Thanks for stopping by to talk college hockey with us this afternoon. Lots of great questions rolling in, feel free to send yours along. We'll be taking them for at least a half hour, probably longer with these good topics to discuss.
Vermont finally showed they had a heart beat last weekend taking 3 out of a possible 4 points from Providence. Do they have any chance of splitting vs Maine and holding on to the 8th spot in HE? Could a strong finish and getting into the HE playoffs take some of the sting out of this season?
I think making the playoffs is a pretty basic minimum expectation when determining if the season is a success, if Vermont's not in the Hockey East tournament, it hasn't been a good year. I'm having trouble figuring out these Catamounts. Saw some things I really liked from them this year but they haven't gotten on a roll at any point.
I've heard rumblings that Toronto may bid on a Frozen Four, which would be a good thing in my opinion. What other traditional or new locations would you like to see bid on a future Frozen Four?
Toronto would be a great site for a Frozen Four -- it's the center of the hockey universe with the Hall of Fame being there and the media. My top off-the-beaten-path Frozen site in addition to Toronto would be Nashville -- it's a pretty good hockey town and college fans would LOVE it. Some people seem to want to give New York or Chicago a try, but I'm not so sure the Frozen would register much more than a tiny blip on the radar in those cities.
Do you see Maine making the tournament? They have 6 games left, two home games against UVM, 2 away games at UMASS and UMASS-Lowell, and two home games against Merrimack.
Maine's an interesting case right now. First off, they've got to play better than they are right now. After that win against BC, three losses and two ties. The schedule gets a little less-strenuous in these coming weeks. I'd like for Maine to win at least four of these remaining six regular season games, then win a first round playoff series and a game at the Hockey East championship weekend. That still might not be enough to get them in.
Is it time to stick a fork in Clarkson or can they turn it around a make a run to get to the ECAC semis?
I got a pretty good look at Clarkson last weekend on two consecutive nights (Knights?) and their biggest problem right now is that they lack any sort of finish around the net. Nobody is really coming through with big goals, even though the team is probably generating enough chances to win the games that it's in. They won't be an easy out in the playoffs, for sure, but it's going to be tough to get to Atlantic City because the top half of the league is so strong this season.
And I'm happy we can help you get through that conference call.
what are the chances of Chase (Polacek) playing at the next level with his last 2 season at RPI and how well his play impoved over the last few seasons?
Here's the thing about Chase Polacek to me, he makes goals happen. Either in setting them up, getting shots to the net, or scoring them himself ... that's a coveted attribute in hockey at all levels. He's taken great strides to improve his defensive zone play, discipline and consistency and I'm sure that scouts are taking notice. NHL is probably a bit optimistic for now, but he could be a really good American Hockey League guy because of what he brings to the table. Maybe a good comparison is Brett Sterling (ex-Colorado College).
What's your opinion of the off ice incidents that have been happening at NoDak these past couple of seasons? I know kids will be kids and they are going to have a little fun, but c'mon.
I'm not sure that what goes on at North Dakota doesn't happen with every other program in the country ... well, maybe not Army or Air Force. The difference is that the Fighting Sioux hockey players are the most high-profile athletes (and one could argue the most high-profile residents) of that state. They're always in the public eye, so when something happens, it gets reported. That's not to say those players aren't guilty of poor judgment, but that environment is different from just about every other program in the nation because of its stature in the community and the state.
Keith Kinkaid. Most underrated goalie in the country?
I don't like those words, under-rated. Stack up the statistics, you rate where you rate. I think you're referring to maybe under-appreciated or less-well-known and I'd certainly categorize Union's goalie Keith Kinkaid with those terms. He's one of the best in the nation from what I've seen and plays with a great team. Not too long ago Union did a lot of things well and was maybe slowed down a bit by shaky goaltending. That's not the case anymore. Kinkaid is legit.
... and a comment from Brian regarding a Chicago Frozen Four.
