After Further Review ... November
by Tom Reale/CHN Correspondent
The holiday season is upon us, and there are just a few more weeks left until the mid-to-late December lull in the schedule. November has shown us a little bit more separation — we're starting to get a decent idea of who's legitimate and, well ... who the turkeys are.
Without further ado, the miscellany, the background, the utterly useless, and the truly intriguing about the month of November.
Top of the mountain: New Hampshire and Boston University certainly are putting their marks on the other members of Hockey East's "Big Four." Including wins over Maine and Boston College and a tie with Boston University this month, UNH is 7-3-2 since the beginning of last year against their main three rivals in regular season Hockey East play. BU is right there too, with a 7-2-2 record off of ties with UNH and Maine in November. Meanwhile, Maine (4-7-1) and BC (3-7-1) lag behind — and yet it was the Black Bears and the Eagles who faced off in last year's Hockey East title game and are coming off a trip to the Frozen Four.
November to remember: After kicking off the month with their fourth consecutive loss — dropping a tightly played game at Boston College on the game's only goal in the third period to fall to a 2-4-1 record — Vermont turned their season around rather quickly. After an exhibition win the next night, the Catamounts proceeded to blaze a trail through their early Hockey East schedule, knocking off Providence, BU, Merrimack, UMass, and Maine in succession. The five straight league wins are the longest in-league streak for UVM since a five-game stretch in their penultimate season of ECAC play in February 2004 which included a sweep at Clarkson and St. Lawrence. It is the longest winning streak for Vermont since they began life as a Hockey East member last season with a 7-game win streak, though the first six games were out of conference.
Misery index: American International has now lost each of their first 12 games so far this season (it did finally win, Dec. 1). Every other team in the nation has at least three wins and/or ties to their credit, and the Yellow Jackets have now gone two straight seasons without winning a game in October or November. Of note, only two of their 12 losses have taken place at home. Air Force's Eric Ehn, the nation's leading goal scorer, has 15 goals, which is the same number of goals that AIC has scored all season long, although Ehn had 4 more games in which to do it.
Defense wins championships?: With far-and-away the top goaltender in the nation and nearly the entire defensive corps returning after posting the No. 1 defensive numbers in the country, one could be forgiven for expecting more great things from the defending national champion Wisconsin Badgers. But that has clearly not been the case. Wisconsin still has a rather enviable defense — giving up only 2.25 goals per game as a team, good enough for seventh in the nation — but the lack of scoring has brought the Badgers down. The Badgers have already lost nine games in the first two months of the season — just one less than they lost in their entire championship campaign — because only Bowling Green, Merrimack and American International are scoring fewer goals per game than Wisconsin at 1.94 per game.
Seen this before: The history of the series between Rensselaer and Ohio State is fairly easy to sum up — the Engineers and Buckeyes have met three times, all three coming in the RPI Holiday Tournament in Troy, N.Y, and all three ending in a 5-5 tie, as happened in the consolation game of this year's tournament. The tournament, which is the longest continually-contested in-season tournament in the nation, was won later that evening by Niagara, which won its first in-season tournament since 2000.
You go, girl!: Mercyhurst's women's team — fresh off of big victories against Boston College and New Hampshire — are not only the new No. 1 team in the nation, it is the only Division I women's program which is actually outdrawing its men's counterpart. The Lakers have drawn an average crowd of 821 to the Mercyhurst Ice Center in six home dates so far this season (including a crowd of 1,287 who saw Mercyhurst defeat highly-touted Dartmouth 5-3), while the men's team has only drawn an average of 567 in the same number of home games, due in part to the Lakers' struggles during the first two months of the season. Mercyhurst has only three wins heading into December, its lowest total since moving to Division I.
Turning it around: The Seawolves of Alaska-Anchorage are turning heads in the WCHA for all of the right reasons. Alaska-Anchorage has already reached last season's win totals — four in WCHA play, six overall — after only 12 games. A season after Mark Smith and Eric Walsky tied for the team lead in scoring with 15 points each, senior Justin Bourne has 13 points already (5 goals, 8 assists) to mirror his production from all of last year, with sophomore Jay Beagle not far behind with 5-6—11, trumping his freshman year output. The Seawolves have already had goals from 16 different players and point contributions from all but two skaters. Home cooking has been the key to success for UAA; the team is 4-1-1 at home with a plus-10 goal differential, but 2-3-1 on the road with a minus-10 goal differential, although most of that stems from the 9-0 throttling the team took at Michigan Tech in October.
Faded ivy: Harvard is the current ECAC and Ivy League champion, but its reign is easily the most endangered in the country outside of Wisconsin's NCAA supremacy. The Crimson have spent much of November — realistically, their first month of play — making a repeat of the former unlikely and already putting themselves out of the running for a repeat of the latter. Starting off with an opening-night loss at Dartmouth on Oct. 27, Harvard has proceeded to lose once each to the remaining four Ivy League schools and now sits halfway through its Ivy schedule at 0-5, having already been eliminated from championship contention barring a six-way tie (Cornell leads the Ivy League at 4-1). In addition, with seven ECAC losses to their record already, the hard-luck Crimson have put themselves in perilous territory in defense of their league crown — only the '98 Princeton squad and the '02, '04 and '06 Crimson have claimed the Whitelaw Trophy with more in-league losses, and Harvard must still wade through 13 more games in the ECAC this season.
