Todd: Another week, another new team atop the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. But before we get to Minnesota-Duluth’s ascent to the top for the first time since the end of last season, what exactly happened to get us to this point? Previously unbeaten and previously No. 1 Merrimack lost twice to Providence. Boston College looked pretty average in a loss to Boston University on Friday before rebounding for the split. And Notre Dame got shelled on Friday by Northeastern, which completed the sweep a day later. Wasn’t the Thanksgiving letdown supposed to happen last weekend, Jim?
Jim: Positive proof that it isn’t turkey that makes teams sleep. Merrimack got spotty goaltending on Friday and lost in OT then completely lost composure on Saturday in an ugly 6-1 loss. BC looked better on Friday than Saturday but goaltending was a problem. Don’t be surprised to see rookie Brian Billett see more action going forward. And Notre Dame, I can’t explain that, nor can I explain the sole No. 1 vote the Irish received in Monday’s poll.
Todd: People have asked who that voter was. USCHO’s policy is to not identify voters nor their ballots, but voters are able to publicize their votes if they wish. I’ll do so right here: I picked Ohio State for No. 1 because things seemed to add up. First in the Ratings Percentage Index. Second in winning percentage. And, perhaps most importantly to determine whether the Buckeyes’ 12-3-1 start is legit, second in strength of schedule. But UMD is the No. 1 team, getting half of the 50 first-place votes, and it’s hard to find too much fault in that, either. Thoughts?
Jim: I will disclose as well as a voter: I voted for Ohio State No. 1 as well. To me, its strength of schedule was the selling point. Being 10-3-1 against teams “under consideration” (which we all know is a very relative term) is a very impressive record, not to mention the nine-game winning streak. I think sometimes voters vote on where the team was in the poll the weekend prior when deciding a team’s ranking and that was definitely the case this week.
Todd: I don’t want to take anything away from Minnesota-Duluth. Going 12 games without a loss (10-0-2) is certainly worthy of the top spot at this point in the season. The Bulldogs have just started in on an eight-game road stretch that gets cut in half by the holiday break, so they won’t play again at home until Jan. 20. With the way the top of the poll has gone so far this season, UMD could have lost the top spot and gained it back by then without batting an eye.
Jim: You know, that road trip stood out to my eye when scanning though today. That is a very tough row to hoe moving forward.
Scanning away from the poll, a couple of teams in Hockey East made big statements last weekend with Massachusetts-Lowell and Northeastern sweeping New Hampshire and Notre Dame, respectively. Both pretty impressive for first-year head coaches, no?
Todd: Lowell continues to impress under Norm Bazin, and I’d say this is the most impressed I’ve been with Northeastern under Jim Madigan. When you force the nation’s No. 2 team to go through all three goalies in one game, you’ve made a statement. Now, the Huskies just have to do that in a Hockey East game, and, coincidentally, they get the chance against Lowell on Saturday. A win there would be another big boost going into the break.
How much of that game do you expect to be impacted by the fact that Lowell has to play Boston College on Friday?
Jim: I think that Lowell is solely focused on the Eagles, a team it should have beat at home back a few weeks ago. It’s quite possible that there will be a loss of focus and the River Hawks will be vulnerable against Northeastern, but at this point I feel like it is all such a wild dart throw after last weekend you never know what will happen. Truth is that most Hockey East fans would have looked at series between BC, Boston University, Maine and New Hampshire to determine the top earlier in the season. Now we’re looking at December Lowell-Northeastern games as key. My, how things changed.
Todd: Indeed. Before we look at what’s coming up, and now that we’re just about two months into the season, it’s probably time to start looking at some individual statistics. I think you have to impressed by what Austin Smith is doing at Colgate. He leads the nation with 27 points, 18 goals and five short-handed goals. Through 16 games, he’s halfway to matching the 36 goals scored by last year’s goal-scoring leader, North Dakota’s Matt Frattin. Do we have a chance of seeing a 40-goal scorer in college hockey?
Jim: I do think we’ll see a 40-goal scorer this season and it’s not just Smith that has a chance. Look at guys like Brock Nelson at North Dakota and Teddy Broadhurst at Nebraska-Omaha. Even Chris Kreider at Boston College. Any of the guys could be poised to eclipse the 40-goal barrier. Don’t forget, some teams haven’t played a third of their games at this point and, even if they have, there’s plenty of hockey to play!
Todd: Let’s turn our attention to the coming week. Minnesota-Duluth puts its No. 1 ranking on the line in a series at Wisconsin. The Badgers have already knocked off one top-ranked team at home this season, that being Minnesota. And Michigan and Michigan State square off in a home-and-home series. Elsewhere in the CCHA, I’ll be interested to see how the Ferris State-Notre Dame series turns out. That’s two teams that were just swept, so there’s plenty at stake. What’s up out East?
Jim: This is easily the strangest weekend for the east. New Hampshire plays BU on Thursday in what could be a very strange mid-week game. BC also plays Lowell on Friday, which I personally see as interesting but many may not. Until next week …