NCAA hockey top 20: Gotta DU what I gotta DU

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November 7, 2012 by Casey Hart

As for most voters in college hockey’s national polls, the No. 1 spot in my ballot this week remained unchanged from last week. Unlike most others, my top pick is not, and was not, 6-1-0 Boston College but rather 5-1-0 Denver. After that, there was plenty of movement in my ranking. At this point in the season, every weekend represents a large percentage of a team’s resume to date. That means one big win or tough loss can make a big ripple in the ranks.

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
5-1-0 overall • 4-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 1 • USCHO: 3 • USA Today: 3

It wasn’t quite as easy of a decision this week, but the Pioneers still deserve to be No. 1. There’s no question that Boston College is a worthy candidate. The Eagles are the hotter team right now, having won six games in a row since opening with a loss at Northeastern. How much does that affect my ranking? Not even a little bit. This is a measure of a team’s performance throughout the season. Just as in the league and PairWise standings, a win or loss counts the same whether it happened last weekend (as in Denver’s case) or in the season opener (like for BC).

One thing that could be a fair factor in BC’s favor is their dominance last season. While I believe the non-Ivy teams are far enough into the season to throw out last year’s results for the most part, I completely understand using last season as a tiebreaker. The Eagles, after all, have won 25 of their last 26 games, dating back to January.

The problem is this: No tiebreaker is needed; Denver has been better this season, albeit by a slim margin. All five DU wins have been blowouts with five goals or more scored and two goals or fewer allowed.  (The Pioneers are outscoring their opponents by a nation’s-best 2.67 goals per game; only half of Division I’s other 58 teams are even scoring that many goals per contest.) Boston College, meanwhile, has needed two late comebacks to beat Massachusetts and is outscoring its opponents at even strength by just a 13-10 margin. The Eagles deserve credit for winning three road games, while Denver has not played away from Magness Arena. And while the Huskies (St. Cloud State) that beat Denver are currently looking better than the Huskies (NU) that beat BC, that fact is mostly negated by the Eagles’ loss coming on the road. Still,  the ease with which the Pioneers are winning gives them the edge. I hate to rely on style points, but they are more relevant at this point than last season’s accomplishments, so my vote stays with Denver.

2. Boston College
6-1-0 overall • 1-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 4 • USCHO: 1 • USA Today: 1

I already shared my thoughts on the Eagles, so I’ll use this space to express some sympathy for their victim Friday, UMass. Even after Friday’s 2-1, overtime defeat of New Hampshire, the Minutemen are 2-4-0, 1-4-0 in Hockey East. They have lost twice each to Boston College and Boston University by a total of six goals. They held third-period leads in each game against the Eagles and held a 2-0 lead in the second period of another one-goal loss, at home against the Terriers.

Bonus BC fact: The Eagles are scoring on 40 percent (forty, with a 4) of their power plays (10 for 25).

3. Cornell
3-0-1 overall • 2-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 10 • USCHO: 4 • USA Today: 4

We still don’t have a great sample size for the Ivy League teams (That’s why Cornell and Dartmouth, the nation’s only remaining unbeaten teams, aren’t ranked first and second.), but the quality of the Big Red’s opposition indicates that Cornell’s 3-0-1 mark is worthy of a top-three rank. It’s hard to overstate the a disadvantage a team faces when opening its season against an opponent, especially a good one, with four games under its belt. That makes the Big Red’s season-opening sweep of Colorado College one of the most impressive feats in college hockey so far this season. Cornell followed that effort with a three-point weekend against a strong Colgate team. Maybe Andy Iles stole one Friday in Hamilton, but he’s on the Cornell roster, so the Big Red gets credit for the win.

4. New Hampshire
5-1-1 overall • 2-0-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 2 • USCHO: 9 • USA Today: 8

The Wildcats’ wins against St. Cloud (twice) and BU are looking better by the week. They suffered their first loss Friday at UMass but bounced back with a shutout win at Maine.

5. Notre Dame
6-2-0 overall • 4-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 5 • USCHO: 7 • USA Today: 8
6. Minnesota
5-2-0 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams  • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 3 • USCHO: 2 • USA Today: 2
7. Miami
5-2-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 6 • USCHO: 5 • USA Today: 5
8. Union
5-1-1 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 11 • USCHO: 8 • USA Today: 7

The Dutchmen showed a smidge more fire in their second home game, a 7-3 win against rival Rensselaer, than they did in their first, a 4-1 loss to Merrimack almost a month prior. Union looks to be hitting its stride just in time for a tough road trip to Harvard and Dartmouth. The northernmost Ivies have combined to go 5-1-1 so far, matching Union’s overall mark.

