NCAA hockey top 20: OK, BC, I’m convinced

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November 14, 2012 by Casey Hart

My ranking remained more static than it has the rest of the season, but there was change at the top. I am officially the last to join the party in ranking Boston College No. 1. The rest of my top 10 remained the same, apart from a switch of ECAC Hockey/Ivy League teams.

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 and USA Today/USA Hockey (top 15) polls. My ballot is submitted to USCHO by Monday at noon.

1. Boston CollegeEagles
8-1-0 overall • 3-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 2 • USCHO: 1 • USA Today: 1

No one can say I didn’t make the Eagles earn it. BC beat Notre Dame 3-1 at home in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and Boston University 4-2 down Commonwealth Avenue. Johnny Gaudreau added three more goals to raise his season total to seven. Five of those are game-winners. Boston College has needed every score, as six of the Eagles’ wins have come by one goal or one plus an empty-netter. Denver has won its games more convincingly, but none of the wins on the Pioneers’ resume can match either BC win from last weekend in terms of strength of opponent.

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

It’s tough to sweep a WCHA road series and drop a spot. (That’s what happened here, but the Pioneers actually climbed one position to No. 2, leapfrogging Minnesota, in both national polls.) The Pioneers did look somewhat more human, beating Minnesota State in a pair of one-goal games in which they were badly outshot. They still lead the nation in scoring margin, though, at +2.25 goals per game. In addition to a powerful attack, Russia boasts a defense that has surrendered just 15 goals in eight games in front of three different goaltenders: Sam Brittain, Juho Olkinuora and Adam Murray. Brittain made 33 saves in Friday’s win, allowing Denver to hold on for a 4-3 win despite the Mavericks’ 13-1 edge in third-period shots, including a bid from MSU right wing Eriah Hayes in the final seconds.

3. New Hampshire
6-1-1 overall • 2-0-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-0 last week
Last week: 4 • USCHO: 5 • USA Today: 6

The opposition for the Wildcats in recent games hasn’t exactly been Hockey East’s finest, but give UNH credit for taking care of business with 4-0 wins at Maine Nov. 4 and at home against Vermont Saturday. Casey DeSmith has shutouts in three of his last four games, and the Wildcats’ lone loss remains an overtime decision at always-tough-at-home Massachusetts. New Hampshire leads Division I with 1.38 goals allowed per game, while DeSmith ranks second nationally in save percentage at .953 and third in goals-against average at 1.36.

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

Reilly Smith is gone; Riley Barber has arrived. Barber logged a four-point weekend and, with 5-9-14 totals, shares the national freshman scoring lead at 1.40 points per game.

6. Minnesota
6-2-1 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams  • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 6 • USCHO: 3 • USA Today: 3

How good is the WCHA? The last-place team is 2011 national champion Minnesota Duluth, and the three teams tied one spot ahead of the Bulldogs—Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State—have all taken points from once-No. 1 Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have yet to sweep a league weekend and are in fifth place. Hmm. If I had this to do over, I might change my pick for No. 6 to …

7. Dartmouth
5-0-1 overall • 1-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 16 • USCHO: 12 • USA Today: 12

The Big Green is the nation’s only unbeaten team but lacked a signature win before getting out to a 3-0 lead against Union on a second-period buzzer-beater and holding on for a 3-2 win. Tyler Sikura (4-7-11) and Eric Robinson (7-2-9, NCAA-leading 1.17 goals per game) have led a balanced and strong attack, but what’s really surprising has been the Big Green’s defense. Behind new starting goaltender Cab Morris (.946, 1.22), Dartmouth has surrendered only nine goals in six games. The Big Green ranked 48th of 58 Division I teams in scoring defense last season, but only Granite State rival New Hampshire has been stingier so far in 2011-12.

8. Union
6-2-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 8 • USCHO: 7 • USA Today: 8

Star goaltender Troy Grosenick went down Friday against Harvard, but the Dutchmen went on to a convincing, 6-2 win with Colin Stevens in net. Union actually climbed a spot to seventh in the poll despite its loss a night later at Dartmouth.

9. Boston University
5-3-0 overall • 2-3-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 9 • USCHO: 11 • USA Today: 11
10. Western Michigan
5-2-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 10 • USCHO: 9 • USA Today: 9

Last month, when last season’s top two CCHA teams, Western Michigan and Ferris State, dropped opening-weekend games to ECAC Hockey squads coming off not-so-good campaigns, it was fair to wonder why. Were St. Lawrence and Rensselaer greatly improved, or were Western and Ferris State primed for a fall. Well, the jury’s still out on Ferris, but the Broncos have responded well. Western is 5-1-1 since splitting with the Saints and held Bowling Green to 12 shots in a 3-1 win Friday.

11. North Dakota
4-3-1 overall • 2-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 11 • USCHO: 6 • USA Today: 5
12. St. Cloud State
6-4-0 overall • 4-4-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 13 • USCHO: 15 • USA Today: 15

North Dakota and the Huskies split in St. Cloud, but UND gets the nod ahead of SCSU for the road win.

