Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Nov. 17, 2009

Jim: Well, Todd, another weekend in the books and plenty of action to talk about. But let’s start in the CCHA where two (maybe three) of the more interesting storylines played themselves out this weekend. First, there’s Ferris State, which went into Cady Arena at Miami and earned two overtime ties and shootout victories over No. 1 Miami. We talked a bit how Ferris State hadn’t gotten respect yet from the pollsters, mostly because of a weak home schedule. But I think the Bulldogs should’ve opened some eyes this weekend playing two very competitive games with the nation’s top team. Another interesting series was the league’s biggest rivalry, Michigan-Michigan State. For the second straight weekend, Michigan got swept. It’s the first time Michigan has dropepd four straight games since the 2005-06 season and the first time the Wolverines have dropped consecutive two-game league series since the 1985-86 season (that year, Michigan was swept in its final four league series and in the first round of the CCHA tournament to end the year with 10 straight losses). On the other side of that coin you have Michigan State, national champions just three years ago despite more recent struggles, maybe returning to the dominant team they were in 2006-07. Three very diffierent storylines, certainly Todd, but what do you make of them?

Todd: I think you have to give Ferris State credit for going into a very tough place to play and not being overwhelmed. But then again, this is nothing new. Last season, the Bulldogs left Oxford with a win and a tie around the same time of year. I’d say Miami is a better team now than it was at this point last year, so the Bulldogs’ accomplishment is notable. And it’s notice that Ferris State will be a factor in the CCHA this season. Maybe not as big a factor as Michigan State, however. I get more and more impressed by the Spartans each weekend, and if they can make it to the holiday break in the same condition (after games this week against Notre Dame, next week against Wisconsin and Minnesota and a couple more CCHA series), they should be one of the teams we talk about as a national title contender. Is it too soon to start compiling that list?

Jim: I certainly don’t think it’s too soon to talk about national contenders, though I think there’s a caveat when it comes to certain teams, like the Ivys who haven’t played enough hockey yet to judge. A few teams I’d like to nominate besides Michigan State and Miami (and Ferris State, for that matter) include Massachusetts-Lowell, Colorado College, Alaska, Bemidji State, Quinnipiac and Massachusetts. Pretty much your perrenial powerhouses, right? Seriously, this list seems like a mid-major conference exploded and these pieces landed on the ground. Michigan State and CC are the only two teams on the list to win a Division I national championship. Heck, only the Spartans, the Tigers and Bemidji State have ever reached a Frozen Four from that list. I know there is plenty of time left in the season and I intentionally omitted a couple of teams like Denver and North Dakota, but we could have an NCAA tournament this year where the teams each would need to wear, “Hello, My Name Is …” stickers.

Todd: If that happens, I’m guessing it would be met with both, “This is the greatest thing ever for college hockey” and, “This is the worst thing ever for college hockey.” We heard a little bit of both last season when Bemidji made it to the Frozen Four. There were a lot of reasons to think that having someone new and mainly unexpected at that level was a positive step for the game in that it gave a lot of teams hope, but many tried to spin it as a negative in that it would hurt exposure to have such a small market represented. I was in the former category, and I would be again. I would love to see another batch of new and unexpected teams playing for the title this season, but I’m guessing some of the old guard will have something to say about that before things are said and done.

Jim: Well, we all know how college hockey’s emerging leagues were met when they applied for automatic qualifiers (thus sending new faces) to the national tournament. Despite the fact it meant expanding to 16 teams, there were far too many who criticized those conferences for even existing, let alone getting bids. The play of teams like Bemidji State, Air Force, Holy Cross and Mercyhurst on the national stage proved that any naysayers had little justification in their argument that the national tournament is supposed to be about the big dogs. I’m with you … give me a Frozen Four with Lowell, Bemidji, Ferris State and Quinnipiac. I’ll be there front and center to welcome a new national champion. So putting that aside, what else stands out to you this weekend? Out my way, it was incredible to see all four series in Hockey East becoming two-game splits. That included both Northeastern and Vermont rebounding from drubbings on the first night to earn victories over Maine and Boston College, respectively, on night two. Interesting stat for you: Although we’re almost at Thanksgiving, no Hockey East team has gotten more than two points from a two-game series against the same opponent. In fact, only UMass (against Niagara) and Lowell (against Alabama-Huntsville) have swept two-game series among Hockey East teams this year.

Todd: I think that stat speaks to the fact that Hockey East teams seem to be pretty well matched, no matter the matchup. Out West, beyond the Michigan State sweep of Michigan that you already mentioned, it was interesting to see Bemidji State respond from a Saturday night loss to run Minnesota (and, apparently, its fans) out of its own building on Sunday. There was a great comment on Twitter by Mankato Free Press hockey writer Shane Frederick, saying in effect that isn’t that what the No. 7 team in the country should do to an unranked team? Absolutely, in one respect. But add the small school-vs.-big school element and that the Beavers had never beaten the Gophers, and it did qualify as a little bit of a landmark event. One of the things that has surprised me about the WCHA so far is who’s leading — Colorado College. The Tigers are 6-1-1 in conference and doing a lot better than most predicted they would with a young team and unproven goaltending. They went into Minnesota State and left with a pair of one-goal victories last weekend.

Jim: As a big fan of small schools, I was happy to see Bemidji State dominate Sunday night. I didn’t see Saturday’s game but it sounded like a tough loss. The Beavers, though, responded well and that’s a credit to their coach, Tom Serratore, for turning things around overnight. As for Colorado College, I’ve always felt it’s difficult to count out a Scott Owens team. Every year it seems folks believe the Tigers won’t be great and each year they put in a more-than-respectible performance, often times becoming a national powerhouse. This weekend proved that the team can close out games with the two one-goal victories. That’s something a lot of other teams would like to learn how to do at this point in the season. So why don’t you wrap us up by giving your thoughts on what’s on tap this weekend?

Todd: We’ll see if Brown can get its first win of the season on Tuesday when it plays Providence for the Mayor’s Cup. The Friars have won two straight, three of the last four and 13 of the 23 times the award has been on the line (with two ties). Later in the week, we have plenty of intrigue on the schedule. Michigan State hosts Notre Dame on Thursday before the series moves to Fort Wayne, Ind., on Sunday. We’ve got Massachusetts going to Yale on Thursday. On the weekend, Boston University and New Hampshire meet in a home-and-home series. Will either of those teams finally step forward this season? And the big one that I’ll be checking on: North Dakota at Denver. These two figured to be near the top of the WCHA standings, and it looks like that’s going to be the case. There’s a chance that Pioneers goaltender Marc Cheverie could return from a leg injury to face the Sioux, and that could change the dynamic right there.


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