The college hockey season is a month old, but only a handful of teams have played more than six games so far. Yet, just three schools remain undefeated (not including the Ivy League’s of course, who have yet to begin play.) Those three teams are No. 1 Denver, No. 2 Minnesota State, and No. 5 Notre Dame. The Pioneers are an impressive 6-0 and have a good chance of remaining unbeaten through their upcoming weekend series with Niagara. The Mavericks are 5-0-1, with their one tie coming against another national powerhouse, No. 14 North Dakota. Other than that one tie, Minnesota State has allowed just four goals in their five wins. The Fighting Irish sit in fifth nationally behind UMass and Cornell as their 4-0 record has not exactly featured the most menacing competition in Air Force and Lake Superior State. Yet, as they begin Big Ten Conference play, Notre Dame is sure to be tested with series against Minnesota, No. 13 Ohio State, and No. 7 Wisconsin next up. Which team will stay undefeated the longest? And could an Ivy League like Cornell or Harvard enter the battle of the unbeaten?
Two weeks ago, college hockey fans were treated to an epic early-season clash between the defending NCAA champions, No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth, and a popular pick to win it all this season, Wisconsin. The two-game series in Madison wasn’t as close as many expected though, as the young, star-studded Badgers took both games by a combined score of 9-3. The Bulldogs edged out two wins against their flagship rival Minnesota this past weekend to sit at 3-3 on the year and have their recent seasons of dominance to thank for their continued presence in the top ten, but that won’t save them all season. Meanwhile, Wisconsin suffered a shutout loss to No. 11 Clarkson this weekend, but picked up the win in the second game. Through six games, the team is tied for the NCAA lead in goals for, led by college hockey’s top goal-scorer, Cole Caufield (MTL), and his fellow first-round pick Alex Turcotte (LAK).
The program tied at the top of the scoring race with the Badgers is No. 8 Providence College. The Friars are spreading the scoring wealth, with three players among the top six in points. Jack Dugan (VGK) and his 14 points lead the NCAA by a relatively wide margin, as the 2017 fifth-round pick is off to a blazing start. Tyce Thompson (NJD) is tied for second with 11 points and Greg Printz, who led the way after two weeks, sits in sixth. Despite the considerable offense from Providence, the team is 4-2 with a stunning loss to Holy Cross early on and a heartbreaker against No. 17 UMass Lowell this weekend.
And what of the top teams in the country? Denver has certainly earned their top billing in college hockey so far. They picked up two wins against a loaded No. 15 Boston College squad two weeks back, including a 3-0 shutout. Freshman keeper Magnus Chrona (TBL) continues to be stellar in net with a .930 save percentage and 1.83 GAA in six wins for the Pioneers, while highly-regarded defenseman Ian Mitchell (CHI) is one of the league leaders in scoring among defenseman. Also among that group is UMass freshman Zac Jones (NYR), who is showing that the Minutemen can indeed survive without Cale Makar. After a tough loss to Northeastern – and arguably the best goalie in college hockey thus far, graduate transfer Craig Pantano – UMass rebounded with a convincing sweep of Union and a win over nearby American International. Behind a shutdown tandem of Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg (MIN), it may prove hard for opponents to pick up wins in Amherst this year. The team hopes to prove that point when they face the Huskies again in a home-and-home this weekend. Finally, Minnesota State stayed unbeaten with a win and tie against North Dakota and two easy W’s against Alabama-Huntsville. The team’s stingy defense – eight goals allowed in six games – and the serious skill of Nathan Smith (WPG) make Mankato a dangerous place to play this season.
What To Expect From Cornell
The Cornell Big Red have played exactly zero games so far this season. Yet, they have held on to their No. 4 spot through a month of play. After an impressive 2018-19 campaign, expectations are high for Cornell to replicate their success. But are those expectations realistic?
The team unofficially kicked off their season this weekend with an exhibition game against the U.S. National Team Development Program. While this isn’t the historic USNTDP group of last year, it is still a talented squad that features many of the players who will be star freshman in the NCAA next year. Yet, the Big Red made them look like the junior team they are, shutting out the American standouts 3-0. Next up is Michigan State, before they begin their ECAC schedule.
The unrivaled star of the team is Morgan Barron (NYR). The Rangers pick has far exceeded his sixth round expectations already and just narrowly missed out on a point-per-game campaign last year. Barron led Cornell in goals and points last season with his physical brand of offensive ability. However, he’s now missing the lightning to his thunder, as slick winger Mitchell Vanderlaan graduated and moved on to the ECHL. If the Big Red are to avoid regression this season, Barron will need to be even better and the likes of Cam Donaldson, Michael Regush, and impressive goaltender Matthew Galajda will have to step up. Fortunately, the veteran group is accustomed to playing with one another; it’s one of the team’s greatest strengths and could allow a potential impact freshman like defenseman Alex Green (TBL) to play a more confident game right away.
Connor Mackey Drawing Interest
While Minnesota State’s defensive prowess over the past few years has most often been credited to talented netminder Dryden McKay, NHL scouts have their eyes on another key member of that effort. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that defenseman Connor Mackey has met with at least seven NHL teams about his impending free agency. Mackey is expected to be one of the top college free agents available this spring.
Many actually believed Mackey, 23, would turn pro this past summer, but he decided to go for another run at an NCAA title with the Mavericks. However, it’s hard to imagine the junior blue liner making that decision a second time. Mackey already has four points in six games to go along with a team-leading 13 penalty minutes, which is right in line with last season, when he recorded 25 points a team-high 55 penalty minutes. A dual-threat puck-mover and physical force, Mackey plays a well-rounded style and has matured his game at the college level. Mackey may not have elite skill, size, or skating ability, but he does everything well and projects as an all-situations defender at the pro level.
Friedman speculates that the Winnipeg Jets, who suddenly have a massive need for both immediate and long-term defensive help, could be the top suitor for Mackey’s talents. However, the Minnesota Wild are surely keeping an eye on the nearby prospect, while the Chicago Blackhawks could also pursue the Illinois native. And that’s just three teams. With at least seven interested in October, it could be quite the pursuit later this season when Mackey moves on from Mankato and begins his pro career.