Jim: Well, Scott, with the first semester wrapped up, it’s time that you and I check our grade books and start handing out report cards. Let’s start in Hockey East, easily the one league that in my mind gets an ‘A’ for performance. If we’re grading without letters, I’d have to say that Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College and Maine all deserve passing grades; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Mass.-Lowell, Vermont and Merrimack all get “needs improvement” from this professor. Providence, though, gets a straight-out ‘F’ from me. That’s a team that simply didn’t show up to class all semester. There certainly was one teacher’s pet in the league, and that’s Northeastern. Do you agree? What about out West?
Scott: Jim, Northeastern continues to be one of the most pleasant stories in Hockey East, and I’m with you in grading Providence’s disappointing first half. Out here, starting locally I’d say the WCHA gets a B. The league had a rough start to the year, especially given Wisconsin and North Dakota’s nonconference struggles, but both of those teams have recovered to plus-.500 league and overall records since the early going. The WCHA has nearly caught up to Hockey East in interconference records, but Hockey East has a strong winning record head-to-head against the WCHA, which tips the balance. Individually, I’d give UW, UND, Denver, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota strong marks under sometimes-trying circumstances thanks to graduation, early departures and injuries. Colorado College passes as well, though not by much thanks to its offensive malaise, as does Minnesota State. St. Cloud State and Alaska Anchorage are on the cusp of decent grades but have some remedial work to catch back up, and Michigan Tech simply can’t match its classmates. If we were grading on a curve, MTU might get held back next year. How about the rest of Division I ?
Jim: I actually think the WCHA deserves a little better than a B, but you’re the league’s home-grown professor, so who am I to argue? Over in Atlantic Hockey, I think I’d have to give that league a solid C+. I had a high school English teacher who said if you had a ‘+’ at the end of your grade, that meant you were a little better than the average, and I think that’s a good way of describing the AHA. The league is having a much better than average year with Air Force, RIT, Canisius and Mercyhurst all passing with flying colors, Bentley, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart all doing enough to avoid having to take winter intersession classes and AIC making the grade as improved but still needing a little bit of work. Two clubs on the brink of failing, though, are Army (did this team seriously win the regular-season title last year?) and Connecticut. Both have a long way to go in the second half. What are your thoughts on AHA’s much smaller counterpart, College Hockey America?
Scott: With the league’s viability again front and center and only four teams filling its ranks, you almost have to give the CHA an incomplete pending further homework — a lot of homework. But as far as results on the ice, the league has had a pretty decent season when you drill down. Bemidji State has scored well at test time with three first-half wins over WCHA opponents despite taking it on the chin from Air Force. Niagara and Robert Morris each have solid nonconference wins over “Big Four” opponents as well, and Alabama-Huntsville had a split with Yale in its mix. So I think a B+ is appropriate. That just leaves the CCHA to account for. Your thoughts?
Jim: I agree that the CHA should really get an incomplete. But it’s not just their league that has homework left to do. All of college hockey needs to do a little homework to figure out a solution! As for the last Eastern league, the ECAC is difficult to grade. The league has a couple of top-ranked teams like Princeton and Cornell calling it home, while it also bears the burden of Brown (one win) Clarkson (two wins) and Rensselaer (three wins). All three of those teams would get failing grades from this professor for their first-semester performances. I guess if I have to assign the league a grade as a whole, I’d give it a ‘C’ — it’s really nothing more than average at this point. So that leaves the CCHA. I’ll let you give your assessment to put a bow on 2008!
Scott: Jim, this year the CCHA has made some noise in interconference tangles and holds a solid nonleague record, and within the league we’ve also seen strong performances by a couple of teams outside of the traditional powers add some excitement. Most notably, Alaska and Nebraska-Omaha get top marks for their first-half surges, while Notre Dame, Miami and Michigan performed to expectations — certainly at least satisfactory progress, as my teachers used to call it. The league’s biggest disappointment has been Michigan State, which entered the holiday break with just four wins overall; if the Spartans can’t show better results in the second half, they may be sent back for remedial work. Overall, the CCHA grades out as an A- in my book, and that ends this marking period. See you in the second semester!