Going streaking: Minnesota's unbeaten streak sits at 14 (15 after Friday), although such streaks are not terribly uncommon these days in Minneapolis. To find the Gophers' last streak of such length, one only needs to travel back to January, when Minnesota came off a home loss to North Dakota to begin a 14-game unbeaten streak (13-0-1) which lasted for the rest of the regular season and the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The team then lost four straight contests before embarking on their current streak. If the Gophers can go unbeaten for just one more game, however, it'll be their longest unbeaten stretch since going 18-0-1 from mid-November 1995 to early February 1996.
Wait for us!: Other notable current unbeaten streaks include New Hampshire, whose eight-game streak (7-0-1, all in November) is its longest since the stretch run in 2003, a streak of 13 which ended with defeat in the national championship game. Denver, at seven straight (6-0-1), was also unbeaten through the month of November. St. Cloud State has a seven-game unbeaten streak (4-0-3) which is its longest since starting the 2003-04 season with an 8-0-1 record, while Niagara's 7-game streak (5-0-2) is their longest since October and November 2001.
Going the other way: AIC's lousy start notwithstanding, there are some other teams streaking in the wrong direction. For all of the struggles that the program has endured over the past several seasons, Bowling Green has lost six straight in the same season for the first time since November 1999. The Falcons have finished with a winning record in a decade, coming closest in 2004-05 with a break-even 16-16-4 season, and have endured four 20-loss seasons since their last 20-win campaign in 1996. BGSU is halfway to number five with 10 losses already this season. Northeastern has gone almost as long without a winning season — 1997-98 was their last — and Merrimack still has yet to post one in Division I after 17 years. With 8 and 10 losses respectively, things are not looking bright for either team to break the trend.
College Hockey Shown-up: Michigan has not fared well in the last few years of the College Hockey Showcase. The Wolverines have a 1-7-0 record over the last four years against Minnesota and Wisconsin, including four straight losses to the Gophers, and their only win coming this year against the Badgers. Arch-rival Michigan State has not fared much better, holding a 1-6-1 in the same time frame, also with four straight losses to Minnesota.
I'll show YOU: St. Cloud State's Dan Kronick spent his freshman and sophomore seasons with Minnesota-Duluth, racking up just three assists in 15 games as a Bulldog before transferring to the Huskies. In five games against his former team since, Kronick has put up six goals and six assists, including both first goals in the Thanksgiving weekend series between SCSU and UMD.
Those meddling kids: Several freshmen are leading their teams in scoring with two months in the books — St. Cloud State's Andreas Nodl (7-11—18), Quinnipiac's Brandon Wong (10-6—16), Denver's Brock Trotter (6-10—16), Canisius' Josh Heidinger (5-11—16), Western Michigan's Mark Letestu (5-9—14), Wisconsin's Michael Davies (5-6—11), St. Lawrence's Mike McKenzie (3-8—11), Yale's Sean Backman (7-2—9), and Michigan Tech's Alex Gagne (2-7—9). Harvard's Alex Biega (4-5—9) and Doug Rogers (2-7—9) are leading the Crimson as freshmen. In the case of Canisius, there are four freshmen at the top of the Golden Griffins' scoring sheet.
Circle the Date: December's Must See TV
December 2: Colorado College at Denver — The rivalry continues as the battle for early season bragging rights in the Centennial State ends on the back end of a home-and-home as the Pioneers and Tigers jockey for position near the top of the WCHA standings.
December 3: Vermont at New Hampshire — It's the New Hampshire offense (tops in the nation) against the Vermont defense (second-best in the nation) in a border battle between Hockey East's two hottest teams which could have lasting repercussions on each squad's immediate future.
December 5: St. Lawrence at Clarkson — It's just one rivalry after another in the beginning of December, and if you haven't experienced the small-town intensity of the Saints and the Knights, you've been missing out. With both teams among the top contenders in the ECAC, the intensity only grows.
December 8: Notre Dame at Michigan — Not as big of a rivalry in hockey ... yet. The Wolverines and Fighting Irish kick off a CCHA home-and-home series which features' the top defense in the nation in Notre Dame against Michigan's high-powered offensive attack.
December 9: Minnesota at Michigan Tech — Are they for real? The Huskies have ridden their defense, ranked third in the nation, to new heights, but the second-ranked offense of the Golden Gophers presents perhaps the greatest challenge they have faced this season as Michigan Tech and Minnesota finish a two-game set in Houghton.
December 29-30: Alaska at Alaska-Anchorage — The Governor's Cup rivalry reaches a fever pitch in the last weekend of 2006. The Seawolves took three points in the first collision in Fairbanks in October, but the Nanooks have been on a tear ever since, with a 4-1-3 record heading into December. Can UAA win their first Governor's Cup since 2001?