TMQ: On schedule strength, conference respect and a tough way to lose

Jim: Well, Todd, another week and, for once, our No. 1 team doesn’t change in the Division I Men’s Poll. Merrimack held its position, even solidified it, with a 6-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville. I was one of the 48 (of 50) voters to put Merrimack No. 1, but I had a difficultly in doing so. I know we’ve talked about it before, but I’m pretty torn about the fact Merrimack has played just ONE team under consideration. Ohio State, on the other hand, is 10-3-1 and has played all but two of those games against a team under consideration (and is 8-3-1 in those games). The fact is, no team besides Merrimack really makes a case for No. 1. Rarely in my years have I been so conflicted in balloting. Am I being overdramatic?

Todd: I think you’re well within your rights as a voter to feel conflicted about that particular situation, but let’s take something else into consideration: With the exception of one measly tie, Merrimack has done everything it has needed to do to be the No. 1 team in the country right now. When you look around the rest of the landscape, you can find holes in everyone else’s argument. So if someone wants to downgrade the Warriors on their schedule, fine. I would just advise to be prepared to downgrade everyone else as well because of some criteria.

Jim: And therein lies my problem. As weak as Merrimack’s schedule is, the Warriors don’t have a loss. This reminds me so much of Air Force in the 2008-09 season, when the Falcons were 13-0-0 and beat then-No. 3 Colorado College. That same weekend, though, Air Force played then-No. 9 Denver for its first loss and that erased all of the talk of Air Force as No. 1 (for those who wonder, Air Force was ranked 10th while ranked 13-1-0). Back to the point, though, Air Force got to 12-0-0 and never got above 10th in the poll and its schedule wasn’t that much weaker than Merrimack at this point. I guess the league you play in matters?

Todd: I think that’s a fair statement. Now, whether it in itself is fair is another topic altogether. It seems pretty common that teams from the quote-unquote power conferences get more of a boost in the polls when they are on a hot streak. To me, that’s going to make the conference realignment coming in a couple of seasons all the more volatile. Which league will get the benefit of the doubt most then?

Jim: Now that’s a good question. Will the Big Ten always get more appreciation in the poll? Maybe the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Or Maybe it’s Hockey East just because that conference will be the most stable of all. Distribution of voters is a very important part of that and I know, without bias, USCHO has always done its best to balance things. Going forward, that will be an important part of the poll. But assuming balance, there will be a curiosity whether one or two conferences will be given more credit than others.

Todd: For whatever reason, my instinct is that Hockey East is going to get a lot of that appreciation, if only because it’s a known quantity (not withstanding the addition of Notre Dame and a potential companion). Hockey East has proven over the years that its top teams are going to be among the top in the country. We’ll have to see how things develop for the Big Ten and the NCHC.

Jim: And in that we don’t even mention the WCHA. Every year, that conference has had the nation’s best among its members. Somehow I have a feeling that still may ring true once realignment takes effect, but I guess we’ll wait and see.

Speaking of the WCHA, an interesting occurrence this weekend in that league. Colorado College lost two games to North Dakota but in BOTH games CC’s Rylan Schwartz netted hat tricks. Obviously, nothing more than a silver lining, but if anything you now have to think of Schwartz as an early season candidate for the Hobey Baker Award.

Todd: If nothing else, it brought him even with his brother, Jaden, who was the more likely Hobey candidate going into the season in my mind, with 17 points on the season. I still think both are a little bit out of the picture among forwards right now, but if Rylan puts up a few more hat tricks, who knows?

You’ve got to think that CC coach Scott Owens and North Dakota’s Dave Hakstol were pulling their hair out over a series like the Tigers and Sioux just played. Last Friday’s game was 6-6 before the game was 34 minutes old. Saturday’s game was 2-2 after the first period. Those are the kinds of games that you just want to get out of ahead on the scoreboard, and North Dakota had enough to get it done.

Jim: Agreed. Most fans love the high-scoring games. Coaches hate them. I had the pleasure (again, not coaching) of watching possibly the comeback of the season as Harvard came from 4-0 down and beat New Hampshire 7-6. That game showed off a freshman for Harvard named Colin Blackwell. He scored twice that night in the third period to give the Crimson the win. I put him on my “Remember that kid’s name” team because two years from now we’ll be talking about him in the Hobey conversation. The kid is one great young forward.

Todd: It’s always great to see those kinds of comebacks, because you always think back to them the next time a team’s up big. It’s a good reminder that anything can happen.

Speaking of New Hampshire, just when it looked like the Wildcats were going to start going onto the good side of .500, that collapse against Harvard happened. UNH still hasn’t won a game away from home this season. Where do you think the Wildcats go from here?

Jim: Every time I feel like I know the UNH team I am watching, they do a complete 180. I was really impressed with UNH for 20 minutes last Tuesday and thought to myself, “This is the Wildcats team I expected to see.” Then, suddenly, everything fell apart. No defense. Little urgency. Spotty goaltending. What I can tell you is the rough start gives UNH little room for error in the second half of the season. This team has made 10 straight NCAA appearances and 14 of the last 15. Keeping that streak alive will become difficult if it continues to struggle.

Todd: You could apply that last sentence to Michigan as well. The Wolverines have the longest streak with 21 straight tournament appearances, but the streak they need to be concerned with right now is six, as in games without a win. They’ve gone from 7-2-1 to 7-7-2, and now they get a trip to Alaska before going into the holiday break with a home-and-home series with Michigan State. That’s a couple of pretty important weekends for Michigan.

Jim: It’s incredible to think how quickly Michigan has fallen. Three weeks ago, the Wolverines were in the top five and receiving first-place votes in the poll. Now they are .500 and barely in the top 20.

Looking ahead, interesting weekend of games on tap. In Hockey East, you have Boston College and Boston University locking horns again in a home-and-home. Last time, BU crushed BC 5-0, and that’s something I’m sure the Eagles will remember. Same can be said for Massachusetts-Lowell playing two with UNH. The River Hawks have played well of late, the only exception a blowout against the Wildcats. UNH, of course, has the Harvard loss fresh in its head. In the ECAC, Clarkson and Colgate, two teams we may not have mentioned preseason, will face one another on Friday, both having excellent seasons to date. How about out West?

Todd: No. 8 Colorado College and No. 10 Denver get together for the second time this season on Friday, but it might not be the matchup we were expecting as little as a week ago. Denver is on to its third-string goaltender, having lost Sam Brittain in the offseason and Adam Murray recently. Juho Olkinuora is the starter for the time being for the Pioneers, who have won just three times in their last nine games. The Tigers, meanwhile, have last weekend to get over.

There are a few other matchups of ranked teams to keep an eye on as well: No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 20 Michigan Tech, No. 6 Ferris State and No. 12 Western Michigan playing a home-and-home series, and No. 7 Ohio State hosting No. 11 Lake Superior State for two. That makes for a lot of potential for change in next week’s poll.