We’ve hit the proverbial “halfway point” in the 2014-15 season with the conclusion of most schools’ first semesters, and for the second consecutive week, the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota have claimed the No. 1 spot in the country in the latest USCHO poll.
That makes seven out of nine weeks this season that former members of the WCHA –- Minnesota and UND –- have been deemed the best programs in the country in Division I.
The Sioux’s unbeaten streak reached five games (4-0-1) with sound thrashings of Lake Superior State at Ralph Engelstad Arena this past weekend.
In Friday’s opener, what looked like the makings of a disastrous weekend turned around in short order. LSSU led 4-1 at the midway point of regulation, then roared back for six unanswered tallies to produce a 7-4 victory.
Philadelphia Flyers’ 2010 draft choice and senior forward Michael Parks helped lead the charge with a goal and two assists in the burst, providing primary helpers on goals from Tucker Poolman and the returned Mark MacMillan which tied the game, and then netting the marker which put the hosts ahead by a 6-4 count on a power play with 2:51 left in regulation.
Trevor Olson, Conor Gaarder and Brendan O’Donnell also scored while Zane McIntyre came in cold for frosh starter Cam Johnson and stopped 12-of-13 shots to snag the win. The red-hot and freshly hyped Drake Caggiula left the game with an injury, but ended up returning for the back end of the home set.
The next night in Grand Forks, things were a bit more sedate and followed the script more tightly. McIntyre only needed to make 16 saves, while O’Donnell, sophomore Luke Johnson and Jordan Schmaltz capped the scoring.
North Dakota improved to 7-1-1 in out-of-conference action with the win, 6-2-2 at the Ralph and 12-3-2 overall, having raised the number of first-place votes this week in the poll from 29 to 38. The Sioux are not participating in a holiday tournament this year, but have two on the road at Magness Arena against NCHC rivals Denver this coming weekend and an exhibition against the US Under-18 squad on Jan. 3.
Parks continues to make a case for carving out a place in the Flyers’ organization once he graduates, now second on the Sioux in assists (13) and points (19) with two game-winners and a plus-8 to his credit.
As good as it has been, North Dakota is not my surprise team for the first portion of the season. That distinction lay a bit closer to home. Surprise Team (Beyond Expectations):Penn State/Robert Morris
Who cares how easy your early-season schedule is when you’re a team that has already eclipsed last year’s regular-season and playoff wins total with 21 games left on the slate?
Sometimes, patience and time is all that’s required and Guy Gadowsky has the Nittany Lions on the right track after finishing so far back in sixth place in the Big Ten it was more like seventh a season ago. Over the weekend, the Nits overpowered a weakened Wisconsin club in Madison with victories of 5-2 and 4-2 on the heels of back-to-back losses at Michigan and against Cornell by a combined score of 11-2.
PSU has three weeks off before the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, holds a record of 9-4-2 overall and 5-0-1 at Pegula Ice Arena, and has weathered the storm nicely despite not having a true home game since Halloween.
Senior sensation Taylor Holstrom has totaled 18 points in just 12 games, ranking 13th in the country while his 12 assists places fifth, staking Penn State to a tie for seventh in the nation at 3.47 goals-per-contest. In addition, the Blue and White have recorded 16 man-advantage goals in 60 opportunities, and that 26.7-percent efficiency is good enough for fifth in the country at present.
Robert Morris, which is hosting the Pittsburgh-based tourney, has flown under the radar for a whole host of reasons – not least of which is that Atlantic Hockey is all but dismissed at the altar of the major conferences.
The Colonials are one of only two D-I programs with a single loss (Harvard the other), having coasted thus far to a 10-1-3 record and ownership of the top spot in their conference at 8-1-3 after a weekend sweep of Sacred Heart. You’ll be shocked to learn that RMU currently ranks first in the entire country in offense, clicking at an amazing 4.21 goals-per-game which is percentage points ahead of Red Berenson’s Michigan Wolverines.
RMU’s offensive machine is led by senior forward Cody Wydo, who has totaled 21 points in 14 outings –- third in the nation in points behind Mike Vecchione of Union and Jack Eichel from Boston University. The Colonial power play sits right behind Penn State in a tie for sixth at 24.14 percent efficiency.
Its defense isn’t too shabby either, ranking in the top 20 at 2.14 per contest thanks to the goaltending combo of Terry Shafer and Dalton Izyk combining for three shutouts and 30 goals against. Surprise Team (Below Expectations):Massachusetts
Sorry, Julie, but the Minutemen can’t possibly be this bad in a year where expansion of Hockey East has led to some pretty interesting results weekend to weekend.
UMass has dropped six of its last seven games, including results of 7-5 and 4-0 out at Notre Dame this past Friday and Saturday, has surrendered at least five goals in six out of 15 games, and sits in the conference basement with an in-conference record of 1-9-0 and 4-11-0 overall mark. What’s worse, is that the Amherstians have only played one game against Hockey East’s top four schools thus far — and that was an 11-1 thrashing against Vermont in Burlington two weeks back.
A lineup featuring seven seniors has to begin pulling things together, because Maine and New Hampshire –- once feared first-division competition who now inhabit the two spots immediately above UMass in the standings –- aren’t going to be as bad as they have been for very long.
From Jan. 9-Feb. 27, the Minutemen face 14 consecutive conference opponents, all of whom will be looking to press boot heel to face to jockey for playoff seeding. Wins must come in short order and right now, with games against Northeastern, Providence, Air Force and UConn before the crush, or we’ll be talking about one of the all-time worst teams in the 31-year history of the conference.
That’s a sad thing considering UMass’ struggles in the early days under Joe Mallen and the stunning turnaround orchestrated by Toot Cahoon during his 12-year tenure which included multiple postseason appearances. Days of Auld Lang Syne
When I last dipped into the memory inkwell for my adventures in broadcasting Boston College hockey during my senior year on the Heights, it was October and I revealed how much of a technical bust my first-ever game cast was, but how fun the failure turned out to be with one of my best friends along for the ride.
The whole time I was reminiscing, then committing the memory to keystrokes and then submitting it to the hockey world, my friend, Ted Graboski, had already passed on and I didn’t know it. Future recall involving him will take on an added dimension of poignance, given that he left behind a now eight-month old son who might very well grow up to be a future BC Eagle, class of 2036.
Fifteen years ago yesterday, Ted and I joined forces for our third and final BC hockey radio presentation, a home contest against Merrimack College. In those days a garbage-time matchup, Jerry York decided to start backup Tim Kelleher instead of Scott Clemmensen.
It was a night where everything locked into place and the broadcast went off without a hitch.
In was a night when the grinders and youngsters clocked in and came to the forefront, with third-liner and occasional Brian Gionta protector, Tony “The Hammer” Hutchins, supplying his second career two-goal game. LA Kings prospect and then-sophomore Jeff Giuliano provided another tally and Gionta also scored in a 4-0 result. Future BC hero and Phoenix Coyote Krys Kolanos registered two assists as well.
Kelleher stopped 21 shots to record his first collegiate shutout in front of half a house at Conte Forum, given the opponent and that campus was wrapping up its fall-semester slate before reading days and final exams.
One lucky bastard, Ted went off and spent the spring semester abroad, kicking around Scotland and the UK from his home-base in Glasgow while I strengthened my portfolio with 10 more broadcasts. He wouldn’t be heard from until much later on, in tragicomic circumstances across the Atlantic Ocean –- regrettably now the place his remains call home.
I’ll be back in three weeks, in the meantime keep following for thoughts and updates @pelle31lives