Do you know those family photos that people like to include in their Christmas cards? Or at least people once did; now the photo is pretty much the whole Christmas card, with the “Merry Christmas” and everyone’s name already printed, so all the sender has to do is stuff it in an envelope and add an address.
For some of those people, Christmas was about the only time we would hear from them — Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet. So if there was just a photo and no other news, we’d look at that picture and try to figure out what had changed. When the whole extended family was in the shot, you just about needed a magnifying glass, but you could figure out quite a bit. The range was everything from, “Looks like they added a couple of grandkids, and youngest daughter must have gotten married,” to, “I guess Grandpa didn’t make it through the winter.”
Of course. those were simpler times, so we didn’t have to try to keep up with the Kardashians.
Hockey teams are kind of like a big, extended family, so if you get a Christmas photo from one, it’s like one of those puzzles in the newspaper where you have to try to find the differences from one sketch to the other, and many of them aren’t obvious. So rather than everyone having to dig out the magnifying glass and hunt for the photos from past years, I’ve taken it upon myself to sum the changes all up for you this Christmas.
Bemidji State Beavers: In most seasons, the Bemidji State team photo doesn’t turn out very well, as the skaters are all trying to prevent the photographer from having a clear shot at their goaltenders.
Boston College Eagles: A year ago, the Eagles were off to the best start in program history and one of the best starts ever, going unbeaten through their first 28 games. This year, they managed to improve on that start by winning their first 20, so why wouldn’t they be downright giddy at this point? Most of BC’s players are a year older and wiser, having seen that heavenly start end with a bit more mundane 7-3-1 finish. They’ve experienced firsthand teams like Harvard and Boston University, that don’t seem all that villainous at the moment, being capable of Grinch-like thievery, even if not in time to spoil Christmas.
Boston University Terriers: Nobody is wearing the number 29 in this year’s team photograph, and that’s the long and short of it. However, Christmas is a time of hope, and the Terriers have won the last four Hockey East Tournaments, and five of the last six. Over those six seasons, BU was 6-0 in league playoff games without Marie-Philip Poulin.
Brown Bears: Goals allowed by Brown are down from last season. Goals scored are down even more, and the only reason the Bears aren’t the lowest-scoring team in the country is they scored six times against Sacred Heart. No worries — Bears usually hibernate for at least part of the winter.
Clarkson Golden Knights: In the part of the world where I live, people dream up all sorts of strange winter activities involving frozen lakes, such as cutting holes in the ice and jumping in or driving snowmobiles across the open water. For the latter, it is vital to maintain velocity. Clarkson’s start reminds me a little of such a sled that is slowing and flirting with danger. The Golden Knights won their first nine, tied the next two, and then lost three times in their final month of play. Hopefully, they carried enough momentum into the break to get them back onto solid ice.
Colgate Raiders: If Christmas is indeed for kids, then the Raiders are in luck. Of the 22 members of the roster, 15 are in their first or second season. At the break, they have decreased their number of losses by 10 compared to last year. If they did plenty of community outreach leading up to Christmas and don’t feel a need to continue to engage in charitable giving in games where they’ve gained an advantage on the scoreboard, who knows how special the final season in Starr Rink may become.
Connecticut Huskies: Chris MacKenzie said before the season that he didn’t know where the team’s offense would come from. Mostly it has come from underclassmen, as five of the six top scorers are in their first or second season. The exception is senior Brittany Berisoff, who is only one point shy of the total she reached in her two previous injury-plagued seasons combined playing for MacKenzie.
Cornell Big Red: Cornell’s photo is one where the faces that everyone knew at first glance are now gone. Outside of senior defenseman Cassandra Poudrier, there aren’t that many links to Canadian national teams and the Big Red’s glory days. However, the proof is in the Christmas pudding, and Cornell’s record at the break is exactly .500, just as it was a year ago with a far more star-laden line-up.
Dartmouth Big Green: Things were looking good for the Big Green, and then they celebrated Thanksgiving by flying to Wisconsin, starting a stretch of five consecutive road losses. Despite an additional loss on home ice, it still serves as proof of the old adage, “There’s no place like home for the holidays.”
