NCAA hockey top 20: Tie goes to the runner

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November 21, 2012 by Casey Hart

It looked, for a moment, like Boston College would blink in its ongoing, cross-country tussle with Denver for No. 1 in college hockey. The Eagles trailed Merrimack 3-0 in the second period Friday, but it was no surprise to BC fans and observers when they rallied for a 4-3 win. The Pioneers, meanwhile, had a more impressive weekend, sweeping a home-and-home series with rival Colorado College and essentially wiping out BC’s edge from beating Notre Dame and Boston University a week earlier. You can’t vote for a tie, though, and after switching my No. 1 from DU to BC a week ago, I stuck with the Eagles for the sake of, as much as anything else, limiting my flip-flopping.

Interestingly enough, the Eagles and Pioneers will provide us a rather level playing field (or, you know, rink) on which to judge them this weekend. Both squads will host single games solid opposition from the Ivy League. Denver welcomes Yale Friday, and BC hosts Dartmouth Saturday.

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. Boston CollegeEagles
9-1-0 overall • 3-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-0 last week
Last week: 1 • USCHO: 1 • USA Today: 1

It’s one thing to have depth and another to have BC depth. Four BC players are averaging a point per game, led by Johnny Gaudreau at 7-7-14.

2. Denver
9-1-0 overall • 6-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 2 • USCHO: 2 • USA Today: 2

It would probably be an exaggeration to say that the Pioneers nearly blew a 6-2 lead Friday at World Arena. (Mike Boivin scored Colorado College’s fifth goal with 86 seconds left, so the Tigers weren’t exactly in the greatest position to tie.) Still, it’s notable that Denver made a statement Saturday by scoring in the first four minutes, leading 3-1 after a period and building to a 6-2 win. After a weekend of averaging “just” 3.5 goals per game, the Pioneers returned to their obscenely high-scoring ways and are again leading the nation in scoring offense at 4.5 goals per outing.

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

Finally, the major polls have caught on that the Wildcats are legit. New Hampshire has, after all, allowed just 12 goals in 10 games. The Wildcats are not exactly playing cupcakes, either; they’ve beaten St. Cloud State and Boston University twice each. Casey DeSmith has allowed just one goal over the last four games and totaled four shutouts in the last six contests. He leads the nation with a 1.19 goals-against average and ranks second with a save percentage of .961. And it’s not just defense. Senior Austin Block has eight goals in 10 games.

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

Oh, just a weekend sweep at Michigan with two total goals allowed, no biggie. And the Irish have not even hit their stride offensively (though College Hockey News cited their offensive balance in crowing the Irish its Team of the Week). T.J. Tynan snapped out of a point-scoring slump with an assist Friday but still has just five points (2-3-5) in 11 games, and Mario Lucia just scored his first goal Saturday following an injury-induced delay to his collegiate career.

5. Miami
7-2-3 overall • 2-1-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 5 • USCHO: 5 • USA Today: 5
6. Minnesota
7-2-2 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams  • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 6 • USCHO: 4 • USA Today: 4
7. Union
6-2-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-0-0 last week
Last week: 8 • USCHO: 8 • USA Today: 8
8. Boston University
6-4-0 overall • 3-4-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 9 • USCHO: 10 • USA Today: 10

The Terriers are just .500, but three of their losses came against teams ranked ahead of them on this list: New Hampshire twice and Boston College. The other came at North Dakota, another team that is ranked ahead of BU in the national polls.

9. Dartmouth
5-1-2 overall • 1-0-1 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 7 • USCHO: 11 • USA Today: 11

I take it as an admission of guilt that both major polls moved the Big Green up a spot after Dartmouth’s winless (0-1-1) weekend at Colgate and Cornell. The loss to the Raiders Friday wasn’t just any loss. Dartmouth held a 4-1 lead with 12 minutes left before Colgate rallied and Robbie Bourdon finished off a hat trick with three seconds left in regulation. The Big Green’s Eric Robinson scored in that game and has now buried eight goals in eight games. His goal-per-game average, as one would expect, leads the nation.

10. North Dakota
5-3-2 overall • 2-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 11 • USCHO: 7 • USA Today: 7

UND emerged with three points from a pair of penalty-filled, overtime thrillers against Minnesota Duluth. I’ve just started Saturday’s game on my DVR and am anxious to see the exchange that led to 38 penalty minutes (two minors, six double minors and one 10-minute misconduct) being assessed at once with about five minutes left in the second period. Meanwhile, Danny Kristo entered the weekend with just one goal but scored two Friday and one Saturday. He leads the team with 12 points (4-8-12).

11. St. Cloud State
6-4-0 overall • 4-4-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-0-0 last week
Last week: 12 • USCHO: 12 • USA Today: 12

St. Cloud, like Boston University, has lost only to teams it trails in the national polls (New Hampshire twice, Denver and North Dakota). The Huskies also own wins against DU and UND.

12. Western Michigan
6-3-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 10 • USCHO: 9 • USA Today: 9

There’s no shame in losing a CCHA game at Alaska, but there might be some in losing 6-1, as Western did Friday. The Broncos trailed the Nanooks 2-0 through two periods Saturday but rallied for a huge win and a split. Mike Cichy assisted on the tying goal and scored the winner in the final three minutes.

