The mighty fall… simultaneously

So how does the old expression go, something like “Timing is everything.”

That certainly was the case for the top teams in the country this past weekend as each of the top five teams in the USCHO.com poll all faltered, splitting their respective weekend series.

Of the five, only Maine saw impacted when this week’s poll was unveiled. The Black Bears, who fell to Providence on the road on Friday for their third straight loss, fell from four to six.

The remainder of the pack remained the same thanks to each following the win one-lose one formula.

Most eyes turned to Minnesota where the top-ranked Golden Gophers locked horns with No. 5 Denver. The Gophers were hoping to rebound after losing for the first time in 26 games to Wisconsin a week prior but Pioneers goaltender Glenn Fisher made 31 saves in a 1-0 victory to keep the Gopher reeling, at least for the moment.

One night later the Gophers held on for a 5-4 victory, but the fans in the Twin Cities had to be worried that the number one ranking was in severe jeopardy.

That was until Jon Quick made 27 saves for Massachusetts against No. 2 New Hampshire, ending a modest five-game winning streak for the Wildcats and virtually securing the number one spot for the Gophers once again.

When the final votes were tallied, Minnesota took 36 of the 40 first place votes, which UNH taking the remaining four. Besides Maine, each of the top five maintained their exact position. St. Cloud State swapped places with the Black Bears after a two-game sweep of Minnesota-Duluth.

So if ever there was a good week for the mighty to fall, it was the one that just passed. It’s certainly not likely that the nation’s top teams will be able to post losses and maintain position in the national poll.

How Legit is Niagara?

As you talk about the movers and shakers in the national picture, one that grabs your attention is Niagara. The Purple Eagles swept a two-game series against ECACHL leader Quinnipiac to jump from number 20 to 16 in the USCHO.com poll.

The weekend sweep followed up two tough losses on the road at Denver that included a 2-1 overtime loss to open the series on Friday night.

So with Niagara raising some eyebrows in recent weeks, the question becomes just how good are the Purple Eagles?

Looking at their non-league schedule, the Eagles have some impressive wins including two against Colgate (as well as one loss), a win versus RPI, a road win against St. Lawrence and a win against Atlantic Hockey front-runner RIT.

Similarly, though, Niagara has some ugly losses, including a 10-1 drubbing at the hands of Nebraska-Omaha and a 7-4 loss to struggling Mass.-Lowell.

A quick look at the PairWise(SM) Rankings, which debuted at USCHO.com last week, shows that Niagara is right in the middle of the national tournament picture. After last week’s sweep, Niagara sits in the 16th spot. The only problem in moving up is the fact that Niagara’s only remaining games come against somewhat weak CHA opponents, meaning moving up will be difficult.

Could Niagara make their way to the national tournament? Likely only if they can win their conference tournament, which, of course, gives the Eagles the automatic qualifier.

Looking at the PWR

The PairWise Rankings, originally developed by USCHO as a way to mimic the selection process outlined by the NCAA tournament committee when selecting the field for the NCAA tournament, is always a good way to stir up some debate.

What most people forget when reading the PWR is that, other than to spur debate, the information that is rendered from the PWR matters on only one day – the final day of the season. A team that may ranked 10th right now might not even be in the picture in five weeks. Similarly, a team that is currently missing from the PWR could get hot and post late season wins against a strong schedule and move up into the tournament field.

Still, being a writer who enjoys stirring the pot, this seems as good a time as any to take a look at the current PWR and make some observations.

If the season ended today, something that certainly stands out is the fact that Hockey Easy would have five teams in the tournament field, including the top seed, New Hampshire. Vermont, Boston University, Boston College and Maine all would be heading to the big dance. Similarly, the ECACHL would only have a single member, Clarkson, eligible. League leader Quinnipiac would have to win the conference tournament to qualify, an ugly position to be in as the division leader.

Out West, it’s no surprise that the WCHA has a major early presence in the PWR. Minnesota and St. Cloud State would both be number one seeds in the NCAA tournament if it began today. Denver and Colorado College would also be shoe-ins and North Dakota would be the bubble boy.

The CCHA could see would see a four-spot of tournament participants in perennial powers Michigan and Michigan State, along with Notre Dame, currently sloted as a number one seed, along with Miami sitting near the bubble.

There are eight weekends remaining before the NCAA field is set and believe that there’s plenty of shifting that will occur in the PWR. The one thing that’s for sure – eight weeks is plenty of time for us to continue to speculate.

 

1 COMMENT

    • This week Jim picked first so he gave his honest opinion. I picked next and was willing to “pull the goalie” to try to catch him. But if you read the text, you know what my picks would have been.

      Under no circumstances am I picking UMass to win a single game. Even if I’m trying to catch Jim. Then: “I fully expect the Wildcats to sweep… I was strongly considering going with the Huskies in three, but Jim beat me to it… I can easily see this [Merrimack-Maine] series going three games and don’t at all anticipate a lopsided third game…. I’d pick Merrimack.”

      Doesn’t that make it clear? UNH in two. Northeastern in three. Merrimack in three.

  1. Maine will win it all. The team is finally pushing Whitehead aside in the locker room and following Corkum’s very strong Shawn Walsh-like leadership.

    • You have access to the locker room??

      I’d love to see Maine win the HEast tourney and get to the NCAAs, but they have a very long road to travel. It all depends upon which defensive (Maine) team shows up. They can score, but if they don’t play D, they’ll will not get very far.

      I hoping for the best.

  2. I’m kind of confused here…why are you guys picking games 3 when you are predicting sweeps???? That doesn’t make sense. Its like, I think Maine will win the first two games…but if theirs a third, Maine will win it anyways???? huh?

    • We pick a third game even if we predict a sweep so that if we’re wrong we have a pick in place for that third game.

  3. Picks

    BC in 2
    UNH in 3
    NU in 3
    MC in 3

    BC over NU
    MC over UNH

    BC over MC in a great hockey game. I’ve seen a bunch of teams play this year (12 games) and this is the way I see it.

    I also see Hockey East getting 3 teams in unfortunately. Still, I think as many as 5 can get in if Maine wins at Merrimack and wins its semi final game, if BU moves into the semi final, or if Northeastern wins out (automatic). I wouldn’t count out NU, I saw them play in the Beanpot final and the following home and home serise at BC and was impressed. I was more impressed with Northeastern then UNH when I saw them play last weekend at BC and BU, which I saw at the Beanpot and vs. BC in late January.

  4. Just like telling financial services clients: Performanace history is not a guarantee for future results. But in this case, I think Michigan will be on its game.

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