It was a big week for upsets in college hockey.
Eight of the top 12 teams in the latest poll suffered an upset loss over the weekend. This includes the fourth straight week that the nation’s No. 1 team (a different school every time) has suffered a setback. Even for the volatile world of college sports, this is remarkable.
Boston University, Penn State, Union, UMass Lowell, Ohio State, Western Michigan, Vermont, and North Dakota all dropped at least one game to teams with a lower ranking (or unranked) over the weekend. These are all teams that have their sights set on conference and national trophies. (Union plays Cornell in an ECAC matchup Friday on ASN.)
That’s not even counting Arizona State’s shocking win against Quinnipiac on Saturday night. The win marks ASU’s first against a ranked program in their short history.
Three things that really stood out from the weekend that turned college hockey on its head:
1 | USCHO poll needs a new top team again
Merrimack College has only upset the No. 1 team in the nation once before: in 1998, during the Hockey East playoffs. The team was Boston University.
On Tuesday night, and again on Friday night, Merrimack stunned Boston University, the second and third times in program's history that they Warriors have beaten USCHO's top-ranked team. It is also the fourth time in as many weeks that the leader of the USCHO rankings had been upset. (Minnesota Duluth was No. 1 in ASN's Elite Eight and Pairwise.)
That is to say, so far this year, no No. 1 team has been able to retain their place in the USCHO rankings for more than a week.
At Lawler Arena last Tuesday, the Warriors rode a 30-save performance from Collin Delia to a 3-1 victory. BU started the game strong, scoring at just 3:20 in to take an early lead, but were never able to add to their tally, even after a third period in which they took 18 shots on net.
In the return leg at Agganis Arena, Merrimack never trailed. Brett Seney and Michael Babcock both had two goals in the contest, which the Warriors took 4-1. Delia made 37 saves in the performance, in all going 67 of 69 on shot attempts to secure what is probably the most shocking sweep of the season.
Next up for Merrimack will be a home-and-home series this weekend against UConn. BU, meanwhile, takes on Massachusetts on Friday night before preparing for their Beanpot opener next Monday with Boston College (more on that in next week’s Beanpot Edition of the Hat Trick).
2 | Remember Wisconsin?
Long one of the powers of college hockey, the Wisconsin Badgers have fallen on hard times in recent years. Since the opening of the Big Ten, they’ve finished in second place once (2013-2014) and dead last ever since. A very big school with more resources than most, this has led to a very impatient set of alumni and students. Fortunately for them, they might not have to wait much longer to get behind a good team.
The Badgers swept Ohio State past weekend. In the opener, they won in Columbus 3-1 at Value City Arena, sparked by a first period shorthanded goal by Luke Kunin, who would add an assist in the third on an empty-net goal.
The second leg of the Wisconsin-OSU series wasn’t held in Madison, Wis. Rather, it was held in Madison Square Garden. The Manhattan arena reported an attendance of 5,002 at the game. The game was part of the second annual Big Ten Super Saturday, in which teams from the conference showcase a basketball game and a hockey game in the same day.
The hockey game did not disappoint. With Wisconsin leading 2-0 in the third, Ohio State rallied back at the latest moment possible, scoring two goals in the final two minutes, making fantastic use of their extra attacker and pulled goaltender to force overtime and show the Big Apple what college hockey has to offer.
Wisconsin would eventually break the tie with a Cameron Hughes goal 2:58 into the extra period to give Wisconsin the sweep.
Now having taken six points in four games against conference contenders, Wisconsin is on the periphery of some big things. They could soon be ranked. They are in a fairly decent position to make a run at a NCAA Tournament bid. With such a small conference, they’re not out of the running for the Big Ten hardware.
Wisconsin might not be all the way back, but they’re more like Wisconsin again.
3 | A tournament finale
Because of the unique landscape of college hockey, local rivalries otherwise unknown to college sports fans dot the landscape. Schools that don’t really compete on a high level in other mainstream sports often compete in hockey with schools you see in pretty much every sport.
With conference affiliations complicating matters, these teams often schedule regular season tournaments for bragging rights. The North Star College Cup, which had its final tournament last weekend, was one such tournament. The NSCC was a way of keeping the five Minnesota teams together despite realignment. Before this season, representatives from all five schools involved — Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, and Bemidji State — elected to discontinue the tournament after 2017.
The tournament went out with a bang, as it will likely crown yet another new No. 1 in the USCHO rankings. Minnesota Duluth, which came in second in the USCHO poll, defeated Minnesota 3-2 on Friday night to advance to the final, with goaltender Hunter Miska stopping 21 shots in the third period alone to lead the Bulldogs to the victory.
In the final, St. Cloud State took a first period lead on a Will Borgen goal, but Duluth tied the game early in the third with an Alex Iafallo goal. The game, held in front of over 11,000 at the Xcel Energy Center, went to overtime. It was in that overtime that Minnesota Duluth’s Kyle Osterberg knocked home the tournament-winning goal.
Next up for the Bulldogs will be a home series with Nebraska Omaha. As a move up to No. 1 is very much possible, they should beware of those two games.
Tim Williams is a freelance writer based in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @TimWritesSports.