13. Quinnipiac
7-3-1 overall (now 8-3-1) • 1-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: Not ranked • USCHO: 18 • USA Today: Receiving votes

The Bobcats were as inconsistent as it gets in their first seven games, going 3-3-1 and suffering losses to the likes of American International and Robert Morris. Perhaps the embarrassing defeat at home to the Yellow Jackets was a wakeup call. Quinnipiac is 5-0-0 since, including a 6-2 win Saturday at St. Lawrence, and has outscored its opponents 20-7 in that stretch.

Related: Quinnipiac’s 2-0 shutout win at Providence Tuesday was a blow to anyone questioning the logic behind the fact that the USCHO.com poll lists five ECAC Hockey squads and three Hockey East teams. There’s no question that the top of the Hockey East is stronger (three teams in my top eight and, you know, BC), but even as ECAC teams beat up on one another in league play, they continue to impress in non-conference games, where they are 22-12-7 overall (the best mark of any conference) and 4-1-0 against Hockey East. This weekend, however, will be the league’s biggest test yet and Hockey East’s chance to make a statement of its own. The top two eastern leagues will face off in seven single-game matchups, six of them in Hockey East rinks. The ECAC sides facing other conferences don’t have it much easier: Yale visits Denver and Colorado College, and Cornell takes on Michigan at Madison Square Garden.

14. Colorado College
7-5-0 overall • 1-5-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-2-0 last week
Last week: 15 • USCHO: 14 • USA Today: RV

The Tigers lost twice and allowed a not-so-good six goalsin each game but moved up thanks to winless weekends by Cornell and Northern Michigan that dropped those teams’ records to .500 or worse.

15. Nebraska-Omaha
6-3-1 overall • 1-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-0-0 last week
Last week: 16 • USCHO: 18 • USA Today: RV
16. Alaska
6-4-2 overall • 3-1-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: NR • USCHO: RV • USA Today: RV

Welcome, Nanooks. A key to Alaska’s success has been balance on offense. Ten players have registered at least five points, and no one has logged more than eight. At the other end, freshman John Keeney has started four straight games, allowing just one goal each in the first three of those. He owns a 1.78 goals-against average and .935 save percentage for the season.

17. Ferris State
6-4-2 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: NR • USCHO: RV • USA Today: RV

These Bulldogs have won three in a row to climb back into my ranking for the first time since falling out after a 1-1-2 start. Sticking around won’t be easy; they have a weekend off before hosting Michigan for two games and then visiting Western Michigan for a pair.

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

And … more ECAC talk. What can you do with this league? It’s as balanced as any in the nation, but the level of play is high, so one can’t just discount the teams. In fact, if this were a top-25 ranking, these Bulldogs, coming off an idle weekend, would be the first of five straight ECAC teams listed. I mostly ranked them based on who has beaten whom head-to-head. Yale has defeated St. Lawrence and Harvard; St. Lawrence hasn’t yet played any of the other ECAC teams here but won at Western Michigan, Harvard won at Cornell, Cornell swept a home-and-home against Colgate, and Colgate obliterated the next non-ECAC team on my list, Niagara, 10-2.

The catch is Colgate also beat Harvard and has wins against Dartmouth and Quinnipiac, so I may have ended up punishing the Raiders too harshly for losing twice to the Big Red, especially when Colgate controlled the run of play throughout that series. The other catch is that St. Lawrence is winless (0-2-2) in league play, so maybe I gave the Saints too much credit for their season-opening series in Kalamazoo. I could have just as easily ranked these teams Yale-Colgate-Harvard-Cornell-St. Lawrence. Sorry, Raiders.

19. St. Lawrence
5-3-2 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 17 • USCHO: RV • USA Today: RV
20. Harvard
4-3-0 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 18 • USCHO: 17 • USA Today: 15

The USA Today/USA Hockey poll, like Harvard fans, cared more about the Crimson’s win at Cornell than its loss at Colgate and upgraded Harvard to a spot in the poll. The Crimson is now off until a Dec. 7 trip to Merrimack, the first of three straight games against Hockey East teams. Six of Harvard’s seven non-league games this year will be against the conference headed by former Crimson goaltender Joe Bertagna, so the Crimson could very well end up deciding the aforementioned battle between ECAC Hockey and Hockey East.

I give Atlantic Hockey as much of a benefit of the doubt as anyone does (I had Air Force in my preseason top 10 and hold no remorse.), I was happy to see Niagara in the USCHO.com top 20, even though I didn’t vote for the Purple Eagles. Niagara, now 8-2-3, is riding a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-2-1) and has allowed just two total goals over the last six games. Goaltender Carson Chubak leads the nation with his .970 save percentage having allowed just 12 goals on nearly 400 shots. Niagara’s best wins so far, though, are a 2-1 victory Friday at Canisius and a 2-0 shutout at then-winless Clarkson. For me, the Purple Eagles need to beat somebody or keep up this win-every-game thing until enough teams ahead of them falter.

At 7-2-1, 6-2-1 in Atlantic Hockey, Holy Cross is in a similar situation to Niagara, except that its bad losses (7-2 at home to Army and 7-0 at Air Force) came in conference play. The other team I considered for the top 20 was Ohio State. The 4-3-3 Buckeyes swept Northern Michigan at home last weekend and could leapfrog the ECAC logjam if they keep winning.

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