ASNetminding: Don’t miss the goal UAH coach wishes he had

FRIDAY ON ASN: Alaska Fairbanks at Alabama Huntsville, 8 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

There are goals you can appreciate no matter which bench you’re sitting on.

Drake Caggiula’s goal against Alabama Huntsville on Saturday night was one even Chargers coach Mike Corbett appreciated.

With the score tied at 1 and North Dakota shorthanded, Caggiula pulled in the the puck near center ice, turned and skated in and across the circle in front of UAH sophomore defenseman Cody Champagne, who missed at poking the puck away while Caggiula sent it past him on the left side, pulled his stick over his head and passed him on the right, cutting back across UAH goalie Carmine Guerriero and tucking the puck past Guerriero’s stick side.

Corbett grinned when asked about the play following his team’s 4-1 loss.

“That’s one I’m hoping you’re not putting on ESPN right now,” he said to a nearby camerman. “That was the best player on the ice making a great play. … I told him that was one I unfortunately got the worst seat in the house for. I wish I was sitting up in one of the suites watching it.”

The play made SportsCenter’s Plays of the Day on Saturday night.

Tournament measuring sticks

Last season Hockey East finished inter-conference play with a .500 record or better against every other conference in men’s Division I college hockey.

It turned out to be a pretty good measuring stick come tournament time with Providence earning a 4-3 win over Hockey East rival Boston University to win the Frozen Four national title.

The NCHC, which had a .646 winning percentage against every other league except Hockey East (8-12-1, .405), landed North Dakota and Omaha in the Frozen Four and six of its eight teams made the NCAA Tournament.

The NCHC leads all conferences again this season in inter-league play with a 43-23-9 record and a .633 winning percentage. However, like last season, the NCHC is just 5-11-6 against Hockey East and just 2-7 against the ECAC.

The ECAC is 52-31-8 (.615) against the other leagues, and not only has a winning percentage against the NCHC, but also Hockey East at 22-17-4.

What does it mean?

For starters, the leagues are more balanced this season. Second, barring major letdowns, the ECAC could be the tournament darling with more teams in it this season.

While the second half is just starting, cases can be made for Quinnipiac (17-1-3), Cornell (9-2-2), Harvard (8-1-3) and possibly St. Lawrence (10-5-2), Yale (7-4-2) and Rensselaer (11-7-3) to make the NCAA Tournament.

Barring earning their way into the playoffs, here are some teams in each conference currently looking like they could make the NCAA tourney or be on the bubble:

  • HOCKEY EAST: Providence (13-2-3) and Boston College (13-4-1) appear to be the safest bets with UMass Lowell (11-4-4), Notre Dame (9-4-6) and possibly Boston University (9-6-3) on the bubble.
  • NCHC: Three teams appear to be locks: North Dakota (18-2-2), St. Cloud State (16-4-0) and Omaha (14-3-1). Denver (7-7-4), Minnesota Duluth (7-7-3) and Miami (6-10-2) will need strong, consistent second halves of the season to return to the tourney.
  • BIG TEN: The power conference is just 36-37-11 against other leagues, and a big portion of the victories (12-3-1) came against the Atlantic Hockey Conference, which is just 14-44-3 (.254) against the rest of the leagues. Michigan (11-3-3) and Penn State (12-3-3) would be the best bets. Minnesota (8-9-0) is the wildcard if it gets healthy and can get on a run.
  • WCHA: Bowling Green (12-5-5), Michigan Tech (11-7-2) and Minnesota State (10-6-4) could all be considered bubble teams. The conference is 20-27-8 (.436) against the rest of the leagues.
  • AHC: The league has struggled to a 14-44-3 non-conference record, but keep an eye on high-scoring Robert Morris (11-6-1), a veteran team that beat Penn State, 6-4, and UMass Lowell, 5-3, to win the Consol Energy Center holiday tournament. Holy Cross, which started 0-4 with losses to Providence and Quinnipiac, is 11-6-1 and also a sleeper.

Others may get in, but they’ll most likely do so by winning their conference tourneys.

College players shine at worlds

College hockey is on an elite level these days, as evidenced by the U.S. earning a bronze this week at the World Juniors in Helsinki, Finland, with 11 players from NCAA men’s Division I on the team.

Team USA has medaled four times in the past seven years.

Andres Bjork of Notre Dame and Ryan Donato of Harvard each scored twice and Brock Boeser of North Dakota scored once and had two assists in Tuesday’s 8-3 win over Sweden in the bronze-medal game.

USA went 5-0-2 in the tournament, starting with a victory over a Team Canada team that had just one college hockey player.

The NCAA and the USHL, a feeder program for the college game, did a great job of advertising their products during telecasts and letting viewers know many of the successful NHL players who took the USHL/college hockey route to the pros.

One buzz that has been reported by the Columbus Dispatch is that Michigan defenseman Zach Werenski, who captained the U.S. squad, may not return to Ann Arbor. A report on Jan. 1 said Werenski was unhappy with Michigan and the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets are in dire need of blue line help. Werenski was the eighth pick in the NHL draft last June.

Most players will return to college action this weekend. Boston College, losers of three straight, is looking forward to the return of freshman Colin White, the 21st pick in last June’s NHL draft by the Ottawa Senators. White is a two-way forward who can impact a huge weekend against Hockey East rival Providence.

North Dakota coach Brad Berry said he’ll give Boeser and Nick Schmaltz the weekend off as the Fighting Hawks play an exhibition against Team USA 18-under team. The duo have played on the same line all season, for Team USA and UND.

“They haven’t had a break yet,” Berry said. “They need one.”

The most notable standout for Team USA was Auston Matthews, currently playing for the Zurich Lions of the National A Swiss League. Matthews scored a tournament high seven goals and is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.

Poll watching

Losing two of its past three games dropped previously unbeaten Providence from No. 1 to No. 3 in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Magazine polls. The Friars had held the top spot since Nov. 9.

There is now a split at the top. North Dakota (18-2-2) gathered 36 of 50 first-place votes in the USCHO poll while Quinnipiac picked up 14 and is ranked No. 2. In the USA Today poll, Quinnipiac, (17-1-3) is No. 1 with 17 first-place votes while North Dakota is No. 2 with 16.

PairWise, however, ranks Quinnipiac first, Harvard second, Omaha third, St. Cloud State fourth and North Dakota fifth. North Dakota is first the ASN Eight.

Expect more movement starting this weekend. Some key games, using the USCHO rankings:

  • Thursday: No. 11 Boston University and No. 4 Harvard
  • Friday: No. 3 Providence at No. 7 Boston College
  • Saturday: No. 7 Boston College at No. 3 Providence; No. 4 Harvard at No. 2 Quinnipiac.

Above: Video courtesy of North Dakota Athletics via YouTube

Dave Dondoneau

Dave Dondoneau is a freelance writer based in Honolulu