Mid-Term Top 20….Yes, It’s the Crimson at #1

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As we wrap up calendar year 2014 here’s my Top 20 ranking with notes:

  1. Harvard University Crimson – (PWR #2) Listen, this is not an exact science. I may be the only person in the country placing Harvard in the #1 position. However, they’ve stumbled once in 2014 losing a one-goal game to arch rival Yale (not a bad team in their own right) by a 2-1 (EN) score. The Crimson have been on the road for 8 of their first 12 games  and have defeated Boston University, Boston College, UMass-Lowell and Quinnipiac on the road. That’s a very successful run. They are currently in the midst of a six game winning streak and host RPI to close out 2014. Goaltending is nothing short of stellar with senior Steve Michalek posting a .944 SV% and 1.72 GAA. With eleven upperclassmen and three of them in double digits in scoring they are getting the senior leadership so necessary in college hockey. Based on their results to date I’ll challenge anyone to build a case against this team. They are #1 through the first half of the season in my book.
  2. Boston University Terriers – (PWR #8) This squad could just as easily been pinned in the #1 position were it not for the 3-2 overtime loss to my #1 pick Harvard. After all, they roster the most highly touted player in college hockey in center Jack Eichel who has been everything advertised thus far. He has 27 points in 16 games and is being described as the best player in college hockey and perhaps may end up with one of the best freshman seasons of all time. But, enough of Eichel.  Yes, they lost to Harvard, Dartmouth and Providence  in November but still carry an 11-3-2 record into the new year. Again, as is the case with Harvard, goaltending has been outstanding with Junior Matt O’Connor carrying the load and posting a .941 SV% and 1.67 GAA. With 10 first-year players they are a young squad. They took their bumps last season but appear to be ready to put that behind them and battle for the #1 spot in Hockey East.
  3. University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs – (#3 PWR) The Bulldogs got out of the gates in average fashion but have really taken off since November 1 steamrolling Minnesota, St. Cloud State and splitting with top teams Omaha (road) and Michigan Tech (road).  Their record of 12-6 doesn’t blow you away but consider they are 9-2 since November 1. That’s pretty impressive. Leading scorer Dominic Toninato (18-13-5-18) is certainly one of college hockey’s top players. He plays with grit and is the Bulldog’s leading scorer. With 3 PPG and 2 SH goals he’s come through in the clutch for the Bulldogs on special teams. Throw in Austin Farley (7-8-15) with 3 GWG and first-year goaltender, Kasimir Kaskisuo (11-4-0) .92 SV% and 2.12 GAA they have some key players that can lead them to the promised land.
  4. University of North Dakota – ( #10 PWR) North Dakota was undefeated in 8 of their first 9 games to start the season and they haven’t looked back since compiling a 13-4-2 record. In the competitive schedule of the NCHC, they’ve lost to Miami, SCSU and Denver with two of those three losses on the road. They start off 2015 with a key home series with the UMD Bulldogs and end the month with a road trip to Omaha. That should pretty much give some clarity to their eventual position in the NCHC.  Upperclassmen Drake Caggiula, Derek Parks and Mark McMillan have compiled a total of 57 points in 19 games. That’s some heavy offense from three players that were expected to lead. Unless this squad totally implodes you’ll see them once again in the NCAA tourney.
  5. UMass-Lowell River Hawks – (#12 PWR) – The River Hawks are battling Boston University for the Hockey East lead and have recorded a 7-0-2 Hockey east record and 10-3-3 overall record. They’ve lost twice in the past 12 games – both home losses to Harvard and Penn State. Their offense has been strong scoring 3.75 GPG which is a reason for their success. But, it’s been by committee with seven players in double digits in points. Goaltending has been by committee as well with Kevin Boyle and Jeff Smith putting up solid but not spectacular numbers. This is a young team so we’ll see how they survive down the stretch. But, so far so good for the River Hawks.
  6. Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks – (#4 PWR) – The 10-4-2 Mavericks have been the surprise of the NCHC thus far. Considering 10 of their first 16 game have been on the road proves they’ve been pretty resilient. Key wins over UMD, Miami and a home sweep of St. Cloud State has them solidly in third place in the NCHC. This is a team that is finding success on the back of a group of underclassmen led by Austin Ortega who has 6 GWG so far this season. Sophomores Jake Guentzel (5-11-16); Justin Parizek (7-3-10); Ian Brady (3-7-10) and Freshman Jake Randolph (3-13-16); Tyler Vessel (4-6-10) and Avery Peterson (5-4-9) have all contributed to the team offense. Senior goaltender, Ryan Massa has been spectacular at .935 and 2.06 GAA with 9 wins. Considering Omaha has only five games on the road the rest of the season really puts them in the drivers seat for continued success.
