NCAA hockey top 20: New blood at No. 1

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December 6, 2012 by Casey Hart

I entered the season bullish on a New Hampshire squad that showed glimpses of outstanding play last year, but I did not expect to be a week into December and see the Wildcats as the clear best team in college hockey. Behind Casey DeSmith (.943 save percentage, 1.72 goals-against average) on one end and Kevin Goumas (seven goals and 16 assists in 14 games), UNH has made the choice for No. 1 pretty easy.

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. New HampshireWildcats
11-1-2 overall • 4-0-2 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 2 • USCHO: 1 • USA Today: 1
2. Boston College
11-2-0 overall • 5-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 1 • USCHO: 2 • USA Today: 2

What’s surprising is not that the Wildcats passed conference-rival Boston College for No. 1 in the national polls but that the Eagles received about 35 percent of the first-place votes in the two polls combined. BC’s loss Friday at rival Boston University tipped the scale. There’s no shame in that result, but a second defeat for the Eagles made clear UNH’s better claim to the top spot. As impressive as the weekly BC third-period rallies have been, the Wildcats have not needed such theatrics. Just one UNH win has come by a single goal, and the Wildcats can trump BC’s home win against Notre Dame with a victory at Denver and throw in a win at Colorado College and a home sweep of St. Cloud State. UNH gets a chance to convert the last remaining holdouts when it seeks a season sweep of BU Thursday in Durham, N.H.

3. Notre Dame
11-4-0 overall • 5-4-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 4 • USCHO: 5 • USA Today: 4

The home sweep the Fighting Irish recorded against Lake Superior State last weekend ended my favorite trend of the season, the Lakers’ run of seven straight splits of two-game weekend series to open 2012-13. All good things come to an end, I suppose. Notre Dame’s scoring woes also seem to be a thing of the past. The Irish have netted 14 goals during a three-game win streak. Anders Lee has registered four of those tallies to give him 15 points (10-5-15). Mario Lucia, meanwhile, has quickly made his presence felt after missing the season’s first nine games with an injury. He has five points (4-1-5) in six games.

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

The Gophers are certainly off to a good start to the season, but they simply don’t have the marquee wins that dot the schedules of the teams listed above them here (or of No. 8 North Dakota for that matter, but Minnesota edges UND on overall consistency). In terms of opponent strength, Minnesota’s win Saturday to salvage a home split against Nebraska-Omaha was the Gophers’ most impressive so far. The series against the Mavericks was just the start of a stretch of ratcheted-up difficulty. Minnesota visits CC for two games this weekend, celebrates the New Year with a Dec. 30 game against BC and hosts Notre Dame Jan. 8.

8. North Dakota
7-5-2 overall • 4-4-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 9 • USCHO: 9 • USA Today: 9
9. Quinnipiac
10-3-2 overall • 2-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 13 • USCHO: 13 • USA Today: 11

The Bobcats, once the picture of inconsistency, have been anything but during an eight-game unbeaten spurt (7-0-1). Quinnipiac turned from November to December with an impressive road trip to New York’s Capital Region, getting goals from six different players en route to sweeping Union and Rensselaer by a combined 7-1 score. The Bobcats are 6-0-0 within ECAC Hockey, college hockey’s second-deepest league.

10. Western Michigan
8-3-1 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 12 • USCHO: 7 • USA Today: 8
11. Dartmouth
6-2-2 overall (now 7-2-2) • 1-1-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-0 last week
Last week: 10 • USCHO: 10 • USA Today: 10

This list was compiled before the Big Green topped Vermont 4-2 Wednesday on national television. Dustin Walsh, back as a senior after an injury-shortened junior campaign, took over the game for Dartmouth in the second period. He scored one goal on a wrist shot from the slot and another by outmuscling the Catamounts as he took the puck to the net and put in his own rebound. Tyler Sikura put the game away with a third-period goal and has 17 points (7-10-17) in 11 games.

12. Union
8-3-2 overall • 1-2-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-1-1 last week
Last week: 7 • USCHO: 12 • USA Today: 12

A one-point weekend against Quinnipiac and Princeton is not what fans at Messa Rink have come to expect in recent years. After getting outscored 8-2 in the first five periods of the weekend, the Dutchmen may have snapped out of their mini-funk in Saturday’s third period, outshooting Princeton 15-4 and scoring twice to gain a 4-4 tie. Union, 5-1-1 on the road, visits Yale Saturday in the marquee ECAC matchup of the weekend.

13. St. Cloud State
8-6-0 overall • 4-4-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 11 • USCHO: 17 • USA Today: Receiving votes
14. Yale
6-2-1 overall • 4-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-0 last week
Last week: 14 • USCHO: 15 • USA Today: 15
15. Nebraska-Omaha
9-4-1 overall • 2-3-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 15 • USCHO: 14 • USA Today: 14

It took a second game at Minnesota for the Mavericks to finally lose for the first time since October. I might have had UNO and St. Cloud State in the wrong spots in this ranking, but then again, the Mavericks’ only previous victory against one of my ranked teams came Oct. 19 against Northern Michigan as part of a home split. The Mavericks and Huskies could straighten all that out this weekend when they meet for two games in St. Cloud, Minn.

16. Ferris State
7-4-3 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 1-0-1 last week
Last week: 16 • USCHO: 16 • USA Today: RV

Don’t look now, but the Bulldogs are unbeaten in five games (4-0-1). Are they back to their league-winning form from last season? A good way to find out would be to send them to last season’s CCHA tournament champion for two games. We’re in luck; that’s what the schedule-makers have done for this weekend, when Ferris takes on Western Michigan.

17. Harvard
4-3-0 overall • 1-1-0 vs. my ranked teams • 0-0-0 last week
Last week: 18 • USCHO: 20 • USA Today: RV
18. Cornell
6-3-2 overall • 2-1-1 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: 19 • USCHO: 11 • USA Today: 13

The Big Red uncharacteristically surrendered 13 goals during a three-game losing streak, but Cornell has since held four opponents in a row to a single goal and is 3-0-1 in that span.

19. Colorado College
8-7-1 overall • 2-7-1 vs. my ranked teams • 1-1-0 last week
Last week: 20 • USCHO: 19 • USA Today: RV
20. Niagara
10-2-3 overall • 0-0-0 vs. my ranked teams • 2-0-0 last week
Last week: Not ranked • USCHO: 18 • USA Today: RV

With BC’s loss last weekend, the nation’s longest unbeaten streak belongs to Niagara at 11 games (9-0-2). The Purple Eagles are off this weekend before hosting RIT Wednesday. If they keep winning, they will climb this ranking, no matter what happens ahead of them.

The only other real candidate for the top 20 was 7-4-3 Ohio State, loser of just one of its last six games (5-1-0). The Buckeyes will look to hold serve in a home-and-home set with Robert Morris this weekend before hosting in-state rival Miami for a pair Dec. 14-15.

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