Jim: Well, Todd, last weekend felt like a pretty crazy week, particularly for the teams in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. My ballot probably had more movement from last weekend than any other weekend this season. Minnesota-Duluth and Boston University solidified themselves as Nos. 1 and 2 but after than I feel like the top 10 is a crapshoot.
Boston College has been there all year but has hit a cold streak, capped by a sweep at Maine last weekend. Ohio State was the Prince Charming a few weeks back, but it is winless in six (0-3-3). On the other hand, Massachusetts-Lowell jumped all the way to third in the PairWise Rankings after a sweep of Northeastern. And let’s not forget Michigan. The Wolverines’ five-game losing streak of November and December is a distant memory, having gone 8-1-2 in the last 11.
So I ask: Did you struggle with your ballot as much as I did this week?
Todd: My ballot was as much of a mess. When I look back at the last week’s results, I circle losses in red. Let’s just say that there was a lot of red ink at the top of the page. There weren’t too many teams that had notable weeks on the positive side, so it made it tough to move anyone too far up in the rankings.
Michigan and Lowell, as you suggested, were the teams that did make the biggest jumps. Uncanny how Michigan always seems to end up where it needs to be toward the end of the season, isn’t it?
Jim: So very true. This is yet another year where Michigan has made its move at the right time.
At the same time, there are some teams moving in the wrong direction and these teams I’m simply not sold on the fact that they’ll be there come season’s end. Western Michigan has been consistently inconsistent. Last weekend the Broncos followed up a sweep of Notre Dame by getting swept by Miami. Union looked like it had hit its stride with four straight wins and then lost to Brown on Saturday (though that win did get Brown back to .500). Northeastern was unbeaten in eight (7-0-1) but has lost four straight and is on the outside looking in for the Hockey East playoffs. I feel like this list could go on and on.
Todd: I guess things tend to balance out over the course of a long season, and that’s what makes the best of the best really stand out. Every team is going to have its slumps, but the best keep them short and learn from them.
You mentioned Miami, and the RedHawks are putting on a pretty good run to try to overcome an awful start to the season. They’re 5-1 since the break, all against then-ranked teams (which tends to be the case with the CCHA, it seems), and they play enough games against teams under consideration the rest of the way to make their effort to stay in an NCAA tournament spot more about how they do than about how others around them do.
Jim: They moved up significantly on my ballot, and as you said, they will play a tough enough schedule that if they continue to win, they’ll be back in the NCAA tournament.
As I look across the PairWise, though, my biggest concern points toward the ECAC. Cornell is the only ECAC team in the top 15, followed by Union at a distant 20th. After that league took a nice step forward getting Yale, Union and Rensselaer into last year’s tournament, things might take a step back this year with the potential for just a single NCAA team.
Todd: I don’t know how much it really tells, but all 12 ECAC Hockey teams are in the bottom half of the country in terms of strength of schedule. So even Union’s 13-6-6 record, tied for seventh-best in Division I, is good enough only for 21st in the Ratings Percentage Index, one of the PairWise components. As opposed to last year, it might just be a down year for the ECAC as a whole.
It’s just about a given that Atlantic Hockey will get only one team in the NCAA tournament, that being the winner of its postseason tournament. But the jockeying for the No. 1 seed for that tournament looks like it’s going to be pretty fierce, with Rochester Institute of Technology making a run at Mercyhurst over the last few weeks.
Jim: Winning seven straight league games as RIT has done certainly helps make a run for a title. But Atlantic Hockey, in general, is about as tight a race as you can get. Nine teams are within striking distance of first place. Given that league has so many different races — league champion, first-round bye, first-round home ice — that could be one of the more interesting leagues to watch in the final few weeks of the season.
Todd: RIT hosts Mercyhurst this weekend, plays at Air Force next weekend and hosts Robert Morris in three weeks, so the Tigers are going to be pretty central to the deciding of the league’s top spots.
Jim: RIT and Mercyhurst is the start of a big week of games in the East. Cornell and Colgate play the rare ECAC home-and-home with position near the top of the league standings at stake. Two of Hockey East’s hottest teams, BU and Maine, will play two in Boston. Then you also have decent rivalry games where Yale travels to Harvard on Friday. And the Massachusetts sister schools square off in a home-and-home series, Friday in Amherst and Saturday in Lowell.
What are the big games on tap out West?
Todd: A few days shy of the 30th anniversary of the notorious Water Bottle Game that took the North Dakota-Wisconsin rivalry to another level at the time, the teams meet for a series in Grand Forks. And we’ll see whether No. 6 Ohio State can break out of its funk when it plays at Lake Superior State, which has just one win in its last six games.