WeldieBlog: Bye Week Breakdown
With the Huskies men’s hockey team off this weekend, this gives us a good chance to take a look around the college hockey landscape to see how things are shaking out. Let's take a look at a few different teams from a few conferences around the college hockey landscape.
Obviously, the Huskies are in great shape almost a third of the way through the regular season. They sit at 9-2-0 with their only two losses to the defending national champion Denver Pioneers and are second in the conference.
You’d think it would be a Denver or a North Dakota on top of the standings. You’d be wrong. Somewhat surprisingly, the Western Michigan Broncos are currently leading the NCHC with a three-point lead (one win in the NCHC is worth three points) over the Huskies. It’s surprising because of the talent they lost last year. The Broncos had to replace its top three scorers from the previous season.
One big reason has been the emergence of sophomore forward Dawson DiPietro. He only played in one game his freshman year coming from the NAHL. This year, he is one of the four Broncos that is averaging over a point per game and leads the team with three power play goals.
The usual suspects in Denver and the North Dakota Fighting Hawks have also had strong starts to the season. However, North Dakota has just hit a little big of a snag last weekend losing and tying Union on home ice. The Fighting Hawks don’t have the star power like in previous years and that has been the Achilles heel this season. They have only scored four goals in the last three games.
Preseason favorite Minnesota State Mavericks are sitting on top of the WCHA with a 9-5-0 overall record. They have a strong conference record at 7-3 and are one of two teams in the conference without a tie (the other being Northern Michigan). Bowling Green is sitting in second with an ascetically less appealing 5-2-3 conference record, but have two shootout wins, which help boost the point total. Shootout points can throw a wrench into standings if you aren’t paying attention to them.
The big thing that stands out in the WCHA is their poor out-of-conference record. As a whole, the WCHA is 12-29-5 in non-conference games, which is dead last among all conferences. If that continues, it will be another year where only one team from the WCHA will go to the NCAA tournament. It’s too early to look at the Pairwise, but I’ll be shocked if a WCHA team is in the top-16 at the end of the year.
In the Big Ten, Notre Dame has a commanding lead. The Fighting Irish lead by seven points and two games in hand over second place Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Notre Dame was highly ranked to start the season but stumbled out of the gate with a 3-3-1 start. Since then, the Fighting Irish have rattled off nine wins in a row; only allowing an average a minuscule 1.44 goals against average during that stretch. The Golden Gophers are the only team to win the regular season title since the conference started in 2014, but they have a lot of work to do to stretch the reign to five seasons.
Interesting to note the conference tournament in the Big Ten has changed the format for picking its automatic bid. With seven teams, the regular season champion gets a bye for the first round, while the remaining six play in a best-of-three series at the higher seed’s rink. After the initial round, it will be a one-game playoff in the high seed’s arena for the remaining two weeks to decide a winner.
This was due to the atrocious attendance for the conference tournaments. The WCHA did a similar change, but they also have a best-of-three series in the semifinals as well to a rousing success.
Overall, I like the campus sites for the conference tournament. It is a great way to get an electric atmosphere for the biggest games of the year, which is all what we want.
With seven teams, I thought it would be worth it for the Big Ten to revisit how they choose the automatic bid to be awarded. Conferences have a choice in picking a regular season champion or a playoff champion to receive the automatic bid. If the Big Ten would have gone with a regular season champion instead (like in Premier League Soccer), it would have added three more weekends for games and try to boost the Pairwise to allow as many teams a chance to get in. The Big Ten can still sprinkle some more competition throughout the year. It’s a different way to look at it, but I figure trying that out on a trial period wouldn’t be the worst idea. I see the pros and cons to each side and it would be a great way to not allow Penn State to have such a Charmin (soft) schedule year after year.
Conferences Farther Out East
The biggest surprise has to be the Clarkson Golden Knights in the ECAC. The Golden Knights are 12-3-1 on the season and leading the conference. They have come a long way from the mediocre 18-16-5 record a season ago. Clarkson is undefeated in conference play and have only allowed eight goals in those six games. They recently won the Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland beating Providence by a 4-2 score.
In a lot of ways, Clarkson is winning very similarly to St. Cloud State. While the Golden Knights leading scorer, Sheldon Rempal, is 25th in the country in points (nothing too eye catching), their depth is the very impressive. Seven players are in double digits in points and the power play is clicking at 29.4 percent. Jake Kielly has played outstanding in every game, with a .947 save percentage and leads the nation with a 1.44 goals against average and five shutouts.
The ECAC is setting up to be a very tight race. Cornell Big Red sits at 9-1 on the season, with its only loss to Clarkson. They were the last undefeated team to fall in college hockey. Union and Colgate have had good starts to the conference play as well. After that, it starts to drop off, but those teams will be battling for position all year long.
Hockey East is in a load of trouble. Boston College has actually played well over the past few weeks, currently sits atop of the standings. In non-conference play, all teams have been terrible against non-Atlantic Hockey teams with a 20-30-6 record. Teams from Hockey East are 0-7-1 against the Big Ten, 6-13-1 against the NCHC, and 0-2 against the WCHA (Minnesota State sweeping Boston University). I can see them being a one or two-bid team. Very uncommon for the former conference powerhouse.
That’s a broad rundown of where things currently line up in the world of college hockey. I’ll be back later this week with a preview of the Omaha Mavericks. I’m still not sure if it’s Nebraska-Omaha, Nebraska Omaha, or just Omaha. I hope to get that straightened out by Thursday.
This blog is the opinion of Travis Weldon, College hockey fan and frequent guest of Granite City Sports. You can read more from Travis on Twitter @MoarClappers.