Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Bad week for the top 5

Todd: Well, Jim, I guess it wasn’t a good weekend to be ranked in the top five. Every one of those teams from last week’s poll lost once last weekend, including No. 1 Yale, which fell to Brown on a last-minute goal on Sunday. Because of the other results — North Dakota, Boston College, New Hampshire and Minnesota-Duluth all falling once — and because Yale still sits atop the RPI, the Bulldogs are still in the first spot on my poll ballot this week. How about you?

Jim: Yeah, it certainly was ugly for the top teams in the poll. But as you mentioned, when all of the top five fall it’s difficult to drop the No. 1 team, in this case Yale. They’re still my No. 1.

But this goes back to something we mentioned recently that despite what many perceive as an easy schedule in the ECAC, Yale does not have a cakewalk into the postseason. Brown has played extremely well of late, including routing Boston University, 6-1, and then, of course, Sunday’s upset of the Bulldogs. The Bears are still a game below .500, but I have to think they are trending upwards in many people’s eyes, no?

Todd: When I saw that Yale lost on Sunday, I wasn’t overly surprised when I saw it was Brown that did it. But I also am not surprised when I see the Bears losing to Minnesota State or Dartmouth. They’re a team that’s tough to get a handle on, and I suppose a lot of that has to do with a fairly tough schedule they’ve played (sixth-toughest in the country, according to the RPI).

I think the thing that should concern Brown the most right now is that it’s in the bottom four of the ECAC Hockey standings. It’s going to be a close race for the top four spots and a first-round playoff bye (Brown is only four points out of fourth), so the Bears can’t afford to give away too many points.

As for Yale, I’ll be interested to see how the Bulldogs respond this weekend against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The last time they lost, they rattled off 10 straight wins in response.

Jim: Brown has indeed played a very difficult schedule. There have been so many bright spots to the season but, strangely, plenty of dark ones as well. I think that’s the sign of a team that is still trying to find its identity. This isn’t exactly a program with a recent history of winning. Last year’s playoffs were a good steppingstone and wins like Sunday’s upset of Yale are great as well. But this team needs to find consistency. I still wouldn’t want to face them in the playoffs.

As for Yale, I’m sure the Bulldogs will rebound. It’s more and more difficult to put together extended winning streaks in college hockey. There’s simply too much parity, don’t you agree?

Todd: Absolutely. I wouldn’t put it past the Bulldogs to run together another big streak, but think how difficult that would be. Even if they get through this weekend unscathed, they have to do the Union-Rensselaer double on the road the week after. Let’s put it this way: If Yale puts together a four-game winning streak right now, we’re looking at something pretty special.

I was just looking through the standings, and I’m glad no one is so far ahead of the pack that a league title is a foregone conclusion at this point. Last year, we knew Miami was going to run away with the CCHA crown by now, but even Yale, at 9-1 in the ECAC, isn’t a lock. I’m guessing we’re going to have some leagues going down to the final day to determine a champion this year, don’t you think?

Jim: Well, a lot of that goes back to how we began this conversation. Even the top teams aren’t free from potential pitfalls. That certainly makes for great races come late February and early March.

In Hockey East you have what is likely a four-to-five horse race with Boston College and New Hampshire leading the way. Rochester Institute of Technology has a big lead in Atlantic Hockey (five points right now), But Niagara has two games in hand and can make up those points quickly.

The CCHA might not have a major pack of contenders, but the race between Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami could come down to the wire. Union is probably in the best possible position to give Yale a run for its money, and next weekend’s head-to-head matchup will be possibly the biggest game in Union hockey history.

And last but not least is the league you see the most — the WCHA — where eight points separate seven teams and there are four points between the top four. What are your thoughts on that race? Safe to say there still is no clear favorite in the WCHA?

Todd: I go down the list in the WCHA and I see a bunch of teams that can end up on top. North Dakota has been playing well, even despite its home split with Minnesota last weekend. Denver keeps getting points despite a few missteps. We’ve seen that Minnesota-Duluth can be an elite team, and I’m thinking they’ll find their early-season form again.

And Nebraska-Omaha has a huge series at North Dakota this weekend where it could make itself one of the prime contenders. Think Dean Blais will have his team fired up to play in Grand Forks?

Jim: Talk about a series to watch. The man who took North Dakota to the top returns with a Nebraska-Omaha team that is very similar to the Sioux teams of the mid-1990s. When you add the fact that these two clubs are part of the WCHA logjam, can’t get much better. So besides that series, what else will you be watching for this weekend?

Todd: It’s getting to be make-or-break time for Alaska, which plays a pair at Michigan this weekend. The Nanooks have won only once in their last four games. This is the week where they stay in the Lower 48 between two road series, so you’ve got to think there’s plenty of time to ponder what needs to be done the rest of the way. What’s on the marquee out East?

Jim: Well, the famous Beantown rivalry between Boston College and Boston University wraps up the regular-season series this Friday night at Agganis Arena. BC easily routed the Terriers in a two-game set back in early December but the Eagles are coming off a 4-1 loss at Maine on Sunday. In the ECAC, Dartmouth will head to Union on Friday and RPI on Saturday for a series that may reveal just how legit this Big Green team is. Plenty of good hockey as we head down the stretch. Until next week …