Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Change at the top

Todd: Well, Jim, we had a weekend of upheaval among ranked teams, but no more than right at the top. Yale, the No. 1 team in the last six polls, fell twice in its trip to New York, to Union and Rensselaer, yet maintained the top spot in both the Ratings Percentage Index and the PairWise Rankings. The results told me two things: One, that the Bulldogs had a pretty sizable lead in those rankings; and two, that ECAC Hockey, if you didn’t believe it already, is legit at the top of the standings. What are your thoughts coming out of the weekend?

Jim: Well, Todd, we talked a few weeks back about how the ECAC schedule seems to bring out volatility even for the league’s best teams. No one will argue that Yale is the best team this league has put forth in a few years but RPI and Union are both solid clubs this season and, as this weekend proved, in a one-game scenario any of the three could come out on top. It also throws a huge wrench into the overall ECAC standings. Yale’s lead is down to one point and you have to think that five teams now have a shot at the regular season title. There a part of me that is reminded of last year’s Hockey East standings, where the eighth-place team qualified for the NCAA tournament. This is parity at its best.

Todd: There may be parity, but there’s also a familiar face back atop the rankings. Boston College, which started the season No. 1 as the defending national champion, has put together a nice run — winning 10 out of its last 11 games — to take over the top spot after Yale’s pair of losses. I ended up with the Eagles on top of my ballot, but not without going back and forth to other teams. I don’t think anyone would argue that BC is one of the best teams playing right now — maybe the best — but it’s only fifth in the RPI and PairWise. I try not to let the numbers speak for me when I’m voting, but it did strike me that the nation’s No. 1 team wouldn’t even be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if it started today.

Jim: That ran through my head but I also ended up with BC at the top of my ballot. As people seem to continually remind me, the PWR at this point in the season doesn’t matter too much. If BC keeps playing hockey that will keep it No. 1 in the poll, there isn’t much doubt in my mind that the Eagles will also be the No. 1 team in the PWR come season’s end. Though it does beg the question: If you hadn’t picked BC No. 1, who would’ve gotten that vote?

Todd: I was considering Denver, although I remembered not being particularly impressed by what I saw on TV when they played at Minnesota State a couple of weeks ago. I was considering Minnesota-Duluth, although I don’t think the dour December for the Bulldogs has yet been cleared from my voting memory. I left open the possibility of keeping Yale on top because it still has the nation’s best record and, really, should I punish a team because two of its four losses happened to come on one weekend? But I realized that while you do have to keep the entire picture in mind when you’re voting, I think you do have to weigh recent results a little heavier in the equation. That’s how the poll stays fluid.

Jim: Well, you’ve brought up a point I bet a lot of people wonder about: What methods do people who vote in the USCHO.com poll use? I know, personally, I look at the previous week’s results and make most of my decisions that way. I do look at some other circumstances when making major decisions — like which team should be No. 1. In that case, I’ll take into account RPI and PairWise ranking, maybe whether or not the two teams have played each other and what the result was and what type of competition each team has beat of late. Personally, I feel the poll is a ranking of “right now” and feel, for the most part, my method rewards the teams that are playing well of late. I know there are some glitches to that mentality, which I’m sure you will point out.

Todd: I think that’s a very fair way of doing it, but, of course there’s no one correct way of ordering teams in an opinion poll. Everyone has their own way of doing things — as they should — and the aggregate result at the end turns out just about right. That’s how polls are supposed to work, right?

Anyway, on to other topics. We had a noteworthy event last week when Michigan State coach Rick Comley said he’s retiring at the end of this, his 38th season as a college hockey head coach. Comley is fourth on the all-time college wins list with 775. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know if we’re going to see very many coaches stick around for 38 years or 775 victories anymore. Put it this way: If Rico Blasi stays in college coaching and keeps at his pace of roughly 22 wins per season, he’ll reach 775 victories in the 2034-35 season. Are we going to be seeing the end of a breed of coaches over the next 10 years?

Jim: Well, first off, let me say I think Rick Comley is part of a unique group of college coaches that dedicated themselves to their career. Rick will be missed in the college hockey games, no doubt.

As to your point about a dying breed, I do believe you may be right. It has been very difficult for college coaches to remain in the game, particularly as many other entities have come calling. USA Hockey has been one. With both the U.S. National Team Development Program and the creation of programs like the American Development Model, some solid coaches have left college hockey to work with the country’s national governing body. There have been a number of coaches affected by this, though names like Ron Rolston and Roger Grillo stand out. It used to be that the pro ranks came calling and snagged the best coaches (Bob Johnson, Lou Lamoriello, etc.) But now there are a number of additional high-profile coaching options out there, no doubt.

Todd: It’ll be interesting to see whether any of today’s younger coaches are able to achieve the college longevity of Comley, Jerry York, Jack Parker, Joe Marsh, Red Berenson and Co.

Before I turn to what could be interesting this weekend, I wanted to mention the NCAA women’s hockey attendance record set at Wisconsin last Saturday, when 10,668 fans were at the Kohl Center for a Wisconsin-Minnesota game. Hope there were a few new fans made.

Anyway, the CCHA and the WCHA both offer intriguing series this weekend. Michigan, which lost to Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena last weekend, plays a pair at Miami, which split six points at Notre Dame, tying both nights and then taking turns earning the extra shootout point. Out West, the battle for the Gold Pan concludes with Denver needing just a split with Colorado College in the home-and-home series to retain the trophy.

How are things looking out East this week?

Jim: There are plenty of great rivalries out East this weekend. Start with Maine and New Hampshire playing twice in Durham in a key standings series for both teams. It may not be as competitive, but Harvard and Yale will also renew their rivalry. And of course next Monday we’ll see the annual Beanpot return to Boston with BC and BU squaring off in the second semifinal. For the record, my pick to win this year is Northeastern.


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