Photo courtesy of BCEagles.com
Back in September, I put out my preseason college hockey rankings. Like many of my predictions, most of the rankings haven’t aged well. My preseason No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth is 9-6-1 and has fallen to No. 10 in the rankings and No. 13 in the Pairwise. They’re clearly not the same team that won back-to-back national championships. Wisconsin and Michigan, both in my top 10, are under .500 and ranked 33 and 38 in the Pairwise, respectively. Quinnipiac also hasn’t helped my preseason rankings, as they were ranked No. 10 and sit at 7-7-1.
Now that Christmas break is winding down and teams are getting back on the ice for conference play in the second half of the season, I’m going to update my rankings and project who the top 16 could be come March. Here’s my mock top 16, with a few surprises:
- North Dakota
- Minnesota State
- Boston College
- Penn State
- Ohio State
- Arizona State
- Bowling Green
- UMass Lowell
- Sacred Heart
Broken down by seed, they are as follows:
No. 1 Seeds: North Dakota, Minnesota State, Denver, Boston College
No. 2 Seeds: Cornell, Penn State, Massachusetts, Clarkson
No. 3 Seeds: Ohio State, Arizona State, Bowling Green, UMass Lowell
No. 4 Seeds: Providence, Minnesota-Duluth, Harvard, Sacred Heart
The four No. 1 seeds include the current top two in the nation as well as Nos. 5 and 6. North Dakota and Minnesota State are the two best teams in the nation right now, and I don’t see that changing much over the next few months. Dryden McKay, the Minnesota State goalie, is off to a ridiculous start to the season, going 14-1-1 with a 1.09 goals against average. Along with the Mavericks, North Dakota ranks as one of the top five teams in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Freshman Shane Pinto is a big-time player for the Fighting Hawks; he’s been the best player for Team USA in the World Juniors so far.
Denver has faltered a bit lately, and goalie Magnus Chrona has cooled off after a blazing start, but I see the Pioneers bouncing back. Maybe it’s just me reminiscing about how well they played when BC travels there earlier in the year, but the team is just too talented not to be among the top four in the nation.
Right now, I see the Eagles coming in as the last No. 1 seed. I feel bad kicking out Cornell and Clarkson with how well they are playing, but I have Denver, BC and those two ECAC schools finishing with similar records. Unfortunately for Cornell and Clarkson, BC and Denver have much better opportunities to pick up quality wins over the next few months. BC plays UMass three times, UML twice and Northeastern twice. Denver has two with UMass and North Dakota. Cornell and Clarkson really only have each other for resume-boosting wins as the season wears on.
Despite that, neither ECAC team should fall too far, as I have them comprising two of the four No. 2 seeds. The Nittany Lions and Minutemen round out the second group of four, for completely different reasons. Penn State, as per usual, boasts the best scoring offense in the nation. With a heavy dose of junior and senior talent, the Nittany Lions have experience in the NCAA Tournament. And they are a host school this year, making them a dangerous team for whichever No. 1 seed has to go to the Allentown Regional.
Backed by the best goalie tandem in college hockey, the Minutemen have one of the top scoring defenses in the nation. The offense isn’t where it was last year, but they’ll score enough to win games.
All the No. 3 seeds are currently in the four to six loss territory, but, outside of the Riverhawks, my confidence in this group isn’t that high.
Arizona State still has star Johnny Walker, and they’ll be hungry to continue to prove doubters wrong by reaching back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, but the Sun Devils really just have a win against Denver on their resume. The only other projected tournament team they’ve played is Minnesota State, and ASU got swept. With many matchups against WCHA and Atlantic Hockey teams, there aren’t many opportunities for ASU to pick up quality wins the rest of the way.
Bowling Green is in a similar situation; the team’s best win was an overtime victory at Minnesota State. They’ve also lost to Western Michigan and Lake Superior. The Falcons did sweep Notre Dame, but I don’t put as much stock into that as the Pairwise did.
Ohio State played one of the weaker out of conference schedules and hasn’t been particularly dominant in Big Ten play.
UML has beaten Minnesota Duluth, Penn State and Providence. They are also just beginning the Hockey East gauntlet; with Tyler Wall between the pipes, the Riverhawks will be a dangerous lower seed.
Rounding out the tournament teams are the four No. 4 seeds. Providence can score at will, led by the nation’s top two point-getters Tyce Thompson and Jack Dugan.
Minnesota-Duluth probably won’t pull off the three-peat, but they are good enough to make the tournament. The Bulldogs went 1-0-1 against Denver and 1-1-0 against UML. They’ve also taken care of business in conference and could very well win the NCHC Tournament.
Harvard started 6-0-0 but has lost the last four, starting with BC’s come-from-behind victory on Black Friday. That’s the only Crimson game I’ve seen this season, but if they play defense anywhere close to how they played defense in that first period against the Eagles, they’ll be tough to beat.
Usually No. 16 is the Atlantic Hockey Champion. This year I’ll give that honor to Sacred Heart, because of their No. 2-ranked scoring offense. SHU may just be cannon fodder for the No. 1 overall seed, but stranger things have happened.
The top teams I have missing out are: Northeastern, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Compared to other teams in the Hockey East, I don’t trust Northeastern’s goaltending situation. The Irish have plenty of players on the US World Juniors team, but, after watching them play BC twice, I just don’t see tournament potential. The Badgers have dug themselves a deep hole. A big second half or a Big Ten tournament win are really their only two options for making the tournament, but they are so talented I could see them sneaking into an autobid with a tournament win.
Now that the field of 16 is set, here’s a potential seeding breakdown by region:
- Denver vs. Providence
- Clarkson vs. Ohio State
- Minnesota State vs. Harvard
- Massachusetts vs. Arizona State
- Boston College vs. Minnesota-Duluth
- Cornell vs. UMass Lowell
- North Dakota vs. Sacred Heart
- Penn State vs. Bowling Green