In college athletics, with rankings adjusted on a weekly basis, the glow of a National Championship only lasts as long as you keep winning. The UMass Minutemen found that out the hard way, debuting at No. 1 for the first time in program history but just two weeks later now sitting at No. 9. The team was swept in their opening week series with Minnesota State, who has taken the crown after opening at No. 4. UMass then did not play this past week, losing more votes as they were unable to bounce back right away. The Minutemen still sit ahead of Hockey East rival Providence College, who sits at No. 10 despite an NCAA-best 3-0-0 record, but the pressure is now on for UMass to pick up some wins if they want to remain in the top ten.
While (now) No. 1 Minnesota State and No. 9 UMass was far and away the highlight of the first week of college hockey action, there were more than a few other notable match-ups. No. 2 St. Cloud State played the bully role against St. Thomas in their Division I debut, recording 12 goals in game one and a shut out in game two. The star-studded No. 3 Michigan Wolverine won handily against Bowling Green in their opener, behind five points apiece from Owen Power (BUF) and Brendan Brisson (VGK).
Last week, a number of top teams collided in what marked the opening series many programs. It was hard to beat a clash of early favorites, as Minnesota State and St. Cloud State split their weekend series but stayed atop the rankings. No. 4 Minnesota was able to take home two wins easily against Mercyhurst, but No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth had a statement weekend, sweeping No. 20 Bemidji State. No. 6 Boston College and No. 8 Quinnipiac played to a tie, but Quinnipiac picked up a win the next night against No. 18 Northeastern. The surprise of the weekend was a sweep by No. 16 Michigan Tech of Wisconsin by a combined score of 10-3, vaulting the Huskies up the rankings and knocking the Badgers out.
This weekend, all eyes will be on Duluth as the host Bulldogs bring in Minnesota State, Michigan, and Providence for a mini-tournament of top-ten teams. No. 7 North Dakota will be tested by Bemidji State after picking up two easy wins last weekend, while St. Cloud and Minnesota will square off in a battle of undefeated top-five teams. Huskies super-senior goalie David Hrenak (LAK) has started all four games for St. Cloud and has a .961 save percentage and 0.84 GAA, making him quite possibly the most impressive player thus far in the young season and a pro-ready prospect to watch.
An Update On Alaska
Only one team from Alaska is taking part in the 2021-22 season, as Anchorage folded their program this summer leaving only Fairbanks to compete. Luckily, that will revert back next season. Anchorage announced in August that they had raised enough money to meet their fundraising goal for reinstating the team. The Sea Wolves will be back in action next year and are already closing in on a new coach, revealing three finalists late last month.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the NHL’s newest club, the Seattle Kraken, had a hand in raising money for Anchorage’s return. In doing so, they have built a strong relationship with the school and fans in the state. Friedman speculates that an outdoor game in Alaska, similar to the Lake Tahoe event last season, could be on the NHL’s slate before too long with the Kraken likely to host.
COVID Still Kicking Around
Though the expectation is that the COVID-19 pandemic will be much better controlled at all levels of hockey this season, the reality is that it is still likely to cause some issues. It didn’t take long for the virus to rear its ugly head at the college level. This weekend’s series between UMass Lowell and LIU has been postponed due to a breakout in the Sharks locker room. The two-game set has been changed to single games in November and February.
While LIU certainly hopes to get healthy in time to avoid further delays, it is the River Hawks who could feel the brunt of this delay. Just outside the top 20 in the initial rankings, Lowell dropped one of its first two games against Arizona State and then was off last week, losing several votes in the process. Another week off won’t help them in the rankings, but the team hopes to be fresh and ready to face Michigan State and Hockey East rival Boston University in their next two series.