Jim: Well, Todd, interesting week around the country. Yale carried out its duty in sweeping St. Lawrence and Clarkson, a nice recovery from its loss to Brown a week earlier. Newly-minted No. 2 Boston College also bounced back nicely from an ugly loss at Maine to beat archrival Boston University and a lowly Massachusetts-Lowell team that had a magical weekend of its own, beating then-No. 13 Merrimack on Friday and giving BC everything it could handle on Saturday. I definitely think as we’re about to head to the home stretch that it’s safe to say both the Bulldogs and Eagles are ready to put a stake in the sand.
Todd: I have very few questions about whether those two teams are in it for the long run. Yale is 13-1 in its last 14 games (with an important series to come this weekend, but more on that later) and BC is 9-1 in its last 10. I guess the only thing I wonder about is whether the mind-set can carry over for another 11 weeks. There’s a long way to go here.
There were a few eye-opening results last Friday in the West. Nebraska-Omaha surged to 7-1 lead before winning 8-4 at North Dakota. Michigan State held off a few Miami rally attempts for a 7-4 victory. And Ohio State blasted Notre Dame 6-1 in a series opener. Those higher-ranked losing teams all responded on Saturday with wins to split the series, which is what you have to expect from a good team. They’re going to lose occasionally, but they can’t let things spiral out of control.
Jim: I guess of those losses you mentioned, what stands out to me was the scores. They were all blowouts. I always ask myself how some of the top-ranked teams in the country can lay such a goose egg. Maybe it’s just a long season and everyone deserves an ugly game now and again. It’s similar to what happened to Maine a couple of weeks ago when it lost 7-1. I was at that game and the team couldn’t stop a nose bleed.
Of the series you mentioned, the Nebraska-Omaha one really was one I was following closely. I wasn’t surprised to see them win but the season hasn’t been a great one for the Mavericks after such a fast start. Is this a team that maybe is trying to prove its legitimacy?
Todd: I think it’s probably a fair thing at this point to define what legitimate is. In my mind, there are legitimate teams that won’t make the NCAA tournament. I don’t know if the Mavericks are going to make the tournament this year, but even if they don’t, I think they’re proving that they’re going to be a program to watch in the coming seasons.
Other than the eight-goal explosion on Friday (and that was quite a sight), they’ve been a fairly average offensive team over the past two months, and I think that has to be a concern going forward, especially with a team that ranks only 22nd nationally in defense.
Jim: You make a really good point here. There are a number of good teams (out in Hockey East, the three that stand out are Merrimack, Maine and Boston University) which come season’s end still might not have done enough to make the NCAA tournament. Which brings me to another interesting point. Have you taken a look at the PairWise of late? It looks like this could be a banner year for the ECAC in terms of qualifying teams for the NCAA field. Right now there are four ECAC teams in the top 15 of the PWR. That would certainly be an interesting change on the national scene.
Todd: I’m very interested to see how the numbers hold up for the ECAC teams. Will those four teams stay strong, make it to Atlantic City and all give themselves a decent shot at the tournament? Or will someone else come on strong and push one or more of them farther toward the margins of the at-large field? If I had to guess, I’d say the ECAC will get three teams in the tournament, which makes it a possibility that a pretty good, 20-win team will be left out.
Jim: I feel like come season’s end, the bubble teams that “survive” in the PairWise generally come from the conference with a pretty high RPI. I can’t substantiate that with hard numbers. That’s based purely on my recollection and remembering that the last team in always seems to come from a pretty strong conference.
Anyway, on to this week. All of the three Eastern conferences have major tilts this weekend. In Hockey East, you have Maine and BU squaring off. In the ECAC, you have Union and Rensselaer facing Yale in single games. And in Atlantic Hockey, Robert Morris and Niagara as well as Mercyhurst and Rochester Institute of Technology play two-game series. Still plenty of play left, but this weekend could mean quite a bit to each of these leagues.
What about out West?
Todd: The highlight of the weekend in the CCHA is going to be Miami’s trip to Notre Dame. As we mentioned before, both teams had to rebound from losses by one-sided scores on Friday to earn splits last weekend. Both of those teams are trailing Michigan in the CCHA standings, and the Irish have a chance to push the RedHawks farther out of the title picture. In the WCHA, Colorado College — back in the top 20 this week — hosts North Dakota, with the Sioux needing to get some road points to stay near the top of the standings.