The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If you have taken a look at the NCAA Hockey schedule, you might notice that there are no games slated for this weekend, which one might assume as the holiday season is upon us. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how things have shaped up so far this year. The Christmas Break is an interesting time for college hockey because it acts as a half-way mark for the season, as well as a one or two-week break for most teams. This time allows for rest, refocus, and can even throw slumping teams right back on track. As for writers, this is the perfect time to make some bold predictions on the NCAA Hockey Tournament, so let’s get to it! Who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the bubble?
Who’s in? – St. Cloud State
The Huskies have played extremely well this season, earning themselves a top ranking in the NCHC, but most importantly, the top position in the Pairwise rankings. Sitting at 12-2-1 overall, there isn’t much this team has done wrong. Considering their two losses came against #2 Denver, as well as one tie with #6 North Dakota, they don’t really have any blemishes. As both of these teams are conference foes, they will need to step up if they want to capture the NCHC crown. At the very least, an at-large bid seems definite at this point.
Runner-Up – Denver
Who’s out? – Nebraska-Omaha
I will probably eat my own words later in the season, but I’m calling the Mavericks to miss the NCAA Tournament. As of this moment in time, they are the definition of a bubble team, sitting 15th in the Pairwise rankings. Unfortunately, they have a very tough road ahead of them on the back half of the schedule. They face North Dakota a total of four times, as well as a series with St. Cloud State and Denver. They could rise to the occasion, but their current conference record of 2-6-0 doesn’t give me much confidence that they will.
Runner Up – Minnesota-Duluth
Who’s on the bubble? – Western Michigan
Western Michigan is looking good right now, with a 10-8-1 overall record. As a result of competing in the NCHC, their wins typically give them a big boost, while losses usually come against ranked teams and don’t bump them down too far. They need to take care of business in the second half, in which they play ten games against opponents in the bottom half of the NCHC. Unfortunately, they also have to deal with four games against St. Cloud State, which could be an issue.
Runner-Up – Miami
Who’s in – Minnesota State
The Mavericks are the team to beat in the WCHA. This program has been ahead of the competition for the past several years and continues to show it this season. Their only losses came against #1 St. Cloud State, a talented Bowling Green team, and capable Northern Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth squads. This offense is very deadly, only being shutout once, while posting five or more goals on eight occasions. Even if another WCHA squad rises to the occasion and defeats them in the conference tournament, the Mavericks currently come in at 6th in the Pairwise rankings.
Who’s out? – Alaska-Anchorage
Who to choose from in the WCHA? In all honesty, there are probably five or six teams already theoretically out of the NCAA Tournament, unless they would manage to win the conference’s automatic bid. Let’s just go ahead and pick on Alaska-Anchorage. I hate to kick a team while they’re down, but the Seawolves are dead last in the Pairwise rankings, not to mention the WCHA standings. They will likely miss the WCHA Playoffs entirely, meaning an early end to their season. They have only won one game on the season, coming against Lake Superior State. Oddly enough, they battled to a 1-1 tie with North Dakota to open up the season, but it has gone downhill for them ever since. Unfortunately, there are always to rumors about the Alaskan NCAA programs being eliminate due to their high travel costs. Hopefully this season doesn’t do any permanent damage to their longevity.
Runner-Up – Lake Superior State
Who’s on the bubble? – Bowling Green
I still don’t know what to make of this Falcon team. When they show up, they are good. The goalie tandem of Eric Dop and Ryan Bednard has been nearly unstoppable at times. The big question mark is their offensive ability. They have six ties on the season, which begs the question, are they capable of finishing off opponents late in the game? Outside of their one non-conference game with Western Michigan, they are unlikely to face a ranked opponent the rest of the regular season. They also have a great opportunity to ring in 2018 with some confidence, as they are participating in the Great Lakes Invitational. If they can take advantage of their strength of schedule and get a streak going, they have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990. They are currently 18th in the Pairwise rankings.
Runner-Up – Northern Michigan
Who’s in? – Clarkson
The Golden Knights have been a bright surprise for this conference. In their previous campaign, they finished 18-16-5, which is fairly respectable. Turn the page to their current campaign and they are just three wins away from that mark, with fifteen games yet to be played. With just three losses on the season, all of those being in nonconference play, Clarkson is in great position to finish in the top sixteen teams in the nation, as well as win the ECAC Hockey Championship(s).
