Jim: Well, Scott, it appears that Miami has firmly planted its stake to be the number one team in the country after sweeping defending national champions Michigan State in East Lansing over the weekend. Both games seemed to give college hockey fans what they’re looking for — two close games that were nailbiters until the RedHawks scored late empty-net goals. All of that said, Michigan kept pace with the RedHawks by earning a sweep at Lake Superior. It seems that Red Berenson and Rico Blasi have plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Scott: Jim, it sure does look like the RedHawks and the Wolverines are putting on the bullseyes. Michigan State’s two losses were close, but losses nonetheless and at home, and an eight-game winning streak is by the boards. Miami’s got Canisius up next, but for Michigan and MSU it’s the traditional CCHA-WCHA confrontation brewing this weekend in the form of the College Hockey Showcase, which has been dominated by the WCHA teams in recent years. This could be the season that the CCHA turns that around as well, what with the Wolverines looking particularly strong and Minnesota struggling — though it’s hard to forget the Gophers’ win over Michigan at the Ice Breaker Invitational just a month or so ago.
Jim: I think that Minnesota is a team with talent that right now is just having a difficult time putting everything together. The Gophers aren’t alone. Out East, you have two perennial powerhouses that are truly struggling in Boston College and Maine. Both teams are riding five-game winless streaks. When was the last time you could say that? At the same time, as the powers sink, other teams are rising. Northeastern is suddenly the first-place team in Hockey East. In the CCHA, Bowling Green is surprising many by sitting in fourth-place behind three national powers. Is the landscape changing here, Scotty? Personally, I think it’s a little early to tell.
Scott: I couldn’t agree more. The fact of the matter is that when you look at the national polls, especially the top 10, the usual suspects (I now count Miami on that list) are well-represented. Now, poll voters’ rankings are based in part on expectation and reputation, especially this early in the season, but what this means is that some of the people closest to the game agree that there’s not enough evidence yet to call this a seismic shift in the balance of power. Hockey East is especially fascinating, though even there BC and BU are still .500 in league play. Maine is a real head-scratcher. It’s tempting to look first at Ben Bishop, who’s been lifted for Dave Wilson a couple of times lately, but the Black Bears have only scored five goals during that five-game winless streak. I don’t care if Ken Dryden’s in net, you’re not going to win many by averaging one goal per game. We may not be able to evaluate the real Maine until after the new year, when the Black Bears have a raft of games against the likes of BC, BU and New Hampshire, not to mention Massachusetts. Clarkson’s going to get real interesting too, with about 10 straight games coming against either national contenders or teams who are surprisingly good in the early going this year.
Jim: Maine certainly is an interesting study right now. You can’t look at goaltending at all as all of their problems are centered around the offense. When I saw them about three weeks ago at BC, I was thoroughly impressed with their overall team but concerned that they struggled to finish. The offense generated shots, but it’s that natural goal-scorer that seems to be lacking up front. This isn’t anything new for the Black Bears. They’ve been a successful team for the past few seasons despite their offensive struggles. That, though, seems to be catching up with them — at least over the last few weekends. I glanced over it on a cursory level earlier, but I have to get your take on Northeastern. With five league wins before Thanksgiving for the first time since 1989, does Greg Cronin finally have this team back to the level that we can consider them a player on the national stage?
Scott: I sure hope so. Cronin’s a good coach, and his quotability alone means I’m rooting for him and his team. Plus, it’s just a bad scene to have certain teams out of the running year after year before the season even starts. The Huskies are getting good goaltending once again from Brad Thiessen, and it looks like a couple of the veterans have stepped it up, notably Joe Vitale and Ryan Ginand. To shift gears once again, Niagara just can’t seem to lose at home. The streak is 22 games unbeaten now, the fifth-longest of all time, but a stiff test in the form of Bemidji State is next, right after Thanksgiving. I’d love to see history made at Dwyer Arena, if for no better reason than I love to see history made anytime.
Jim: A 22-game home unbeaten streak is just incredible. I credit any team that is able to be that successful in the confines of their own arena. Though it seems like a strange concept, sometimes playing at home can be stressful for student-athletes. Sure, fans can add atmosphere that make it difficult for the visiting team, but most road teams come very prepared to face the elements of an opponent’s rink and actually use that as a motivating factor. I don’t know what the formula is that has made Dave Burkholder’s team so successful at home, but whatever he puts in the water, I know 58 coaches who would like to get some.
Scott: Yeah, coaches talk occasionally about the bonding that happens on the road, or just the lack of pressure in not playing in front of the home crowd. Twenty-two games is quite the streak, no matter where they happen. And since it’s my turn to close this out, let me do it by wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, and the same to the readers, players and coaches out there.