What I Think: Week 18

Before I get into the trivial stuff, condolences to everyone in the Miami hockey family after the loss of student assistant Brendan Burke. You had to be struck by Burke’s courage, which a lot of us came to realize in an ESPN.com article. He’s gone far too soon, but I’m guessing there are a lot of parts of The Brotherhood that are a lot better off for Burke’s time with the program.

Here’s what I think after the 18th week of the season:

* I learned a few things at the Camp Randall Hockey Classic on Saturday. First, standing in the elements for the better part of six hours is pretty tolerable if you’re well-dressed and have some good hockey to watch. So the second period of the Wisconsin-Michigan game? Yeah, pretty cold at that point.

Second, I think if you’re going to do an outdoor event with both a women’s game and a men’s game, you have to put them on different days. I know you’re trying to get attendance for the women’s game by partnering it with the men’s game, but by the end, it’s just too long of a day. And the weather wasn’t that bad for Feb. 6 in Wisconsin. Imagine playing two games in sub-zero temperatures. Maybe you could have the women’s game connected to a public skate or some other event and then have the men’s game the next day.

Third, Wisconsin defenseman Brendan Smith may have just officially launched his Hobey campaign. I’ve seen him play for the better part of his three years with the Badgers, and I can say there are times when I have been turned off by the risky plays he makes. But this season, he looks much more like the complete picture that everyone has thought he could be. The two goals he scored in front of the second-largest crowd ever to see a college hockey game made quite a statement in his favor (he now has 12 goals and a team-high 33 points), but I’ll remember his last big play of the game.

Smith got in the way of a potential Michigan breakaway pass in the final minute, preventing the shorthanded Wolverines from getting a chance to tie. Smith may have been out of position on the play — I didn’t have the best angle to be able to tell if he was responsible for the player breaking out of the zone — but in the final analysis, he made the play. It doesn’t always have to be by the book to get the job done.

* If Maine ends up in the NCAA tournament this season, it might be able to look back at this weekend as what put it over the top. A pair of wins over a good New Hampshire team vaulted the Black Bears to eighth in the PairWise Rankings.

And, hey, I guess we have a race again in Hockey East. UNH now leads Maine and Boston College — both of whom have a game in hand — by just three points.

* No such race in the CCHA, where Miami can wrap things up with as little as a shootout victory when it plays last-place Bowling Green on Friday. A 14-point lead is inflated, of course, by the CCHA’s three-point system, but that’s still almost a five-game advantage with the RedHawks having six league games remaining.

* I guess we’ve found the way for North Dakota to stay in the NCAA tournament picture. Quoting “War Games,” the only winning move is not to play. The Sioux are back up to being a No. 3 seed after sitting out and watching this weekend’s action play out.

* I’m tempted to take Boston University in the Beanpot final, but I’m going to go with Boston College. It has been a roller coaster of a second half for the Eagles, but scoring five, six and seven goals in the last three games (while allowing a total of three) is a sign that the offense is back clicking.

* I had the hardest time picking the 20th team for the poll this week. So I went with Northern Michigan, which might not have the greatest resume, but has been pretty solid in the second half if you discount a trip to Nebraska-Omaha.

Here’s my full ballot:

1. Miami

2. Denver

3. Wisconsin

4. St. Cloud State

5. Colorado College

6. Bemidji State

7. Boston College

8. Minnesota-Duluth

9. Maine

10. Ferris State

11. New Hampshire

12. Vermont

13. Michigan State

14. North Dakota

15. Cornell

16. Yale

17. Massachusetts

18. Union

19. Michigan

20. Northern Michigan