Runner-Up – Cornell
Who’s out? – Quinnipiac
As with the WCHA, there are several teams that fit into this category, but let’s go with a team that technically still has a chance, but one I think won’t be invited to the big dance. If you read my Beginners Guide to NCAA Hockey, you know that I actually chose the Bobcats as my pre-season favorites, but boy I was wrong. Then again, most writers picked Harvard and they were wrong too, but I digress. Quinnipiac has struggled so far this season, early just a 6-10-2 record overall, with only three conference wins. Now other ECAC Hockey teams have had it tough, including RPI and Dartmouth, but the Bobcats had so much potential. For them to be 47th in Pairwise rankings is pretty deflating, and I don’t think they find the momentum they need after the break.
Runner-Up – Dartmouth
Who’s on the bubble? – Harvard
Alright, time to talk about Harvard again. The team that was once ranked in the top ten has now found themselves fallen from good graces. The Crimson have started the season 4-5-1 and need a big rebound heading into the second stretch of their schedule. The reason why I consider them a bubble team is because this is something that they are capable of. They are on a two-game winning streak, but they need to continue this momentum if they expect to be playing more hockey in March. While they do sit at 36th in the Pairwise rankings, I think the Crimson have an outside shot at getting hot at the right time and taking their conference’s automatic bid.
Runner-Up – Colgate
Down the Frozen River is back with the NCAA Weekly Match-Up. Since it’s been a little while, let’s make this a two-part deal (please, hold your applause). There are simply too many big matchups to pick from, so why not double up? In a one-game tilt, Harvard takes on Quinnipiac at Frank Perrotti, Jr. Arena. This game is being broadcast on ESPN 3, with puck drop scheduled for 7:00pm. Our next matchup features Big Ten Hockey rivals Ohio State and Penn State. These two teams, currently placed 4th and 5th in their conference, will jockey for position as the season pushes closer to the midway point. Plenty of information coming at you, so let’s dig in!
Harvard Crimson v. Quinnipiac Bobcats
Friday, December 1st (7:00pm)
Frank Perrotti, Jr. Arena – Hamden, CT
Broadcast on ESPN 3
I have been wanting to discuss the Harvard Crimson for a while because they are a squad I find particularly interesting. This season, without even touching the ice for the first couple weeks, they were a ranked hockey team. There are many ECAC Hockey teams that don’t start their seasons until a few weeks after the rest of the NCAA. That is fine and dandy, but why should they be ranked when they have proved absolutely nothing? End rant…
Now that I have stepped down from my soap box, let’s talk about what I mean (using statistics instead of opinions because that’s what professionals do, right?). Harvard was expected to be a great hockey team this year, which is why voters ranked them within the top ten. Fast forward to December and they are 2-5-1 overall. While I am satisfied that I was right and they were wrong, this record is honestly an odd indication. On paper, Harvard should have been better than this. Fortunately, they still have plenty of time to turn their season around, especially only playing five conference games to this point. The Crimson will look to take advantage of a Quinnipiac team that has lost six of their last ten game. Harvard will have to go out and earn their ranking, which is how it should be done.
Quinnipiac is another tough case to crack. Just last season, they rounded out with a 23-15-2 record. Compared to their current mark of 6-7-1, something has clearly gone awry. The Bobcats have historically been a dominant team within the ECAC, but they are clearly showing some signs of struggle this season. Harvard will be a tough test for them, as important conference points are up for grabs this evening.
Players to Watch:
Harvard – Junior Forward, Ryan Donato (Boston Bruins, 56th Overall); Sophomore Defense, Adam Fox (Calgary Flames, 66th Overall); Senior Goalie, Merrick Madsen (Philadelphia Flyers, Overall 162nd Overall)
Quinnipiac – Freshman Forward, Odeen Tufto; Senior Forward, Tanner MacMaster; Sophomore Goalie, Andrew Shortridge
Penn State Nittany Lions v. Ohio State Buckeyes
Friday, December 1st (7:00pm) and Saturday, December 2nd (4:00pm)
Value City Arena – Columbus, OH
At the beginning of the season, I chose Penn State to win the Big Ten Hockey Conference. I may have overlooked Notre Dame just a bit. Currently, the Nittany Lions sit at 8-7-1 overall, but only 3-4-1 in conference play. They will need to improve (and will likely need some help) to get past a hot Notre Dame team. In terms of seeding, they are currently just one point ahead of the Buckeyes, which makes the weekend even more critical. Riding out a four-game unbeaten streak, these are points that Penn State could use to gain even further momentum.
