An early refrain to start the season was that college hockey this season seemed to lack a truly elite team. It didn't help when the top three teams in the preseason poll all fell on the opening weekend of the season to middling opponents. People shied away from talking about North Dakota after they were less than impressive in a pair of ties and they started playing a goalie whose name nobody could pronounce. Omaha was winning games, sure, but in very unimpressive, and likely unsustainable fashion. There was one team everyone forgot about though.
The Ivy League schools finally kicked off their season this past weekend, and Harvard made their presence known immediately with an impressive sweep over Dartmouth. They beat the Big Green 7-0 on Saturday and 5-2 on Sunday.
The Crimson were 5-for-9 on the power play on the weekend, with a sixth goal coming one second after a power play expired. Their forward line-up is hands down the best in college hockey this season, starting with the clear-cut Hobey Baker front-runner Jimmy Vesey. The only change in their top six forwards from last season is that they added a second round NHL Draft pick in Ryan Donato to their second line, making them even deeper than last year's team. Their defense maybe lacks a true gamebreaker, but is good enough to be solid, and Merrick Madsen looked comfortable stepping into the starting goalie job.
Time will tell if Harvard can actually be an elite team. Two wins over a Dartmouth team that probably isn't that great isn't exactly definitive proof. But if there is one team in college hockey that is going to stand above the pack, that is where I'd place my money.
Other Stuff That Didn't Fit Into This Week's Narrative
-"But Omaha's goalies are so good that the fundamental laws of physics don't apply to them, Pawwwwl" Yeah, probably not. The Mavericks started their regression towards the mean with a pair of tough losses at Western Michigan, thanks in large part to some very average goaltending. Omaha is a very good team, but they're a top-15, maybe top-10 team, not a top-5 team nationally.
-The crazy fever dream that was UMass hockey appeared to be continuing in earnest on Friday night when the Minutemen blew a two-goal third period lead, but saved the game with a Ray Pigozzi overtime winner to beat Maine 5-4 and move their record to an improbable 4-0-1. Reality set in on Halloween when Yale blasted them 6-1 on Saturday. I'd still expect a lot more nights like the latter rather than the former moving forward this season for UMass, but it was certainly a fun start to the season for them.
Also, as a random fact, seven players hit the scoresheet for UMass on Friday night; four of them were committed to another college at some point in their junior hockey career.
-Michigan woke up Saturday morning sitting in third place in the Pairwise Rankings with a perfect 5-0-0 record. On Saturday afternoon, they lost 4-0 at home to Robert Morris, and by the end of the weekend, they were 19th in the Pairwise. Yes, it's early and the rankings are still volatile. And yes, looked at through a small enough window, people will say there's no reason they should lose to an Atlantic Hockey school at home. But the reality is that it is extremely difficult for any team to go three straight weekends without mixing in a clunker of a game, regardless of who they play. The fact that going 5-1-0 over that stretch wasn't good enough to help them all that much speaks to how weak Michigan's schedule is, and just how well they'll have to play to overcome it. It's not like their schedule gets any tougher once conference play starts either.
-Denver had a very tough trip out east to play the two Boston schools. On Friday night, they gave up a goal with 36 seconds left in regulation to lose 4-3 to Boston College, then lost in overtime on Saturday night to Boston University by a score of 5-4. Picking up a road win out there would have been really nice for the Pioneers, but the two losses shouldn't hurt that much in the grand scheme of things. As long as Denver stays on the right side of .500, they should be in tournament contention. The way they lost has to be a little concerning though. Denver's goaltending hasn't been as good as expected, especially from Tanner Jaillet, who seems to be hitting a bit of a sophomore slump.
-Minnesota State pushed their record back to .500 with a weekend sweep of Alaska-Fairbanks. Friday's win was relatively easy. On Saturday, they had to grind out a 2-1 win with a late third period goal. The Mavericks aren't doing a lot to help the reputation of their conference after starting 0-4 against a pair of NCHC teams and then sweeping a pair of WCHA opponents, but they've made a nice recovery after a tough start. Last year's WCHA champions dropped points both in Bemidji and at home against Alaska. That gives the Mavericks an early edge on the MacNaughton Cup race, since every other team has dropped at least two league points so far this season. Next weekend should be very interesting as the Mavericks travel to Ferris State. The Mavericks have won eight straight against Ferris State in the WCHA, but that's a very tough place to play.
-Man, Colorado College is bad. They fell to 0-8-0 last weekend after being swept by North Dakota. With Alabama-Huntsville looking competent in a sweep over Lake Superior, it's tough to find many wins on CC's schedule. They'll probably have a few thanks to sheer variance, but it's not going to be many.