Providence, Cornell and Boston College are a combined 33-3-6 on the season and Providence, the defending national champion, is the only unbeaten team in Division I men’s hockey heading into the holiday break.
All three would be virtual shoo-ins to make the NCAA hockey tournament’s 16-team field if the selections were made today, but we’re only half way through the season.
The top-ranked Friars will have their hands full immediately after Christmas break. When the Florida tournament starts on Monday, Cornell (8-1-2) gets first crack at handing the Friars their first loss in the last 20 games dating back to last season.
Providence may be without the services of sophomore Jake Walman, who is day-to-day with a shoulder injury that prevented him from joining Team Canada’s national junior team competing at the 2016 IHF World Championships.
With or without Walman, the game is intriguing. Cornell goalie Mitch Gillam has quietly posted three shutouts and carries a 1.69 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. The Big Red is riding a seven-game unbeaten streak and is buoyed by the return from injury of senior John Kinsley. Cornell is ranked seventh by ASN and ninth in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Magazine polls.
Everybody is gunning for Providence these days.
The Friars were expected to have some sort of national title hangover after losing several key players from its title squad, including goalie Jon Gillies, arguably the top goaltender in college hockey the past two seasons.
But junior Nick Ellis has been every bit as strong behind one of the best blue line corps in the country. Ellis has a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage with two shutouts.
Both Ellis and and Gillam trail Boston College’s Thatcher Demko in the stats department, however. Demko leads the country with six shutouts, a .941 save percentage and allows just 1.62 goals per game.
BC is just 1-1-1 in its last three games, but ranks fourth in the nation in scoring at 4.29 goals per game. BC’s 1.67 goals-against ranks third in the nation, while its penalty-killing unit (90.4) ranks fourth. BC will be skating shorthanded, but with good reason: Freshmen Colin White and Casey Fitzgerald are currently representing the U.S. on the 2016 National Junior Team. White, a forward, was named an alternate captain. Fitzgerald plays defense.
The Eagles are ranked seventh by ASN and ninth in both national polls and will have to get past upset-minded Ohio State (3-11-0), which is coming off back-to-back overtime losses to Minnesota.
The winners of each game meet on Tuesday, and Providence could finish 2015 unbeaten or just two losses. Love college hockey? All eyes on sunny Florida coming out of the break.
The only other holiday tournament starting Monday is the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, which pits Clarkson (7-6-2) vs. UMass Lowell (10-3-4) and Penn State (11-2-3) vs. Robert Morris (9-4-3).
BU PLAYER SUSPENDED FOR GAMBLING
College Hockey News reported Monday that Boston University junior Nick Roberto has been suspended by the NCAA for the remainder of the season.
Roberto was a healthy scratch for the first 18 games as a “coach’s decision,” and CHN cited Roberto’s suspension is for his alleged involvement in gambling activities during the 201-2015 season.
The story includes a statement from the school that Roberto did not gamble on college hockey or professional hockey games.
In the CHN story, the BU statement reads:
"Beyond confirming that Mr. Roberto will not play for the Boston University hockey team this season, federal privacy laws prevent us from discussing his status. However, we can say that several months ago, we heard rumors that a BU hockey player had engaged in gambling. Although the rumors did not involve gambling on either college or professional hockey games, we nonetheless immediately conducted a thorough investigation and turned the results over to the appropriate authorities at the NCAA. Based on that investigation, the NCAA made its own findings and took remedial action, and we would refer you to that organization for further information."
Roberto scored four goals and had eight assists in 41 games as a junior for BU. The story said other BU players no longer with the program were also involved but no names were mentioned.
The NCAA prohibits players from sports wagering.
PENN STATE RISING
If there is a any reason to think Arizona State, which is currently competing in its first season of Division I hockey, can quickly build into a national power its because Penn State is making believers of everybody.
The Nittany Lions (11-2-3) enter Monday’s Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh on a nine-game unbeaten streak and are ranked 14th in the latest USCHO poll and 15th in the USA Today/USA Magazine poll. They made school history on Dec. 14 with their first rankings in each poll, a first for the program that jumped from club hockey to Division I during the 2012-2013 season.
They enter Monday’s game against Robert Morris (9-4-3) knowing the game could be in a shootout. Penn State and Robert Morris each average 4.30 goals per game, tied for second nationally. RN leads the country in power play (35.38 percent) and Penn State is second at 30.43 percent.
Senior Zac Lynch’s 12 goals rank fifth in the nation for the Colonials and his four power play goals lead the country.
MAVS MAKING SCHOOL HISTORY
Omaha punctuated its best start to a season with a 6-0 win and weekend sweep over Arizona State on Sunday, finishing 10-0 against teams outside the NCHC and 8-0 and its new Baxter Arena.
The Mavs, 14-3-1, set a school record for the most wins before January and junior forward Austin Ortega vaulted into a tie with UMass’s Andrew Poturalski for most goals in the nation with 16. Ortega had four goals and an assist in the weekend sweep, including the game-winner in 3-1 win in the series opener, giving him a nation-leading six on the season.
The Mavs return to NCHC play Jan. 8 with a home series against Denver.
OFFENSE LEADING BIG BLUE
Michigan (9-3-3) has no problem scoring this season, leading the country at 4.39 goals per game.
The Wolverines have a lot of talent, as evidenced by sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski being named captain for the U.S. National Junior Team at the World Junior Championship, which begins for Team USA with a Dec. 26 game against Canada in Helsinki, Finland.
However, Michigan is giving up 2.95 goals per game and the goalies are have a combined .896 save percentage.
If the Wolverines can get their defensive together, look for them to make some noise in the Big Ten and on the national stage in the near future.
BREAK OUT THE BROOMS
Interesting stats provided from the NCHC:
- Of the 19 NCHC conference series played so far this season, 15 have resulted in sweeps while only two have resulted in splits. At this time last season entering the holiday break, only seven of the 18 NCHC series played had resulted in sweeps. At the holiday break last year, four teams were within two points of first place while this year, UND and SCSU are both 10 points clear of any other team.
- SCSU senior forward David Morley topped the century mark last Friday, becoming the fourth active NCHC player to top 100 career points this season (45g, 56a). Omaha junior forward Jake Guentzel could join the club this weekend as he sits at 97 points (31g, 66a), which is second-most among all active NCAA juniors.
- Eight different NCHC goaltenders have now combined for 17 shutouts this year, which is the second most from one conference (ECAC Hockey with 23).