TMQ: So much intrigue for the rest of the 2019-20 season in all six conferences

Denis Smirnov (Penn State - 25), Jack Perbix (Minnesota - 25) 15 Nov 19: The University of Minnesota Golden Gopher host the Penn State Nittany Lions in a B1G matchup at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, MN. (Jim Rosvold)
Denis Smirnov (Penn State – 25) and Jack Perbix (Minnesota – 25) both hope to lead their respective teams to Big Ten glory this season (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.

Jim: Well, Paula, despite the fact that both Cornell and North Dakota each earned a win and a tie (North Dakota also earned a 3-on-3 OT win for the extra point in the NCHC standings), at least one voter’s allegiances switch in picking this week’s No. 1 team and Cornell now stands alone atop the poll.

It’s hard to tell what changed anyone’s mind over the course of the weekend. Maybe it was the fact that North Dakota took five of six NCHC points DESPITE leading for just two minutes and 38 seconds on the ENTIRE WEEKEND against Miami (thanks to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald for doing the math). I’m not taking anything away from the Fighting Hawks, but when you hold a lead for less than two percent of a weekend series, you usually don’t deserve as good of a fate.

A similar situation happened in Omaha this weekend, where the host Mavericks earned two ties against Denver but both nights lost the extra NCHC points as the Pioneers won the sudden-death shootout on Friday and scored in 3-on-3 OT on Saturday.

It leads me to ponder more about the 3-on-3 OT and shootout. No, I’m not going to rail against the OT system, but rather, I’d like to wonder if the NHL has to system correct on how to award points. I really like the fact that a winner gets a full win (two points) in NHL overtime, but a loser still gets half the credit (one point). If I’m Miami, I’d rather get one of four points than one of six. Same for Miami, give me two of four points rather than two of six.

Somehow for me getting into a three-point system for awards wins and losses doesn’t make as much sense and sometimes punishes teams who play great games but aren’t able to execute in “special” situations, such as 3-on-3 or a shootout.

Paula: Jimmy, you and I have discussed overtime and the shootout before and both of us are on the same page about it, that it has nothing to do with the actual game that was just played and rewards one team disproportionately for what is essentially a skills contest. Your take here, though, defines further what’s problematic about overtime in the college game.

Beyond the inconsistency across all conferences, the way some conferences award points is troublesome. Since we’re never going to lose the shootout, why not do what the NHL does? No one gets three points for a win, the winner gets a point and the team that took it to the 3-on-3 or shootout – essentially a tie – still gets a point.

Yes, if I were Miami, I’d rather get one of four points rather than one of six. I think most teams would rather have that outcome. Penn State found itself in the same position Saturday night against Michigan. After losing 6-0 Friday, the Nittany Lions came back to tie Saturday’s game against the Wolverines with less than two minutes remaining in regulation and Michigan went on to score in the 3-on-3. The Wolverines returned to Ann Arbor five points richer and the Nittany Lions have a single point out of six rather than four.

Penn State entered the weekend at the top of the Big Ten standings with 24 points, two points ahead of both Ohio State and Michigan State and 11 points ahead of sixth-place Michigan. Because of the way the weekend played out – and the fact that each win is worth three and not two points – the Nittany Lions are tied with the Spartans for second place with 25 points, the new No. 1 is Ohio State just a point ahead, and now just seven points separate Penn State from Michigan.

The counterpoint, of course, is that the number of points available in a given weekend makes for greater mobility in the standings and generates more excitement for fans. And Michigan sure isn’t complaining about it.

Jim: Well, when it comes to Michigan and Mel Pearson’s team, there’s isn’t a lot about which to complain. Going 7-2-1 in the last 10 games, the Wolverines are trying to come back to a place of relevance after the previous 10 games where Michigan was just 1-8-1. The question for Michigan is how big of a whole did this team dig.

