A Clear Winner
No ambiguity about this week’s number one. Middlebury captured 14 of 15 first-place votes to strengthen its hold on the top position in the latest USCHO.com Division III poll. The Panthers are idle until after the holidays, so in the meantime the battle will be for the second through tenth positions.
Around the Leagues
NCHA: Cinderella is the devil in the blue dress so far this season, as the Wisconsin-Stout Blue Devils, picked to finish dead last in the NCHA preseason poll, are off to their best start in 25 years.
The Blue Devils moved into the USCHO.com Division III poll for the first time ever on the basis of an 8-3 record, which includes wins over St. Thomas and a first-ever season sweep of Wisconsin-Superior.
Stout, which went 1-12-1 last season in conference, is currently 4-2 and in second place. What’s turned around the Blue Devils? According to head coach Terry Watkins, it’s a winning attitude plus depth at every position.
“This is just a fun group of kids with a whole different attitude,” said Watkins. “Winning makes a difference to these guys.
“Our goaltending has been very good, we have a veteran defense, and forwards that can score.”
That will win you some games.
Wisconsin-Stout might have moved into second place, but first still belongs to Wisconsin-River Falls, which has held the top spot since November 13. The Falcons, ranked fifth in the most recent USCHO.com poll, have never led by more than two points in a conference that looks to be even more competitive than usual.
A whopping five NCHA teams are in the poll this week: Wisconsin-Stevens Point (fourth), Wisconsin-River Falls (fifth), Wisconsin-Superior (sixth), St. Norbert (ninth), and Wisconsin-Stout (tenth).
MIAC: Concordia remains atop the MIAC standings, and the Cobbers are threatening to run away with things. The normally tight MIAC race is just that, with the exception of the top spot, which Concordia holds by a five-point margin (5-0-1 in conference).
The Cobbers picked up four points last weekend with a sweep of second-place Bethel. Led by MIAC Player of the Week Mike Gast’s three goals, Concordia defeated Bethel 5-3 and 3-2 to remain unbeaten in conference play.
The real battle is for the other eight positions in the standings, where just three points separate the second-place teams (Bethel and St. Thomas) from the last-place team (Gustavus).
Another team that’s playing good hockey right now is the St. Mary’s Cardinals, who are on a four-game winning streak and off to one of their best starts in several seasons at 6-2-1 (2-1-1 in conference).
“Offensively, we are playing very well right now,” said head coach Don Olsen. “But it’s not just the goals — it’s the multiple-assist goals, the great passing combinations to set up the goals. The entire offense is hitting on all cylinders.
St. Mary’s is outscoring its opposition 45-27 through its first nine games.
“Our scoring has been extremely balanced so far this year,” Olsen added. “To be able to get so many people into the mix is such a big positive for us.”
St. Mary’s faces a tough challenge this weekend when it hosts number-nine St. Norbert and Lake Forest.
MCHA: Minnesota-Crookston continues to roll along, and will be hard to catch again this season. Last weekend, in the only conference games held, the Golden Eagles swept MSOE to increase their lead to eight points in the standings.
UMC goaltender Jeff Horner was outstanding between the pipes in the MSOE series, stopping 65 of 68 shots in the two games, as Crookston rolled, 8-1 and 5-2.
The Golden Eagles are a Division II program, and therefore not eligible for consideration in the USCHO.com Division III poll. At 7-2-1, they might have appeared on a ballot or two. Crookston’s only losses so far are to two ranked teams — a 10-1 loss to Wisconsin-River Falls and a 5-3 decision to Wisconsin-Stout, both back in October.
ECAC East: Picked to finish sixth in the ECAC East preseason poll, the Babson Beavers sit atop the standings at 3-0-1 (6-0-1 overall). Babson, ranked eighth in the latest USCHO.com poll, is off to its best start since the 1991-92 season.
Defending champ Norwich, coming off a split at western powers Wisconsin-Stevens Point and St. Norbert, is three points behind Babson with two games in hand. The Cadets face a tough challenge this weekend with a home rematch against Potsdam, which beat Norwich 4-3 in the semifinals of the Primelink Great Northern Shootout tournament two weeks ago.
