TMQ: Examining the Jan. 8 poll, Notre Dame’s streak, Maine’s ascent, Minnesota State

15 Dec 17: Max Coatta (Minnesota State - 12), Brad McClure (Minnesota State - 19), Josh French (Minnesota State - 26). The Minnesota State University Mavericks host the University of Alabama-Huntsville in the a WCHA matchup at Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato, MN. (Jim Rosvold)
Minnesota State celebrates a goal against Alabama Huntsville last month in a WCHA matchup at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato, Minn. (photo: Jim Rosvold).

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.

Paula: There’s a new No. 1 this week, and even though the voters remain divided, 40 votes for Notre Dame is pretty solid.

Jimmy, I think this week it came down to two things. First, voters felt as though they can’t ignore the 15-game win streak that the Fighting Irish have put together. Second, St. Cloud lost to Minnesota.

As you know, I’ve been voting the Irish at the top of my ballot for a while now. I have a healthy respect for winning streaks, no matter the team or the league. There was I think a correct perception that Notre Dame benefited from the move to the Big Ten as B1G hockey is not considered as consistently competitive top to bottom as is Hockey East. At some point, though, when a team puts together as many wins as has Notre Dame, there are other factors to consider.

Having seen the Irish play, I can say with confidence that Cale Morris is pretty amazing. while Michigan is still rebuilding, the Wolverines have some offense and really challenged him in Yost. Notre Dame doesn’t play flashy hockey, but getting it done matters.

It’s interesting that one loss to Minnesota, though, was the other deciding factor for poll voters regarding St. Cloud State – and speaks, again, to the perception of league strength.

Jim: As you kind of point out here, I think the vote to push Notre Dame to No. 1 says more about the 15-game winning streak than it does about a loss for St. Cloud State to Minnesota.

The reality is that Notre Dame’s streak has gotten too impressive to ignore. The Irish remain perfect in the Big Ten and haven’t dropped a game since before Halloween. One could gripe that many of their wins – including both against Michigan this weekend – have come with razor-thin margins. But that tells me this is a confident Notre Dame team that is learning how to win hockey games.

The only point of differentiation where St. Cloud State has the upper hand is the PairWise. While Notre Dame wins the “common opponents” criteria, St. Cloud State’s RPI is still fractionally higher. Using the RPI to break the tie in criteria, the Huskies remain tops in the PairWise.

But right now, on the ice, Notre Dame’s performances simply can’t be overlooked and in the poll, it seems the voters are at the point where the majority agree.

On the other end of the poll is a team that has bumped its way in for the first time in a long time – Maine. The Black Bears have won six in a row and are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak. I see a lot of Hockey East games and will admit, I simply didn’t see this one coming.

Paula: As I said, I respect a streak and I voted Maine into the poll last week as well, as the Black Bears haven’t lost since their opening game of the Friendship Four.

I haven’t seen them play at all, but I share your surprise as I’ve heard no buzz about them at all this season.

The bottom of the poll is really intriguing to me this week. For one thing, we have Maine and Miami tied for No. 20 and neither in the poll last week. Also, we have 21 teams in the poll with that tie. And there’s the poll versus PairWise at play, something you’ve already mentioned and that we’ve discussed many times. As I’ve said, I see the poll as a snapshot of how teams and the overall field are faring right now, where the PWR gives us data of a different nature.

So you have Maine, a team riding a streak into the poll, and Miami, a team with wins over ranked teams in four of its five last series. There are seven teams in Hockey East with overall win percentages above .500, which is impressive. Then there’s the NCHC, where every team in the league is above .500 overall. Granted, there are fewer teams in the NCHC than there are in Hockey East, but that alone is an interesting statistic. If the season ended at this very moment, going by the PWR, only Miami and Colorado College from the NCHC would miss the NCAA tournament – and Miami only because of Atlantic Hockey’s playoff auto-bid. The strength of that league is hard for me to wrap my head around.

One more thing before I leave behind the discussion of streaks, too. Bemidji State has a sneaky little WCHA streak going, with six straight wins and an unbeaten streak of nine. I’m not the only one who noticed and threw the Beavers a vote this week.

Jim: Bemidji State is a pretty interesting team. Other than a tough middle of November where the Beavers were playing some of the WCHA’s better opponents, this has been a good year top to bottom. They began 3-1-2 with a win and tie over Minnesota Duluth and a split with then-ranked Air Force. The only real lost weekend for Bemidji was against Minnesota State, a road sweep featuring losses by scores of 5-2 and 8-6.

That brings me to Minnesota State. I’ve tried to watch from a far to see if the Mavericks had staying power and thus far they seem to. They’ve risen to seventh in the PairWise and feature the second-best offense (behind only Penn State) and the seventh-best defense. Each year, I think we wonder if there will be a WCHA team that locks themselves up for an NCAA bid without winning their conference tournament and right now, Minnesota State is coming very close to doing just that.

