TMQ: Setback off ice, statement on it in college hockey

Todd: There’s plenty to talk about this week, but events developing Monday have captured our attention. Alabama-Huntsville has announced it will drop its varsity program in favor of a club team to save money. Program boosters have been raising funds to keep the program going, but interim president Malcolm Portera pulled the plug. The writing may have been on the wall for UAH since it lost conference affiliation with the end of the CHA in 2010, but the finality of it has me thinking this is a setback for college hockey as a whole. Your thoughts?

Jim: Well, to say this is a disappointing moment for college hockey is an understatement. Less than a year after the sport gets word of future expansion with Penn State, it is forced to contract with the loss of the Chargers. I know that many people will look to point blame in this situation. Truth be told, the only blame lies in geography. Huntsville, Ala., is a difficult place to get to for a reasonable cost from the north, something that made the Chargers an unattractive fit for any college hockey conference. While I give a number of teams credit for making sure they fit the Chargers on their schedule last season and this, that simply wasn’t enough. It’s proof that independent teams simply cannot survive in this sport.

Todd: To me, it’s a shame that Huntsville being geographically isolated played into the situation. Geography seems to be playing less and less of a role in college hockey conferences (I’m thinking specifically of Notre Dame joining Hockey East and the NCHC stretching from Ohio to Colorado), and schools in Alaska have been able to maintain programs in Midwest-based leagues.

But I do think this needs to be a cautionary tale for a lot of smaller schools that have supportive administrations. All it takes is a change at the top, like Alabama-Huntsville had, for drastic changes to get put on the table.

Jim: That’s so true and the same came be said about the opposite. I look at a program like Merrimack, where a president and athletic director got behind their hockey program, significantly increased funding and in turn built a competitive hockey program. Speaking of the Warriors, they are one of a handful of unbeaten teams at this point (not counting Ivies, which get under way this week). Of all the unbeaten teams, which do you think is the best right now? And are any of them, in your mind, worthy of a No. 1 ranking?

Todd: I think Ferris State made the biggest statement of the weekend among those teams, beating Miami twice to move to 6-0. In six games this season, the Bulldogs have allowed a total of five goals, with three shutouts. Ferris State isn’t a stranger to a high ranking, and this start has it up to sixth in the Division I Men’s Poll. I had the Bulldogs a couple of notches higher, but I can also see how people would see them as a No. 1 team. They’ve met every challenge they’ve faced this season, and impressively.

But it speaks a little to the value of a vote-based poll as opposed to computer rankings like the Ratings Percentage Index and PairWise Rankings. All have their place — some more than others toward the end of the season — but I still vote not only on a team’s record to date but what I see as its potential to be there at the end. Without that element, the poll becomes just a recitation of the computer rankings.

Jim: It’s interesting to discuss this, particularly given Dave Starman’s column last weekend. I know in the early polls I take into account potential of a team but as the season moves on I also pay particular attention to recent results. If a team loses six straight in the middle of the season, I often feel that it’s difficult to consider it a top-20 club. I think a week where most of the top teams sweep is dangerous to a top team that can’t keep pace, particularly if that team is swept. I guess there are a number of different ways of looking at polls. I’m a major proponent of them. To me, they provide a current barometer of which teams are playing well and which are not.

Todd: And let’s be realistic here. We have 50 voters in our poll, most of them coaches. I think when you throw all of those votes in and mix them up, you’re going to come out with a fairly honest assessment of where teams are. Debatable, of course, as most things are, but that’s the fun, right?

Anyway, switching gears slightly, last week we again saw the poll’s No. 1 team tumble when Michigan was knocked off by Northern Michigan on Friday before the teams tied on Saturday. The first road trip of the season didn’t seem to go smoothly for the Wolverines, and now they come back home to play that 6-0 Ferris State team that we referenced before. Is this a bigger measuring stick series for Michigan or Ferris State?

Jim: Without sounding too much like Yogi Berra, I think the outcome will define what is defined. What I mean is that if Michigan gets a sweep, we’ll all know that it probably was deserving of a No. 1 ranking. That would also possibly show that maybe Ferris isn’t ready for prime time. If it’s the opposite, you have to think that Ferris deserves a very close look at as the best team in the country and maybe Michigan was ranked No. 1 based on success in an easy early schedule. Then again, if it’s a split, we may learn very little. No doubt, though, that’s the premiere series of the weekend. What else out West should we be watching?

Todd: The CCHA is packed with intriguing series this weekend. No. 16 Miami tries to shake off the sweep at Ferris State when it hosts No. 18 Lake Superior State on Thursday and Friday. No. 14 Northern Michigan is at No. 7 Western Michigan in a battle of teams that climbed the rankings with their play last weekend. And Bowling Green, which is starting to get some attention from voters after a 4-1-1 start, hosts No. 5 Notre Dame. What do you see out East?

Jim: Well, interestingly, the two Hockey East slayers from Atlantic Hockey, Holy Cross and Connecticut, square off this Thursday, which should be interesting to see how those recent updates translate to league play (granted, UConn got smoked by Merrimack a few nights after beating Massachusetts-Lowell). I also think that Providence, which has had a nice opening to its season, faces a pretty big test with two games at Maine. Then, of course, there is the Ivy Shootout at Dartmouth where Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale will all face off. Should be an interesting week and give us plenty to talk about next week. Until then …