Division I hockey teams in the NCAA use the USCHO.com poll for their weekly rankings. Unlike college football’s media poll, it seems as if not enough time and effort go into each pick the various media members make.
“It’s the kind of thing you fill out on a Sunday evening between the 4:15 NFL games and Sunday Night Football by seeing who won over the past few days and, maybe, who they beat,” columnist Ryan Lambert shared on College Hockey News in October.
Being around the college hockey world for the past four years, this is something I have been fully aware of. To change that, I thought I would start sharing a list of the best college hockey teams right now, from my point of view.
Massachusetts (Hockey East)
The Minutemen took a step back in their quest to get back to the Frozen Four when they fell to Northeastern early in the season, but they responded with a vengeance this past weekend. A rematch series against the Huskies brought back the dominance we had gotten used to last year from UMass, including a game one 6-3 victory that saw five consecutive goals from UMass.
Minnesota State (WCHA)
Bowling Green fans saw first-hand the damage Minnesota State-Mankato can do over the weekend. The Mavericks did drop game one in overtime for their first loss of the season, but responded strong the following night in a 5-1 win.
The latter half of that weekend series was a clear indication of how far ahead Mankato is compared to the rest of the WCHA at this time. The Falcons gave it their all on Friday, but just couldn’t keep up on Saturday. Junior defenseman Connor Mackey basically confirmed his NHL potential with some of the plays he made. He’s a game-changer on their blueline that could be part of a large scheduled departure from the Mavericks graduating class.
Granted, Alaska-Fairbanks is showing they have improved this year, but when looking at how the previous season turned out for the Pioneers, their opening series against the Nanooks was as unimpressive as a sweep could be. Denver is on its way back to the top, not as the USCHO poll would have you believe. A powerful sweep against a somewhat overrated Boston College team is a step in the right direction.
Freshman Bobby Brink, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, has put on a show for them. His four goals in eight games leads the team.
Ohio State (Big Ten)
The IceBreaker Tournament champion, Ohio State Buckeyes, have proven themselves thus far to be a strong defensive team. They have yet to give up more than two goals in a single game and are holding on to a 6-1-1 record. After a season-opening game against Western Michigan where they were heavily outshot, the Buckeyes have turned things around which makes the performance of Tommy Nappier in net credible and, quite possibly, sustainable.
He has only faced 215 shots up to this point, but his 1.64 GAA and .940 SV% are out-of-this-world good. The problem will be whenever the regression comes. Nappier will come back down to earth in time, but will his offense be available to support him?
Minnesota Duluth (NCHC)
The defending national champions have been off to an inconsistent start this year, when compared to last year’s eight-game win streak in their first 10 games. They certainly lost their footing when they ran into Cole Caufield and the Wisconsin Badgers on Oct. 18 and 19, when they allowed nine total goals on the weekend. They’ll face an even tougher test when they welcome Denver for their next series.
Notre Dame (Big Ten)
Competition has not been strong enough for the Fighting Irish to determine if their ranking is justified. They have been able to easily handle teams they’re expected to win against, which is an underrated quality in college hockey given the variables that could change on a night-to-night basis.
Their next stint in their schedule will be the real barometer for their success this year. Wisconsin, Ohio State and Bowling Green are all on the horizon for Notre Dame. Each opponent brings a different style of game they’ll have to adjust to in a short period of time.
UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
Matt Brown, Carl Berglund, Andre Lee and Zach Kaiser make up a stellar freshman group for the River Hawks. The foursome has combined for 13 goals and 31 points, which contribute to the highest-scoring freshman group in the nation.
Between the pipes, Tyler Wall has been an intimidating presence. Playing in all but one game so far this year, Wall has stacked his pads and held his posts strong—arguably winning his team a game against Minnesota-Duluth.
It may be too early to tell if the hype surrounding Cornell is justified, but they are off to a good start. A sweep of Michigan State showed they are capable of domination when needed, or better yet, expected.
Penn State (Big Ten)
A shutout loss to Alaska-Fairbanks is a huge blemish for them considering the conference they are in, but the Nittany Lions shutdown a high-powered Wisconsin offense and limited the freshman phenom Caufield to only one goal on the weekend.
Cole Hults has been a stellar blueliner who continues to push the play at the quarterback position in the offensive zone.
North Dakota (NCHC)
Almost beating Mankato, the Fighting Hawks were the biggest test to the Mavericks before Bowling Green came around. Jacob Bernard-Docker, who had a four point night against Canisius, creates so much offense for NoDak on the back end. He looks like he could be a stellar draft pick for the Ottawa Senators.
They’ve been outplayed at times, and outshot for the most part, but the Golden Knights are a team that could hang with any team in college hockey. The depth of their roster and defensive scheme make for aggressive play which cashes in when their opponents make a mistake.
Adam Fox and John Marino may have left for the NHL, but the Crimson are tapped to be a quality hockey team this year. It will certainly be interesting to see how long Harvard can last without the aforementioned standouts, but defensemen Jack Rathbone and Henry Thrun are more than capable of starting a scoring chance from their own zone on a breakout.
Western Michigan (NCHC)
The Broncos have really stumbled out of the gate, but there is still so much quality to their roster that is hard to overlook. They were by far the best team that the 2019 IceBreaker Tournament and have the potential to be a fast-paced, high-octane offense. Hugh McGing, Wade Allison and Dawson DiPietro are three guys that can cycle the puck around the opposition until their heads spin. Freshman defenseman Ronnie Attard is a force as well, showing that he can collect points at the collegiate level. The record here (3-3-2), in my opinion, is not indicative of how good the team is.