TMQ: North Dakota-St. Cloud State controversy, Big Ten, ECAC volatility, Arizona State’s tournament chances

 (Melissa Wade)
Shane Bear has been a steady presence on the Rensselaer back end this season (photo: Melissa Wade).

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: We have a substitute for Paula on TMQ this week as NCHC columnist Candace Horgan takes over.

And talk about timely because I want to start with the controversy of the weekend that occurred in Friday’s St. Cloud State-North Dakota game. Jimmy Schuldt of St. Cloud State hit North Dakota’ Grant Mismash as he skated down the right wing on Friday. At the last second, Schuldt extended his leg, causing a knee-on-knee hit. There was no call on Schuldt for kneeing on the play, which I understand happens.

The speed of the game is forever increasing and when I look at the replay, both referees are in good position, but neither may have been able to see the extended knee, thinking maybe it was a very good hip check.

Without a penalty call, the referees weren’t able to use video to review the play. But what I think surprised many North Dakota fans was that the league didn’t issue any supplementary discipline.

What are your thoughts on the play and the NCHC’s choice to not suspend Schuldt?

Candace: Hi Jimmy, and thanks for the welcome.

I’ve looked at that video several times now, and I think in real time it’s hard to judge at the speed they were going. When I see the video in slow motion, I really only think one referee has a decent line of sight on the play, and that’s Todd Anderson, who does not have a very good reputation among fans of the league. Anderson is gliding backward at the opposite side faceoff circle, and just as the play is happening St. Cloud forward Easton Brodzinski is backchecking and may have gotten into Anderson’s line of sight at the same time.

I think it is surprising that the league didn’t issue supplemental discipline. They usually do for plays like that. Schuldt is a clean player usually. He only has four penalties all year, so maybe that played into it.

That being said, that wasn’t the only blatantly missed call in that game. St. Cloud had scored a goal earlier that was missed, and even with clear video replay showing the puck had crossed the goal line, the refs still didn’t call it a goal after looking at the video. That crew had a tough night.

Since you are the Hockey East columnist, I’d like to ask you about a couple of results. What did you make of Providence sweeping No. 8 Northeastern, and UMass losing to Maine?

Jim: I think for Providence it was a great bounce back having lost their last three league games giving up four goals in each.

For the defense to clamp down and allow just a single goal on the weekend is important for the Friars. For the Huskies, lost weekends aren’t that welcome this time of year, but I also know this team can bounce back and, after a single game this weekend, has the Beanpot to motivate them.

For Maine, that was a critical win against a good opponent that gives the Black Bears better footing to make the Hockey East playoffs, now with a five-point lead over Merrimack for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Massachusetts did make a nice rally on Saturday before falling short and I think in the long term, they’ll be fine. But it does prove just how difficult it is to sweep a league series in Hockey East (and most any conference when you play the same opponent back to back).

I’m finding the Big Ten an interesting race when, other than Ohio State, it feels like the remainder of the league is cannibalizing one another. The Buckeyes and second-place Notre Dame will play this weekend and, should Ohio State sweep at home, the really are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the B1G tournament.

Candace: The Big Ten is certainly volatile right now, but it always seems to be.

I found the Minnesota-Wisconsin split interesting simply from a historical perspective. Notre Dame seems to be showing signs of vulnerability, especially with the tie with Michigan State, and they definitely don’t want that ahead of the series in Columbus with the Buckeyes this weekend. The Fighting Irish are only 3-3-2 in the second half and getting swept by Ohio State could really hurt them in the PairWise rankings.

The PairWise always gets interesting. Quinnipiac, for instance, is in fourth this week after not playing last weekend, in part because of results in other conferences. The ECAC is certainly a dogfight right now. What did you make of Harvard’s OT win over Clarkson and Colgate’s OT win over Cornell? Do you think Harvard is getting hot in time for the Beanpot? The Crimson have beaten Quinnipiac and Clarkson in the last couple of weeks.

Jim: Well, you ask about ECAC teams and all I have to do is reference the standings to understand the volatility in that league. Two points separates first from sixth, so whenever there is an upset, you almost have to take it with a grain of salt.

As for Harvard, I’m not sure if this is a team catching fire at the right time. For their fans, they’d like to think so as advancing in the Beanpot next Monday would be welcome. But I am sure more than just the Beanpot, Harvard has its eyes on the PairWise.

As for the PairWise, this was a pretty volatile weekend. So many teams RPIs went up and down, Quinnipiac being a good example. Another is Arizona State which stayed in the NCAA tournament mix with a win on Saturday. Friday, a loss at Boston University dropped the Sun Devils below the “Mendoza Line” of the PairWise. But one win, was enough to take Arizona State back from 16th to 12th.

As ASU enters its final six games of play (not just regular season, but this is it before selection Sunday for this independent), you have to think these feel like playoff games for the Sun Devils.

Four are against Atlantic Hockey teams where there won’t be a ton of PairWise benefits for wins, but losses could be devastating. The closing series against Minnesota could be huge for both team’s NCAA hopes.

For a Division I independent, this is a pretty exciting time.

Candace: It definitely is, Jim.

The last independent qualifier was Alaska Anchorage, which qualified three straight years as an independent from 1990 through 1992. The 1990-91 team walked into Boston College and actually upset the Eagles 3-2 and 3-1 – still considered one of the best all-time upsets.

I do have to wonder how long ASU will be able to maintain its independent status. I know noise was made about them joining the NCHC at one point, but I just don’t think they are a good fit in that league.

Perhaps they could join the WCHA, but that, too, would be problematic. Both the NCHC and WCHA are currently at an even number of teams, and I don’t know that they’d want to go to an odd number. The travel for some of the WCHA teams could be tough on budgets as well.

Making the NCAA tournament would be a big boost to ASU’s program, but until a new arena is finished, I think the Sun Devils will stay as an independent.