The Rink Rat Rankings: Season 2, Edition No. 13

By Elliot Olshansky - February 04, 2008

The championship game was considered all but a formality, wherein the mighty team from New England would fulfill its destiny and cap off a massive win streak.

The underdogs hadn't been the best team during the regular season, and came from a conference that was considered a step behind, but pulled things together in the postseason.

The underdogs pulled ahead for good late in the game on a botched defensive assignment.

Am I talking about the 2007 Frozen Four or Super Bowl XLII?

Just saying.

Now, for the Rink Rat Rankings, up to 43 teams this week with the addition of Merrimack and Vermont.

1. Miami - The RedHawks are approaching a truly special moment in the history of their program. The No. 1 team in the country and the No. 2 team in the country, live on CSTV, from a brand new state-of-the-art facility (less than two years old still counts as brand new in this sense), in front of a packed house. Moments like these are what coaches build programs in the hopes of accomplishing. Of course, the real goal isn't Friday in Oxford but April in Denver, and I'm sure Rico Blasi and Ryan Jones are making sure the RedHawks know that.

2. Michigan - Rough weekend for the Wolverines: Kevin Quick is out of the program, and after getting two wins over Northern Michigan in the U.P., the Wolverines skated to two ties with the Wildcats at Yost. Kevin Porter got himself back on the scoresheet, but it won't go down as one of Billy Sauer's finer moments. After a shaky first two years, I think people will be waiting for Sauer to collapse until he backstops the Wolverines into the Frozen Four. He's not the same shaky netminder he was as a freshman or a sophomore, but it takes time to silence the doubters. Of course, this weekend against Miami will speak volumes, for Sauer, Porter, the Michigan defensive corps, and just about everyone else in Maize and Blue.

3. North Dakota - The unbeaten streak has hit nine, but I think the more notable number out of the Sioux's weekend at Mariucci Arena is one, and I don't mean the number of goals allowed to the Gophers each night, the lone point Minnesota scored on the weekend, or the number on the sweater of Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. Although I thought Don Adam played Agent 86.... Seriously, folks, North Dakota continues its annual second-half explosion, and as Dave Hakstol getting 86ed for two games doesn't have major consequences, I like the Sioux to keep on rolling.

4. New Hampshire - It took the Wildcats to cool off Vermont this weekend, the Catamounts' one loss in three weeks, and it came in pretty stunning form. I've been big on the Wildcats' balance, with Kevin Regan in net, Jamie Fritsch and Brad Flaishans leading the blueline corps, and a great mix of youth and experience up front from the likes of Matt Fornataro, Mike Radja and James vanRiemsdyk, among others.

5. Colorado College - Huge wins for the Tigers this weekend, as CC really needed a strong pair of non-conference wins to help them in NCAA tournament comparisons. Now, it's all about taking care of business in the WCHA, and Scott Owens' team hosts a wounded but dangerous St. Cloud squad this weekend. Can CC stay steady and continue the Huskies' misery?

6. Denver - Under normal circumstances, I'd be inclined to give Denver the benefit of the doubt for struggling against Minnesota State. It's what they do. However, the Pioneers have now lost four of their last five games, are without Brock Trotter for reasons unknown, and Peter Mannino is looking less like the Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player from 2005 and more like the goalie who's not used to going every night.

7. Boston College - Providence's buzz continues to grow at the expense of the Eagles, who really didn't need that going into the Beanpot. This has been a tough year for BC - they lost Cory Schneider in the offseason, Brett Motherwell early on and Brock Bradford to injury, not once but twice - and the fact that the Eagles remain among the nation's elite is a testament to how good a program Jerry York has built, and what kind of coach he is. I still like the makeup of BC, with a lot of veterans protecting the young netminder John Muse. We'll see in the weeks that remain just how good they can be.

8. Michigan State - The Spartans had a very rough night against Nebraska-Omaha on Friday, but bounced back nicely on Saturday. I still think that Jeff Lerg's bad nights are going to be just a bit worse than other goalies because he has so much less margin for error than they do. The big thing for the Spartans is that they took six points in six games against the other elite teams in the CCHA, and now just need to take care of business in reasonably strong fashion, including against Bowling Green at the end of the regular season.

