Each week, USCHO.com will pick the top 10 moments from the past weekend in our Monday 10 feature.
1. Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, rollin’
The No. 1 spot in the national rankings is seldom challenged if the team occupying the slot keeps winning.
Last week, North Dakota held 48 of the 50 first-place votes in the USCHO.com national poll and solidified status as the top-rated team in the Pairwise Rankings. A weekend showdown against Denver would go miles to prove if the Fighting Hawks could keep rolling or cede positioning to Minnesota State and Cornell in the race for the No. 1 overall seed.
Now they might be able to lose and still be the best of the best.
UND swept Denver, a team notably among the nation’s elite programs, with a pair of home victories, winning on Friday, 4-1, before turning in a 3-1 result on Saturday. The team led the weekend for all but a grand total of 19 minutes of hockey, esconsing itself atop the rankings. Collin Adams had two goals on the weekend and Jordan Kawaguchi had three total points, and the pace setters in college hockey just kept rolling.
The conference tournaments still loom on the horizon, but North Dakota continues to hum along. With six games remaining, two losses in the second half – in the ultra-competitive NCHC – should make everyone wary of the future prospects and favorites for a potential national tournament run.
2. Demolition derbies
Normally, this time of year is all about positioning and looking at which teams finish in what position.
In Hockey East, the playoff race is tightening to a degree usually not seen anywhere other than Atlantic Hockey. Four points – or one weekend’s worth of work – separate first from eighth place, and the ninth-place team is a team vying for a spot in the national polls, one point back.
Boston College and UMass are tied for first with 24 points, with Boston University one point behind. Another point separates the transition spot for home ice to UMass Lowell and Maine, which are tied with 22 points, or one game behind first place. Northeastern, tied for sixth with Providence, has a better shot at first place than virtually any of those teams ahead of it save for the Eagles and Minutemen, but UConn, at 20 points could easily pass both. New Hampshire is in ninth, at 19 points, despite receiving votes in the latest national poll.
This past weekend, Boston College took four points from Merrimack, but Vermont’s tie against Providence opened the door for Northeastern, which swept UMass-Lowell. Maine, a team pressuring the top portion of the schedule, slipped against UConn, though a 1-0 win in overtime on Saturday mitigated that damage. And BU swept UNH, a damaging blow for the Wildcats, though not enough to really flood the hopes of getting to the Hockey East playoffs.
What makes this race so intriguing is, of course, the prospect of missing the postseason. A team like Lowell is playing for its national tournament life, as is Maine, but dropping a bad weekend’s worth of points raises the prospect of missing the conference tournament altogether. That makes these games more exciting than the participation trophy model of having everyone advance.
3. Speaking of wild…
Chaos begins and ends in Atlantic Hockey, a conference that should consider getting sponsorship from Maalox for its last month.
Army West Point joined AIC and Sacred Heart with first round bye clinches, and RIT all but made four teams official by sweeping Bentley. Bentley dropped out of the first round, losing any mathematical shot at a bye in the process, and now has to hope for help to maintain spots atop the home ice race. Holy Cross and Niagara all split with their opponents – the latter coming at Sacred Heart – to pressure the race for home ice.
Six points separate first place from tenth, which means the last three weekends are going to be very interesting, and next weekend is going to get dicey when RIT plays Niagara and Robert Morris plays Canisius. Assuming Air Force is able to win anything on home ice, the middle chunk is going to bunch up further, which is exactly what usually happens around this time of year in this league.
4. Desert winds
Arizona State needed to avoid a slip-up against Atlantic Hockey and Alaska Anchorage in order to stamp a ticket to the NCAA tournament for a second season.
This past weekend, a 5-0 win on Friday preceded a 5-2 victory on Saturday, locking the Sun Devils into the No. 11 spot in the Pairwise Rankings with one weekend left against Wisconsin.
Even if Sparky lost a game against the Badgers, I think the math shapes up enough to keep them in the tournament – but there’s a chance that doesn’t happen. The Sun Devils looked GOOD this weekend, netting a hat trick by Brinson Pasichnuk on Saturday that included two power-play goals. Evan Debrouwer collected just under 60 saves, and on Saturday, his numbers came with the Seawolves outshooting his team, 34-23.
Wisconsin ranks No. 37 in the Pairwise Rankings coming out of the weekend. The math should support ASU remaining in the draw as long as it doesn’t drop both games in Madison.
5. More big wins
This was one of those weekends where teams needing wins went out and got them. In the Big Ten, Minnesota earned five points on the road at Notre Dame, beating the Fighting Irish in a shootout before winning, 2-1.
Friday’s shootout had to feel especially gratifying for the Gophers. They took a lead in less than a minute in the first period, then extended it to 2-0 before Notre Dame stormed back through the second period to take a 3-2 lead. It took a Sammy Walker goal to tie the game in the third to force overtime, ending the game in an official tie before Brannon McManus beat Cale Morris for a shootout victory.
