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 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 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 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.