When you live in Texas, your view of college hockey comes through the internet and cable TV. Mr. and Mrs. Dog watch a fair number of WCHA games with our Stretch league pass, but also catch games in other conferences, too. With the holidays approaching, it’s time to step back and get a feel for what’s going on away from the Huskies’ neighborhood.
Of course, there’s still more than half a season left, so today’s situation might be very different at the end of February. But you can usually see how things are playing out at this point, so let’s peek in on the other five conferences.
Hockey East has been puzzling this season. Boston College, Tech’s opponent in Las Vegas on January 5th, is atop the league with a 9-2-0 mark. Northeastern is close at 7-3-0, and Providence is 6-4-1. Everyone else is 0.500 or below. Vermont and Merrimack are the doormats, with just one win each.
With rosters full of NHL draft picks, the league has posted a disappointing 0.462 non-conference percentage. BC is 0-4-2 and Boston University is 2-4-0. New Hampshire, who started fast like Tech, is 4-1-0 in outside of the league, but only 4-4-1 in conference. U-Mass Lowell, a team that was expected to be a strong contender for the NCAA tournament, is 8-7-0 overall, and 5-5-0 in Hockey East games.
BC and New Hampshire would be likely NCAA tournament teams at this point, standing at #11 and #15 in the PairWise Rankings (PWR). From the level of talent on some of the rosters, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Hockey East hasn’t played up to its billing. BC has been hot lately, and their non-conference losses (Wisconsin, Providence, and swept by St. Cloud) have been to good teams. On the other hand, their current nine game unbeaten streak has largely come at the expense of the league’s weak teams. The Huskies will find out for themselves how good the Eagles really are in a month.
Clarkson is the class of the ECAC, with a 6-0-0 league mark, and a 13-3-1 overall record. Union, Cornell, and Colgate closely trail the Golden Knights. Harvard is 4-3-0 but the other seven teams are all below 0.500. Even with Clarkson at 7-3-1 and Cornell at 5-1-0 non-league, the ECAC’s out of conference percentage is 0.450. As is often the case with the ECAC, two or three teams just can’t seem to get up off the mat. Dartmouth, RPI, and St. Lawrence are a combined 6-28-5 so far.
In the PWR, Clarkson is #3 and riding a nine game winning streak. Cornell is #5 with non-conference wins that include a sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, a split with Miami, and single wins against Niagara and BU. Other PWR spots worthy of note are Colgate at #17 and Union at #25. While this is a fairly strong showing, when you look at the games to-date, the teams at the top have been beating up on the three weak teams.
ECAC teams also have some quality non-conference wins, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some of these PWR ratings lose their shine as the top four teams start to play one another. Still, two NCAA tournament teams would not be remarkable.
This conference is always full of surprises. Different teams seem to work their way to the top (and to the bottom) every year. This season, Niagara’s been the break-out team and leads the AHC with an 8-2-1 mark. Canisius is an unexpected second at 8-4-0. Holy Cross and RIT aren’t far behind, while Robert Morris, usually a contender, is below 0.500. Air Force was highly rated before the season started, but they’re next to last with a 3-7-2 mark.
The non-conference play of AHC teams, like the standings, is not what you’d expect. Overall, their non-league percentage is 0.410. But Air Force is 4-1-0 out of conference, albeit with a less-than-stellar schedule, including a sweep of Arizona State, a win and a tie up in Fairbanks, and a split with Bemidji in the Serratore brothers’ face-off series. Mercyhurst has been strong out of conference, getting splits on the road with both Penn State and Wisconsin, and a home split with Ferris State. In contrast, Niagara has only one non-conference win, a home victory against a nondescript RPI team.
Canisius and Niagara will play next weekend and then again on the last weekend of the regular season. If one team can dominate, they might well be the favorite to win the regular season crown in Atlantic Hockey. These two schools are only about 20 miles apart on Interstate 190, and these series, like Tech-Northern, will be home-and-home games.
Whatever team wins the always roly-poly Atlantic Hockey tournament will get the league’s NCAA berth.
The Big Ten
The actual Big Seven is, by any measure, looking odder that usual. B1G outsider Notre Dame is dominating the conference with 8 wins and no losses or ties. The “real” Big Ten teams are all at 0.500 or below in conference. Michigan and Michigan State are at the bottom at this point, with a combined league mark of 3-10-3.
However, away from the Big Ten, all of these teams have great stats. The Spartans are 1-6-1 in conference but 6-2-0 out of the Big Ten. Their resume includes sweeps against LSSU and Ferris State, with splits against Western Michigan and Bowling Green. Michigan is 4-2-0 in non-conference contests, but three of those four wins are against weak sisters St. Lawrence and Vermont.
Tech can’t count on MSU rolling over and waiting to have their bellies scratched in the opening game of the Great Lakes Invitational.
Overall, the Big Ten’s non-league record shows Ohio State at 5-0-3, Penn State 5-3-0, Notre Dame 6-3-0, Minnesota 6-2-0, and Wisconsin at 6-4-1. The overall non-league percentage is the best in the country at 0.686, and all five of these teams are in the top 16 in the PWR. While a lot of cannibalism is left on the menu for the Big Ten, three NCAA tournament teams would not be a surprise.
As usual, the NCHC is again the beast of college hockey. Their non-conference record is a shade behind the Big Ten at 0.667, but NCHC teams have not beaten up cream puffs—they have a lot of quality wins.
Defending NCAA champ Denver is #1 in the PWR, and St. Cloud is right behind at #2. North Dakota, Western Michigan and current NCHC cellar-dweller Nebraska-Omaha are all in the top 16. Minnesota-Duluth is just 2-6-0 in conference, but 5-2-2 out of conference, and is lurking on the edge of the PWR at #18.
If you watch these teams on the web, you can see they are fast, disciplined, capable of physical play when called for, and have excellent goal tending. Unless a couple of teams collapse in January and February, we are very likely to see four NCHC teams in the NCAA tournament. The real battle, both in the conference standings and the league playoffs will be for the fourth berth—or even fifth—and for tournament seeding.
There’s no need to go into detail about the WCHA. THG has already said a lot about the league this season.
Minnesota State is the best team so far, although Bowling Green is not out of the picture. The Mavericks are #8 in the PWR, and BGSU is #20. Tech is #33, one slot behind Mercyhurst and one ahead of Northern Michigan. With an out of conference percentage of just 0.348, there’s only one possible way the league would get two teams in the Ice Dance. Minnesota State would have to be unstoppable in the second half of the season, good enough to cement a spot in the top 12 in the PWR, and then fail to win the Broadmoor Trophy in the playoffs. That might get the Mavs in while the tourney winner would get an automatic berth.
It’s nearly certain that the Huskies only route to the NCAA tournament is to win the Broadmoor again. However, they are going to have to win 3 or even 5 games on the road in the league playoffs to do that. A GLI championship and a Vegas championship would help, as would a WCHA hot streak after Vegas. There’s a slight chance all of that would boost Tech high enough in the PWR to get an at-large bid, but if you make the trip to Nevada in January, don’t bet on casino games with the same kind of odds.
The house wins nearly all of those bets.