In the grand scheme of things, polls mean very little in the world of college hockey and rarely merit much discussion. But it’s October 28th and there hasn’t been a single game played yet this season, leaving very little else to talk about, so hey, why not?
USCHO released their opening poll for the 2020-2021 season on Monday. Here’s how their cast of voters rate things heading into the season:
- North Dakota(28)
- Boston College(4)
- Minnesota Duluth(3)
- Minnesota State(1)
- Penn State
- Ohio State
- UMass Lowell
- Arizona State
- Bemidji State
- Western Michigan
- Notre Dame
A few thoughts on the poll:
-In a way, this year’s poll is probably better than prior preseason polls because tradition and sheer laziness dictates that the prior year’s national champion should begin the season ranked #1, even if they lost all of their good players or were Minnesota Duluth. North Dakota does check in with a majority of first place votes, but I look at finishing first in a 30-ish game season different from finishing first in a four-game tournament, and there are no teams ranked obnoxiously high because they had one good weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
-This is going to be an interesting season—recent trends compel me to start adding the ‘if it goes forward’ disclaimer again—because there are going to be very few, and in some cases, no non-conference games this year. The Big Ten, for example, has five of their seven teams ranks, plus Arizona State who will only play Big Ten teams. It would seem like something would have to give there.
-The most intriguing team on the poll is probably Michigan. The Wolverines land about where they finished last season, again I mention the sheer laziness of most voters when it comes to the preseason poll, but this year’s team will look remarkably different with as many as four current/future NHL first round draft picks joining the team, including a defenseman in Owen Power that could be in the race for first overall. Immediately some will point to Wisconsin’s flop of a season last year with first round draft picks like Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield, but the two situations strike me as very different. Wisconsin was hoping those players would paper over the mess their team was defensively—they did not, for the most part—while Michigan is adding those players to an existing framework that was already fairly successful last season, including an All-American-caliber goalie. If they get on the ice, they could be special.
-Seeing rankings like this immediately makes people think about a potential NCAA Tournament. It’s unclear how that is going to work this season, other than that the traditional Pairwise system probably won’t have enough interconference data to be feasible. If the Tournament ends up going forward—and again, current trends grow the size of that ‘If’ every day—I think we’ll end up with a smaller tournament, and one that is more reliant on autobids, possibly with at-large bids going to regular season conference champs.
But again, even now that we’re about two weeks from when some teams were planning to face-off, we still don’t have set schedules yet. The goal at this point still seems to be just getting these teams on the ice for some games.