norwich and Middlebury in one of the most highly anticipated series of the season. On Friday, St. Norbert will host the Cadets, and the Pointers will have Middlebury in what has turned into a great, albeit infrequent, rivalry. The teams switch the following evening.
I’m going to miss these kind of marquee games once the conference schedules get back into full swing.
Those D-III Fans Are Smart
As I’ve mentioned here before, NCHA correspondent Tim Somers runs the “H3IP”, or “Hockey Three Internet Poll”, where fans, as opposed to coaches and media, vote for the top 10.
While you’d think this would be a popularity contest dominated by teams with the largest number of internet-savvy fans, it’s not. This week’s H3IP and USCHO.com poll, done independently and released at almost the same time, are very close, indeed. Check it out at http://students.uwsp.edu/tsome517/hockey3/.
Hats off to a very knowledgeable group of fans, who vote with their heads rather than their hearts.
Last Week: 4-2
On the season: 15-6
This Week: Wow, what a bevy of Top 10 games to pick!
No. 10 Oswego at No. 8 Potsdam (12/1) – It’s been a long time since both of these teams were ranked at the same time. Each is on the rise in the SUNYAC, and this should be a dandy. Home ice makes the difference. Potsdam 4, Oswego 3.
No. 7 Wisconsin-Superior at No. 5 Wisconsin-River Falls (12/1) – Games like this one will go a long way in deciding the NCHA championship. River Falls looks like the class of the league at this point. UWRF 5, UWS 3.
Norwich at No. 6 St. Norbert (12/1)- The Cadets are coming off their first two losses of the calendar year 2000. Will they rebound? Yep. Norwich 5, St. Norbert 4.
No. 1 Middlebury at No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point (12/1)- This should be the game of the weekend. Will the Panthers be able to keep their defensive lockdown working outside the Chip Kenyon Arena? I think the shutout and winning streaks both end. UWSP 4, Middlebury 3.
No. 10 Oswego at No. 2 Plattsburgh (12/2) – The rivalry continues, and so does Plattsburgh’s record of home domination. Plattsburgh 6, Oswego 3.
Norwich at No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point – I like the Pointers to go 2-0 this weekend after a gritty performance in Elmira over Thanksgiving. UWSP 4, Norwich 1.
No.1 Middlebury at No. 6. St. Norbert – I think the Panthers will match up better against the Green Knights, and earn a split. Middlebury 5, St. Norbert 3.