It’s Early, But…
You see it a lot at this point in the season — people looking at early scores and trying to discern how good their favorite team is going to be this year.
How many goals did they win by? Lose by? Did they win by more than the team they’re expected to battle for first place?
Over the summer, dates are circled on calendars for what are expected to be the big games. Based on early results, some erasers may be necessary already.
Which teams are exceeding expectations so far? Which are down from last season?
The picture may get clearer this Monday, when the first USCHO.com Division III poll for the 2001-2002 regular season comes out. Who are we likely to see? Here’s what my ballot would look like:
1. Plattsburgh (first in the preseason poll): The Cardinals are, as expected, undefeated. They opened with probably their toughest challenge in the early season — a road game at conference rival Oswego. Plattsburgh passed that test with flying colors, a 6-4 win. If the Cardinals can win their home opener against Elmira on Saturday, there’s no doubt they’ll be ranked number-one..
2. St. Norbert (seventh, preseason): The Green Knights are off to a torrid start, 5-0 and winning their conference games to date by an average margin of three goals. St. Norbert will be favored in road games this weekend against St. Olaf and Gustavus Adolphus, so it could be 7-0 by the time the poll comes out.
3. RIT (second, preseason): This is another team that has been thumping its opposition — the 5-0 Tigers have outscored their opponents 43-9. RIT has had one close game: at Manhattanville, where the Tigers needed a power-play goal with 1:28 left to tie, and the winner with just four seconds to play. Expect them to be ranked no lower than third.
4. Middlebury (fourth, preseason): The Panthers have yet to play a game, kicking off their season this weekend at Skidmore and MCLA. Sweep and they’ll be in the top five.
5. Wisconsin-River Falls (third, preseason): The Falcons are 4-0-2 to date, and have games this weekend at Hamline and Bethel. If they sweep, they’ll also be somewhere in the top five.
6. St. Thomas (eighth, preseason): The Tommies have done what it takes to be undefeated so far, 4-0, including three one-goal wins. They have a real test this Sunday when they host Wisconsin-Superior. Win and St. Thomas could also be in the top five. Lose and they’ll probably be ninth or 10th.
7. Norwich (sixth, preseason): The Cadets open their season this weekend at Connecticut College and Tufts. They’ll be favored to be 2-0, good enough to retain a spot in the poll.
8. Elmira (10th, preseason): The Soaring Eagles are 3-1 and have a big game at Plattsburgh this weekend. Upend the Cardinals, and Elmira will be in the top five. Lose and the Eagles could drop out of the poll at 3-2.
9. Amherst (ninth, preseason): The Lord Jeffs will be favored against Babson and Mass.-Boston this weekend, and a 2-0 start will keep them in the poll. Lose either game, and they might drop off.
10. I’m reserving this spot for a NESCAC or ECAC East team that starts 2-0, or a another team off to a fast start. It could be Bowdoin, Colby, or Salem State. St. Mary’s will be 4-0 if it can defeat St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior this weekend. Concordia could be 4-1-1 with a pair of wins. Manhattanville will be 5-1 if it can beat Potsdam; its only loss so far the above-mentioned close defeat at the hands of RIT.
One team that probably won’t appear in the poll is Wisconsin-Superior. The Yellowjackets, ranked fifth in the preseason poll, are off to a relatively slow 2-2-1 start, with games this weekend at St. Mary’s and St. Thomas. But Superior always does well against MIAC teams, and the Jackets play eight of their next ten games against MIAC opposition.
Another team that can’t be in the poll no matter what is Minnesota-Crookston. The Division II Eagles are ineligible for the poll, but wouldn’t be there anyway, off to a 1-4 start in conference after never having lost a league contest in their first two seasons in the MCHA. Crookston plays three games in three days this weekend, a pair at Augsburg and a home game against Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
…But That’s Just My Opinion
There won’t be a column from me next week — so I’ll get off a rant this week on some of the upcoming tournaments. In the good old days, four-team tournaments consisted of two semifinals, a consolation and a championship. Lately, some invitationals have gone to a predetermined setup, where each team knows who it will play in both games.
The main (only?) positive of this method is to ensure that teams play others not normally on the schedule; for example, two western teams alternating games with two eastern teams, like the Elmira East West Face-Off, which has Williams, St. John’s and St. Norbert. The two eastern teams will alternate playing the two western teams.
The negatives of this format are plentiful.
A tournament needs a champion. Under the predetermined format, some convoluted methods are often required to determine who wins. It works out well if just one team goes 2-0, but you could wind up with four 1-1 teams. Time to get out the slide rule.
Also, the team that eventually wins the tournament could have played in the early game on the second day, and will be on the bus by the time things are decided. Just mail ’em their trophies, I guess.
And finally, tournaments need a championship game. Period. The fans want it. The players want it.
I have no problem with teams playing predetermined, nonconference matchups at a neutral or hosted site. Just don’t call it a tournament. Some host schools, like Elmira this season, are now using the term “faceoff” for this format.
One tournament that qualifies as a “real” one is the Primelink Great Northern Shootout, this season hosted by Potsdam and featuring the Bears plus Plattsburgh, Middlebury and Norwich. That should be some good karma for the Bears. All of the first three Primelinks have been won by the host team…and that team has gone on to win the national championship.
Keep an eye on that tournament, as well as the other five on tap for Thanksgiving weekend, and have a happy and safe holiday!