The Rink Rat Rankings: Season 2, Edition No. 11

By Elliot Olshansky - January 21, 2008

The Rink Rat Rankings continue to grow, as we add the defending national champions to the mix, along with another team from the great state of Michigan. Of course, both teams spent part of the weekend in Ohio, where folks from Michigan aren't looked on too kindly, and neither team was thought of particularly well when they left, albeit for very different reasons.

All the teams I've seen this season, from 1 to 37, yours to see when you click "more."

1. Miami - According to the polls, I'm one of only two people in the country who still believe that the RedHawks are the nation's best team. So be it. Jeff Zatkoff got his first shutout of the season on Saturday, and has given up more than two goals just twice all season. Given that the RedHawks have the top offense in the country, I dare say that will do to be going along with.

2. Michigan - Of course, the reason the Wolverines' grip on the top spot in the polls has become tighter is that they came through their biggest CCHA test yet with flying colors, sweeping Notre Dame in the home-and-neutral series. If they're still doing this well in another month, it'll be impossible to argue against them as No. 1. Keep an eye on Louis Caporusso. If he's fresher down the stretch than your average freshman, then that injury that kept him out for the end of the first half might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

3. Denver - You know me...I don't believe in dropping a team because of a bad loss. I will admit to being a bit concerned by the back-to-back poor outings by the Pioneers - and after nine goals allowed and two early departures in his last two outings, Peter Mannino's Hobey Baker chances are in serious trouble - but the bottom line is that the Pioneers can survive those disappointments so long as they stay committed, and as long as this is just a blip on the radar, the Pioneers are as solid a team in all phases of the game as you will find.

4. Colorado College - Chad Rau's point streak ended at six games against Air Force, but the Tigers got their sixth straight win. After entering the season with predictable questions - this is how I excuse myself for being among those questioning, mind you - Richard Bachman is running away with Freshman of the Year honors. He's got the best save percentage in the country, he's No. 2 in goals-against average, and he's third in winning percentage. He's the property of the Dallas Stars...anyone think that Scott Owens is becoming the world's biggest Marty Turco fan?

5. New Hampshire - The Wildcats are 4-2-1 in the "Battle for the Riverstone" against Dartmouth at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, but those two losses have both come in spectacular fashion. When you put 57 shots on net and lose, all you can do is salute the opposing netminder. The fact of the matter is that the Wildcats are exceptionally balanced, with strength at all positions, and are shaping up into the team that they were expected to be at the beginning of the year.

6. North Dakota - Here we go again. The Sioux have won five straight and have a golden opportunity to make it seven with Alaska Anchorage coming in this weekend. We all know how good Dave Hakstol's team has been in the second half, but more importantly, Jean-Philippe Lamoureux has allowed eight goals in the last five games. He's going to be the key player for the Sioux, as Ryan Duncan and T.J. Oshie are probably producing as much as they will without Jonathan Toews in between them, and I don't know how much more offense there is in this bunch than what we're seeing now.

7. Boston College - Brock Bradford's humerus is broken for the second time this season, and if there's one thing it isn't, it's funny. The Eagles are already on quite a tear, having gone 8-1-1 in their last 10, and Bradford only played four of those games. This will become more of an issue in the NCAA tournament, but for now, the Eagles should still be flying high.

8. Michigan State - The Spartans are still doing a lot of the same things that made them NCAA champions last season, but as Rick Comley himself pointed out, the Spartans weren't the best team in the country all season, but were during the last four games. As it is now, they're a very good team, and one that should make the NCAA tournament without much of a struggle. Jeff Lerg doesn't put up jaw-dropping numbers - he's hanging around the bottom of the top 20 in save percentage, and a bit lower in goals-against average, but he's one of the top 10 in winning percentage. He makes the saves he needs to make for his team to win, which was quite a few in the first two periods on Saturday in Columbus, when he posted his first shutout. This weekend's games against Michigan should be fantastic.

9. Notre Dame - The Irish got the lead on Michigan on CSTV on Friday, but couldn't close things out, and Brad Phillips took his first career loss for the Irish on Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Notre Dame could still be a Frozen Four team if things break right this year, but it depends on matchups and what kind of goaltending they get. Still, as Jeff Jackson has pointed out numerous times, it's a process, and to have the Irish in the Top 10 in back-to-back seasons is a good sign that the process is working.

10. Clarkson - A tie at Colgate can't be particularly satisfying, but the Raiders have the key players from their Cleary Cup run a couple of years ago, and are a threat to any team in ECAC Hockey on any given night. The bigger deal for the Golden Knights was the win at Lynah Rink, their first in the regular season since 1999. The Golden Knights are really chugging along, with only Dartmouth's Mike Devine depriving them of an unbeaten 2008 so far, and they should continue to prodce wins.

11. UMass - There's no shame in losing to any of the teams that the Minutemen have lost to. Certainly not New Hampshire or UMass-Lowell, and not Providence, either, since the Friars may well be the best team that no one is talking about. That all four losses came in one stretch is disconcerting, and with two games coming up against a Vermont team that beat them earlier in the season, it's gut-check time at the Mullins Center this weekend.

