TMQ: After chaotic offseason, new season brings fresh start for some

Todd: Well, Jim, welcome back to another season of Tuesday Morning Quarterback. For those new to the concept, each week during the season we chat back and forth on the topics du jour around college hockey. We’ve got a lot to talk about after the first full weekend of the season, but I wanted to first take a step back and touch on the topic that dominated the summer: conference realignment. With everything that’s going be changing starting with the 2013-14 season, is college hockey as a whole going to be better off?

Jim: Without a crystal ball, it is simply impossible to figure out if college hockey will be better off after the restructuring is complete. And even so, how do you measure success? Is it growth of the sport without contraction? Is it increased revenues for leagues and programs? Heck, some think it’s packing the NCAA tournament every year with only college hockey’s power teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, Notre Dame and Boston College (and yes, there are a number of other teams I’ve left out here). Personally, I think success can be achieved only if every team playing the sport has an equal chance to compete. If you’re tilting the scale one way or another, is the investment in the sport for the teams that realistically have zero chance at success worth it?

Todd: I think you can look at it as a set of items that could — emphasis on could — wind up putting college hockey in a better place. The Big Ten should bring those teams more exposure on a national level. Plus. In theory, less-successful teams in the WCHA should have a chance to move up in a more level playing field. Another plus. But I’m not sure the conference moves we’ve seen aren’t going to create as many problems as they solve. Will college hockey be better positioned to compete against major juniors for talent? In time, maybe. But I worry that a lot of schools are being put in a tough position so a few can benefit.

Jim: I agree. There are a few schools that immediately come to mind — many of them are in what will be the new WCHA — who probably feel a little threatened as to what lies ahead. That uncertainty is understandable, but if it trickles up to the top levels of each school — the board of trustees — they may see uncertainty as a reason to either cut back funding or, even worse, eliminate a program during an era when every school, business and organization in this country is looking to tighten the belt. If that happens, everything that is happening will be for the worse.

Todd: I suppose we’ll have plenty of time over the next few seasons to see how this plays out. Let’s talk about what’s happened over the first week-plus of the season. A number of teams won two games last weekend but one that stood out to me was Colgate. The Raiders won only seven games in the regular season a year ago, so to get not only a season-opening win over Robert Morris but a come-from-behind win at then-No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha is a great first step for them, isn’t it?

Jim: I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Colgate. This is a team that I’ve seen play a game here and a game there in the past three seasons and always think it has such potential. Obviously, the Raiders haven’t lived up to that. Getting off to a good start is obviously a positive but we’ll of course take a wait-and-see approach on how things go from here. Another team that raised my eyebrows was Boston College. The Eagles lost some significant players and though they were picked fifth to begin the season and were the coaches’ choice to win the Hockey East title, I had some doubts. Those, for the most part, were erased with convincing wins over Michigan State and North Dakota. This weekend, they’ll face another good test, hosting Denver. It won’t take much time for me to wait and see with the Eagles.

Todd: It’s nice to see that, unlike in other college sports, we’re getting some prime-time matchups in the first weeks of the season. That Boston College-Denver game is No. 1 hosting No. 3. Denver then goes to No. 8 Boston University. That’s a team putting itself out there. And I’ll be interested to see how the Pioneers fare out East. There’s a lot of talent on that team, but with starting goaltender Sam Brittain out for at least the first half of the season after offseason knee surgery, there are questions.

Jim: We’ll also have another marquee matchup in the East, Hockey East in particular, when BC follows its home game against Denver with a road game at New Hampshire. It will be a big test for the Wildcats, who surprisingly got shellacked at BU on Saturday night. What’s on tap that you’ll be watching out West this week?

Todd: A couple series jump out at me. Minnesota-Duluth hosts Minnesota in a series that should be slightly tougher for the Gophers than the games against Sacred Heart were (they won 9-0 and 6-0). And North Dakota hosts Maine in a rematch of an early-season series last season in Orono that the Black Bears swept. I’m sure there are bunch of North Dakota players that remember the five-goal Maine first period in the series opener last season. Can the Black Bears find that level of play again?

Jim: Before I touch on Maine-NoDak, I will say that regardless of opponent, two shutouts for Minnesota must feel very good to start the season. I do believe that the Maine-North Dakota series is important for both teams. Both lost at home this weekend and neither wants to begin the season 1-3. It should be a very interesting early season weekend. Until next week …