NCAA hockey top 20: Present tense

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November 1, 2012 by Casey Hart

Boston College’s 19-0-0 run? All but forgotten. New Hampshire’s 2011-12 split personality? A hazy memory at best. Frozen Ferris State? Old news. The Connolly-Brown-Reiter era in Duluth? Ancient history.

Last season’s accomplishments—or lack thereof—shaped my college hockey preseason top 20, and have impacted my ranking each week since. But now that all 59 teams have taken the ice in meaningful games, I have put the focus almost wholly on what teams have done this year. I could not eliminate all influence from last season—Cornell and Harvard need to perform as well as they did last weekend across a larger sample size to contend for spots in my top five—but the big decisions came down to what teams have done for me lately.

My top 20 is below. Each team is listed with its overall record, record against my ranked teams, last week’s ranking and, for comparison’s sake, national rankings from the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey (top 15) polls. My ballot is submitted to USCHO by Monday at noon.

1. DenverPioneers
4-0-0 overall • 3-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 7 • USCHO: 3 • USA Today: 3

This was the easiest choice of the season so far. Denver has played four games and in each has scored exactly five goals and surrendered just one or two. All four wins have come at home, two against strong teams from last year that have struggled so far (UMass Lowell and Air Force) and two against a team, Michigan Tech, that split with then-No. 1 Minnesota a week earlier. Among the 53 teams with more than one weekend of play under their belts, the Pioneers lead the nation in scoring offense and share with North Dakota the national lead in scoring defense at 1.50 goals allowed per game.

2. New Hampshire
4-0-1 overall • 2-0-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 5 • USCHO: 9 • USA Today: 10

Only a tie at Northeastern separates the Wildcats’ record from that of the Pioneers, and the UNH victims are at least as impressive: St. Cloud State twice, Boston University and Northeastern. Even the tie was headline-worthy, as Casey DeSmith posted a 34-save shutout of the host Huskies.

3. Minnesota
4-1-0 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams  • 1-0-0 last week
Last week: 1 • USCHO: 2 • USA Today: 2

I wonder how many Golden Gophers fans arrived at Mariucci Arena to the sound of cheers as the only goal of Sunday’s matinee against Canisius was scored, on a Kyle Rau deflection 12 seconds into the contest. All the highlights the rest of the way belonged to the netminders, as Tony Capobianco kept the Golden Griffins with 41 saves and Minnesota freshman Adam Wilcox made an outstanding stop on a point-blank flurry in the final minute.

4. Boston College
5-1-0 overall • 1-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 2 • USCHO: 1 • USA Today: 1

The Eagles were an overwhelming choice at the top of the national polls after sweeping UMass Lowell in a showdown between two of Hockey East’s top teams from last season. Boston College is off to a 5-1 start to bring its total to 25 games with just one loss, but this far into a new campaign, I’ll take Denver’s dominance over BC’s occasional shakiness. The River Hawks somehow stayed in both rankings (at No. 14). There’s certainly no shame in losing twice to BC or once to Denver, and they even won at Colorado College, but to be ranked with a losing record, you should have win the games you’re supposed to. Lowell tied still-winless Vermont at home in its other game and, in my book, has not earned a ranking to this point.

5. Notre Dame
5-1-0 overall • 3-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 8 • USCHO: 7 • USA Today: 8

On the heels of a split against Minnesota Duluth, the Irish impressed with a road sweep at Northern Michigan last weekend. Up next? Just two games against Western Michigan, one at Boston College, two at Michigan and two against North Dakota. Three of those teams won their conference tournaments last year. The other, Michigan, lost to Western in the CCHA final.

6. Miami
4-1-1 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 6 • USCHO: 4 • USA Today: 4
7. North Dakota
2-1-1 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 3 • USCHO: 6 • USA Today: 6
8. Michigan
3-2-0 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 10 • USCHO: 6 • USA Today: 6

This is where we pay a little attention to last year. The Wolverines split at home against Miami last weekend but earlier lost at home to RIT and defeated Bentley far less convincingly than Harvard did. It will take more than one game, though, for the Crimson to earn a spot ahead of a Michigan team that placed second in the CCHA regular season and tournament last year and already has a defeat of a top-10 team to its credit this season.