A Frozen Four in Chicago involving Michigan, Michigan State or Notre Dame (and to a lesser extent Miami) would be a huge draw due to the large amounts of alumni in the city. But absent some of those midwest teams, I think you're right, in that the event wouldn't register as it might elsewhere.
Hey quick question. Given the senior leadership and playoff experience of my boys here, do you think they can rid themselves of the Curse of the Chief and make another deep run into April, hopefully this time avoiding a team from Boston? Certainly seem to have the talent, is it just a story of not putting together 60 minute games?
You hit the nail on the head about not putting together 60-minute games. I can't remember the exact number, but Miami has lost a bunch of games this season in which it has held leads, which is uncharacteristic for them. Given the talent, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them in St. Paul in April, but the defensive intensity and focus seems to be lacking this year.
To what degree do you guys use performances from prior seasons when doing Hobey voting even though it is technically just for this year (aka the Chris Drury rule)? For example, would someone like John Muse or Cam Atkinson catch a break over someone with better stats (Thompson?) because they have done it before on a big stage and perhaps will again?
Both Mike and I used to vote for that award (there are three-year terms for media voters) and I can speak for both of us that we haven't used past season's performance as a significant factor when submitting our final ballots. Where that does help is in getting some familiarity with a candidate outside of the region. When Cam Atkinson shows up this year, people from across the country will remember how he played at last year's Frozen Four. Same sort of thing with Chase Polacek at RPI, people will remember the name because he was a top-10 finalist last year. It helps get them into the discussion, more than in the discussion itself.
Think any AHA team has a chance to cause some damage in the tourney this year like RIT last year? Niagara with their scoring, RIT with their goalie Maladora (still unbeaten) or Bobby Mo?
Good question, and yes. It's been proven in the past and I think holds true again this year. There's no automatic win in the NCAAs against the Atlantic Hockey representative. You mention relative strengths of Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris. Don't forget about Air Force. They played RIT tough last weekend. They'll be dangerous in the league tournament.
Is Western Michigan good enough to go on the road to Oxford this weekend and Ann Arbor next week and come away with 2 splits (or better)?
I wouldn't put anything past Western Michigan. Talking with James V. Dowd, our CCHA correspondent earlier today, I mentioned that just when you're ready to write off WMU, they string together a few wins and start looking good. These next three weeks--series at Miami, Michigan, and home and home with Notre Dame--are probably the biggest weeks in Bronco hockey in maybe 25 years.
What prospect should I be excited to see coming to NHL next year from the NCAA?
I'll go in a two-part answer here ... it's a tough question, because a lot of it depends on the the team that owns a player's rights or signs him as a free agent, and whether said team is willing to give them a good chance to earn playing time. Former Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer, now with the Boston Bruins, is a perfect example.
That said, there are quite a few college free agents who could be quite productive in the right situation -- UNH's Paul Thompson, RPI's Chase Polacek, Andy Miele and Carter Camper of Miami, Stephane Da Costa at Merrimack, Duluth's Mike Connolly ... all are proven performers at the college level.
... and that doesn't even include the current college players whose draft rights are already held by NHL teams.
HUGE matchup betweeen Merrimack and UNH this weekend (who would have predicted that one?). Who do you think has the most to gain/lose in the home and home series?
I think Merrimack has the most to gain. Even though they've had a tremendous year and a number of big wins, I get the sense there are still some observers that want to see a little more from the upstart Warriors. A split or better vs. UNH will validate what they've done so far and really solidify their claim for an NCAA Tournament berth. UNH is still chasing the Hockey East regular-season title. I think these games mean something to them in terms of sheer standings points, get as much as you can before the final weekend of the season against BC.
Is DU a dark horse to win it all this year?
Can a top-five team really be a dark horse? It's scary to think that this Denver team -- assuming it can keep all the high-end talent from turning pro -- is probably a year or two from reaching its ceiling. Sure, they could win it all, but I think the first period of last Friday's game at Colorado College might be one reason they won't; that's as big of a regular-season game as those kids will play, and they weren't mentally prepared at all and got blitzed early.
