Jim Connelly: As December rolls around, so does the annual flu bug which has overtaken my partner in crime, Scott Brown. While he sits at home trying to muster enough energy to even turn on his computer, rookie WCHA correspondent Theresa Spisak joins me to talk shop. So Theresa, seeing as you have a pulse on all that is good in the WCHA, how about you take some time to enlighten me as to why this league’s members seem intent on beating one another up. There’s no doubt in my mind that the WCHA is home to some of the best players and teams in the country, but aside from Colorado College and Denver, everyone seems intent on hovering around .500. So what gives?
Theresa Spisak: Well Jim, teams in the WCHA always beat each other up, but they need to – each game is so important for the final rankings. If you recall, last year Denver was just one win away from not only making the NCAA tournament, but being a number two seed. When it comes down to it, you need to win every game. That partially explains Colorado College and Denver, but of course, both of those teams have extra incentive this year with Regionals in CC’s backyard and the Frozen Four in Denver’s. Granted, some teams have been surprising. I don’t think many thought Minnesota to be struggling this much. Really though, what it comes down to is that any one team in the league can win on any given day, making the conference so close. But, as you well know, there are surprises in the other conferences as well as a lot of parity. Northeastern leading Hockey East?
Jim: Hockey East truly has amazed me this year. Northeastern is a much improved team but it’s still difficult to say whether they’re a championship club. They’ve more than held their own against very good competition thus far. People argued that games in hand that other teams have would be a major factor. New Hampshire lost one of those games in hand last Saturday against Mass.-Lowell. So it’s still yet to be seen what can happen. One thing that was apparent last weekend is that Boston College is better than it’s record indicates. It man-handled Boston University on Friday night and then survived the Terriers onslaught on the road on Saturday. Back to the WCHA, you brought up a very good point about the Regional tournament and the Frozen Four both being played in Colorado this season. You live out there – how big would it be to have say Denver and Colorado College battling it out in the Frozen Four come April. I think a lot of the college hockey world (myself, included) isn’t really in touch with how big college hockey is out there. Care to shed some light?
Theresa: Gladly. We have three teams out here – the aforementioned Denver and Colorado College as well as Air Force, whom everyone knows now thanks to their performance in last year’s Regionals as well as it’s Hobey Baker candidate. As compared to a place like Minnesota, college hockey isn’t that big. Colorado – and Denver specifically – has a ton of other sports. That being said, the teams that are here do get quite a bit of support. Colorado College is really the only game in town so it’s games are usually rocking. Air Force’s fan base has grown some after last year and the Denver games always generate some interest. It also helps that we have a lot of fans from other teams here. North Dakota came out last week to play Denver and the arena probably was 60/40 Sioux fans to Pioneer fans. If any of the three teams made the Frozen Four – Denver and Colorado College especially – Pepsi Center will be rocking come April. Of course, there’s a lot of stuff for everyone to do here, so it will be a great fan experience, even if it is, say, a Clarkson/Miami final – two teams who also have early conference leads.
Jim: Clarkson and Miami, eh? That’s quite a harbinger of a statement. Truth be told, I guess it’s not out of the question that we could see some new faces in this year’s Frozen Four. Miami is certainly one. If they don’t make it, I’d be quite surprised, but there still is a long way (and a single-elimination) tournament to go. So I think, seeing as this is your first foray into TMQ, that you should be put on the hot seat. We’re just about at the midpoint in the season. When you look back at the first nine weeks of play, what is the one thing that shocks you the most? How about a top highlight? Anything you’ve seen – either live, on TV or on YouTube – that stands out?
Theresa: Hey, it’s still early. I can predict crazy Frozen Four finals at this point because there’s still a ton of hockey left to play and makes any prediction moot. That being said, to answer your question, I guess there have been a few things that have shocked me. First of all, I am surprised that even given all their troubles, Boston University actually has a good power play for a change. That was one thing I never saw during my four years there. I would also have to say the early play of Merrimack, although it’s tapered off a bit recently. Finally, in terms of highlights, I have been sucked into the hype about the goal that Denver’s Tyler Ruegsegger scored against Minnesota State which made the rounds on the Fan Forum here at USCHO. If I’m allowed to turn the tables, how would you answer that question?
Jim: Yes, you’re a rookie, but there’s no hazing permitted here, so you certainly can turn the tables. I guess what shocks me the most at this play is the national power of the CCHA. Certainly, after Michigan State won the national title, you had to believe that there’s some good hockey going on in that league but who would’ve thought that Michigan, Miami and Michigan State would become mainstays in the top five of the USCHO.com poll. I still haven’t seen Ruegsegger’s goal, but am about to scurry YouTube to find it. The play that stood out to me was the save that Shane Connelly (no relation) made against North Dakota back in mid-November. That was one for the highlight books. Okay, before we close here, I’ll toss one last question your way: Pick the winners in this year’s GLI, Dodge Holiday Classic (nee Mariucci), Denver Cup, Badger Showdown and Florida College Classic. Actually, just so we don’t seem to have a WCHA bias, throw in your pick at the Catamount Cup.
Theresa: You want me to make predictions? If you’ve read my column you know that I’m awful at these. Oh well, here goes nothing. The GLI is certainly the toughest, but I think I’ll go with Michigan State. As a BU grad, it pains me to say that I think BC will win the Dodge Holiday Classic (but Air Force will certainly give them a run for their money). Denver will not falter like last year and will win the Denver Cup and I think Wisconsin will take the Badger Showdown. Oh, let’s say Clarkson in the Florida College Classic and Quinnipiac in the Catamount Cup. And, so we don’t leave anyone out, Harvard will ride the play of Kyle Richter to win the Ohio Hockey Classic, Colorado College will take the Lightning Classic and Army will come out on top of the UConn Hockey Classic.
Jim: Wow, I think that’s enough predictions for the two of us, so you’ll be the only one on the hot seat with these picks. And with that, we’ll wrap it up for another week. Thanks, Theresa, for filling in for Mr. Brown. If he’s sick next week, you may just become the permanent fixture on this column.