9. Harvard
1-0-0 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-0 last week
Last week: 11 • USCHO: 13 • USA Today: 13
10. Cornell
2-0-0 overall • 2-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 12 • USCHO: 6 • USA Today: 5

From the look of the box scores, last weekend’s sweep of visiting Colorado College was classic Cornell. The Big Red allowed just two goals and 42 shots over the two games, surrendering single-digit shots totals in five of the six periods and 11 shots in the other. Cornell did not allow a power-play goal and did not score an even-strength goal.

11. Union
3-1-1 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 4 • USCHO: 10 • USA Today: 9
12. St. Lawrence
3-1-0 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-0-0 last week
Last week: 13 • USCHO: 16 • USA Today: 15

Four ECAC Hockey teams in a row! The Skating Saints didn’t play last weekend but found their way into both national polls. In a word: deserved.

13. Boston University
3-1-0 overall • 0-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 14 • USCHO: 12 • USA Today: 12
14. Northeastern
2-2-1 overall • 2-2-1 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 9 • USCHO: 15 • USA Today: Receiving votes

If there was one thing NU fans could rely on the last three years (besides early-February disappointment*), it was seeing Chris Rawlings in net. Could that be changing? Rawlings got off to a strong start to the season but was pulled after giving up a 3-1 lead Friday at New Hampshire. Fellow senior Bryan Mountain came in to turn aside 18 of the Wildcats’ 19 shots the rest of the night and pitched a 44-save shutout in Saturday’s scoreless draw back in Boston. We’ll see who gets the call for this weekend’s home-and-home series against Merrimack.

*Low blow on the Beanpot barb? Not from a former Harvard hockey staffer. I have felt the Huskies’ pain. Fun fact that bodes well for the 61st edition of Boston’s tournament: All four Beanpot schools are currently in the USCHO top 15.

15. Western Michigan
3-1-0 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-0-0 last week
Last week: 15 • USCHO: 11 • USA Today: 11
16. St. Cloud State
4-2-0 overall • 2-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: Not ranked • USCHO: 18 • USA Today: RV

The Huskies have won four straight games since opening with two losses against a UNH squad that I mentioned 14 spots earlier. The latest victories made up a home sweep of Minnesota State. Each had a 5-1 scoreline but a different storyline. St. Cloud blew off the Mavericks’ doors with three goals and an 11-3 shots edge in the first period of Friday’s series opener but clung to a 1-0 lead before netting four straight goals in Saturday’s third period. Of the nation’s five double-digit point-scorers so far, two wear SCSU sweaters, Nic Dowd (4-6-10) and Drew LeBlanc (3-7-10). Side note: The other three are St. Lawrence’s Kyle Flanagan  (5-6-11) and Greg Carey (3-7-10) and Army’s Andy Starczewski (4-6-10).

17. Alaska
3-2-1 overall • 2-0-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: NR • USCHO: RV • USA Today: NR

Losses by teams near the bottom of last week’s ranking gave me room for a group of Nanooks that has defeated North Dakota, Merrimack and Ferris State.

18. Providence
3-2-1 overall • 0-2-1 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: NR • USCHO: RV • USA Today: RV

The Friars became the latest team to take advantage of offensively challenged Maine. They also have a blowout of Sacred Heart and tie at Miami to their credit. Neither loss was anything to be ashamed of, 4-2 at Boston University and 4-3 in overtime at Miami.

19. Northern Michigan
3-3-0 overall • 2-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-2-0 last week
Last week: 16 • USCHO: 20 • USA Today: RV
20. Colorado College
3-3-0 overall • 1-3-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-2-0 last week
Last week: 17 • USCHO: RV • USA Today: NR

I could have gone with Colgate here (and might if I had this to do over again), but I didn’t want to punish the Tigers too much for two close losses to a superior Cornell team in an imposing road environment. The Raiders will have a chance to stake their claim in this weekend’s home-and-home set with the Big Red. Bemidji State, at 2-1-1, will get a crack at CC, but only after a weekend off.

Two other ECAC sides, Yale and Dartmouth, were also worthy of consideration after each opened with a 1-0-1 weekend at the Ivy Shootout. They tied each other 2-2 in their season opener and meet again Friday, a night before the Bulldogs visit their rivals in Cambridge. Holy Cross is off to a 3-1 start, but a 7-2 home loss to Army Saturday spoiled the Crusaders’ chances of contending for a spot on this list.

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