Boston University is making headlines this season for all of the wrong reasons. One of the most talented teams on paper in all of college hockey, the Terriers fell to 4-5-5 on the season with a 4-0 shutout loss to Sacred Heart on Tuesday. The team received just two votes in the latest rankings and is well outside the Top 20 at this point in time. On top of that, BU has had three players receive game misconducts for dangerous hits over the past two weeks and head coach Albie O’Connell served a one-game suspension after a post-game outburst at a media member. There have been bright spots – the production of defenseman David Farrance (NSH) and freshman forward Trevor Zegras (ANA) for example – but by and large it has been a season to forget thus far for the Terriers. Their only hope at redemption may be to maintain their respectable conference record and make a run in the Hockey East Tournament later this season.
Now eight games into their season, No. 2 Cornell has yet to suffer their first loss. The Big Red are a perfect 8-0-0 after knocking off No. 6 Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Quinnipiac, and Princeton over the last two weeks. ECAC rival No. 9 Harvard is also undefeated at 6-0-0, picking up wins over Brown, Yale, and RPI. The Crimson have been scoring at an unbelievable rate, leading the NCAA with 5.5 goals per game – almost a full goal more than the next-best team, No. 7 Penn State. Harvard has been led by Casey Dornbach, who trails only NCAA leading scorer Jack Dugan (VGK) in points per game, and freshman defenseman Henry Thrun (ANA), who is tied with Dugan for the top plus/minus in college hockey at +14. Both Harvard and Cornell have also been stout defensively, among the top four ranked teams in goals against average.
Yet, the efforts of the Ivy Leagues have not (yet) been enough to move No. 1 Minnesota State from the top spot in the rankings. The Mavericks continued to roll through their opponents this past weekend with a two-game sweep of Alaska-Anchorage by a combined score of 10-1. The team’s 1.17 goals against average leads the NCAA and workhorse starter Dryden McKay also leads the category among individual keepers and is tops with a .951 save percentage as well.
Minnesota State has been impenetrable defensively so far, but they will be tested this week when they face in-state rival No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth. Duluth has finally looked mortal this season at 7-4-1, but they still sport a dangerous lineup, including the top scoring defenseman in college hockey, Scott Perunovic (STL). If any team left on the Mavericks schedule is going to knock them from the top spot in the rankings, it’s Duluth.
No. 5 Notre Dame is no longer undefeated after being blanked 3-0 by No. 19 Wisconsin back on November 15th and losing again against No. 20 Michigan State this weekend. They have now dropped behind No. 3 North Dakota and No. 4 Denver in the rankings, who actually clashed with one another two weeks ago. In a pair of tight games, the Fighting Hawks came away with a win and a tie against the Pioneers, likely giving them that edge in the rankings.
No. 15 UMass Lowell finally suffered their first conference loss against Connecticut two weeks ago, while No. 10 UMass, No. 12 Northeastern, No. 13 Providence, and No. 14 Boston College all have failed to move up the rankings. It has been an underwhelming season thus far from Hockey East, who has also seen Boston University disappoint and Maine fail to garner recognition from the voters.
Penn State and leading scorer Nate Sucese continue to roll, going 3-1 over the past two weeks and maintaining a lethal efficiency with their NCAA-best power play. Workhorse starter Peyton Jones is also tied with North Dakota’s Adam Scheel for the most wins so far this season. The Nittany Lions’ loss came against conference rival No. 11 Ohio State, who is knocking on the door of a top-ten spot with their own strong recent performance.
Ratzlaff Commits To Minnesota
While the Minnesota Gophers have been overshadowed by their Big Ten brethren so far this year, the team is adding promising future pieces. One such recent commitment comes from Minnesota high school star Jake Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff announced that he would staying at home to attend Minnesota. The Rosemount High captain is a big, right-handed two-way defenseman with considerable pro potential. In fact, Ratzlaff could push for first-round consideration this June.
While Ty Smilanic has garnered the most attention among college-bound draft prospects, that is partially due to the Quinnipiac commit playing on the U.S. National Development Team this season. Ratzlaff has not been under the same spotlight in the high school ranks, but he could still challenge Smilanic for his top NCAA prospect title. A rare combination of size and speed, not to mention a right shot, Ratzlaff will be a valued commodity. ISS ranked the blue liner at No. 30 in their initial draft rankings and another point-per-game season at Rosemount is only going to boost his draft stock.
Ratzlaff joins a growing group of elite recruits for the Gophers. The list now includes Rhett Pitlick (MTL), Aaron Huglen (BUF), Mike Koster (TOR), Brock Faber, and brothers John and Luke Mittelstadt, among other talented prospects. Minnesota may be off to a tough start this season, but the future is bright.
Alaska Athletics Safe (For Now)
The Alaska university system is facing severe budget cuts and for a time there was concern that intercollegiate athletics could be cut. In the small world of Division I college hockey, losing two teams in Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks would be a major blow. Fortunately, College Hockey News reports that the schools received confirmation of continued funding to participate in NCAA athletics through 2020-21. This is great news, for both the growth of college and hockey and also the preservation of the game in two relatively obscure markets.
However, the conversation about Alaska sports is far from over. Both Anchorage and Fairbanks rely on their hockey programs for revenue above all other sports. But with the WCHA set to dissolve, as seven member schools plan to leave to form their own conference ahead of the 2021-22 season, it could be that funding will be cut after one more year in anticipation of the hit that both programs could take from becoming independents. Both schools will have to begin cost-cutting measures, not only in hockey but in all sports, if they hope to retain athletics in the long run.