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

The Big Red suffered a 5-3 loss at Princeton and a 4-1 defeat at Quinnipiac in its first full weekend on the road. The Tigers’ final goal came on an empty net but the eight legitimate goals in two games came after Cornell surrendered just five total goals in its first three games.

14. Northern Michigan
4-4-2 overall • 3-3-1 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 14 • USCHO: 19 • USA Today: Receiving votes

I don’t like to have a .500 team this high, but the Wildcats’ four losses have come at home to Notre Dame (twice), at Nebraska-Omaha and at Miami. They have beaten UNO and Michigan and tied the Wolverines and RedHawks. (Northern also swept Wisconsin in Green Bay, but it remains to be seen how much those wins will be worth.)

15. Colorado College
7-3-0 overall • 1-3-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 15 • USCHO: 14 • USA Today: 14
16. Nebraska-Omaha
6-3-1 overall • 1-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 20 • USCHO: 18 • USA Today: RV

The Mavericks swept Minnesota Duluth, thanks in part to a five-point weekend (two goals, three assists) from Dominic Zombo. That matched the sophomore’s total from his first eight games this season and topped his three points in 32 games last season.

17. St. Lawrence
5-2-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 12 • USCHO: 16 • USA Today: RV

The Saints still sport a pretty record but tied a one-win Brown squad Friday and lost 4-2 Saturday at Yale in their first game against strong opponent since that opening series at Western Michigan. There’s still plenty for St. Lawrence to prove as they host Princeton and Quinnipiac (combined 4-0-0 record) before a four-game road swing at Northeastern, Boston University, Colgate and Cornell. With seven goals and nine assists, Kyle Flanagan remains atop the national scoring list, alongside Bentley’s Brett Gensler, at two points per game.

18. Harvard
3-2-0 overall • 0-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 18 • USCHO: 17 • USA Today: RV

The Crimson failed to rebound from its loss to Yale when Union came to Bright Hockey Center Friday and beat Harvard 6-2. What I liked was how Harvard responded Saturday against Rensselaer, firing 22 shots on net and scoring twice in the first period. The shorthanded Engineers are reeling, though, and Cornell and Colgate will likely pose more of a challenge on Harvard’s road trip this weekend. Friday’s rivalry tilt in Ithaca, N.Y., should be one to watch and will, appropriately, be aired live on NBC Sports Network (with Mike “Doc” Emrick on the call, no less). All eyes will be on Crimson freshman Jimmy Vesey, who has five goals and two assists in five games and is tied with Miami’s Barber for the NCAA freshman scoring lead. The key for Harvard, however, will likely be the play of its strong senior class, and it’s no coincidence that a Marshall Everson goal assisted by classmates Alex Fallstrom and Luke Greiner got the Crimson on the board in the game that ended its two-game mini-slump.

19. Michigan
4-4-1 overall • 1-2-1 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 17 • USCHO: 13 • USA Today: 13

The Wolverines split a pair of lopsided games with rival Michigan State. Friday’s win was their only victory in the last five games, but only Union (4.33 goals per game) is scoring more than Michigan’s 4.22 goals per contest. A.J. Treais leads the nation with eight total goals.

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

How does a team manage to crack the ranking following a home loss to an opponent that entered winless through seven games? Well, in Yale’s case, the answer appears to be finishing the weekend with its second defeat of a ranked opponent in as many Saturdays. The Bulldogs’ weekend was yet another example of the inconsistency that has driven mad the patrons of Ingalls Rink since the start of last season. One night, 22 shots and no goals against a Clarkson side that came in 0-4-3 (including 0-2-3 against Atlantic Hockey squads); the next, a 4-2 win against St. Lawrence, which hadn’t allowed four goals in a game all season.

If not Yale, then who? Most likely Alaska. The Nanooks’ resume is not too different from the Bulldogs’: a couple wins against ranked teams (at home against North Dakota and Merrimack), one bad loss (against Canisius in Anchorage) and a win percentage around .600 (well, exactly .600, while Yale is at .583). Thanks to a win at Ferris State, I was actually leaning toward Alaska for this spot before realizing that the Nanooks, who needed a shorthanded goal in the final two minutes Saturday at Ohio State for their first two-goal win, have been outscored by their opponents this season, 24-23. That doesn’t disqualify Alaska, but I find the Elis to be a little more convincing.

Right behind the Nanooks would be a pair of their middle-of-the-road CCHA brethren, Ferris State and Lake Superior State. The teams entered their weekend series in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., at .500 and, as could be expected, picked up one win apiece. In fact, the Lakers have played five weekend series this season and split each with a win and a loss. A pair of Atlantic Hockey squads, Holy Cross and Niagara, also warrant consideration. The Crusaders are 6-2-0 against a less-than-impressive schedule and gave up seven goals—to Army and Air Force—in each of their losses. The Purple Eagles, at 6-2-3, are unbeaten in their last seven games, also against less-than-stellar competition; they have allowed just one total goal over the last four. A strong argument could also be made for Quinnipiac, fresh off a 4-1 defeat of Cornell, but the 5-3-1 Bobcats have just that one defeat of a ranked team and two bad losses. The neighboring Yalies have totals of two and one in those respective categories.


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