Earlier this year for Too Many Men on the Site I looked at the 5 conferences in college hockey, ranking them from weakest to strongest. Today I would like to re-examine those rankings a bit and whether the conference is performing above or below my expectations.
5. Atlantic Hockey
RIT has played more conference games (17) than the two teams chasing them (Robert Morris, 16 and Niagara, 15), but the Tigers have nonetheless been impressive this season. After a tough non-conference schedule that included trips to Omaha, Union and RPI, it’s clear that RPI has benefited from the grueling non-conference slate. They have won both with offense (3.65 goals per game, 3rd in the conference) and defense (2.35 allowed, 2nd in the conference). Shane Malodora has replaced Jared DeMichiel better than anyone could have expected, leading Atlantic Hockey in save percentage, with a .944 mark. Star forward Cam Burt has come down a bit from his hot scoring last year, but his teammates have filled in nicely, with 7 Tigers in double digits in points just in conference play.
Elsewhere in the conference, Niagara features the two most efficient scorers in the country in Paul Zanette and Brian Haczyk, who each have 18 goals on the year, scoring .82 per game. With those two running the show offensively I actually like Niagara to win the conference and make a return to the national tournament, but the champion will likely come from one of the top three teams. None of the other teams have much going for them, though Connecticut deserves a special mention, as the Huskies could have their first .500 season since the 2006-07 campaign.
4. ECAC Hockey
The league features the #1 team in the country, followed by a couple other pretty good teams, but though the league is improving greatly I don’t think they have the quality of the other three leagues yet. One team causing particular trouble, from an analysis standpoint at least, is RPI. The Engineers are ranked in all the polls, including mine, despite being in a tie for 7th in the conference. Though they currently would be in the NCAA tournament, I think the Engineers will backslide a bit in the 2nd half of the year, eventually missing out on the NCAA tournament. Chase Polacek has been great, but RPI has just a +2 goal difference in conference games.
As for Yale, there is no doubt in my mind that based on their body of work they should be ranked #1 right now, but I don’t think they’re the best team. Ryan Rondeau has been great this year (.931 save percentage), but all of Yale’s goalies were terrible last year, and I am stuck waiting for the other shoe to drop a bit. KRACH ranks Yale’s schedule as the 31st best in the country. It’s not really their fault because being in the Ivy League really limits their options as far as non-conference games go, but nonetheless it has to factor in in analysis as to how good they are.
The CCHA is a mess. That’s about all I can say about it. Notre Dame is in first place right now, and although they’re the top scoring offense in the conference, I don’t think they’re the best team. They’re 7th in scoring defense, and their special teams is just average. Mike Johnson is 10th in the CCHA in save percentage, and I just don’t think the Irish have the defensive talent to compete on the national stage.
I still think Miami is the best team. Their record isn’t as impressive as it has been in year’s past, but they still sit only 5 points out of first, which can be made up in no time in the CCHA with their 3 point system. Carter Camper and Andy Miele are the top two scorers in the conference currently, and while I think Camper currently has the better Hobey case, I don’t think either will win it, partly because of how good they both have been.
The third team atop the standings is Michigan. The Wolverines haven’t taken a step back goaltending wise like I thought they would, as Brian Hogan is currently 4th in save percentage, and I think they have the depth offensively to possibly win a regional. Carl Hagelin (30 pts), Louie Caporusso (21), and David Wohlberg (17) are their top three scorers, but their talent is much deeper, and the fact that they play in the defensive CCHA depresses their numbers a bit. I am semi disappointed in Caporusso however, as of his 21 points only 7 of them have been goals.
2. Hockey East
The only switch from my preseason rankings, Hockey East has semi disappointed this year. After a slow start, Boston College is starting to play like they’re one of the most talented teams in the country and though there have been some bad losses mixed in, New Hampshire has knocked off some very good teams, including BC, Merrimack and Miami. After losing Bobby Butler off last year’s team, Paul Thompson and Mike Sislo have picked up the slack. Sislo has 18 goals and 31 points, and Paul Thompson is the nation’s leading scorer, operating at a 1.65 PPG clip. The Senior got valuable experience last summer at the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect camp, and he has put himself in line for a big free agent payday after the season.
Falling a bit currently is Maine. Though they sit in 3rd in Hockey East, Maine has been trending downward recently, getting swept by BC, losing to rival UNH, getting trounced 7-1 by Merrimack and struggling to put away Providence. Their most recent win is a good one over Boston College, but the Black Bears have some work to do to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture. The rest of their regular season schedule features only 4 games against teams higher than them in the PWR, so those will take on even more importance.
I didn’t think the conference would have the depth required to be the best in the land. Boy was I wrong. 4 WCHA teams currently inhabit the Top 10 spots in my rankings, same as the Pairwise. If the season ended today, nearly a third of the field would be comprised of teams from the WCHA. But even teams near the bottom have done well. Minnesota State, tied for 10th, won the Shillelagh Tournament by beating Notre Dame and Brown. Bemidji State, in 9th, swept 4th place Nebraska-Omaha, and St. Cloud State, also tied for 10th, won the Florida college classic by beating Cornell and Miami.
Right now North Dakota looks like the best team. They had a couple bumps in the road, like the sweep at the hands of Maine, but they have played the nation’s toughest schedule and their only losses to teams outside the NCAA tournament field as it stands now are to the aforementioned Black Bears and archrival Minnesota. The Sioux lead the WCHA in scoring and are 2nd defensively, and have gotten great production in net from Sophomore Aaron Dell, who started the season as a backup.
The WCHA has gone three years without winning a national title, and while it is much too soon to say that a team from that conference will win the title, it’s also too soon to rule out the possibility of an all WCHA title game.