Fans like to argue about which conference is the strongest, top to bottom. A case can be made for three leagues, and I’ll make them now:
NESCAC – The key here is Middlebury, which has won eight of the last 11 national titles, including the last three. One powerful team doesn’t make for a powerful conference, but in this case the NESCAC and to a lesser degree the ECAC East is the mountain the Panthers have to climb every year just to get to the post season. You get to be the best by playing the best. That convinces me to put the NESCAC in the third slot for strongest conference.
ECAC West – I have long argued that top to bottom, this is the strongest conference. And with rule changes that allowed the ECAC West to get more than one team into the NCAA tournament, look what happened. The league, which has only six members, got three into the NCAA tournament last season and two in the Frozen Four. And two ECAC West teams played each other in the quarterfinals, going to overtime. The ECAC West currently has four teams in the Top 15…and one of them isn’t Elmira, which won the league title last season.
NCHA – But I have to admit that at this point in the season, the NCHA is on top. It dominated the MIAC prior to starting league play, and last week’s games to open the conference schedule were close, hard-fought battles. The NCHA also has four teams in the Top 15, and another three got votes in the poll. That’s seven of eight teams getting votes.
We’ll get to see a little bit of head-to-head this weekend, when Neumann, ranked twelfth in the most recent poll, travels West to face tenth-ranked Wisconsin-Stout. The Knights and Blue Devils will be at MSOE, along with Gustavus Adolphus for a holiday tournament. Four teams from four different conferences – I love tourneys like that.