Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Jan. 12, 2010

Jim: Well, first off Todd, Happy New Year. It feels like forever since our last edition of TMQ, and plenty has happened since then. Let’s start with Miami. Things seemed splendid heading into the holiday break on a four-game winning streak. But that came to an end when the RedHawks last TWICE last weekend in a home-and-home series against Robert Morris, a team that had just three wins coming in. I’ve been around the game for years and this is hardly the first time we’ve seen a top-rated team lay a goose egg against what should be a massively inferior opponent. But as many times as I see it happen, I still can’t explain how.

Todd: Happy New Year to you, too, and to all of our readers. The thing that puzzled me about the series was that, even after Miami lost on the road (I guess, technically, it was a neutral-site game because it was in Pittsburgh, not Moon Township) on Friday and had a day to stew about it, the RedHawks couldn’t muster enough back home to beat a team well below them in the RPI. One game, I can understand. It happens. But two? It makes me wonder about the long layoff the RedHawks had, and whether it was too long.

Jim: Looking back, Miami had a pretty bad start to the second half last season as well, dropping five straight to start the New Year in 2009. We all know how things went after that, though. With two road series against Ferris State and Alaska over the next two weekends, it’s quite possible that 2010 could be an ugly beginning for the RedHawks as well. Certainly, the next two weeks will be solid measuring sticks to see just what kind of a team Miami is at this point. Speaking of teams finding an identity, one club that has surprised me this season and certainly come into its own in recent weeks is Union. Nate Leaman certainly has had this team headed in the right direction in recent years and right now that has led to holding first place in the ECAC standings. The Dutchmen are 6-0-3 in league play and have a one-point lead over Quinnipiac along with four games in hand on the Bobcats. It’s early to start speculating, but could this FINALLY be Union’s breakout year?

Todd: For their sake, I’m sure they’d get a tremendous boost from being rewarded for the efforts of the last three seasons. The Dutchmen seemed on the periphery over the last two season, even as they were over .500 overall. Now, at 13th in the RPI, they’re right in the mix for an NCAA spot. Union is fourth in the country in scoring, but it has shown it can win close games, too — it has five one-goal wins to its credit. It should be interesting to see how the ECAC plays out, with Quinnipiac opening the second half with four straight losses.

Jim: Quinnipiac’s slide has certainly been a shocker. The Bobcats were white hot early in the season but their 12-1-0 record heading into December is now just a pedestrian 13-7-1 mark. The good news for Quinnipiac is that a few more wins along the way will compliment that 12-for-13 start and likely get it into the NCAA field. But it’s certainly not as much a lock as it seemed on Dec. 1. One team that seems to be doing all it can to return to the NCAA tournament is Maine. The Black Bears are 8-4-1 in league play and 11-7-2 overall. Might this be the season for the boys from Orono to right the ship? Many Maine faithful called for coach Tim Whitehead’s head after two straight disappointing seasons. A decent year and maybe an NCAA tournament appearance might settle the natives, no?

Todd: I don’t mean to bash all fans here — and I’m not talking about Maine specifically — but there certainly are some who not be happy until the current regime is out. Something has rubbed them the wrong way about the coaching staff, and they won’t let it go, even if the team is doing well. So, yeah, things might quiet down a little with Maine, but I’m sure the talk will come up again the next time the Black Bears hit a rough patch. They play at Boston College on Friday, and the Eagles need to put some wins together to even out a three-game losing streak. Any thoughts on how that one might play out?

Jim: If momentum means anything, this should be all Maine. BC has struggled since the break, losing twice after grabbing leads out at the Denver Cup and falling behind 3-0 on Friday night at Fenway Park against Boston University before rallying only to come up short, 3-2. The Eagles don’t seem like the team that closed out 2009. Maine is playing extremely well since the break and has momentum. So while logic would say this one should be Maine’s, I’ll take the truly logical approach and say BC wins. How about out west? What’s news these days in the WCHA?

Todd: I think Minnesota-Duluth opened some more eyes by sweeping Colorado College last weekend. The Bulldogs just keep chugging along even though few had very high expectations for them this season. Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine sit fourth and fifth, respectively, in the nation in scoring, and UMD is getting enough goals to win most nights. The Bulldogs are 14-0-1 this season when scoring at least three goals and 0-7 when scoring two or less. Denver is atop the WCHA standings, but UMD is just two points back. I noticed the other day that six of the top 10 teams in the RPI are from the WCHA, so I think it’s safe to say there’s a lot of strength there this season. Anything we should be looking for this weekend?

Jim: I was having a discussion about the PairWise and RPI last week and also realized that the WCHA is dominating both. A part of me thinks that Hockey East could have teams of equal strength but that parity top to bottom means that all of the 10 teams are beating one another up in league play. I guess the answer won’t be determined until tournament time, though. As for this week, there are a couple of games to keep an eye on including the ice hockey version of college sport’s greatest rivalry, Harvard and Yale. Another rivalry game in the ECAC will pit red-hot Union against Capital District rival Rensselaer. A major series in Hockey East will be the battle of Massachusetts state schools as Lowell and UMass square off in a home-and-home beginning Friday in Amherst. How about out west? What are the big games to watch this week?

Todd: Ferris State hosts Miami, with the teams tied for first place in the CCHA. The Bulldogs are making a major charge this season, and I think it’s finally impossible to ignore their potential. There’s the always-anticipated Minnesota-North Dakota series, this one at Mariucci Arena after the Sioux took three points at home in the WCHA-season-opening series in October. The Gophers need points badly, and they have to get better at home — they’re just 2-5 at Mariucci in league play, compared to 4-2-1 on the road. And Wisconsin goes to Colorado College, which took three points from the Badgers at the Kohl Center in October. The Tigers are just 1-4-2 in their last seven league games, taking some of the shine off a solid start. Until next week …