The big story of this series will be the play of sophomore forward, Denis Smirnov. The Moscow, Russia native and Colorado Avalanche draft pick earned 47 points in 39 games played with the Nittany Lions last season. He has been battling through an undisclosed illness, but has still managed a stat line of 5-6-11 during the current campaign. Head Coach Rohlik of the Buckeyes referenced Smirnov as one of the best players in the nation, but also noted, “It’s not about one guy. We have to defend against their five guys on the ice.” Penn State is a very offensive-minded team, leading the nation in average shots on goal per game (41.69), as well as goals, assists, and points so far this season.
The Buckeyes are coming off a pair of great wins over their rival, Michigan. Head Coach Rohlik explain that those are the types of games that get the juices flowing, but their focus has turned to Penn State. “It doesn’t get easier. We’re playing a good hockey team this weekend.” In order to continue their success this weekend, Ohio State will need a good backstopper. They believe they have that in Sean Romeo, who is a transfer from Maine. The redshirt junior only allowed three goal against in their two wins up north. The number 11 Buckeyes look to stay in the national spotlight, as well as push for better position in their own conference, but they know it will be a tough test for them. As Rohlik explained, “Penn State doesn’t change… They bring it every time they’re on the ice.”
Players to Watch:
Penn State – Sophomore Forward, Denis Smirnov (Colorado Avalanche, 156th Overall); Freshman Defense, Cole Hults (Los Angeles Kings, 134th Overall); Junior Forward, Andrew Sturtz
Ohio State – Sophomore Forward, Tanner Laczynski (Philadelphia Flyers, 169th Overall); Junior Forward, Mason Jobst; Junior Goalie, Sean Romeo
The NCAA Hockey season is upon us once again. The cries of “Is it October yet?” have almost been answered. Many teams will begin playing exhibition games this weekend and their seasons will officially drop the puck one week later. College hockey, or #cawlidgehawkey if you want to be like John Buccigross, is becoming an increasingly deep source of professional prospects. Although playing in Major Juniors still seems to be the predominant route to the NHL, collegiate players are no joke. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at this quick list:
If you haven’t figured this one out yet, these are all former NCAA Hockey players who have become Stanley Cup Champions with the Pittsburgh Penguins (many of them more than once).
Even if you don’t follow along with college-level puck, check your NHL squad’s roster and I would almost guarantee a few players have come out of the NCAA. The developmental AHL and ECHL are also filled with former college hockey players trying to work their way up the ladder.
If you’re not into NCAA Hockey, it’s totally understandable. There are six different leagues, 60 different teams and over 1,200 individual players (and that’s just at the D-1 level). It may be difficult to dive into at first, but I can assure you it is worth your while. If you want to see grit, speed, talent and passion for the game of hockey all wrapped into one, attend any NCAA game.
Whether this is your first rodeo with college hockey or if you have been around the block a few times, the 2017-2018 season is about to begin. Here is a season preview for the upcoming campaign, which highlights each of the six leagues, as well as lists my predictions for the regular season champions of each organization. Read, enjoy and drop that puck!
Teams – AIC, Air Force, Army, Bentley, Canisius, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris
Without putting it bluntly, Atlantic Hockey has struggled since its 2004 founding. They are largely undeveloped unlike many other NCAA Hockey leagues, and many of the teams in this league haven’t been able to find much success – especially against out-of-conference opponents.
That being said, there is typically one team every year that appears to be poised to make a good run. This year, that is likely to be either Robert Morris or Air Force. Both squads return quality players and will try to build upon the growth they showed during the previous season. The Colonials will return team leader Brady Ferguson, who put up an impressive stat line of 24-34-58 last year. Meanwhile, Air Force earned a spot in the preseason polls, coming in at 17th. Although this is a positive sign, they will have to prove their worth when the puck drops.
