Opinion Corner: Holiday action in the booksThe holiday tournaments are in the books and the second half of the college hockey season is officially under way.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
The holiday tournaments are in the books and the second half of the college hockey season is officially under way.
It was feast or famine for nearly every WCHA team seeing action last weekend, with three teams winning a pair, three teams losing a pair, Denver winning a single, and St. Cloud settling for a split at home against Rensselaer. Two games that were eagerly anticipated across the country, Boston U vs. Denver, and Boston College vs. Minnesota, both sadly turned into blow outs.
A couple of goalies posted back-to-back shutouts, and four struggling teams, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan Tech, and Vermont, started off their second halves on a upbeat note.
At the Mariucci Classic, Minnesota beat Air Force 4-0 and Boston College 8-1 to replace BC as the number one team in the country. The Gophers took full advantage of their home crowd, numerous BC penalties, and a somewhat depleted BC lineup, in turning what should have been a great game into a snoozer.
At the Great Lakes Invitational, freshman goalie Pheonix Copley, from North Pole, Alaska, led Michigan Tech to a pair of 4-0 shutouts, vs. Michigan and Western Michigan. The tournament win was even more impressive considering Tech’s top scorer, Blake Pietila, was out of the lineup playing at the World Juniors Tournament in Russia.
At the Three Rivers Classic, local favorite Robert Morris shut out Penn State and sixth-ranked Miami to send the fans home happy. Not to be outdone by Copley, senior goalie Eric Levine turned away 99 shots in posting the two shutouts. A small school from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Robert Morris has been on my radar for a few weeks now, and they’re putting together a good season while playing a strong schedule. They’re ranked 19th in this week’s poll.
Minnesota State took care of business at the UConn Hockey Classic, beating Brown and Connecticut in a pair of 3-1 games.
Minnesota-Duluth and Bemidji both suffered through 0-2 tournaments, with UMD losing to Maine and Ferris State in Florida, and BSU losing to Massachusetts and UNH in New Hampshire. Nebraska-Omaha was swept by the surprising Quinnipiac Bobcats, who are now ranked No. 5 in the country.
Denver took advantage of a slow start by Boston University, getting out to a 3-0 lead halfway through period one. BU found their legs in the second period, but Denver goalie Juho Olkinuora shut down any attempts at a comeback. In one other notable game, Holy Cross, who plays UND this weekend in Grand Forks, jumped into the 20th spot in the national poll with a 5-4 win over Yale. Holy Cross and Robert Morris join Niagara in this week’s poll, making for an unlikely trio of nationally ranked Atlantic Hockey Conference teams.
Updated WCHA Power Rankings
1.) Minnesota, 13-3-3. SOS (Strength of schedule) minus-5. The Gophers have still played the weakest schedule in the WCHA. To their credit, they’ve gone 4-1-1 in their last six against the likes of Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College, Air Force, and BC. Minnesota next plays on Jan, a single game at home vs. No. 3 Notre Dame, followed by home series’ against Alaska-Anchorage and No. 7 North Dakota.
2.) North Dakota, 10-5-3. SOS plus-2. UND is also 4-1-1 in their last six. A close call between UND and St. Cloud for the second spot, but UND gets the nod. North Dakota will start off the second half with 20th-ranked Holy Cross, Colorado College, and No. 1 Minnesota.
3.) St. Cloud State, 12-8-0. SOS plus-6. The Huskies record is even better than it seems, considering they’ve played the strongest schedule in the conference. St. Cloud is 5-3 in their last eight. They play Northern Michigan and No. 11 Denver, sandwiched around a week off.
4.) Denver, 10-6-3. SOS plus-1. There’s got to be something in the water out in Colorado, as both Denver and Colorado College are mired in slumps. The Pioneers were 0-5-3 heading into the Christmas break, but have started out the second half with that nice 6-0 win over BU. Denver has No. 12 Cornell, No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha, and 15th ranked St. Cloud next on the schedule.
5.) Minnesota State, 12-6-2. SOS minus-4. The surprising team from Mankato continues to get the job done. They are beating the teams they should beat, and holding their own against the better squads. State plays Providence, Wisconsin, and Alaska-Anchorage in the next three weeks.
6.) Nebraska-Omaha, 11-8-1. SOS minus-2. Omaha is coming off a tough stretch, going 3-5 against Minnesota, Minnesota State, St. Cloud, and Quinnipiac. They’ve got Colorado College, No. 11 Denver, and Bemidji coming up.
7.) Colorado College, 8-10-2. SOS plus-2. CC just finished up a 10-game stretch in which every opponent was ranked, seven of them top 10 or better. But 1-7-2, even in those circumstances, is not going to impress anybody. The Tigers have Nebraska-Omaha, UND, and Duluth next up.
8.) Michigan Tech, 6-10-3. SOS plus-1. Coming off that great tournament win in Detroit, Tech is looking to make some hay in the coming weeks. They’ve got Duluth, Bemidji, and Omaha next on the schedule.
9.) Minnesota-Duluth, 7-10-3. SOS minus-4. UMD is coming off a rather weak eight-game stretch, which dragged down their strength of schedule rating. Making matters worse, the Bulldogs were only able to post a 4-3-1 record during that period, hence their low ranking. UMD has a week off before facing Michigan Tech and Colorado College.
10.) Bemidji State, 5-10-3. SOS plus-2. BSU has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but luck certainly hasn’t been with the Beavers. Five of their 10 losses have been by one goal, including three in OT. Bemidji faces No. 10 Western Michigan, Michigan Tech and Nebraska-Omaha in the coming weeks.
11.) Wisconsin, 4-7-5. SOS minus-2. The Badgers have made a move in their last six, going 3-0-3, but after such a horrible start, it’ll take quite a streak to get them back to respectability. Wisconsin has Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota State, and 6th-ranked Miami up next.
12.) Alaska-Anchorage, 3-9-4. SOS plus-4. The Seawolves have played the second-toughest schedule of all WCHA teams. While the going gets a bit easier in the second half, it remains to be seen whether AK can make a move out of the cellar. Alaska faces Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Minnesota State next.
Now, you might ask, how can I have St. Cloud rated ahead of Denver and Minnesota State, when the national poll has Denver 11th, MSU 14th, and St. Cloud No. 15? It’s all in the details. I can assure you that the majority of the voters are not pouring over these team’s schedules with a fine tooth comb like I am.
Similarly, the emotion of an 8-1 Gophers blowout over BC, coupled with New Hampshire losing to Dartmouth on Sunday, just about ensured Minnesota would be No. 1 this week. However, BC and UNH have both played a tougher schedule than Minnesota thus far. I could easily make the case that both teams should still be ranked ahead of the Gophers.
A quick glance at the PairWise rankings helps to make my point. BC still leads the PairWise, while UNH is ranked No. 3, with Minnesota way down at No. 7 despite their great win-loss record. This weekend features a lot of interesting non-conference matchups, including the Holy Cross’s visit to North Dakota. Holy Cross is a very small university in Worcester, Mass., with a home rink that seats 1,400.
Newly ranked in the national poll and playing in an 11,000-seat arena like the Ralph, you better believe those boys will be amped up. Next week we’ll report on all the noteworthy action right here.
Mark Schuttenhelm is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner