Weighing the long-term value of a stellar start to the season

Harvard’s Merrick Madsen (31) and Kyle Criscuolo are part of one of four Division I men’s teams to post a zero- or one-loss record at the break (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Here’s a philosophical question to ponder as we await the return of Division I men’s college hockey games on Dec. 28:

What’s the value of a great start to the season if it doesn’t come with a great finish?

Getting to the holiday break unbeaten or with one loss is a noteworthy accomplishment and puts a team on path for an NCAA tournament spot even if the second half is bumpy.

Four teams have made it to that point this season: defending national champion Providence, Quinnipiac, Cornell and Harvard. That’s the same number that had one loss or fewer at the break in the previous 12 seasons combined.

I was able to find full national standings at the holiday break for the 14 previous seasons, and there were a total of seven one-loss teams over that span.

All seven made the NCAA tournament, three of them as the No. 1 overall seed.

None of the seven won the national championship. Only one — Cornell in 2002-03 — made it to the Frozen Four.

Here’s the list of zero- or one-loss teams at the break since 2001, with this season’s quartet included:

Team (First-place votes)Points
1. Cornell (11)121
2. Harvard105
3. Quinnipiac (1)93
4. Dartmouth91
5. Clarkson82
6. St. Lawrence70
7. Princeton68
8. Rensselaer51
9. Colgate41
10. Yale36
11. Brown22
12. Union12

That being said, there have been some quality first halves recently by future national champions. Union and Minnesota-Duluth were 12-3-3 at the break before winning titles in 2013-14 and 2010-11, respectively. Boston College was 10-3-2 in 2009-10 and a somewhat more modest 12-6 in 2011-12.

Still, it’s probably true that if your best games of the season are in October, November and December, you’re not going to go far in March.