9. Boston University
4-2-0 overall • 1-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 13 • USCHO: 11 • USA Today: 12

Grand Forks, N.D., is not reputed as a vacation destination, but I’m guessing the Terriers enjoyed their trip there for a weekend split at the Ralph. Led by Cason Hohmann (3-5-8) and Danny O’Regan (4-3-7), four of the top five BU scorers are underclassmen. Rookie goaltender Matt O’Connor, meanwhile, is 4-0-0 with a 1.81 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.

10. Western Michigan
4-2-0 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 15 • USCHO: 10 • USA Today: 10

The other voters and I finally agree on something. The Broncos moved up my list thanks to a 3-2 win at Notre Dame Friday, but should there be a concern over consistency? Western trailed for 57 of 60 minutes and managed just 14 shots in Game 2 against the Irish.

11. North Dakota
3-2-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 7 • USCHO: 6 • USA Today: 6
12. St. Lawrence
5-1-0 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 12 • USCHO: 13 • USA Today: 14

The nation’s No. 1 scorer? St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey (6-9-15). The nation’s No. 2 scorer? St. Lawrence’s Kyle Flanagan (6-7-13). At two goals per game, they’re scoring at a rate equal to or better than 16 full teams.

13. St. Cloud State
5-3-0 overall • 3-3-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 16 • USCHO: 15 • USA Today: Receiving votes

You know my opinion of Denver’s team. The Huskies shut out the Pioneers 3-0 on the road. Their reward for a weekend split? Two home games against North Dakota this weekend!

14. Northern Michigan
4-3-1 overall • 3-2-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 19 • USCHO: 16 • USA Today: RV
15. Colorado College
5-3-0 overall • 1-3-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 19 • USCHO: RV • USA Today: RV
16. Dartmouth
3-0-1 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: Not ranked • USCHO: RV • USA Today: NR

Two of the Big Green’s three wins came against Brown, but the other saw Dartmouth put up a touchdown (and allow two safeties, I guess) against Yale. They have gotten back Dustin Walsh, who registered 10 points in eight games in an injury-shortened 2011-12.

17. Michigan
3-3-1 overall • 1-2-1 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 8 • USCHO: 12 • USA Today: 11

Some may ask how I could have Michigan so low. A better question: Why even rank a team without a winning record? In short, while the Wolverines have one bad loss, at home to RIT in overtime, but the other two came to strong CCHA opponents, Miami and Northern Michigan. The Wolverines also have a win and tie against those two squads, and that’s enough to keep them on my list. Here’s another question: Why Michigan and not 3-3-2 Ferris State, which also split at home against Miami? The Bulldogs were close but are still feeling the effects of a winless weekend at RPI and a tie at home against Mercyhurst. In fact, Minnesota State improved to .500 with its win against Minnesota and, with its earlier win and tie against RPI, is closer than Ferris to my top 20.

18. Harvard
2-1-0 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 9 • USCHO: 14 • USA Today: 13

Dropping my old guys nine spots after one loss may seem harsh, but the move had more to do with strong showings by other teams in the middle of the top 20 than a lack of confidence in the Crimson. Harvard has an opportunity to make a strong statement when Union visits Bright Hockey Center Friday night for a rematch of last season’s ECAC title game and Frozen Fenway matchup. I expect an inspired effort.

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

The Warriors swept a weekend series from Northeastern and replaced the Huskies in my top 20.

20. Nebraska-Omaha
4-3-1 overall • 1-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: NR • USCHO: RV • USA Today: NR

The Mavericks get the nod over the other Mavericks from Mankato thanks to slightly better overall and WCHA records. UNO swept Michigan Tech on the road this weekend, something defending champion Minnesota could not do previously and a feat that is never easy in any WCHA arena.

Alaska fell out of my ranking after a home split against Lake Superior State, while Providence dropped out following a win and loss at Vermont. Yale is 2-1-1 but had the inconsistent look of last season’s Elis in its two games last weekend that featured 17 total goals. The Bulldogs should be heavily favored Friday against Clarkson but then host St. Lawrence in a game that could serve as a measuring stick for both squads. I also considered some .500 teams for the ranking, the aforementioned Ferris State and Minnesota State as well as Colgate.

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