TMQ: Talking the Feb. 5 poll, surprise teams this season, Beanpot attendance

Erik Brown (16 - RIT), Noah Delmas (20 - Niagara), Brian Wilson (33 - Niagara) (2018 Omar Phillips)
Niagara is just a shade under .500 in AHC play this season, a season after the Purple Eagles went 5-31-3 overall (photo: Omar Phillips).
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: With a win and a tie against Penn State, Notre Dame has reclaimed the top spot in this week’s poll after Cornell saw its 11-game undefeated streak stopped by Rensselaer, and the balloting this week has me a bit confused.After Notre Dame’s streak 16-game win streak was halted by a loss to Wisconsin Jan. 21, the Jan. 22 poll still had the Irish at No. 1, although Cornell received 15 votes for first place and Clarkson and Denver each received a vote.It took until Notre Dame lost two in a row for the Irish to lose first place to Cornell in last week’s poll, and the Big Red only enjoyed that spot for a moment before voters pretty decisively decided restore Notre Dame to the top spot. This in spite of Denver’s current seven-game unbeaten streak after two wins over Minnesota-Duluth. Notre Dame, St. Cloud and Denver are all knotted at the top of the PairWise Rankings, making this week’s poll even more interesting.It’s almost as though the voters viewed Notre Dame’s two-game skid as a hiccup that the Irish have rectified — and maybe it was and maybe they have. They did have to come from behind to beat Penn State Friday and they tied Saturday, so in their last five games, the Irish were close to losing four.Except that they didn’t lose all of those four, and I’m guessing that is the important difference to voters.Even though we pretty much all acknowledge that the NCHC is the strongest conference, though, I have to wonder why Denver only received eight votes and St. Cloud two. At the other end of the poll, I’m also wondering what Boston University needs to do to get recognized, as the Terriers are enjoying a seven-game undefeated streak of their own.Jim: I think that explaining Notre Dame’s ascent back to No. 1 isn’t as difficult as it seems.Cornell had a tough weekend, barely surviving on Friday at Union to earn a 4-3 win and then falling a night later at Rensselaer. Voters, I think, looked at that as a pretty rough weekend.As compared to say the NCHC or Big Ten, I think losses in the ECAC, particularly to the bottom tier, took a lot of luster off the newly-minted top ranking that Cornell had just achieved. Sure, the fact that it also ended a long unbeaten streak shouldn’t simply be overlooked. But again, I really think voters are finding a way to balance off the strength of leagues right now.That, though, could lead to your second question about why Notre Dame and not Denver as the top pick. That’s a much more difficult question. I do know that we’ve discussed in the past the fact that when a team falls in a poll, it can often be much more difficult to re-ascend. Denver fell to No. 5 after losses to Dartmouth, Merrimack and Miami. All of those teams at the times of the losses were towards the bottom of their respective standings (Dartmouth has played better hockey of late).Notre Dame, on the other hand, is finding ways to win or tie, it seems. I get your that they could have lost five straight, but didn’t. Sometimes, that is the sign of a winner.The team that surprises me right now is Clarkson. Somehow the Golden Knights have gone from a 14-game winning streak to having just one win in their last five (1-3-1). Certainly, winning cultivates winning, but I am surprised that after the winning streak ended that it has been such rough sailing.Paula: Clarkson surprises me as well, but the entire ECAC surprises me this season.Harvard started off well in conference play. but has been inconsistent since the start of the calendar year, with five overtime games since Jan. 6, games during for which they have a record of 2-0-3.Union has been average overall (16-13-1) but quite good in league play (11-5-0) with the only loss in the Dutchmen’s last six games to Cornell last Friday night and a record of 6-3-0 in 2018. Colgate looked promising in the first half of the season, but the Raiders have really fallen off with a record of 4-8-0 since the start of December. For a league that produced consecutive national champions with Yale in 2013 and Union in 2014 – with Quinnipiac making Frozen Four appearances in 2013 and 2016 – the ECAC seems a bit unsteady this season, which of course underscores your point about the poll.There are a couple of teams out there that I find really interesting right now, teams that may be heating up at just the right time of the season. One of them is Minnesota State, although in fairness, I don’t think the Mavericks were ever really cold this year. Overall, my sense is that the WCHA is improved as a whole this season at least among its top teams, but the Mavericks may be in a class of their own in that league, in spite of lagging behind first-place Northern Michigan by a point.The Mavericks have one of the top freshmen in the country in forward Jake Jaremko, who scored his 10th goal of the season this past weekend and is second among freshmen nationally in points per game. Senior goaltender Connor LaCouvee, who transferred from Boston University, is among the top 10 goaltenders nationally in goals against (1.81) and he has the second-best win percentage in the nation. The Mavericks lead the nation offensively (3.86 goals per game), are sixth defensively (2.18), have the best power play in the country and are second nationally in combined special teams. They seem loaded to me and yet completely under the radar, perhaps because they are playing in the WCHA.Another sneaky team of late is Robert Morris. The Colonials went 8-12-1 in the first half of the season but have climbed to third place in Atlantic Hockey with a record of 5-1-1 since the start of January. With six games left and tough competition from at least two of the three teams they’ll face, the Colonials will make the AHA race fun to watch.And then there’s Boston University, a team I mentioned earlier – which brings us to the Beanpot, Jimmy. As we craft this column, I know you’re covering the Beanpot this year and I am very interested in your thoughts on the tournament itself as well as the teams participating.Jim: Well, in terms of competitiveness, this is one of the better Beanpot tournaments.Northeastern, which hasn’t won since 1988, is technically the favorite as the highest ranked team. But all the others aren’t far behind, which makes for a great on-ice product.If I have any concern about the Beanpot, it’s the fact that the stands in the TD Garden seem empty. What once was the hottest ticket in town can be had for more than 50 percent below resale value from the local ticket agencies. And this has nothing to do with the product on the ice.The tournament is more competitive now than it was 10-plus years ago. But the competition for the entertainment dollar, the fact that alumni and business people aren’t scurrying to the games and even the students seem apathetic. Monday, Boston College’s student section was about one-third empty and defending champ Harvard’s was about half-empty. BU and Northeastern still seem to draw, but for some reason, the luster has worn off.It also hasn’t helped that since 2001, eight of the first Mondays of the Beanpot come a day after the Patriots have played in a Super Bowl, so that hangover seems real.This is still a great tournament, probably the premier in-season event in college hockey, but it is no longer the draw it once was.

A Tip of the Cap…

Paula: … to the five finalists for this year’s Hockey Humanitarian Award: Camil Blanchet (Bowdoin), Courtney Pensavalle (Yale), Sidney Peters (Minnesota), Luke Rivera (Fredonia) and Lauren Spring (Ohio State).It is impossible to summarize adequately in just a few words what these five players have contributed to be counted among hockey’s finest citizens. They’ve raised money for cerebral palsy, for bone marrow registration, for stroke awareness, for Meals on Wheels.Blanchet is a representative to the Bowdoin student government. Pensavalle sings with other Yale student-athletes in the Unorthojocks, an acapella group. Peters volunteered in Haiti with Project Medishare. Although sidelined with an injury this season, Rivera continues his commitment to the Blue Devils’ community engagement. Spring traveled to Ecuador to volunteer with “Soles for Souls.”Individually and collectively, the generosity of these student-athletes is both inspiring and humbling.Jim: Every year at the Frozen Four, I get to meet and interview the Humanitarian recipient and every single year, I am humbled by how much these student-athletes do for their community.This is all about being not a good citizen, but a great citizen, and being active in the community they represent despite spending hours studying and being an athlete. Everything these five have accomplished is so incredible.