College hockey took a trip back to 1988 this weekend. Wisconsin is awesome, Lake Superior is on pace to make it to the NCAA tournament, Michigan has lost four games in a row INXS in INXplicably popular. A Bush is in the White House. It's like a world gone mad....all over again.
So, uh, those Badgers aren't so bad, eh? If you remember, I had actually questioned if this team was as good as I thought they would be at the beginning of the season after an ugly loss to St. Lawrence and tie against St. Cloud. They've been perfect since then, and with a series against Michigan Tech and then facing off against Western Michigan and either Northern Michigan or Wayne State, they could concievably start off the new year with only 1 loss and two ties. The second half schedule gets a little tougher, but it's hard to imagine them not finishing the season as the best team in the country. Brian Elliott had another impressive weekend. It helps that Wisconsin's defense makes the front of their net as crowded as the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart on a Sunday, but Elliott deserves much of the credit for his great play. Numbers that great don't happen by accident.
For Minnesota, I think there are still some problems that need to be addressed. There's no question that they have the talent, and when they're motivated, they're as good as anybody. Coach Don Lucia has to find a way to motivate his team to play their best every night though. I don't think the whole "skating sprints early the next morning" threat is working anymore.
Miami proved that their impressive record was no fluke with a sweep at home against Michigan. Miami's success has been largely because of great play from their top lines, and Charlie Effinger and Jeff Zatkoff playing excellent in goal. One interesting note, all 11 of Miami's game-winning goals have come from their top 7 scorers.
After a fast start, Michigan's weaknesses are starting to catch up to them. They've looked like a team that is playing 9-10 freshmen every night. They also need to work out a better goalie rotation than hanging Billy Sauer out to dry on Friday night and then going with Noah Ruden on Saturday. I have no doubt that Michigan can regroup and get things together by the end of the year, but it's now going to be very difficult for them to catch up to Miami in the CCHA.
Speaking of the CCHA, according to siouxsports.com 's Way Too Early Pairwise Rankings, 5 CCHA would be in the NCAA tournament, including none other than Lake Superior at number 5. For the most recent generation of hockey fans, this is absolutely mind-blowing. Head coach Jim Roque deserves a ton of credit for helping to turn that program back in the right direction.
Nebraska-Omaha is one of the hottest teams in the country. They've now won four games in a row. One of the big reasons for that is the recent hot streak by freshmen goalie Jerad Kaufman, who has won all four games, and now has a save percentage above 90%. If he can continue to stop 90% of the shots he faces, Omaha's potent offense led by Scott Parse and Bill Thomas should be able to lead the Mavericks to their first NCAA tournament appearance.
In the WCHA, Denver continued their recent dominance over intra-state rival Colorado College. For as good as Colorado College has been over the last two seasons, they've still struggled in their biggest games. For Denver, it's been just the opposite. They know how to turn things up when it matters most.
Minnesota-Duluth was able to steal three huge points on the road at Mankato this weekend. Duluth play-by-play announcer Bruce Ciskie probably said it best when he said, "Last year, these were the types of games that the Bulldogs would lose". This year, a series of goalposts and missed shots by the Mavericks kept the Bulldogs in the game until they could capitalize on their opportunities. It gave the Bulldogs a huge leg up on the rest of the competition for the race for home ice in the playoffs.
For the Mavericks, their offensive efficiency was pretty much exactly the same as MGoBlog's assessment of Michigan's offensive efficiency.