And away we go…

It’s officially four weeks into the college hockey season, which seems like enough time to begin forming some opinions.

The first that seems to come to mind is that the West is once again very strong. That’s not to suggest that the East doesn’t have teams that pack a punch, but early results from non-league play show that the teams making the most early noise reside West of Pennsylvania.

Important to note, though, is that the WCHA isn’t the sole Western league that’s catching people’s attention. Miami has jumped out of the gate to a quick 6-0-0 start and jumped into the number one spot in the poll. This doesn’t suprise me an ounce. I only saw the RedHawks play twice last year – both games in the Northeast Regional tournament – but I really liked this team.

What’s most impressive thus far is Miami’s defense. The RedHawks have allowed just eight goals in six games against decent opposition (Vermont, Ohio State, Nebraska-Omaha). The next three weekends might be the test to see just how good this team is as Miami travels for two to Northern Michigan, returns home for a pair against Notre Dame and then heads to Lansing to face defending national champion Michigan State.

Other Western clubs that look impressive early on are Michigan (BC head coach Jerry York, whose club lost to the Wolverines to start the season, called Red Berenson’s club, “An excellent hockey club”) and Michigan State in the CCHA, along with North Dakota, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA.

Out East, though non-league results haven’t been to everyone’s liking, one team that’s made some early noise is New Hampshire. After a solid 60-minute effort to produce a league win at Boston University, the Wildcats swept a strong Colorado College team in Durham last weekend. On Friday night, the Wildcats buried the final four goals of the game in a 5-3 win and scored the final two goals in Saturday’s 4-2 victory. UNH appears early on to be a team that doesn’t get flustered with adversity which will be a good quality to have come March.

Head coach Dick Umile has to be happy with the early play of his blue-chip recruit James vanRiemsdyk. The rookie, who was the first overall collegian to be taken in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft (2nd, Philadelphia), has scored in each of UNH’s first three games and looks comfortable at left wing on a line with center Mike Radja and right wing Mike Fornataro.

Here are a few other early observations from the opening month of play:

– Rensselaer has been a surprise team in the ECACHL, opening the season with a 5-2-0 record. The two losses for the Engineers were against top-ranked teams: 4-3 to Minnesota (after having a 3-0 lead) and 4-1 to Boston College. RPI might not win the ECACHL title, but they’ll certainly be better than the cellar-dwelling team they were picked to be pre-season.

– Atlantic Hockey still is not at the level of more established leagues, but there’s more than enough reason for non-league opponents to worry about facing these clubs. Holy Cross’ upset of Providence, RIT’s upset of Cornell and Air Force’s two-game sweep of ECACHL runner-up Quinnipiac all give the conference some early credibility this season.

– Though I’ve mentioned vanRiemsdyk already, there’s a need to emphasize the impact young players are having this season. Currently, the top three scorers are all freshmen with Wisconsin’s Kyle Turris leading the way (12 points in 4 games, which would put him on a pace to score as many as 132 points this year – can you say Paul Kariya who?). BC’s Joe Whitney is also having early impact with 11 points in six games, while St. Cloud’s Garrett Roe has potted 10 points in his first six games.

– Some big games to keep an eye on as league play heats up around the country this weekend: Maine at BC (Friday), Denver at Minnesota (Friday and Sunday), and an impressive Michigan Tech team at Wisconsin (Friday and Saturday).