The second full month of the 2017-2018 College Hockey Season is in the books. Here are a few notes and observations on the progression of the season.
1. Upstate New York is the East’s hotbed.
Currently the best teams in eastern hockey reside in Potsdam and Ithaca, New York. Cornell is off to a 9-1-0 start to the season. Impressive considering there are ten freshmen on the roster, including the starting goaltender. The young players, like Morgan Barron and Alex Green, have worked well with the veterans, like Trevor Yates, Mitch Vanderlaan, and Anthony Angello to give the Big Red the best season start since their run to the Frozen Four in 2003. They’ve only lost one game this season and that came against the other national contender from Upstate, the Clarkson Golden Knights.
Clarkson was voted to finish fourth in the ECAC Coaches Preseason poll. There were expectations, but the Golden Knights have surpassed them, rising to the 3rd spot in the USCHO poll with a 12-3-1 record and nine consecutive victories in November. Sheldon Rempal is leading the way with 11 foals and 8 assists for a team high 19 points, ranking him in the top 10 for scoring. Strong goaltending by Jake Kielly, who leads the nation in Goals Allowed Average at 1.44 and is a leading Richter Award Candidate, backs up a good offense and has positioned the Knights for a title run.
The most surprising unit from upstate is Colgate. The Raiders were voted to finish second to last in the ECAC Preseason poll. They have an 8-4-4 record with strong victories over Harvard, Western Michigan, and Quinnipiac. Colton Point has been an excellent goaltender with a .947 Save percentage and 1.68 GAA, good for second and fifth respectively. He’s carrying a fairly quiet offense, with Bobby McMann as the leading scorer with 9 goals and 7 assists for 16 points. The Raiders round out the trio atop the ECAC and upstate New York.
The top three teams in the Atlantic Hockey Conference are also from the Empire State. Canisius, Army, and Niagra are all in the middle of impressive seasons. The Golden Griffins have only played one out of conference game, but they tied Colgate in that one out of conference game and split on the road against the reigning conference champion Air Force. Army has been close to unbeatable on the road, going 6-2-1 and sweeping Air Force in Colorado. Niagra is 6-2-1 in the Atlantic and barely lost to Cornell on the road, drawing credit as “A damn good hockey team” as described by Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. The State of New York may well have the best college hockey going right now.
2. Hockey East is Disappointing
The flashier of the two major eastern conferences has laid an egg so far this season. Hockey East was expected to have some teams competing with the big players out west for a title crown and unfortunately, no one looks ready to compete on the national stage yet. Providence is the highest ranked team in the conference, but struggled to keep disciplined for stretches against Clarkson in the Friendship Four Final in Belfast, lost to UMass, and tied a game they very well could have won against Merrimack. They’ve got problems to sort out. Boston College is leading the conference by five points but has struggled outside league play. BC started the season 1-5-1, and despite upping their record to 8-5-2 since the start of November, they have not won outside the conference. They tied Harvard in their only chance and have started to develop an identity of a defensive unit. The Eagles still have plenty to prove. They’ll get their chances to do so against BU to start the month and in the Las Vegas Invitational in early January. BC still has much to prove.
Their first opponent this month, BU, has even more to prove. The Terriers have quite possibly the most talent in the conference and are just barely at .500 in Hockey East, at 4-4-1, and are just under .500 overall, at 6-8-1. They had narrow losses to Denver and Cornell that hold plenty of promise. Head Coach David Quinn was optimistic about those games. However, they also had their share of galling losses, including a sweep by Northeastern, a painful showing against Providence, and a shockingly poor outing against Maine. BU has not played to their talent. As a result, the Terriers have fallen out of the rankings for the first time since the 2013-2014 season. They have the talent at every position to turn around their season, but they need to mentally click. Northeastern has impressed with a flashy offensive attack but ended the month with bad losses to BC and UConn. Lowell started off 0-5, but turned their record around with a strong November. Sadly, their month ended with a shocking home loss to Bentley in overtime, so the built up momentum is gone. New Hampshire’s potential story book season has cooled off since a hot opening with injuries o three of their top forwards. None of the high billed teams have impressed early on. There’s time to improve their performance, but through two months, Hockey East has disappointed.
3. Notre Dame Leads the Loaded Big10
After a disappointing end to their time as a Hockey East team in both the Conference Tournament and the Frozen Four, Notre Dame was expected to dominate the Big10 on the back of Cal Petersen and Anders Bjork. Unfortunately both of those players left for the pros, Petersen for the Sabers organization and Bjork for the Bruins. With their best two players gone, Jeff Jackson’s squad could have fallen off. Instead, they have soared, with a 12-3-1 record overall, including perfect conference and road records, 6-0 and 4-0 respectively. Cale Morris has filled in admirably for Petersen in net, leading the nation in save percentage at .952 and second in the nation for GAA, at 1.62. Jake Evans has also impressed with nation highs in assists and points, 19 and 25 respectively. Jordan Gross and Andrew Ogilvie have supported the offense well and played well defensively, and the Fighting Irish are ranked 4th in the USCHO poll and 3rd in the USA Today Poll. Their conference record is especially impressive considering how talented Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Penn State are. Were it not for the NCHC, the Big10 would be the best conference in the nation.
4. Denver is Best
The reigning National Champions stumbled against Western Michigan, but righted the ship with a convincing sweep over St. Cloud State and a split against North Dakota. Troy Terry and Henrik Borgstrom are 2nd and 3rd in scoring, with 23 and 22 points respectively, and Borgstrom is the nation’s leading goal scorer with 13 goals. The top talent in the nation is playing like it and the Pioneers retain the top ranking in both major polls to start the new month of play. They’ll be tested early this month, with a trip to play Duluth in a rematch of the National Championship game in Chicago, and a home and home against ancient rival Colorado College. Denver certainly has the talent to face these tests and has earned the top ranking.