TMQ: Finding the beauty in no one dominant team stepping forward

Kyle Criscuolo’s overtime goal gave Harvard a win last Tuesday and gave Boston University the first of two losses in six days (photo: Melissa Wade).

Each week during the season we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Jim: Last week was a bad week to be near the top of the Division I Men’s Poll, punctuated by newly crowned No. 1 Boston University losing twice, to Harvard and Dartmouth.

Only one team that played among the top five — North Dakota — came away without a loss. Not surprising, then, it is NoDak on top of a poll in which SEVEN teams received first-place votes. I feel like by this point in the season we have either a clear favorite or a small pack. Right now, I am not sure if anyone feels like a dominant team. Am I crazy?

Matthew: No, although you talk about the lack of a longer-lasting No. 1 team as though it’s a bad thing. You can say that nobody’s really been dominant at the top of the pile so far this season, and there’s truth to that, but I have to say I’m enjoying the proof of parity.

North Dakota’s a deserving No. 1 after it beat and “lost” in a shootout against an Omaha team that before last Friday had won every road game it had played early on this season, and I don’t have a problem with them being where they are right now. How long they’ll be there, though, is really anyone’s guess at this point.

For all we know, we could have changes at the top the rest of the way through to the Frozen Four. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I find that idea exciting.

Jim: Oh, I definitely find it exciting. I guess it’s a somewhat foreign concept to me as this is the time of year we are separating the pretenders from the contenders.

One team that I had a jury out on until this week was Harvard. Entering the poll for the first time last week at No. 18, the Crimson beat top-ranked BU and No. 4 UMass-Lowell to move all the way to No. 9 this week (and earn six first-place votes). We have seen a welcome rise in ECAC Hockey teams like Yale, Union and Quinnipiac in the last two years. Should we add Harvard to this list?

Matthew: Absolutely, and you don’t need to look much further than the Crimson’s schedule for our rationale. Harvard has yet to lose on the road so far this season, and it has knocked off both Boston College and Boston University.

Knocking off two top-five teams last week was impressive, but the truth is the Crimson has been at this for a while.

Their beating both BU and BC on the road intrigues me, though, and we may yet see more of it before the regular season is over. It’s a while away yet, I know, but you must feel like, if Harvard can keep this up, it’ll be a pain for BC, BU and Northeastern to keep up with come Beanpot time.

Jim: The Beanpot is still two months away but I believe things are already interesting among those teams. Possibly the better of the two — Harvard and BU — meet in the first round. BC is currently struggling and Northeastern has begun to find its form. Maybe this is the first time we see a Northeastern-Harvard final? Way too early for that speculation.

As for tournaments, with the first of the holiday tourneys in the books, Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Tournament, I have to say I was a little surprised at the outcome. Host Notre Dame finished a distant last while Western Michigan rolled over defending national champ Union in the final. Was that whole event a little upside down?

Matthew: A little, although I liked what Western Michigan was able to do. The Broncos have been on something of a when-it-rains-it-pours kick throughout this first half of the season, but they really turned it on last weekend.

I can’t say I was surprised to see them beat Ohio State — although I wouldn’t have predicted them to score six goals — but I think a lot of people might’ve done a double-take when they looked at last Saturday’s scores and saw that Western lit Union up for eight goals.

It’s almost a shame that Andy Murray’s bunch is off this weekend, but there’s every chance they can stay hot next week when they face Colorado College, which has really struggled thus far.

You mentioned Notre Dame, however, and it has really been on a down-swing lately. Granted, the Fighting Irish have a brutal schedule to deal with, but one win in nine games doesn’t look good on anybody. What do you think needs changing in South Bend?

Jim: I was actually out there two weekends ago when the Irish played Lowell, and I thought the Irish looked fine. If there was one thing missing it was consistency of the first line. Sophomore Vince Hinostroza and Thomas DiPauli both seemed invisible for long stretches. Offense has been a big problem and a lack of power-play scoring may be the crux. You need your best players going on the power play.

Thumbs up

To Harvard, and it’s no surprise. Picked 10th in the ECAC, the Crimson have knocked off three Hockey East powers on the road: BC, BU and UMass-Lowell. If the Crimson don’t win the ECAC, should they consider a league change? (We are just joking, of course.)

Thumbs down

To Lake Superior State. Minnesota State has proven itself to consistently be one of the top teams in the WCHA ever since conference realignment hit college hockey, but for the Lakers to get routed by a combined 10-0 by the Mavericks at home last weekend is worrying.

Coming up

Hockey East, the NCHC, the WCHA and ECAC Hockey all have matchups between ranked teams on this weekend’s schedule.

No. 3 Boston University plays a home-and-home series against No. 18 Merrimack. No. 4 Miami hosts No. 12 Omaha.

No. 14 Bowling Green plays a pair of game at No. 19 Northern Michigan. And No. 9 Harvard plays at No. 15 Quinnipiac on Saturday.