Preseason Favorite – Air Force Falcons
Teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin
The Big Ten Conference is still very new to the NCAA Hockey scene, but it has already shown signs of success. After Penn State made the decision to form a D-1 hockey program, the Big Ten decided it was time to flex its muscles a bit and commit to creating a private league for its member universities. Although it was a shame to see the CCHA disband, it was seemingly bound to happen eventually.
This league boasts historic programs such as Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota, but the past isn’t worth more than memories (we don’t need to talk about all of the championships they have won… it’s a lot). This year, the Big Ten Conference will attempt to prove they are a dominate group among the NCAA. With Notre Dame joining as an affiliate member, the league now has seven teams. Five of those seven teams earned preseason rankings in the top 20, with Minnesota coming in at number three. Could this be the year a National Champion is crowned out of the Big Ten?
Preseason Favorite – Penn State Nittany Lions
Teams – Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Quinnipiac, RPI, St. Lawrence, Union and Yale
ECAC Hockey (also referred to as the smarty-pants schools) has been able to stay in the spotlight over the past several years. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t too long ago that Union and Yale hoisted the NCAA Championship in back-to-back years. Cornell, Harvard and Quinnipiac are always strong contenders, while the other schools in the league are respectful in their own right.
It will be interesting to see how well Harvard recharges the batteries after facing key losses this offseason. Graduated seniors Tyler Moy and Alex Kerfoot both chipped in 45 points last season, with the remaining 2017 grads collectively contributing 41 goals, which is a lot of firepower to replace internally. With that said, Harvard should still compete well, but other conference opponents could take advantage of any offensive woes.
Preseason Favorite – Quinnipiac Bobcats
Teams – Boston College, Boston University, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, UMass-Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence and Vermont
Hockey East Association once again enters the season with very high expectations. They have two teams, Boston University and UMass-Lowell, ranked in the top-five of the preseason poll. Hockey East is a conference that has and will continue to put quality programs in the mix for an NCAA Championship. Many consider this to be the best conference in college hockey, but the emergence of the NCHC has provided some stiff competition.
Make no mistake, Hockey East is still an amazingly talented league. Boston College, Boston University and Providence alone have combined for five championships over the past ten years. The demographics of college hockey are simply changing and other parts of the country, such as Denver and North Dakota, are seeing great success. We will see how this impacts Hockey East teams down the road, but for now, they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Preseason Favorite – Boston University Terriers
Teams – Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan
As a college hockey fan, you either love the NCHC or you hate it. One way or the other, you must recognize the level of talent they acquired when they emerged as an NCAA Hockey league. They have five teams represented in the preseason poll, with Denver taking home top honors (if you consider a preseason ranking an honor). They have also brought home two NCAA Championships in as many years courtesy of Denver and North Dakota.
To put it simply, these teams are good.
No, they are great. There is no tip-toeing around the subject. The NCHC did exactly what they set out to do, which was create the most highly skilled, competitive and talented league in the NCAA. Are they the best? That is up for you as a fan to decide, but their early body of work speaks for itself. Keep an eye on the National Collegiate Hockey Conference to see if their master plan will continue to be a success or if they will take a step back this season.
Preseason Favorite – Denver Pioneers
Teams – Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan
Last, but certainly not least, the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference. As a graduate of Bowling Green State University, I can assure you I am very well-rounded in my knowledge of this league. The WCHA is probably one of the most divided leagues in the NCAA. Any given season, Ferris State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State are prepared to make strong postseason runs. Other teams in the league, such as Bowling Green, have the potential, but have never taken a serious step forward. On the other side of the coin, both Alaskan schools continually struggle and Alabama-Huntsville is still trying to turn in a successful season after their move to the D-1 level.
The last time a current member of the WCHA won a national championship was Lake Superior back in 1994… I don’t want to upset Lake Superior fans, but they are not the team they once were. Then again, you could say the same for Bowling Green, Ferris State, or Northern Michigan. I have a soft spot for the WCHA and hopefully a few of the teams at the top can regain some national prominence for the entire league.
Preseason Favorite – Minnesota State Mavericks