I’m sure that I’m not the only college hockey fan who was totally bummed to see the US drop their semifinal game against Canada and their bronze medal tilt versus Russia last week. Maybe I was fooled by the U.S.’s solid 4-0-0 record in pool play, but for some reason I really thought this might be the team that took home gold.
I do believe that the tough break for the Americans came in the pairings for the semifinals. After Canada dropped its first game in forever during pool play, the team from the North ended up aligned in the same bracket as the U.S. I almost feel like the Canadian domination of the U.S. in the World Juniors is similar to the spell that Boston University has over Northeastern in the Beanpot. No matter how many times you play, no matter what the strength of this year’s team, it seems near impossible for the U.S. to get past Canada in the medal round.
There were plenty of accolades to hand out to the Americans, most notably to New Hampshire’s James vanRiemsdyk, who finished the tournament as the leading scorer with 11 points (I thought that he was robbed of Best Forward recognition by the IIHF, but such things happen when your team doesn’t medal).
Still, all the positive statistics in the world can’t replace the disappointment that the U.S. and its fans face as yet another year without a WJC medal passes. Sounding like the true Red Sox circa 2003 fan that I once was, “Wait ’til next year.”
Backing Into the #1 Spot
Back in December, while Michigan sat idle, Miami leapfrogged the Wolverines for the top spot in the USCHO.com poll. So it seems rather fitting that once again, as Michigan took the weekend off last week, that a Miami loss to Bowling Green on Friday sent the Wolverines back into the #1 slot, in a four-way split of the first-place votes. Michigan finished 60 points ahead of #2 Miami and took home the lion’s share of the #1 votes on the ballots (38). But Miami, Denver and Colorado College all split the remaining 12 first-place votes. Not exactly the excitement of the New Hampshire primary, but interesting to know that picking a number one for the 50 poll voters in anything but a slam dunk.
Race Heating Up in Atlantic
There wasn’t a lot of hockey to chose from near my house in Boston last weekend, so I headed west on the Mass Turnpike to see Holy Cross battle RIT. It was a walk-in-the-park victory for RIT, 5-1 on the scorecard. And it gave me the notion that the battle for the top spot in Atlantic Hockey should be a good one down the stretch.
RIT, despite a slow start, has a talented squad. I was really impressed by the team’s overall speed despite the fact that they’re both strong and physical. It won’t be a cakewalk to the top for the defending regular season champs (who a year ago couldn’t go to the AHA tournament as a team transitioning to NCAA Division I). Air Force, RIT’s opponent on the road this weekend, and Sacred Heart (and possibly Army) will all be in the fight to the end.
Why do I mention all this is a national blog? Well, for one, AHA is part of the national picture. But moreover, a lot of us fail to keep our eyes on all of the leagues sometimes and thus miss some great standings battles come seasons end. In the words of many great coaches, keep your head on a swivel.
Games to Watch
Some big games/series to watch throughout college hockey this weekend:
Wisconsin at Denver (Fri. and Sat): The Badgers need to get themselves out of a tailspin, and there’s no better way to do it than by beating one of the top teams in the country. Denver, though, likely has different ideas of how things will play out.
Notre Dame vs. Michigan State (Fri. at MSU, Sat at ND): While Michigan and Miami are off battling for the nation’s #1 spot, Michigan State and Notre Dame are both hoping to be more than also rans. This weekend’s series, a rare CCHA home-and-home, could be telling as to whether one of these teams should pull a Joe Biden (or do you prefer Chris Dodd?) ;)
Massachusetts vs. New Hampshire (Fri. at UMass, Sat at UNH): UMass has never been ranked #5 in the country in program history. They’ve held the spot for two straight weeks and now have the chance to validate the ranking when they face #8 UNH, currently tied for first in Hockey East, in a home-and-home sereis that will have impact in both the league and national rankings.
RIT at Air Force (Fri. and Sat.): See above. Enough said.
Clarkson at Harvard (Sat.): Clarkson is coming off a huge win, while Harvard is trying to right the ship after extending its winless skid to seven last weekend. Still, the two are tied for first in the ECAC (with Princeton, entering the weekend), though Clarkson holds the edge on the Crimson with three games in hand.
Robert Morris at Niagara (Fri. and Sat.): in a five-team league, standings watching can often be the same as watching paint dry. But with Robert Morris and Niagara, both tied for second place with nine points, this battle could have some meaning down the road. If you happen to go to either game and they’re boring, take solace on the fact that a short drive can get you really good buffalo wings after the game.