A Busy Week

Not for hockey, for me ;) I have had no time to scout out this week’s matches, and what with the ECAC being like one of those math word problems on the SAT (“If Katie is older than Sam but younger than Leticia….”), I’m going to have to physically see more games before being able to make real assessments. The Colgate-Princeton-Quinnipiac-Cornell foursome should be interesting. Syracuse and Lindenwood will split. RMU will beat RIT handily, as should Bemidji State defeat OSU. I do hope I get a chance to watch some hockey soon.

Very Quick Picks For The Weekend

What is with all this one game nonsense?  Clarkson at Harvard anchors a not-particularly-scintillating weekend, in which the most competitive games may be Lindenwood versus Penn State. I think Tech takes it even if Harvard is the home team. Then Harvard will rebound in its revenge match against Dartmouth, which will probably also be beaten by Saint Lawrence, because the Saints’ offense can be pretty aggressive. We’ll see how long UND’s defense holds against Minnesota. The other WCHA match-ups should largely be walkovers.

Win A Big Game, Make The Poll

Yeah, we were all surprised that Dartmouth upset Harvard. But statistically it’s also possible that I could be killed by a banana falling from the sky (bananas: don’t trust them). This is not meant to imply the Big Green victory was that improbable, but ‘hey, they beat a ranked team once’ is not actually a very useful criterion. By that metric, we might be ranking Saint Cloud State, because in terms of prediction and evaluation, it’s probably more important to focus on game two of a series than game one (coaching adjustments! intangibles!). Yet there’s the flaw in that logic when it comes to back-to-back games is resting starters, as UND did by bringing in Shaw in game two.

Now is the time to buy on Northeastern, who can certainly take me to task for jumping to very early season conclusions. But they have been a ‘beat anyone, lose to anyone’ team during the current seniors’ run. It is also time to finally take a look at UConn, whom I hope to write more about soon. The season playing out will reveal Princeton to be a more successful squad than Dartmouth, although beating Mercyhurst right now says more about the time the Lakers are going to need to develop than about their opponents. BC’s utter thrashing of Cornell sent a message, as does the offense over defense UW sweep of Bemidji (I think Horgan got me there). The USA Today poll is not yet out but they ranked UW ahead of BC last week so canny or WCHA bias: take your pick.  WCHA bias has not proved to be a bad way to select a hockey team over the past X number of seasons.

Small Sample Size-Itis

Being dissatisfied with the way some of my predictions have gone so far, I am going to take a flyer on guesswork this week. There has been enough observable hockey to make a few conclusions: New Hampshire, Brown, Yale, and Providence will unfortunately all lose. But there are also a number of series that will provide a considerable amount of information about teams that are still sitting in the cloud of significant unknowns.  UW/BSU is obviously the most key of these (obviously a high scoring game favors the Badgers and vice versa). BC/Cornell, BU/Northeastern, and to a lesser extent Princeton/Mercyhurst are all important series.’Who is Cornell’ is the question we ask every year. It should also be clear that I think despite their rough last few games, BC suffered from the single elimination play-off structure primarily. The Huskies are yet again playing rope-a-dope with the universe, and Princeton has the potential to make noise in the ECAC this year but we’ll see how they match up out of conference.  Stay tuned.

Why New NWHL Fans Will Love Women’s College Hockey

[Cross-posted at Women’s Hockey Nation]

So you’ve discovered the NWHL. And how can you not love a league where the game is delayed because a team bus got lost on the way to the rink, and the players (well, player) break into spontaneous juggling. Perhaps you are a women’s sports fan but this is your first exposure to hockey. Perhaps you are a die-hard hockey person but have never watched the women’s game before. Perhaps you think this is all you need of the women’s hockey experience. Let me be the first to say: try college hockey!

I remember watching the inaugural WNBA game on the floor of some friends’  living room  in New York, and frankly being embarrassed at the awful quality of the basketball. It took about a decade for the NCAA to provide enough players to change the tenor of the pro league for good. In hockey, this process has already happened. The best college teams are creating the best pro players. Marie-Philip Poulin, whose name is mangled by more people who should know better on a daily basis, scored three goals in her first weekend in the CWHL. Tomorrow’s national team stars hone their skills weekly in D-I match-ups.

