This Week in Division III: Jan. 17, 2002

Status Quo?

There’s a good chance that next week’s Division III Men’s Poll will look a lot like this week’s poll. For the first time that I can remember, no ranked teams play each other this week. That means if there are no upsets, the Top 10 shouldn’t change.

Who has a chance to stumble? Second-ranked RIT probably has the toughest matchup — a pair of games against Oswego, which got a single tenth-place vote in this week’s poll balloting. Since the teams began playing this weekend home-and-home series five years ago, no team has come away with more than three points.

Don’t count out the underdogs in the other games either. In Division I last week, 14 the 15 teams in the poll had some kind of blemish, either a loss or a tie.

And in Division III, the first and second ranked teams, Norwich and RIT, a combined 29-1 so far, were taken into overtime by UMass-Boston and Fredonia, respectively, a combined 7-20-2.

When Do They Stop Being Upsets?

Speaking of “upsets,” the ECAC Northeast continues to pull them off. So far this season, Wentworth has beaten RIT, Lebanon Valley defeated Elmira, and Johnson & Wales topped Oswego.

Wentworth has cracked the Top 10 this season, and J&W and Lebanon Valley have gotten a few votes, but not enough to put or keep them among the elite.

What will it take to be taken seriously? Probably an NCAA tournament win for the ECAC Northeast champion. With the wins already racked up, that doesn’t seem farfetched.

At the Turn

Most leagues get back into conference play this week, and while there aren’t any games among ranked teams, there are some that will have a significant effect on the standings. Let’s take a quick pass around the leagues:

In the MIAC, the first- and second-place teams will battle this weekend when St. Thomas and St. Mary’s square off for a pair of conference games. The Cardinals, dormant the past few seasons, are making a run at the MIAC title, 5-0-1 so far. They trail the Tommies by three points with two games in hand.

Top-ranked Norwich is well out in front in the ECAC East, leading Salem State by four points with nine games left to play. The Cadets still face some challenges ahead, including Bowdoin, Colby, Middlebury and Williams. All are in the NESCAC, but the results count in the ECAC East standings. Still, even if Norwich loses all four of those games and Salem State wins out, the Cadets would still win the regular-season title, since they hold the tiebreaker against the Vikings, a 4-0 win two weeks ago.

In the SUNYAC, Plattsburgh is a perfect 7-0 in league play, leading Oswego by two points with another seven games to play. Since the Cardinals are 0-5 against ranked teams so far, it looks like they’ll need to win the SUNYAC title to get a chance to defend their national championship.

St. Norbert has opened a four-point lead in the NCHA, huge by the standards of what is usually one of the most closely contested conferences. Still, each team has played just six of 14 conference games so far.

The ECAC Northeast is a four-horse race at this point, with Johnson & Wales, Wentworth, Lebanon Valley and UMass-Dartmouth beginning to pull away. J&W carries the most momentum at this point, having won 11 games in a row. Still, the Flying Dutchmen trail J&W by two points. The Wildcats are just 8-9 overall, but are a perfect 7-0 in league play.

Speaking of perfect league records, Marian is 6-0 in the MCHA, leading upstart MSOE by two points as well as having a pair of games in hand. Defending regular-season champion Minnesota-Crookston is fighting to make the playoffs this season. The Eagles lead Northland by two points for the final postseason spot, but the Lumberjacks have four games in hand.

More undefeated league records can be found in the ECAC West and NESCAC. In the ECAC West, RIT (4-0 in conference) and Elmira (3-0) are expected to battle down to the wire, while in the NESCAC, Middlebury (7-0-1) and Bowdoin (6-0-3) settled nothing with a 1-1 tie last Saturday.

There’s still a lot of hockey to play, but in two weeks or so, the “P” word will be on everyone’s mind as teams jockey for playoff position.

I Was Wrong

I blew the call in my column last week when I said that the officiating miscues that I witnessed in the RIT-Cortland game should have resulted in automatic goals.

With the Cortland net empty, a Red Dragon player threw his stick at the puck while play continued, and a few seconds later another Cortland player dislodged the net before the puck could cross the goal line.

USA Hockey rules 609-c and 636-a award a goal in those instances. I assumed that applied to all levels of hockey in the U.S.

However, NCAA rules are different. In each case, a penalty shot should have been awarded, not a goal, according to rules 50-a and 9-d.

To quote the official who pointed this out to me, “In NCAA hockey, no goals are ever awarded.”

I stand corrected. Or should I be sitting in the box?