A Tip of the Cap …

Paula: … to the Canadian and U.S. teams that captured medals in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Team Canada captured its 17th gold medal and its first since the 2015 tournament, and it did so with three players from the NCAA: defensemen Cale Makar (Massachusetts) and Dante Fabbro (Boston University), and goaltender Colton Point (Colgate).

Team USA captured the bronze medal, earning the team a medal for the third straight year, a first-ever accomplishment by the team. The team’s roster featured 19 current NCAA players. For the second year, the coaching staff was led by St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko with four assistants currently coaching in the NCAA: Greg Brown (Boston College), Grant Potulny (Northern Michigan), Kris Mayotte (Providence) and Steve Miller (Ohio State).

Jim: This certainly was a special World Junior. Obviously with three collegians on Team Canada and taking home gold, it made it fun to pull for those guys. But the emergence of Finland as a tough competitor and the Czechs’ strong showing also were enjoyable.

The back-to-back success of the Team USA coaching staff made many take notice and makes me wonder if that might change the structure of how staffs are selected going forward. This staff certainly understands how to succeed in this difficult event.


      • I’m guessing he’s not salty….but just aware of the fact the Pauly has been voting Notre at #1 for a long time, and prior to 5 or 6 games ago, there was no reason to vote them number one at all.

          • Could make a case either way. Pairwise has em at 2, KRACH at 1. The next 3 weekends should tell us a lot about ND.

          • Depends on the situation. By the real poll, which is pairwise, they are number 2. Pauly is basing many of the weeks of voting them number 1 due to an unbeaten streak, but what is they were 0-8 and won 12 or 13 in a row? 13-8, not that great. All depends on the situation, but let’s just stick with pairwise and call it a day.

          • I’m OK with the Irish being ranked #1 in the poll. 15 games in a row is impressive. St Cloud had a 9 game unbeaten streak until Sunday too, so its not like they were sand bagging.

    • I am here, you know I can’t ignore you and Vinnie. Just waiting for Troy Terry to leave for the Olympics so DU can cut down on their scoring. Kind of sucks since the last three games we played like our old selves.

      • Eh, mid-season slump…..better to finish strong. I used to rip my hair out when the Sioux would have a terrible first half and then tear it up in the second half.

        • Sioux always finish strong, not as certain with DU. Other than practices, Terry will miss CC home-and-home, and games at SCSU. Poor USA team will get buried at Olympics, Russia and Sweden should dominate. They have the best players from their pro leagues.

          • That also means Borgen will miss those games too. Terry is probably more important to his team than Borgen is in terms of offense, Borgen more important to his team on defense.

          • Agree Borgen will be missed on defense, but Terry is our best 2-way player. When he is on the ice, he hustles back to cancel out odd-man rushes. I hope they both “survive” the Olympics without getting hurt. They will be playing against bigger, faster, and older players.

          • Yes because the Nacho is the big cheese and we deserve all our teams to be in the tournament because they are the greatest teams ever and we are not biased because we are the only people who know anything about college hockey because we invented the sport and are the only ones who watch any college hockey because the NCHC rules and Canduce is the only writer who knows anything about hockey because she writes about the NCHC and puts our teams first because that is where they belong because they are the best teams and if you have any questions just ask us and we will tell you the write answer because we know everything and our way is the only write way because are fans of the NCHC and the greatest teams in the world ever.

          • Yeah, something tells me that it’s not going to be great at the Olympics. Ya never know, but playing against the other pro leagues will be a challenge.

  1. As part of my New Year’s Resolution I have converted to Zen Paulaism. Jim, until further notice, please do the following. Before you publish this column online, please redact the team names from those not part of the Sorry Seven. They are simply not relevant any more. Sorry NC$$, we are cancelling all the Regionals this year and are going straight to the Frozen Four with the following seedings. Notre Dame #1, Ohio State #2, Minnesota #3, and Penn State #4. Gophers and Lions must be seeded lower than the ex-CCHA teams. This will enable the FF to get the lowest ratings ever, and the lowest attendance in history.

  2. I haven’t really seen Mankato play and their record/stats have mostly been against conference foes because they are 2-2 in non conference play. They have 2 wins on the road at BU, a loss at home vs St Cloud, and a loss at Minnesota Duluth. They still play at St Cloud and Duluth at home. Those will be important for pairwise. They can’t lose many games to inferior WCHA opponents either, otherwise they’ll plummet quickly.

    • See Cornell too: Avg. PWR ranking (ranking as of today (USCHO) of all opponents is 36. They play one top twenty team coming home (Clarkson, who beat Cornell handily last meeting). Every loss increases the depth of slide down the PWR, especially losses to Renseller, St. Lawrance or Dartmough. They too could plummet.

  3. Discourse about utterly meaningless college hockey polls, is one thing, and one thing, only. A stupid and useless exercise.

    Tell you what. Instead, maybe, how about a discourse about what we all think others think about us when they look at us at the gym?

    EXACT same level of importance.



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