While the college hockey season has been underway for a full month, this weekend marks a momentous return to the game for a number of schools. The Ivy Leagues are finally back, getting started on Friday night with their first games in 19 months. Not since before the 2019-20 NCAA Tournament was cancelled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have some of these historic programs graced the ice, as the Ivy League schools cancelled all sports last year. The decision left the ECAC, home to all six Ivy League men’s hockey participants, with just half of its teams, cost the Ivy League’s a number of their players and recruits, and left the college ranks without some of its best programs and players. That is all in the past now, as play has resumed for Ivy League elite. No. 15 Harvard and No. 16 Cornell have maintained their preseason top-20 spots despite the late start based purely on high expectations. The Crimson will jump right into conference play against Dartmouth on Friday, while the Big Red host Alaska. Princeton, who has also received some votes in the national rankings, opens on the road against Army, while Brown and Yale get started against one another. It’s good to have all of those teams back.
After falling just short of a National Championship last year and seeing three other teams in the top spot this season other than them, the now-No. 1 St. Cloud Huskie finally got tired of playing second fiddle. After No. 2 Michigan impressed two weeks ago but came back to earth last weekend and dropped the top ranking, St. Cloud was happy to take over. The team sits at 6-2-0 on the year, but one of those losses was a controversial overtime decision against No. 7 Minnesota two weekends ago, just one night after they handily beat the Gophers. St. Cloud then dominated the Wisconsin Badgers last week. The Huskies have proven themselves, but now comes the new challenge of holding on to the throne as opposed to chasing it.
The Wolverines still remain the biggest threat and few are regretting making them the off-season title favorite. In the in-season Ice Breaker tournament in Duluth, Michigan took down both the host, No. 4 Minnesota Duluth, and No. 3 Minnesota State, then the top team in the rankings, and did so in convincing fashion. They faced some cross-state kryptonite last weekend in No. 12 Western Michigan, suffering a loss in game one and needing OT to take game two. However, the star-studded Wolverines have shown they can skate with anyone and are still a top contender.
The Bulldogs shook off their loss to Michigan, picking up a win against an outmatched No. 8 Providence College (who also lost to Minnesota State) in the Ice Breaker and then sweeping rival Minnesota last weekend. Give the Gophers credit for their strength of schedule though, facing Duluth and St. Cloud in their past four games. Providence also got some strength of schedule credit in the latest voting and didn’t hurt their case with wins over No. 11 Denver and New Hampshire last weekend.
Amidst all the in-fighting between the other top-ten teams, No. 5 Quinnipiac and No. 6 North Dakota have flown under the radar and lander quietly into prime positions. The Bobcats and Fighting Hawks squared off with each other last weekend and by splitting the series somehow each got a boost in the rankings. North Dakota also split their prior series with No. 17 Bemidji, but a 4-2-0 record against some top competition is enough to get them to No. 6.
Speaking of quiet contenders, who had No. 10 Nebraksa-Omaha as sharing the best winning percentage in the NCAA with Michigan at this point in the season? The 5-1-0 Mavericks were off last weekend and may have only beaten Alaska the weekend before, but they’ll take a top-ten spot by whatever means they can get it.
The season really starts to take off this weekend, not only for the Ivy Leagues making their debuts but for a number of top teams like Quinnipiac, Western Michigan, the defending champs No. 12 UMass, No. 18 Michigan Tech, and a number of other teams who have four or fewer games played so far this season and still haven’t shown exactly what they can be.
The Other Savoie
The 2021-22 season was supposed to be all about Matthew Savoie. The star center for the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice is a consensus top-five pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and could easily go as high as second overall in July. His 16 points in 11 games thus far is tied for third-best in the WHL.
Yet, not to be outdone is older brother. Carter Savoie is off to a torrid start to his NCAA season and, though far too early to be worth much weight, might just be the current Hobey Baker favorite. The Denver winger, a fourth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2020, has taken a major step forward in his sophomore year. Savoie recorded 20 points in 24 games as a freshman, getting off to a very solid start to his college career. Through six games this season though, Savoie already has 12 points, more than half of last year’s total and one assist shy of his 24-game mark from last season. Savoie’s six goals are the same has his younger brother, but in nearly half as many games. Savoie currently leads the NCAA in points per game and is tied for fourth in plus/minus. He sits tied for third in overall scoring, but only trails those with two more games played than he has and is remarkably the only player in the country with 12+ points from a ranked team or who is a plus player.
Right now, Savoie looks like the most dangerous scorer in college hockey. He could end up being an x-factor come tournament time for the current No. 11 team in the country too. Denver should cherish it while it lasts though; at this rate, Savoie will score his way right to Edmonton next season. A team that can always use affordable secondary scoring, Savoie is on pace for a season that will make him a contender for an Oilers roster spot next year. Will all of this be enough for the older brother to steal the spotlight from his younger brother? Wait and see.
While National Signing Day is right around the corner on November 10, most players make verbal commitments long before signing an NLI and most of those commitments stick. There has been a flurry of such news of late, some of which will become official in a couple and some that is for further down the road, but all of which is worth monitoring.
While the biggest recruiting news of the recent stretch was USNTDP standout and likely top-16 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Rutger McGroarty, committing to Michigan. However, he was far from the only draft prospect to do so of late. The following are recent commits that are all not only eligible for the 2022 Draft, but are likely to hear their names called at some point: Alex Bump (Vermont), George Fegaras (Cornell), Quinn Finley (Wisconsin), Gibson Homer (Arizona State), and Dylan Silverstein (Boston College). The latter is the most notable addition; Silverstein is currently a teammate of McGroarty’s on the USNTDP, the starting goalie for the elite development club. He now heads to a program that has been producing top young NHL goalies with regularity. Silverstein is not expected to be one of the top two or three netminders selected in July, but after his time at BC he could be a polished, pro-ready prospect in goal.
Western Michigan skipped the draft hype and grabbed a player who has already been drafted. Defenseman Samuel Sjolund, a fourth-round pick of the Dallas Stars this year, has committed to join the Broncos. The two-way blue liner is an import from Sweden who is just beginning his first season in the USHL, but already has three points and a +3 rating in eight games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, where he’s playing alongside several other NHL prospects and NCAA commits. Western Michigan is not known for collecting NHL talent, with just two drafted players on the roster right now, but has been a growing program in recent years and made a statement last weekend against their powerhouse neighbors in Ann Arbor. Sjolund is joining a program that is ready to make some noise at a championship level before too long.