The University of Minnesota is one of the more storied programs in college hockey history and Minnesota-Duluth has appeared in each of the past three NCAA Championship Games, winning the last two. But is this finally the year of Minnesota State? The Mavericks are the No. 1 team in the nation and sport an 8-1-1 record through their first two games. Minnesota State has been impressively stingy, allowing just 1.30 goals per game behind the efforts of Dryden McKay and his .946 save percentage. Forward Marc Michaelis and defenseman Connor Mackey have also impressed early on. However, the concern, as it is every year for Minnesota State, is competition and whether their WCHA schedule can properly prepare them for the national tournament. The team is playing great and could very extend their current .800 winning percentage through the whole regular season, but will they be ready when the competition heats up this spring? Minnesota State has never made it to the National Championship nevertheless taken home the title, but they hope to change that this season.
Oftentimes, a team is only as good as it’s goaltending. That has been the case thus far for two of the most talented rosters in college hockey, as No. 15 Wisconsin and now-unranked Boston University are enduring surprising struggles this season that start in net. After sweeping No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth in October, the Badgers looked ready to make good on the high expectations placed on their young, highly-skilled squad. However, they ran into No. 8 Penn State two weeks ago and dropped both road games by a combined score of 10-3. To make matters worse, they also fell to Nebraska-Omaha this past weekend in a major upset. Starting goaltender Daniel Lebedeff has an .887 save percentage in ten games and his struggles have only been exasperated by a lack of support defensively for a team relying too heavily on freshmen Alex Turcotte (LAK) and Cole Caufield (MTL). But at least they’re not BU. The Terriers currently sit at 2-3-4 after failing to pick up a win in the past two weeks, going 0-2-2 against the University of Maine and No. 10 Providence College. Starter Sam Tucker has not played his best, but it’s backup Vinnie Purpura who has proven to be totally unreliable thus far for a BU team that simply needs more out of everyone – other than maybe red-hot Trevor Zegras (ANA). Things don’t get easier for the Terriers either, as they face No. 5 UMass in a home-and-home this weekend.
At the other end of the spectrum is No. 12 UMass Lowell, who has had a number of games stolen by the stellar play of senior keeper Tyler Wall (NYR). It’s hard to argue that Wall, the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week for three weeks running, is not the best goalie in the NCAA thus far and a possibly Hobey Baker candidate if the River Hawks continue to move up the rankings. The team already has the designation being the only Hockey East team without a conference loss after sweeping the University of Vermont and getting a win and a tie against another impressive goaltender, Jeremy Swayman (BOS) and the Maine Black Bears to stay undefeated in college hockey’s toughest conference. With freshman forward Matt Brown tied for third in the country with 15 points as well, UMass Lowell is looking strong early this season. Remove a puzzling loss and tie against Colgate and this could be a top-five team.
Two weeks back, No. 4 Notre Dame managed to escape a hard-fought weekend series with the University of Minnesota with a win and a tie, but there was some doubt about whether they could stay undefeated as they were set to go up against No. 11 Ohio State. After all, the Buckeyes had just completed a sweep of the rival Wolverines of the University of Michigan and were riding high. Yet, the Fighting Irish remained perfect by edging out back-to-back one-goal wins over Ohio State.
The other two undefeated teams in the nation hail from the ECAC, as No. 3 Cornell and No. 13 Harvard got their seasons started two weeks ago and have remained perfect thus far. Cornell picked up wins over Michigan State (twice), Brown, and Yale by a combined score of 19-7, with Morgan Barron (NYR) leaping to the league lead in points per game with five goals and five assists in four games. Meanwhile, three members of the Crimson recorded six points apiece and Mitchell Gibson (WAS) allowed two goals on 65 shots as Harvard picked up wins over Dartmouth, Princeton, and the previously-ranked Quinnipiac.
And what of former top seed Denver? After easily disposing of Niagara, the Pioneers suffered their first loss against rival Minnesota-Duluth this past weekend and managed a tie in the other game of the series. Denver falls back to No. 2 in the rankings, but could re-take the top spot from Minnesota State if they can survive upcoming series with No. 9 North Dakota and No. 20 Western Michigan.
While game results have been up and down for No. 10 Providence College, now 5-3-2 on the year, the consistent has been scoring. The architect of the nation’s most prolific offense has undoubtedly been sophomore sensation Jack Dugan (VGK). At 24 points on the year, Dugan is already 60% of the way toward surpassing his 39 total points from last year and has done it in less than 25% of the games. Not only that, he is also miles ahead of where leading scorers were last season. No player in the NCAA hit 24 points until December last year, whereas Dugan is already there. If Providence was to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and Dugan was to keep up this torrid pace, 100 points could potentially come into play. No one in college hockey has cracked the hundred-point mark since Maine’s Paul Kariya in 1992-93, so Dugan would be joining elite company. Yet, even if Dugan’s production falls off or the Friars are one-and-done in the tournament, the Golden Knights’ prospect still stands a realistic chance of being the highest scoring playing in the NCAA since the turn of the century – he would need just 83 points to claim that title.
Dugan’s play is also having obvious effects on his teammates. The NCAA leader in assists with 19, Dugan’s helpers are feeding the likes of Tyce Thompson (NJD) and Greg Printz. Thompson sits alone in second in the college hockey points race with 16, including eight goals, which is tied for second in the NCAA. It’s Printz’ nine goals that lead the way, and his 13 total points have him inside the top ten.
The problem for Providence right now is that they are leaning too much on their top line and getting too little from their other nine forwards and six defensemen. If the hot streak does start to cool for Dugan and company, the Friars could be in trouble.
National Signing Week
National Letters of Intent have been sent out to athletes all over the globe as today marked their first opportunity to officially commit to play college athletics. Here are some of the intriguing early names headed for NCAA hockey:
- The aforementioned Friars have had a big day. Providence College picked up a commitment from Kimball Union Academy’s Tomas Mazura (EDM), a sixth-round pick of the Oilers in June, as well as Chase Yoder and Brett Berard of the U.S. National Development Program.
- Others made official by the USNTDP: Luke Tuch, Drew Commesso, and Dylan Peterson to Boston University, Eamon Powell to Boston College, Tyler Kleven and Jake Sanderson to North Dakota, Daniel Laatsch to Wisconsin, and Brock Faber to Minnesota. Top scorer and rising first-round talent Thomas Bordeleau had previously committed to Michigan.
- Former BU Terrier Mark Cheremeta is headed back to school next year and joining Ohio State. The Florida native recorded just three points as freshman last season with Boston University, but has re-discovered his game in the USHL with eleven points in eleven games and is ready to try again in the NCAA.
- Chong Min Lee will make history when he suits up for the University of Alaska-Anchorage next year. Lee will be just the second Korean-born player to ever play Division I hockey, following in the footsteps of Kyuin Shim, who played for Northern Michigan University in 1992-93. Shim didn’t last long in the NCAA, so Lee, a standout in the BCHL, is likely trying to emulate Richard Park instead, the only Korean-born player to play in the NHL.