Harvard Crimson: Do you think I’m making this stuff up? Here’s further proof: After stumbling in their opener, the Crimson had gone unbeaten in their next eight, and were riding a seven-game winning streak when they took a Thanksgiving flight to Duluth. Harvard finished 2015 by losing three of four on the road. Remember — home for the holidays.
Lindenwood Lions: Of course, there’s an exception to every rule. Lindenwood is 3-4-1 on the road, but only 1-8-3 at home, including getting swept on home ice Thanksgiving weekend. Maybe it doesn’t apply if you dip below the 40th parallel?
Maine Black Bears: We usually associate cookies with Christmas, but some are partial to devouring cupcakes. The Black Bears’ seven victories came over teams that had a combined three wins on the day of the game; five of those opponents were winless.
Mercyhurst Lakers: You have to go back to 2000 to find a season where the Lakers had as many losses at the break. A number of the current players had yet to start elementary school and the CHA hadn’t been formed, but Michael Sisti was already the coach. So if today’s Lakers aren’t sure whether they should smile thanks to being undefeated in the conference or look pensive due to their PairWise predicament, history suggests that Sisti will find a way to maneuver his team back to the national tournament.
Merrimack Warriors: Even in those newspaper puzzles, there is always one difference so obvious that you wonder why the creator bothered to include it at all. In our case, it is Merrimack, a team that didn’t exist last season. Make sure to put this first team photo of the Warriors in a safe place, because just like a rookie card, it ought to be worth more some day.
Minnesota Golden Gophers: Minnesota has already lost as many games as it did all of last year, which was an increase in losses over the previous two seasons combined. The Gophers went into the break riding the team’s first two-game losing streak since the 2010-11 season. News of this suffering will likely trigger humanitarian relief efforts around the country.
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs: The big change in Duluth is not the players, but the coaches. Even their styling is different — no hair dyed in the team colors, no Liberace-inspired apparel. The past regime usually waited until the postseason to break out such secret weapons though, so I’d best not be too hasty in my conclusions.
Minnesota State Mavericks: Mankato is another place where change is rampant. Eighty percent of the roster has less that two years of experience, the coach is new, and the team moved into a larger house. While those factors on their own could produce some angst, 14 straight losses aren’t helping.
New Hampshire Wildcats: While the Wildcats’ record shows 14 losses, seven of the most recent 10 of those defeats were to teams that are currently ranked. Unfortunately, two of the other three losses came at the hands of long-time rival Providence. More encouraging is the trivia that the last time UNH hosted a Frozen Four, it was a year away from playing in the event itself.
North Dakota Fighting Hawks: After several seasons of playing without a nickname, North Dakota is newly christened as the Fighting Hawks. However, the team does not yet have a new logo, so that change isn’t visible in a team photo. On the ice, its identity is nearly as mysterious. UND swept its first two series of the season, and then settled for some flavor of a split in its remaining eight series of 2015.
Northeastern Huskies: The expression on the Huskies’ faces reminds me of Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” every time he thinks of a Red Ryder BB Gun. In Northeastern’s case, the wish is for an NCAA tournament berth, not a toy gun. This season, it looks like that wish will finally come true. Thanks to face shields, there shouldn’t be a worry of anyone shooting an eye out once they get there.
Ohio State Buckeyes: Last year’s Buckeyes went into the break in the midst of a six-game winning streak that boosted them into the rankings. Any hope first-year coach Jenny Potter had of matching that start likely ended when her starting goaltender and prized recruit were unable to play due to injury. The good news is that Ohio State players are once more being coached to battle for the puck, instead of hearing less appropriate direction.
Penn State Nittany Lions: With only one win in its last 14 games, Penn State has the look of a team that suspects its name might be found on Santa’s naughty list.
Princeton Tigers: Ten years ago, Princeton made its only trip to the NCAA tournament. Could they make a second this season? With 11 victories, the Tigers have reached double digits in wins by Christmas for the first time in the NCAA era.
Providence Friars: When the Friars opened the season with a seven-game losing streak, it marked the fourth time in the last two and a half seasons when they’ve had a skid of seven or more games. That doesn’t include an 0-9-1 start a year ago, because the tie came near the middle. So Santa, if you’re reading this, Providence could really use a stopper.
