TMQ: A split in the votes for Merrimack; Lowell’s rise; Northern Michigan’s fall

Jim: Well, Todd, this was an interesting week for the Division I Men’s Poll. Each of the top five teams from last week’s poll lost, which should have cleared the way for Merrimack, still without a loss, to move from sixth to first. The voters, though, didn’t see it that way. Merrimack did get the most first-place votes, but Minnesota maintained the top spot by capturing the most points in the poll.

That usually means that, while most voters felt Merrimack should be No. 1, those who did not didn’t believe they should be No. 2, or maybe even No. 3. Could that be because Merrimack still hasn’t played a team with an RPI above .500? Looking at their schedule, there’s a chance the Warriors won’t face a team like that until the new year.

Todd: I thought Merrimack was undervalued at sixth last week, and I thought they should have been first this week, but I think the schedule and the lack of what you could call a needle-moving victory got in the way for some voters. The Warriors did get a good victory over a ranked Boston University in overtime last Friday, but I’m not sure we know yet what kind of team BU is going to be in the end.

I don’t know that you can completely discount Merrimack’s schedule, though. By the Ratings Percentage Index, they’ve played the ninth-toughest schedule in the country, ahead of Minnesota’s 14th-toughest. I honestly think we’re seeing that Merrimack is still a little bit of an unknown quantity to some, and that makes it tough to crack the top levels.

Jim: I especially could see that true for Western voters. I think in the East, most people recognize how good the Warriors are. In the last two games they’ve had to rally for victories, earning each in overtime, but that’s the sign of a good team: resiliency.

I do agree that Merrimack was undervalued at No. 6 last week, but also think that a jump from sixth to first is a major one. I don’t think Merrimack should be too disappointed, either, being No. 2. It’s likely that avoiding any sort of bumps in the road will eventually get them to No. 1. This really reminds me of Air Force a few years back when the Falcons went well past midway in the season undefeated before finally losing to Denver. And that loss kept the Falcons from becoming No. 1.

Todd: That’s exactly who I was thinking of in the unknown quantity realm. And I think it took a while for people to warm to Yale as a No. 1 team last season. This, to me, is the beauty and the shame of polls all wrapped into one. You get an honest picture of how those around college hockey see it, but sometimes it shows that there are preconceived notions that cloud reality. Maybe the Minnesota brand carries more weight than the Merrimack brand, and that was enough for some voters.

Jim: Amen.

Of course, Merrimack wasn’t the only Hockey East team making noise last weekend. Massachusetts-Lowell, fresh off its 7-1 victory over BU, completed its first road sweep of Maine since 1985 (the inaugural year of Hockey East). A year ago Lowell’s offense was near the bottom of the nation, registering just 2.44 goals per game. Over the past two weekends, Lowell is scoring at a better than five goals per game clip and right now the River Hawks’ 3.88 goals per game average is fifth best in the nation. That’s quite a turnaround.

Todd: Here’s another interesting stat on the River Hawks: A season after being outscored 43-30 in the third period, they are outscoring teams 13-5 in the final period. It’s not a difficult conclusion to draw that Lowell is playing more of a complete game than it did last season. I’m sure that’s one of many differences that the River Hawks like to see this season.

Jim: Out West, last weekend, of course the big upset was No. 1 Minnesota losing to Wisconsin. While you know the Gophers would have liked to sweep in order to keep the top ranking, it didn’t impact them in the end. The team that might have felt the impact, though, was Wisconsin, which many have left for dead a number of times already this season. It ended up a split for Bucky, but the win Friday had to be reaffirming for the Badgers, no?

Todd: I think so. A little bit of the formula with a young team is to keep your head above water until things start to jell and then to hope a solid finish is good enough to get you into the tournament. I don’t know that the Badgers are quite there yet, but they’re not falling out of the picture, either. One thing to keep an eye on with Wisconsin: shots on goal. The Badgers are getting outshot by an average of more than 10 shots per game in WCHA play, and that kind of disparity can wear a team down.

Jim: It wears a team — and its goaltenders — down. Speaking of which, one team that started hot this season but seems to have worn down is Northern Michigan. The Wildcats were 4-1 to start the season and seemed on the right track after knocking off No. 1 Michigan. Since that win, NMU is 0-4-3 and was handily swept by Ohio State last weekend. I’m not one to mind admitting when I’m wrong, and I’m guessing we maybe overhyped this team a few weeks back?

Todd: Maybe we got swept up in Upper Peninsula fever with the starts by the Wildcats, Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State. In Northern Michigan’s case, look at the recent schedule — Michigan, at Western Michigan, Notre Dame, at Ohio State. That’s the kind of stretch that shows you what you’re made of, and the Wildcats can’t be too thrilled with what they found.

Jim: Still a wait and see, but Lake Superior could be headed down that road as well, taking just two of six points from Ferris State last weekend. It will get a break this weekend with a non-league series against Canisius but will have to face Notre Dame once it returns to league play, so that will certainly be the next litmus test.

Looking ahead to this week, the most notable game from the East has Boston College traveling to South Bend, Ind., not just to face a rival but to face a future league mate. Notre Dame will be dedicating its new arena this weekend so it should be a pretty special event for all involved. How about out West? What should we be looking for?

Todd: Just into the Division I Men’s Poll, No. 14 Ohio State gets put to the test at No. 7 Michigan. And after snapping a four-game winless skid with a victory over rival Colorado College last Saturday, No. 11 Denver hosts No. 19 Nebraska-Omaha.