What are your thoughts on the WCHA and the Wisconsin Badgers chances of making a run to the Frozen Four???
I am a UW student who lives and dies with the Badgers. Not too many teams are hotter than Wisconsin, having won 12 of their last 13. Can the Badgers make a legitimate title run again this year?
Thanks for checking in Nate and Kyle. Badgers are doing what they need to do. We like that they're taking care of business. We'd like to see some bigger wins, although they can't really control the timing and scheduling. So far, Wisconsin has just been OK against the nation's better teams. You've got to be better than OK to make it to the Frozen Four.
Do you think Air Force can continue to make some noise around the league this year?
I liked what Air Force did last week against RIT on the road, and I liked that they came back and got a point after a big deficit in the second game that weekend. There are about 10 juniors and seniors on this roster that have seen some very successful years out there and have been part of winning in the NCAA Tournament. I'm not counting them out of anything in Atlantic Hockey down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Will the recently hot Seawolves of Alaska, (with Atlanta native Chris Kamal in goal) be able to take any points from the Sioux this weekend at the Ralph or do you see a sioux sweep? Taylor Dickin makes his UND debut tonight btw...
Alaska Anchorage is a tough team to play against. Critics might argue against the Seawolves' conservative style, but it works for them. They're disciplined and limit scoring chances and shots-against. I wouldn't be surprised to see UAA maybe get a tie one of the nights, especially if Kamal is on his game. North Dakota's talent level is higher, even without Genoway and Kristo, but UAA is really tough and playing well recently.
Cornell had been playing well of late after a horrific start. Any prediction with respect to their games this weekend at Union and RPI? No need to discuss Colgate's chances this weekend against the same opponents as they have been an embarrassment this year.
Cornell is playing its best hockey of the year, no doubt about it. Things are starting to go the Big Red's way and they're scoring a little more frequently. Tyler Roeszler got hot and other guys have picked up their play (Joe Devin, Greg Miller). Both Union and RPI are especially good at home and I think they're better teams. And Colgate's record isn't where the Raiders would like it to be, but they haven't embarrassed themselves and have had pretty good efforts throughout the season.
What would a sweep for Wisconsin this weekend against UNO do for the "eyes" at INCH?
I feel bad for downplaying the Badgers--they did lose a ton of talent from last year's Frozen Four team and still have 19 wins--but having just one win against a team with a record better than .500 certainly stands out. Sweeping UNO, a solid top-20 team, in a hostile environment would certainly beef up their resume in my eyes. But credit to Wisconsin for beating the teams it's supposed to beat.
Does UNH have a really good shot at winning a national championship?
This year, I'd say they're in the conversation. There are so many good teams and unless it's your very-best performance you can get bounced from the NCAAs really quickly. I liked UNH's goaltending early. I like their scoring depth and I like their experience. They were in the regional final last year and fell short against RIT. The returning players can make that next step. Once you're at the Frozen Four, anything can happen.
Your take on Bowling Green and if it will ever get back to respectability, let alone its nice run in the mid-'90s?
Bowling Green can absolutely get back to respectability -- it wasn't that long ago that Miami and Notre Dame were downtrodden. The good news is the Falcons are committed to renovating their arena and the prominent hockey alums are getting behind the effort of improving the program. If they can get better players in there -- and I think they can -- they'll become a competitive program in the CCHA.
Any teams outside of the Top 10 that you see coming on strong late in the season and making a run at the Frozen Four?
Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin are all outside of the top 10 in this week's INCH Power Rankings, and I think you could make a strong case for any of those teams having Frozen Four potential. I gravitate toward Notre Dame, but only if sophomore goalie Mike Johnson becomes more consistent down the stretch. The Irish have the scoring depth and with Jeff Jackson behind the bench, they may also have the best tactician in the country.
Great chat this week, thanks for all of the great questions. For the INCH Podcast fans, we'll be publishing the next one Monday morning in conjunction with the INCH Power Rankings so you can look forward to that. Enjoy the weekend of college hockey.