Quinnipiac Bobcats: The Bobcats certainly don’t look the same as last year’s team. The head coach is different, the starting goalie is different, and some high-scoring forwards are gone. However, the net result is about the same: one additional win, and still only one loss and three ties. Quinnipiac is ranked No. 4 compared to No. 5 last season, but it had entered December of 2014 ranked fourth. In recent years, the costly dip in performance has started in early to mid January, so the Bobcats might want to vary their New Year’s traditions.
Rensselaer Engineers: The Engineers look improved, but they lack the uptick in wins to support that theory. Wins over both Clarkson and Cornell are encouraging, but RPI needs more quantity to supplement the quality. Senior Alexa Gruschow was hot heading into the break with five goals in four games; unfortunately, her teammates combined for only two goals over that stretch. She’s 18 points shy of the century mark for her career, and if she could reach that milestone by season’s end, it would bode well for RPI’s chances of a return to the postseason.
RIT Tigers: To find a season where RIT had fewer wins at the break than the four that it has now, one has to go back to 2000, and back then, it had only played five games by Christmas. The secret to the Tigers’ success is pretty simple. When they allow one goal in a game, they are 4-0-1, but if more than one goal, then they’ve lost all 15. Such things happen when you graduate your franchise goaltender and your top three scorers at the same time.
Robert Morris Colonials: The holiday break does strange things to the Colonials. Three years ago, RMU swept Mercyhurst heading into the break to improve to 9-3-2; when play resumed, that momentum vanished and the Colonials won only two of their next 14 games. In 2013-14, the slump didn’t arrive as early, nor was it pronounced, but a 20-3-2 start deteriorated to a 4-5-1 finish that cost Robert Morris a shot at the NCAAs. Might the dawn of 2016 owe the Colonials a swing in the positive direction?
St. Cloud State Huskies: Despite an eight-game winless stretch early in the campaign, the Huskies enter the break with a .500 mark in Eric Rud’s second season. While it’s some consolation that those eight games were against teams currently ranked seventh or higher, the Huskies have to repeat the same gauntlet starting near the end of January. It’s a familiar theme for teams making a push out of the conference depths, but St. Cloud State’s top scorer and goaltender are seniors and neither’s heir is apparent.
St. Lawrence Saints: It’s not a Christmas metaphor, but the Saints are kind of like a buoy on the water; they may bounce around a bit in the waves, but they remain in about the same place. Thus far, the offense is roughly unchanged, while the defense is weaker. The remaining schedule looks to ease, but only a touch. Like a buoy, they’ll wind up about where they are now. As for a Christmas reference, what program name fits with holiness better than the St. Lawrence Saints?
Syracuse Orange: Conversely, Christmas is the wrong holiday for Orange, but despite having a worse record than St. Lawrence, I’d say the chances of Syracuse reaching the NCAA tournament are at least six times better than the odds of the Saints. In hockey, as in real estate, fortunes can come down to location, location, location.
Union Dutchwomen: A quick glance at the team’s jerseys reveals a problem: there’s no “W” in Union. Maybe they should redesign the sweaters to feature “Dutchwomen” instead. Even if the jerseys change, just as the faces have changed, one tends to notice the goalie far more than the rest. The good news for the Dutchwomen is that they have fewer losses than five other teams.
Vermont Catamounts: At 4-15, things don’t look good for the Catamounts. Hey, remember the movie “White Christmas” that is set in Vermont? Well, I don’t remember it all that well, but there’s something about a resort that is about to fail because there isn’t any snow, but after a lot of singing and dancing, it starts to snow and everything works out. So Catamounts, a lot more singing and dancing, especially dancing around defensemen while carrying pucks.
Wisconsin Badgers: Since Hilary Knight, the top scorer in the history of the Wisconsin program, graduated in 2012, the Badgers have played nine two-game series where they failed to record at least one win. In eight of those, they scored two goals or less on the weekend, and in the ninth, they totaled three. What does this have to do with Christmas? I don’t know, but it makes me wonder, who is the Scrooge who sometimes withholds the fuel for the fire in Madison?
Yale Bulldogs: Like a number of other teams, the graduation of a star goaltender has worsened the outlook for Yale, as has improved competition. I’d say more, but the hour is late and those presents in the dining room aren’t going to wrap themselves.
Merry Christmas, or substitute a salutation more fitting with your own holiday tradition.