Those match-ups also provide a dose of good old-fashioned rivalry. The NWHL is also too young and too full of goodwill to have created team allegiances and enmities. We all love everybody! Bah! While women’s NCAA battles cannot compete in age with those in some men’s sports, they certainly match up in intensity. WCHA programs hate each other, as do those with geographical and historical ties, like upstate New York highway rivalries, the Beanpot teams, etc. There are also passionate, knowledgeable, long-suffering fanbases of many teams who will be the first to tell you of slights long-remembered and how annoying or inane various mascots are. This includes those who go back to the pre-NCAA era, another source of hockey lore.

With the new American league which isolates American and Canadian players largely in their own fiefdoms, we are also now not seeing the world’s best compete with each other anymore. Familiarity in this instance failed to breed contempt, but instead largely took the edge off the nastiness we used to see in the Canada-US encounters while at the same time greatly improving the play. Now the college stage is where Northerners and Less Northerners break bread together and make fun of each others’ accents and taste in music. If you want to see opposing national team players streak down the wing together, this is the place.

Also important is not just international but intranational diversity. Here in the states, Minnesota is the font of all things hockey, and they are shut out of the NWHL picture so far. It makes perfect economic sense for the four NWHL teams to be in easy reach of one another (even if the Pride need GPS to navigate Brooklyn). But the NCAA empire stretches into the hockey heartland as far West as North Dakota and as far south as Missouri (*Insert obligatory Missouri joke here, although I am listening to Eric Church while writing this so I don’t have much of a leg to stand on).

This is the most exciting time to be a fan of women’s college hockey. The balance of power is shifting in unpredictable ways. There has never been more parity and more young talent flowing to the game. Scoring records will continue to fall. Just a scant season ago, Clarkson won the national championship in stunning fashion over juggernaut Minnesota. This year could see the first Hockey East team to gain a national title in the NCAA era. New teams are being added and some conferences are becoming competitive for the first time. In short, if you love the NWHL, there is even more to love about the bigger, broader, even more bracing college hockey landscape.

Lindenwood Gets A Vote On the USCHO Poll!

That makes absolutely zero sense, but bless their hearts they’ve won some hockey games this year. It’s less puzzling that Northeastern, who lost to them this week, getting *two* votes.  I mean for Pete’s sake Penn State didn’t wasn’t named by anyone and they actually defeated a ranked team in what is clearly the biggest win in their young program history.  Polls exist to give us something to argue and laugh about.

Bemidji, having handled its first minor test of the year, now faces something more formidable in the upcoming home and home series with UND. Before the season I noted this rivalry is a coin flip and nothing so far disprove that. BSU has more potential offensive upside. I think they have a chance to take both games, although going into Grand Forks poses a challenge.

There is no sign of New Hampshire ending its streak of woe anytime soon.  RIT’s forward progress appears to be temporarily stalled. That RPI thrashing was a huge surprise to me.  Other than that, last week shook out exactly as one might predict.

It will an eve of destruction in the WCHA on the upcoming docket for UW and UMN. Take the over on whatever spread you have. Mankato has been hanging tough in the beginning of the season, which has been a recent season trend for them, and can probably stay up with Duluth for at least one game (they won’t win, of course, but one of these games will be close).

The Clarkson and BU clash will tell us a lot about whether the Terriers can rebound from that split with Penn State. Tech is unbeaten but has not yet faced a tough opponent. BU has a porous defense and Clarkson is disciplined and could rack up some goals.  It will be important for BC to dominate Maine, which has shown more defensive tenacity than expected, if it wants to maintain its lock on the second spot which I am sure it will happen. ‘Hurst will sweep Northeastern and take over a poll spot. If Colgate follows its current trajectory it should skate in circles around Providence (although obviously not to the degree they were frustrated by the Badgers). Princeton will beat Brown to open the ECAC slate.  The rest of the conference is still in pre-season form.

Change In Posting Schedule

I set it to MWF before I realized two of those three would be really busy for me.  I’m going to move to T-Th-Su.

Which means there will be a post later today to discuss this rather wild weekend, including the biggest win in Penn State’s young program history.  And Bemidji State!