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.
Matthew: After Minnesota State enjoyed the No. 1 spot in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for two weeks, it seems we might be back to the top-spot musical chairs game that we’d seen take place over much of the season to date.
North Dakota is our poll’s new No. 1, as it had been before the Mavericks usurped UND at the top a few weeks back. Sort of seems like it’s a case of us going back to the future, no?
Jim: Well, I think the reality is that there remains no clear No. 1 team. We can look at North Dakota, Minnesota State, Boston University and Harvard as a solid quartet right now but any of those four teams deserves the top ranking, in my opinion. It wasn’t too long ago that Minnesota was not only in that group but spent several weeks at No. 1. Now the Gophers are no longer ranked. What happened to this team?
Matthew: What happened was, dare I say it, that they’ve just about fallen off the face of the Earth. If I’m a Minnesota fan, I’m really worried right now because the Gophers have won only two of their last nine games and just finished in last place in the North Star College Cup, a Minnesota state tournament that I think most of us thought when it was created that Minnesota would win or at least get into the championship game each season.
The Big Ten in general hasn’t been good this season, however. Wisconsin is a hot mess; Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State aren’t night-and-day better than the Badgers; and Michigan and Penn State are the only teams above .500 in league play. Michigan seems to be turning it on these days, however. We have to look at the Wolverines as league favorites now, right?
Jim: Michigan might be the most impressive offense in the country right now. The Wolverines have averaged more than five goals per game since the break, and in the last four contests — all Big Ten wins — Michigan has scored 30 goals. That’s not a typo. This team has averaged 7.5 goals per game over the last two weekends. Safe to say this is the most potent team in terms of scoring right now?
Matthew: I think so, although I also wonder if this Michigan team might be peaking a little too early. Scoring at that high of a clip more often than not is a good sign for a team that wasn’t really setting the world on fire results-wise at the start of the season.
That being said, however, with losses back then to Ferris State, Boston University and Michigan Tech, I think we could also easily make the case that the Wolverines’ schedule — or at least their nonconference schedule — has made them a better team in the long run.
Jim: I think Michigan coach Red Berenson is pretty thankful for his nonconference scheduling, given how weak the Big Ten has proven to be.
Another team that has caught lightning in a bottle is St. Lawrence. The Saints have won four straight and five of their last six, beating teams like Harvard, Yale and Cornell in that stretch. This team is having success because of balanced scoring with 22 different players who have scored goals. Pretty impressive numbers for a team poised to make a run at the ECAC Hockey regular season title.
Matthew: And that’s probably what much of the country wasn’t looking for: another ECAC team on the rise. We’re still a couple months and change away from Boston and the Frozen Four, but where we are now, would it shock you if we see a ECAC team win the national championship for a third year running?
Jim: That’s a good question. I don’t want to sound like a nonbeliever, but I don’t think that league is as strong as it was the last two years. I think Harvard is built to make a run and Quinnipiac has a lot of the parts necessary, but I am not positive either resembles Yale or Union of the seasons past.
I actually think this year’s champion comes from the west and likely from the NCHC. That conference simply impresses me from top to bottom. You follow the NCHC closer than I do. Am I overstating just how good that league is this year?
Matthew: No, I don’t think so. North Dakota is a deserved No. 1 — although, like you said before, you could make a case for a few teams right now — and you can’t overlook the fact that five of the eight teams in the NCHC would be in the NCAA tournament if it were to start this week.
I know we’ve mentioned in this space before that there’s a chance the league could cannibalize itself a little in the PairWise Rankings, but we’ve yet to see it happen.
Jim: I do think the PairWise has a lot of settling still to do, but right now is the time for some teams to make moves if they are going to make the tournament. If your team isn’t in the top 20 right now, you better be hoping for a long winning streak down the stretch. Otherwise, your favorite team better be skating a conference championship trophy around the ice if you want to see them in the big dance.
To Bemidji State, which had to go through No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 1 Minnesota State to win the North Star College Cup.
To Minnesota, whose two losses in-state rivals helped them fall out of the top 20 for the first time since Feb. 14, 2011.
There are plenty of big matchups before we even get to Monday’s Beanpot semifinals.
In the NCHC, No. 1 North Dakota plays a series at No. 5 Omaha, and No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth is at No. 11 Denver.
In Hockey East, No. 10 UMass-Lowell and No. 19 Merrimack play a home-and-home series, and No. 12 Providence plays at No. 14 Boston College.
No. 16 Yale hosts No. 18 Quinnipiac in an ECAC Hockey game Saturday, the same day that No. 15 Vermont plays Penn State in Philadelphia.
And on Monday, the Beanpot kicks off with No. 2 Boston University playing No. 4 Harvard in the early game, followed by Boston College playing Northeastern.