Also lurking behind Babson are the Vikings of Salem State, also off to a good start at 2-0-1 in conference (4-0-1) overall. Salem State will host Babson in a nonconference matchup in the first round of the Salem State Holiday Tournament on December 27.
NESCAC: Has a team ever gotten off to a better start that number one Middlebury? The 6-0 Panthers have played the toughest schedule in Division III to date (including Plattsburgh, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, St. Norbert and Potsdam), and have outscored their opposition 30-1.
The Panthers’ mantra seems to be “if they don’t shoot, they can’t score.” Middlebury has allowed just 98 shots on goal in six games — that’s about 16 per game.
Middlebury is off now until January 2, 2001, when it hosts Wentworth. The Panthers had better rest up – they’ll play 11 games in January.
ECAC West: RIT’s pair of exhibition games with the U.S. Under-18 National Developmental Program team was anything but friendly. The two games featured an intensity level RIT normally reserves for archrival Elmira. The games won’t count in RIT’s NCAA record, but were a good barometer for where the Tigers stand near the midway point of their season.
Team USA won the opening game 4-1 behind strong performances by Steven Gionta (a Rochester native and brother of Hobey Baker Award candidate Brian Gionta) and goaltender Travis Weber, who’s committed to Minnesota.
RIT rebounded the next night behind a strong performance by Pete and Mike Bournazakis, who were both hampered with the flu in the first game.
The third-ranked Tigers will spend the weekend in Colorado Springs at the Air Force tournament, their fourth tournament so far this season.
Elmira got back to its winning ways with a big 7-4 win at Hamilton. The Continentals outshot the Soaring Eagles 52-38, but Elmira goaltender Rob Ligas made 48 saves to earn the win.
Elmira hosts seventh-ranked Oswego this weekend in a rematch of their first game of the season, won by the host Lakers, 7-4.
SUNYAC: Second-ranked Plattsburgh’s streak of 47 straight unbeaten conference games came to an end on Tuesday, as the Potsdam Bears knocked off the Cardinals, 5-3. The Bears opened a 3-1 first-period lead and never looked back.
That leaves the Cardinals with just a two point lead over Potsdam and Oswego at the midway point of the SUNYAC season, each team in the conference having seven league games in the books.
Brockport finds itself in last place by virtue of a 7-4 loss to suddenly hot Buffalo State. The Bengals pulled off the biggest upset of the SUNYAC season to date with a 3-2 overtime win at Fredonia on Tuesday. Joe Urbanik scored the game winner with 30 seconds to play in the extra stanza.
ECAC Northeast: The defending conference champion Wentworth Leopards are picking up where they left off last season. Wentworth, coming off a big 8-2 win over St. Michael’s, is currently tied for first in the ECAC Northeast at 6-0 (7-3 overall).
Leopard junior Tim Yakimowsky had a record setting evening in the game against St. Michael’s, establishing new school marks for goals in a game (five) and goals in a period (four).
Yakimowsky wound up with nine points on the week (eight of them goals) and was named Player of the Week in the ECAC Northeast.
Tufts is also undefeated in conference at 3-0 (5-0 overall). The Jumbos, who will move to the NESCAC next season, are being led by junior forward Jason Boudreau, who already has 18 points in just five games.
Last Week: 4-3
On the Season: 19-9
Oswego at Elmira (12/8) – Elmira’s trying to get back on track, and needs this game badly. I think the Soaring Eagles will prevail at home. Elmira 5, Oswego 3.
St. Norbert at St. Thomas – The Green Knights are looking to recover from an 0-2 weekend. They will. St. Norbert 6, St. Thomas 2.
Amherst at Plattsburgh – Will the Cardinals rebound after a shocking loss to Potsdam? Yep. Plattsburgh 5, Amherst 1.
Elmira at Williams (12/9) – Elmira looks to keep it rolling over a Williams team off to a rocky start. Elmira 3, Williams 1
Potsdam at Norwich – Revenge time, and Potsdam is due for a letdown. Norwich 5, Potsdam 4.