Right now, Michigan is 23rd in the PairWise, not dead for an at-large bid but there is almost zero room for error from here on out. No doubt the team will be involved in a best-of-three series and it seems like the best goal for Pearson’s team would be to battle for a home-ice spot in that series. Right now, Michigan is just two points behind fourth-place Notre Dame and is heading in the polar opposite direction, which is 2-9-3 in its last 14 games.

The Wolverines aren’t the only team trying to rescue their season right now. Canisius stands out to me after taking five of six points at Sacred Heart this past weekend. The Griffs are 4-0-4 since returning from break and have won three of four extra points in Atlantic Hockey OT/shootouts in that span. Unfortunately, for Canisius, the hole they dug was a lot deeper as they still remain nine points in back of Robert Morris for the final home-ice spot in Atlantic Hockey.

I do enjoy, though, seeing so many teams that have returned from their respective breaks with a renewed hope and optimism that is showing on the ice.

Paula: It does seem as though there are a few more interesting storylines developing this month as opposed to in second halves of years past. I know it always seems as though I go back to the WCHA, but that is a conference that was interesting in the first half and is getting more intriguing as we progress toward the playoffs.

Look at Bemidji State with a 5-0-1 start to 2020 and five of six points earned against ranked Michigan Tech just this past weekend. The Beavers, who had a good but not-quite-consistent first half, have done everything they can to keep pace with one of the top teams in the country, Minnesota State, at the top of the WCHA standings. Tied with Michigan at 23 in the PairWise, the Beavers will have to keep doing on what they’re doing to earn their way into the NCAA tournament, as it’s unlikely that Minnesota State will relinquish that top spot.

But Bemidji State isn’t alone in a push for a WCHA playoff championship title. Facing an uncertain future about the fate of its entire program, Alaska is off to a goodish start in the second half, as is Northern Michigan – who tied and lost to Cornell in Lynah Rink this past weekend. In that mix, too, is Bowling Green and Michigan Tech, but both of those programs have had a slow start to the second half.

I’m looking at the insanity of the Hockey East standings, though, for the best chance of the most dramatic photo-finish of the regular season.

Jim: Hockey East is a photo-finish all around.

Boston College is in the driver’s seat given their games in hand on most opponents and they did an excellent job this weekend rallying for a win against UMass Lowell and pulling out a see-saw battle against rival Boston University. I look at the Eagles as probably the deepest and most talented team in the league, but given the fact that Massachusetts, BC, Providence and UMass Lowell are all separated by two points right now means any of those team (and possibly even Northeastern, currently four points back) could win the regular-season title.

That league also has a battle for the final home-ice spots (currently six teams in a battle for four spots) and likely, too, for the final playoff spot as six points separate sixth-place Boston University and tenth-place Merrimack.

Merrimack, in fact, held a 2-0 lead over BU on Friday night before falling 3-2. Imagine if that game goes the other way?

I’ll toss you one more question before we end this week: If you had to pick one team that is NOT in the top 15 of the currently PairWise who you think will earn a spot in the NCAA tournament (let’s leave the potential Atlantic Hockey champion out of this conversation), who do you think it might be?

Paula: The easy answer is Michigan State. The Spartans are No. 16 in the PWR and play good, consistent hockey in front of a goaltender who may be a Richter Award finalist. Senior John Lethemon is as good as they come in D-I hockey right now. Danton Cole and his staff are getting the Spartans to play to their potential as much as possible and that team is confident.

The answer that’s not so easy: Harvard. The Crimson have a lot of talent up front with the third-best offense nationally and the fourth-best power play in the country. Their inconsistencies – and struggling team defense – seem to have more to do with their youth, from the net on out. If Harvard comes together in the second half, the Crimson has the ability to do well against ECAC opponents including ranked opponents.

Then there’s the Beanpot. While not traditionally Harvard’s strongest event, it does present an opportunity. And this is a team that began the season with a nice little 6-0 run.

There are several teams just outside of the PWR bubble doing some exciting things. I think we’re in for a really great remainder of the season.