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: After two more wins by Clarkson this weekend, Paula, we’re now looking at two of the most impressive winning streaks we’ve seen coexist in recent memory.
Clarkson has now won 14 straight games and Notre Dame, which had the weekend off, has won 15 in a row.
It’s impressive that both of these streaks are winning streaks.
In fact, Notre Dame has only needed overtime to win once. Clarkson hasn’t gone to overtime at all in this streak. These are teams that are both finding ways to get leads and then find ways to win the game.
Both the Irish and the Golden Knights have identical 18-3-1 records and there are a lot of other numbers between the two teams that align. Clarkson has the best combined special teams in the nation right now, while Notre Dame is ranked nearby at fourth.
Plenty to celebrate for both teams, but I still have a caveat. Neither plays in the NCHC and I feel like right now that might be what separates both Clarkson and Notre Dame from teams like St. Cloud State, Denver and North Dakota. It seems like that trio is minimally on par with both Clarkson and Notre Dame, but their records may not seem as strong because of how competitive the NCHC is as a conference.
I guess what I’m saying is that I love the stories of both Notre Dame and Clarkson, but are we talking about the teams that will be standing in St. Paul come April?
Paula: Jimmy, you have summarized so much that’s on my mind after the weekend of play.
What Notre Dame and Clarkson have done is pretty amazing, and I actually can’t recall the last time we’ve seen something like this.
You are right though: Neither of these teams plays in the NCHC. If the season were to end today, six of the NCHC’s eight teams would make the NCAA playoffs. Minnesota-Duluth and Omaha each have losing conference records at this point, but the strength of the conference combined with their overall records has them sitting among the top 14 in the PWR currently. With so many NCHC teams poised to make the NCAA tournament and how well that conference plays against pretty much everyone else – and at this point, I’d be surprised to see fewer than five – I have begun to wonder whether the NCHC has a chance to do in St. Paul what the WCHA did in Columbus in 2005.
I have a feeling about Notre Dame, and not just because the Irish play in the Big Ten. I’ve watched them a bit and they are able to smother nearly anyone. It’s not fancy hockey. It’s not pretty hockey. They should continue to roll through the Big Ten, but they’re more than that and Cale Morris is the real deal in net. Given their Frozen Four experience from a season ago, I can see them making it there again.
I don’t know a whole lot about Clarkson, other than my familiarity with Casey Jones from his Ohio State days and the Golden Knights’ current streak. But you and I both know that streaks of this kind can build confidence and lead to winning.
Beyond the NCHC and the relative strengths of the Big Ten and the ECAC, when it comes to a one-and-done tournament, we’ve also seen that anything can happen. There’s still a bit of hockey to be played between then and now, too, and a team that’s barely on the radar now could get hot and ride a wave to St. Paul.
Jim: There are a couple of teams I look at that could be poised for that postseason run.
And one of them seems to be currently playing its best hockey right now and that’s Providence.
This Friars team, either similar to or maybe even more so than a year ago when the Friars lost to Harvard in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, is pretty young. But some of the freshmen and sophomores on this team are beginning to hit their stride. At the same time, upperclassmen Erik Foley and Brian Pinho are 1-2 in scoring and Hayden Hawkey remains strong in net.
Providence is 5-0-1 since the break and this weekend earned a win and tie at Boston College and Boston University, respectively.
We know that this coaching staff led by Nate Leaman is a winner and I feel like it there is one team we haven’t talked about that has a good chance at reaching St. Paul, it’s Providence.
How about you Paula? Do you have one of those teams we don’t talk about enough that might make an NCAA run?
Paula: If goaltending or team defense in the Big Ten were more consistent, there would be a number of teams in the league that I cover that I could point to for postseason run potential, including Ohio State, Penn State and even Michigan. Of those three, the Buckeyes have the best and most consistent team defense, and OSU can score … but the goaltending may be an issue. For Penn State, goaltending is consistent, but the team gives up more than three goals per game on average. And Michigan? Who knows? A load of talent, but such a young team finding itself.
I’d like to point to a team from Atlantic Hockey that may throw things into chaos in the postseason, but I’m not seeing the consistency there, either. There are a number of teams in the WCHA, though, that I think are on the rise. Lately, Bemidji State has caught my eye. Prior to the Beavers’ loss to North Dakota Friday night, Bemidji put together its own nine-game unbeaten streak, including six wins in a row. Also, following that 5-1 home loss to North Dakota Friday, the Beavers rebounded with a 2-2 road tie against the Fighting Hawks Saturday, coming from behind twice to do so.
We all know that Tom Serratore is a good coach and while no one on this squad has gone to the NCAA tournament, the program has been there four times before and as recently as 2010. Currently, the Beavers score three goals per game and give up 2.50, and their combined special teams are 10th nationally.
They’ve caught my eye for sure. And five of their six remaining series are against opponents below them in the WCHA standings.
Tip of the Cap…
Jim: This week’s Tip of the Cap is a little odd, but deserved nonetheless.
This week, we tip the cap to the official scorer of Friday night’s Miami-Omaha game. I don’t know who was responsible for keeping things straight, but this person was able to tally 18 combined goals and 19 combined penalties and somehow kept everything straight.
This was one crazy game and despite the 11-7 final in Omaha’s favor, not a single hat trick was recorded. The top point-getter, in fact, was Omaha’s David Pope with a goal and four assists.
That type of game is a nightmare for the coaches, but must’ve been a delight for the Omaha faithful.
— Omaha Video (@OmahaVID) January 13, 2018
Paula: And with a little help from the NCHC, I’m happy to be able to put a name to the scoresheet.
Ernie May, an off-ice official who’s seen the Mavericks transition from the CCHA to the WCHA to the NCHC, was responsible for keeping track of the madness of that 11-7 game. From what I understand, too, there were only a couple of adjustments made to the sheet after the game – and that wouldn’t be unusual for a game that ended 2-1 with a handful of penalties.
Off-ice officials work really hard to get things right and they often do so fairly anonymously. It’s nice to be able to recognize a long-standing, hard-working and incredibly accurate guy like Ernie May.
That crazy game also saw Omaha junior goaltender Evan Weninger earn his first collegiate goal, an empty-netter at 17:21 in the third and the last goal scored in the game (it was off an errant pass, not actually scored by Weninger).
The goal is scored in the above video at about the two-minute mark.
Weninger already has an assist from an earlier game this season. He reached a career-high three assists last year.