A New Number One
There’s a new king of the hill in Division III. RIT moved to the top of the USCHO.com Division III men’s poll this week, the first time the Tigers have been ranked number one since the first week of January 1999.
With Middlebury having a 1-1-1 week, RIT (13-0) captured the top spot by winning the Pepsi Cardinal Classic in impressive fashion, defeating Colby 8-3 in the first round and then shocking the host Plattsburgh Cardinals 8-2 in the championship game. For the Tigers, the victories capped off a perfect five-for-five performance in tournaments this season: the Fredonia Invitational, the Chase Rochester Cup, the Bowdoin-Colby tournament, the Radisson Air Force Classic, and the Pepsi Cardinal Classic.
“It was a goal to win all five,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson. “An attainable one, but a big challenge.
“The odds were against us in some of them. We were underdogs at Air Force and last weekend as well.”
Wilson said the key to winning the Plattsburgh tournament was getting off to a good start. The Tigers did just that, racing to 4-0 first-period leads in each game.
“We played nearly perfect hockey in the first period, especially against Colby,” said Wilson. “We were worried about coming off the holiday layoff and I wanted a really good effort to start the game.”
Goaltender Tyler Euverman picked up the tournament MVP trophy in Plattsburgh. He’s been named to the all-tournament team in all five tourneys.
“As usual, Tyler made four or five key saves for us (in the Plattsburgh game).” said Wilson. “He always plays well in big games. Even if we lose, he always plays well for us.”
RIT now sits atop the poll for the first time in Wilson’s tenure.
“We’re excited to be first,” Wilson said. “All the more because we’re finally home this weekend.”
The Tigers have played 11 road games and just two NCAA games at the Ritter arena. They host Cortland and Fredonia this weekend, then Oswego the next Friday. A three-game homestand and a shiny new number-one ranking: are they ripe for a letdown?
“I’m counting on (captains) Jerry Galway and Derek Hahn to keep the team focused and not looking too far ahead. We’ve got a full week to prepare for Cortland and Fredonia, and we’ll be ready. It’ll be nice to wear the whites for a change,” said Wilson, who knows his Tigers will have targets on their backs.
“We need to play very well in the first period. Teams are going to be psyched to play us, and they’ll come out with everything they have. We have to be ready for that,” he added.
RIT’s opponents need to be ready for a power play that is converting at an unreal rate of 51.3% (39 of 76), by far the best in college hockey. What makes it so special? Finding the open man and finishing chances.
“Our puck movement is good, and we have guys like Galway and Hahn that can score from up high, and Pete Bournazakis who can score from up close. Teams have a hard time defending against that.”
Bournazakis leads the nation with nine power-play goals. Hahn has eight and Galway seven. In all, 14 players have scored power-play goals for RIT.
We’ve Got the PoWeR
This week, USCHO released the first edition of the Pairwise Rankings (PWR), which rank teams based on the criteria used to select and seed teams in the NCAA Division I tournament. These differ slightly from those used in D-III, but they’re still interesting to watch. The PWR is updated dynamically from our schedule/results database, so they change every time a score is entered.
A major part of the PWR is the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which rates teams based on their record and strength of schedule. Who’s played the toughest schedule so far? The easiest? Check it and see. I’d tell you, but they might have changed from the time I write this until the time you read it.
Player of the Week Returns
We’ve been busy at USCHO. This week we’ve also brought back our popular Player of the Week feature. The first honorees of the 2000-2001 season are RIT’s Pete Bournazakis, who had four goals in the Pepsi Cardinal Classic, and Trinity goaltender Geoff Faulkner, who led his team to a sweep of Middlebury and Norwich.
Which leads to a trivia question — the answer to which I don’t know. That’s where you come in. I’ve been poring over media guides and archives to try to find the last time a team swept travel partners Middlebury and Norwich in the same weekend. Seeing that these teams have accounted for the last six national titles, you might have to go back a ways.
If anyone knows the answer, please send me an email, and you’ll get credit in my next column.
A Clear Winner
The MIAC and NCHA concluded their interconference play last weekend, and the NCHA came out on top in convincing fashion, going 38-15-3 against their western rivals.
The leagues now get serious, playing almost an exclusive conference schedule for the rest of the season.
Key MIAC games this weekend include first place Concordia at second-place St. Thomas. The Cobbers lead the Tommies by five points in the standings, so a sweep would make them difficult to catch.
In the NCHA, St. Norbert and Wisconsin-Stevens Point renew their heated rivalry with a home-and-away series. The teams met in a non-conference game back on November 10, with the Green Knights coming out on top 4-1. But it’s Point (10-4) that’s ranked in the USCHO poll (sixth) while St. Norbert (9-4-2) finished just out of the top ten.
Last Week: 4-0
On the Season: 28-11 (.713)
No. 6 Wisconsin-Stevens Point vs. St. Norbert (1/12 and 1/13) – This is about as intense as it gets out west as these teams tangle at Point on Friday and in DePere on Saturday. I’m thinking the home fans go home happy this weekend. UWSP 4, St. Norbert 2; then St. Norbert 2, UWSP 1.
Concordia at St. Thomas (1/12 and 1/13) – The Cobbers can open a big lead in the MIAC with a sweep. A St. Thomas sweep puts the Tommies just a point back. Or, split will leave things just the way they are. St. Thomas 5, Concordia 4; then Concordia 6, St. Thomas 4.
Babson at No. 2 Middlebury (1/12) and Norwich (1/13) – The Beavers have turned some heads so far, going from a last-place finish in the ECAC East last season to just a point out of first so far this year. But Babson is banged up, and Middlebury and Norwich are coming off losses. Middlebury 5, Babson 1; then Norwich 4, Babson 3.