12. Northeastern - Speaking of teams who have had a rough time of it in the last two weeks...Burlington has not been kind to the Huskies, but surrendering a late lead one night, and then getting absolutely blitzed in the third period the next night is rough. The last time Brad Thiessen had a night like he had on Saturday, though, it was against New Hampshire on November 2, and he came out the next night and played a superb game to help the Huskies beat New Hampshire. Providence has to be hoping that there won't be a reprise.

13. St. Cloud - The Huskies now have company in fifth place in the WCHA, as they sat idle this weekend while Minnesota and Wisconsin took three points apiece. The question for this team - as it has been with St. Cloud - is whether this group will have the staying power to duke it out with the other WCHA teams in the mix. It is quite a mix, with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan Tech and Minnesota Duluth, so just about anything can happen. I still like the Huskies' young talent, but they might be a year away. This weekend's home-and-home with Minnesota State is key. Three points will be a necessity for Bob Motzko's boys.

14. UMass Lowell - The River Hawks don't have the best talent in Hockey East - and they probably never will - with all due respect to Blaise MacDonald and the players he does have. That's part what makes their run this season such a great story. But it's not just an entertaining story, but an educational one. The River Hawks - who had so much out of their control in the offseason, do an excellent job of controlling the things that they can control. Only Dartmouth, Holy Cross and St. Cloud are penalized less than the River Hawks, and when Lowell does send a player to the box, the UML penalty kill is No. 7 in the country. Hard work is the biggest factor on the penalty kill, and the River Hawks are the only ones who control how hard they work, and their control of that has made them a very strong team, and one of the great surprises of this season.

15. Minnesota - The good news is that the Gophers are on a three-game unbeaten streak, and seem to have found a reliable goaltender in Alex Kangas. The bad news is that Minnesota teams aren't built to win on goaltending, and these Gophers are on track to be the first Minnesota team without a point-per-game scorer since 1972-73. That was Herb Brooks' first season as coach, and Dean Blais shared the team scoring lead with Mike Polich (32 points each). Actually, if Blais had an injury and missed any games I don't know about, you'd have to go back even further.

Now, the rest...

16. Bowling Green - The Falcons' fists may have been flying toward the end of Friday's tilt with Western Michigan, but a hard earned sweep has them in hot pursuit of Nebraska-Omaha for fifth place in the CCHA, and Derek Whitmore is the nation's No. 2 goal-scorer.

17. Quinnipiac - The Bobcats were doing fine before Peter Vetri showed up, and with Bud Fisher staying on form, they'll be just fine now that he's gone.

18 Princeton - The biggest question right now is whether the oddly-timed exam break at Old Nassau will derail the Tigers' momentum or rejuvenate them for one more big push.

19. RIT - The Tigers are back on top in Atlantic Hockey.

20. Boston University - The Terriers have won three of their four, sit a point out of fourth place in Hockey East, and all of a sudden, there are signs of life emanating from Commonwealth Avenue and St. Paul's Street.

21. Cornell - The Big Red is in reasonably good position in ECAC Hockey, but who would have thought that a matchup with Yale would wind up being so big?

22. Yale - Bulldogs ran into a hot Blake Macnicol on Saturday in Huntsville. Remember when Alec Richards was the go-to guy for Yale in net?

23. Nebraska-Omaha - Nice sweep on the road against former Mavericks assistant Doc DelCastillo and his Nanooks.

24. Alaska-Anchorage - The Seawolves remain a threat every night in the WCHA, but opponents are coming in ready.

25. Maine - Nice win against a good Providence team, but time is running out for Maine to turn the corner.

26. Alaska - Dion Knelsen's point streak ended at 10 against UNO on Saturday. He's still a hell of a player

27. Harvard - Call me crazy, but I think the Crimson can get it together in front of Kyle Richter. Richter can't do it all alone, but he shouldn't have to try.

28. Union - The Dutchmen are tied for fourth in ECAC Hockey after sweeping rival RPI, and they're over .500 overall. Oh, if Roger Hull could see them now...

29. Rensselaer - The Engineers' punchless powerplay is 0-for-31 since Kurt Colling scored in first period against Notre Dame.

30. Ohio State - Anyone else think that when opponents look at the Buckeyes in their third jerseys, they huddle up and say, "OK guys, no way are we losing to a team that looks like that?"

31. Dartmouth - Heck with Harvard, maybe it's time to start asking when the Big Green will join Hockey East. Dartmouth could certainly use those wins in the standings.

32. St. Lawrence - Tough weekend for the Saints in the North Country.

33. Western Michigan - The Broncos have good young goaltending in Jerry Kuhn, and they certainly play hard, but the firepower just isn't there offensively.

34. Colgate - Nice weekend for the Raiders, just to remind us what they're capable of.

35. American International - Yes, the Yellow Jackets are in the Atlantic Hockey basement after an idle weekend, but a whopping five points separate fourth and 10th.

36. Brown - An ugly season gets uglier with a third-period collapse against Merrimack.

37. Alabama-Huntsville - Congrats to the Chargers on their first home win of the season, and on having third jerseys that aren't hideous.

That's it for now, folks. Four more teams will join the Rankings this week, as we catch up on the goings-on in Atlantic Hockey.

Posted by Elliot Olshansky at 12:23 PM on January 21, 2008

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