  7. Miami University Red Hawks – ( #5 PWR) – Miami has put their dismal inaugural season in the NCHC behind them and have compiled a 7-3-0 league record and 11-5-0 overall record as they end the first half of the season. They’ve had a good combination of being stingy defensively (2.19 GA) and strong offensively (3.25 GPG) so far. Goaltender Jay Williams is 11-2-0 and has posted a .919 SV% and outstanding 1.78 GAA. As expected, Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman, Sean Kuraly  and Riley Barber – all upperclassmen are leading the offense. They’ve  combined for 26-39-65 in 16 games. My how things have changed in one season.
  8. Minnesota State University- Mankato Mavericks – ( #1 PWR) Coach Mike Hastings is in his third year at the helm of the Mavericks and has taken them to the NCAA tourney twice. Thanks to previous coach Troy Jutting, he inherited a talented squad with the last group of Jutting’s recruits now seniors. This senior class is experienced and full of team leaders like Matt Leitner, Jean-Paul Lafontaine, Zach Palmquist, Chase Grant  and Brett Stern. They are currently 13-4-0 and batting Michigan Tech and Bowling Green  for the WCHA title. They’ve split series with Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth and Bowling Green and earned a solid sweep on the road vs Michigan Tech. They’ve won 8 of their last 10 and are currently the #1 team in the Pairwise rankings. However, I’m still not convinced they are a Frozen Four team. Their next big test will be the North Star Cup where they will face Minnesota in game one and possibly UMD in game two. A successful weekend in the North Star Cup may convince me they should be higher than where I have them ranked.
  9. University of Vermont Catamounts – (#7 PWR) The ‘Cats are in the midst of an outstanding season. They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games including quality wins over Providence and St. Lawrence. But, what concerns me is that they only have one win over a top 20 PWR team (Providence #17). The schedule the second half of the season picks up dramatically and includes series with six teams in the top 20 of the PWR.. If they can survive the second half of the season with a winning record that will be an accomplishment. We’ll see what happens.
  10. University of Minnesota Golden Gophers – (#11 PWR) This Gopher team is laden with talent and is blessed with one of the top goaltenders in college hockey. Yet, they’ve been a major disappointment thus far this season. Their record currently stands at 9-4-1 but they’ve only won twice since being swept by UMD in mid November. They’ll have a big non-conference test with a solid Merrimack squad and possibly Lowell the next night the first weekend in January.They then dive back into the Big 10 schedule which should allow them to pile up some W’s. Injuries have hurt the Gophers but goaltender Adam Wilcox numbers are healthy at .926 SV% and 2.13. The offense has been sporadic and the team lead in points is shared between a defenseman, Mike Reilly and Kyle Rau.
  11. Michigan Tech University Huskies – (#6 PWR)  The Huskies reeled off 10 straight wins to start the season and are currently compiling their best season in decades. They had a disappointing weekend getting swept at home by league rival Minnesota State-Mankato but then split with UMD at home two weeks later. Their schedule is comparatively light the second half of the season with only two top 20 PWR teams on the schedule – Bowling Green and Minnesota State-Mankato. As a result, I’m having a hard time gauging just how good this team really is. We might not know until playoff time. What we do know however, is that Junior goaltender Jaime Phillips has  been outstanding and he’s a been a big part of the Husky success. Philip’s .939 SV% and 1.69 GAA are some of the best numbers in college hockey. And, as we all know, goaltending down the stretch run is key.
  12. Denver University Pioneers – (#13 PWR)  The Pioneers have played a tough schedule thus far and fared quite well with a 10-5-0 record. Quality wins over UMD, Boston College, Cornell and North Dakota prove they can beat any team in the country on a given night. Sophomore Evan Cowley (.927 SV%  / 1.89) has been solid in goal and first-year forward Danton Heinen is having a great offensive start with 6-11-17. DU has some high end players like Joey LaLeggia and Quentin Shore and with 11 upperclassmen on the roster they have the experience to do damage as we near the playoffs.