The next night, Ben Meyers and Blake McLaughlin scored in the third period to rally Minnesota from a 1-0 deficit. The tie notwithstanding, it turned into a huge win to keep Minnesota at No. 16 in the Pairwise Ranking, outside of the bubble given the situation in Atlantic Hockey but on the edge of passing both UMass-Lowell and Maine – and Big Ten cohort Ohio State.
6. Like father, like son
Senior Day festivities are always special because they represent the end of a journeyed chapter. All of those 5 a.m. practice times, the hours spent in the car with no sleep and as much coffee as a Thermos can hold, come to a head in one moment where a player skates to his mom and dad to say thank you.
Scheduling Senior Day is becoming more and more unique because teams temper the emotion of the moment with a non-conference game or significant date to heighten the reward for graduating players.
This past weekend, Mercyhurst held its Senior Day against Army West Point despite having two home games left against Canisius in a couple of weeks, to allow senior Brendan Riley the opportunity to celebrate with his father, Brian Riley, who coaches the Black Knights.
Mercyhurst holds a unique relationship with the Riley family; Brendan’s older brother, Jack Riley, recently graduated from the hockey program, and the games when both were in uniform made the matchup a father/son rivalry. On Saturday, before he went back behind the bench of the Black Knights, Brian was just a dad with his son.
Maybe it’s just me, but ECAC always feels like its playoff seeding fits neatly into tiers, jockeying for position within the breakdown.
The top four should likely settle in the upcoming week after Clarkson, Cornell, Quinnipiac and Harvard all finished breaking away from Colgate, RPI, Dartmouth and Yale. Brown, Union, Princeton and St. Lawrence will all travel, in some capacity, for the first round of the playoffs.
Barring some unexpected collapse, those 12 teams will break into those three tiers down the stretch. Colgate beat Union to remain within striking distance of Harvard and Quinnipiac, but RPI beat Colgate to tie for fifth place and essentially keep the Raiders from pushing to jump into the top pack. Cornell made sure neither team swept the weekend with a pair of wins at home.
8. Tough times in the UP
Two weeks ago, Northern Michigan was one of the hottest teams in the country.
The Wildcats lost one game since Christmas, and they earned two well-placed wins over Ferris State at home. Even losing two to Minnesota State, a team they beat earlier this year, felt forgivable.
Then came this past weekend. Northern lost twice to Bemidji State at home, dropping a combined 10 goals across the two nights. On Friday, Adam Brady scored twice within 40 seconds in the second period to turn a 3-0 game into a blowout on the scoreboard, and he added a third goal for the weekend as part of four unanswered.
Yes, two of those five goals on Saturday came with an empty net, but the losses open the door for both Alaska and Michigan Tech heading into next weekend. That would potentially knock the team out of a home playoff series, but it still has hearty control over its fate with games left at Lake Superior State and a home-and-home against their UP rivals, who swept Ferris State this past weekend.
9. Take it outside
Colorado College beat Air Force 6-2 at home on Friday night.
It’s a surface-level statement without much impact to any national tournament race, conference standing, or anything else, but it sets the stage for a unique experience on Monday when the teams shift to the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium in an outdoor game.
Outdoor games are met with varying opinions these days, with the chief complaint being that the NHL’s Stadium Series watered down the concept introduced by the Michigan-Michigan State game and enhanced by the Winter Classic. The influx of outdoor games clearly exposed key games to weather elements not felt indoors, so it goes without saying that there are real complaints about their impact.
That said, they became a staple, and the late-season, non-league game on campus at Air Force is going to be great. The academy enjoys an altitude advantage somewhere north of 6,000 feet, and the thin air is compounded by cold, dry weather in the forecast. The stadium, which is the second-highest in FBS football, is the perfect size – and it’s on campus, which is an added thrill.
Yes, there are complaints about outdoor games, but sometimes the situation hits it correct.
10. On Wisconsin!
On Friday night, Wisconsin opened up a 2-0 lead on Penn State that became 3-1 before the end of the first period.
By the end of the second period, the score knotted, and a wild third period featuring 18 Penn State shots threatened to complete a comeback that would have aided the Nittany Lions’ quest to stay ahead of Minnesota in the Big Ten. Instead, Dylan Holloway scored with just over a minute remaining, touching off a huge three points for the Badgers.
The next night, Penn State responded with a 3-2 victory, but Wisconsin never really went away in a tight-played game. The Nittany Lions kept extending their lead to two goals, but each time, Wisconsin found a way to respond. When they led 1-0 after one, Cole Hults scored to make eit 2-0, but Ty Pelton-Byce brought Wisconsin to 2-1 with 11 seconds remaining in the period.
Then Evan Bell scored his first goal of the season – and second career goal for a junior defenseman – to give Penn State a 3-1 lead. But Wisconsin again scored with a minute remaining (and the goalie pulled) to cut the score to 3-2. The Nittany Lions held on, but Wisconsin earned a measure of pride heading into next weekend’s series against Arizona State.
Thanks to Dave Hendrickson for his help with some of the content.