We’re three weeks into the college hockey season, and though it’s way too early to think about the Frozen Four, we’ve seen some teams emerge, others fall back and some intriguing trends. Here are three teams trending upward, three trending downward and three other thoughts.
1. Wisconsin: The Badgers (3-1) put a thumping on two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth in a 6-2, 3-1 sweep in Madison over the weekend, and Wisconsin’s high-end talent was on display. The line of Linus Weissbach, Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield combined for four goals and six assists in the series. The Badgers, who jumped from No. 17 to No. 6 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll after the sweep, are host to No. 13 Clarkson this weekend.
2. Denver: The Pioneers (6-0) entered the weekend as the nation’s top-ranked team and didn’t disappoint in sweeping Boston College 3-0 and 6-4. Tyson McLellan had a hat trick in the opener, and defenseman Ian Mitchell (three goals, four assists in six games) and freshman Bobby Brink (3-3-6) of Minnetonka have been two of the stars so far for the Pioneers.
3. Northern Michigan: Coach Grant Potulny’s Wildcats dropped their opener to Michigan State but are 2-0-1 since, with a 4-4 tie fueled by a three-goal, third-period rally and a 4-3 win at Boston University. A Nov. 8-9 visit from St. Cloud State should serve as an interesting gauge for Northern.
1. Minnesota Duluth: It’s way too early to panic over the Bulldogs’ 1-3 start, because history tells us that this veteran group will be a national force come March. Still, the two losses at Wisconsin had to be frustrating for a team that’s used to locking games down. The home-and-home series against the Gophers this weekend and Denver’s visit on Nov. 8-9 suddenly have grown in importance.
2. Union: Though the Dutchmen lost a pair of one-goal games to Northeastern the previous weekend, they took it on the chin at Massachusetts, falling 6-1 and 5-0. Union (0-6) has been outscored 25-9 this season.
3. Western Michigan: A preseason pick by coaches to finish third in the rugged NCHC, the Broncos (1-2-1) dropped a pair of 2-1 games to Bowling Green in a home-and-home series. That came a week after they beat the Falcons 5-2 in the Ice Breaker Tournament. A home-and-home against in-state rival Michigan is next.
Three other thoughts
1. That was some high-end hockey at the Mankato Civic Center last weekend, when Minnesota State tied North Dakota 4-4 behind Nathan Smith’s four-point game on Friday and beat the Fighting Hawks 2-1 as Marc Michaelis had a goal and an assist on Saturday. The Mavericks (3-0-1) are living up to their No. 2 national ranking, while UND (2-1-1) is showing that it’s ready to end a two-year NCAA tournament drought.
2. You’ve got to feel good for the Alaska Nanooks. Over the summer, they found out that seven WCHA schools are leaving the conference after the 2020-21 season, leaving the Nanooks, Alaska Anchorage and Alabama Huntsville without a home. Then, the state’s budget turmoil threatened their existence. But on Friday, a day after the Nanooks fell 7-0 at Penn State, they blanked the Nittany Lions 4-0. Alaska is 3-3 and sits in 10th in the very early PairWise Ratings.
3. Speaking of PairWise, the Gophers (3-1) sit at No. 6 in that mathematical formula. And they moved into the USCHO poll at No. 20 following their sweep of Niagara. We’ll know a lot more about the team soon enough, starting with the home-and-home against UMD, then series against Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and North Dakota.