  13. Bowling Green University Falcons – (#9 PWR) Here’s another of College hockey’s surprises this season. The Falcons have lost one game since November 1st and are 7-1-1 in that span. However, the schedule thus far has only included two wins over teams ranked in the top 20 of the  PWR – Minnesota State-Mankato and Miami. Statistically, the Falcons team numbers are solid including a PK at 91.8% and 3.31 GPG while limiting opponents to 2.19 GPG. It’ll be interesting to see how this squad holds up over the second half of the season. Conference realignment has certainly helped this team and their schedule looks to be positioning them for a berth in the NCAA tourney.      :
  14. Merrimack College Warriors – (#14 PWR) The Warriors are quietly assembling a nice season and are currently 10-5-2 but only .500 in Hockey East conference play. Since November 1,  the schedule has been a grind of quality opponents defeating Providence, Notre Dame, Northeastern, Clarkson and a recent tie with Boston University. An upcoming road game with Minnesota will be a good measuring stick for this squad as they enter the second half of the season.  This is a strong defensive team allowing 1.88 GPG, and both starting goaltenders posting GAA below 2.00 (Tirronen 1,73 / .929 and Delia 1.95 / .932). They have a very tough schedule down the stretch with 9 games vs teams in the top 20 of the PWR. If they survive this stretch of games they could be a factor come playoff time.
  15. Providence College Friars – (#17 PWR) The Friars have had a brutally tough schedule the first half of the season going 5-4-1 vs teams currently  in the top 20 of the PWR. On paper, the schedule lightens up the second half of the season as they battle to stay in the upper tier of Hockey East. This is another team that’s been outstanding defensively yielding  only 1.88 GPG. Goaltender Jon Gillies continues to be one of the main reasons for the Providence success posting a .938 SV% and a 1.90 GAA. With an offense that has averaged slightly over two goals per game it’ll most likely be on the shoulders of Gillies to steer this teams success the balance of the way. A battle with Vermont on December 29 will be an interesting test.
  16. Penn State University University Nittany Lions – (#16 PWR) The Nittany Lions currently sit on top of the Big 10 standings with a 3-1-0 record and overall record of 9-4-2. The schedule has been moderately weak but they’ve had quality wins over Michigan and UMass-Lowell. Their recent series sweep of Wisconsin on the road was a milestone for this young program and most importantly gives them confidence as they enter the bulk of their league play after January 1. An interesting battle is with Robert Morris on December 29. PSU is a hard working squad that generally outshoots it’s opponent and is scoring 3.47 GPG on the average. Casey Bailey has 10 goals and 18 points and shares the scoring lead with Taylor Hostrom (4-14-18).
  17. Quinnipiac University Bobcats – ( #18 PWR) QU reeled off 6 straight wins to start the month of November and have compiled a 3-3 record since November 21 with losses to Clarkson, UMass and Harvard. The current overall record is 10-5-1 but they’ve yet to prove consistency. A good road test faces them on January 2-3 vs St. Cloud State. Scoring 2.81 GPG and yielding 2.44 GPG is an indication that the msargin between winning and losing has been close. In fact, they’ve been in eight one-goal games thus far this season. This is a team that may be on the edge for the NCAA tourney unless they can pick things up the second half of the season.
  18. Colgate University Red Raiders – (#20 PWR) Colgate started the season winning 7 of their first 8 games and have then faltered losing 5 of the next 9. Injuries have certainly been part of the issue as top scorer Mike Borkowski is out for the season and Tylor Spink has been on the shelf for all but one game. But, with Darcy Murphy, Kyle Baun and Tyson Spink in the lineup they still have enough firepower  to have a successful second half run and compete for the ECAC title.
  19. Boston College Eagles – (#23 PWR) – The Eagles had a rough November going 3-6 with key losses to rivals Boston University and Harvard and a blowout loss 6-2 to MInnesota.  But, they finished the month on a positive note with wins over New Hampshire and Michigan. Thatcher Demko is a horse in goal and has played in 16 of the first 17 games. Goal scoring has been adequate at 3.06 GPG but the PP has been abysmal at 8.7%.This is a good not great team and they’ll need a nice run in the second half to solidify an NCAA berth.
  20. Union College Dutchmen – (#25 PWR)  The defending national champions had a very tough stretch going 2-6-1 from October 25 to November 29. Getting routed 8-2 by Western Michigan on 11/29 was a low point but they rebounded for a 7-1 thrashing of Brown and a 3-1 win over a tough Yale squad. That puts their record at 9-6-1 heading into the second half of the season. The month of January is filled with quality opponents Boston University, Quinnipiac, Cornell, Colgate and Harvard. Should they falter in January, they’ll most likely be on the outside looking in come NCAA playoff time.

Other notables: Yale (#15 PWR) St. Cloud State University (#23 PWR), Robert Morris (#21 PWR), Cornell (#27 PWR), Michigan (#22 PWR)

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