9. Notre Dame - Think I really care that the Irish needed overtime to pull out a win over the Under-18 team? Think again. Kyle Lawson, for one, has seen much worse happen to the Irish in that exhibition. As a matter of fact, he was partially responsible for much worse happening to the Irish in that exhibition. Be that as it may, Jeff Jackson's team has been pretty good at avoiding bad losses, and that's the task at hand for them as they go through the remainder of the regular season.

10. Clarkson - Tough losses out in the Springs, but it's a good reminder of what the Golden Knights need to be able to beat when tournament time comes, and a taste of the physical adjustments a team that goes west -whether for the West Regional at World Arena or the Frozen Four at the Pepsi Center - will need to adjust to. Obviously, George Roll's team remains the class of ECAC Hockey, and should get right back to business this weekend against Colgate and Cornell, although the Big Red will provide a stern test as usual.

11. Northeastern - It's just a game, right? It's just a non-conference game against a struggling Harvard team. And besides, the Huskies just got off the schneid by beating UMass. Let's be serious: the Beanpot semifinal against the Crimson is a huge game for Northeastern psychologically. I think Northeastern has the most to gain of any team in the Beanpot this season, because they have the most history going against them and the most season-long momentum of any team. Sure, BC has had a better season overall, but relative to expectations, Northeastern is a contender for Team of the Year so far (and Greg Cronin for the Spencer Penrose), and success in the Beanpot can be a huge boost.

12. UMass - The long campuswide nightmare is over. The Minutemen beat Maine for their first win since the Lightning College Hockey Classic. Just in time, too, because BC comes to the Mullins Center on Friday for what should be one of the biggest games of the year in Amherst. BC looks better on paper, but the Minutemen have gotten to where they are by beating teams that look better on paper. Now, they need to do it some more to stay there.

13. St. Cloud - It's gutcheck weekend coming up for the Huskies. On the road against one of the top teams in the nation, havign had two weeks to stew after the disaster against Minnesota State. I love the talent the Huskies have with guys like Andreas Nodl, Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe up front, John Swanson having made a nice transition to defense and capable goaltenders like Jase Weslosky and Dan Dunn, but this is a young team, and it's times like this when young teams will be severely challenged.

14. Minnesota - The Gophers hold North Dakota to three goals on the weekend but only score two? Talk about Bizarro World. Here's the interesting thing, though: goaltending and defense are what playoff hockey is built on. Despite Minnesota's red-light deficiencies, I don't think I'd want to play them in the WCHA tournament if Alex Kangas is going to continue to play as well as he's playing. One more question, though: will Tony Lucia just get suspended for his fighting DQ against North Dakota, or will he get grounded too?

15. UMass Lowell - With only one defenseman over six feet tall, the River Hawks will have problems with teams that bring size up front. Vermont does some of that, although Peter Lenes is not giant and came up huge against Lowell on Sunday. This is a team that makes up for not having the best talent by playing smart, working hard, and getting solid goaltending. That was enough to win on Friday, but not Sunday.

Now, the rest...

16. Bowling Green - The Falcons missed a key opportunity to pass Nebraska-Omaha in the CCHA standings.

17. Quinnipiac - The Bobcats bounced back from the Niagara disappointment to take care of business in the conference with three points on the road.

18. Princeton - The Tigers did what 17 other teams couldn't: beat RPI at the Big Red Freakout!

19. Boston University - This is the time for the Terriers. Remember, BC needs to be about 10 times better than BU to beat them in the Beanpot. Is BU that bad? A strong performance at home on Friday suggests otherwise.

20. Cornell - Has anyone noticed that Ben Scrivens' save percentage and goals-against average are among the best in the nation? He's had some growing pains, but he is proving a worthy successor to LeNeveu and McKee.

21. Union - The Dutchmen continue to climb in ECAC Hockey.

22. Yale - Anyone else think the Bulldogs would have rather faced Harvard this past weekend than in November?

23. RIT - On the subject of the Tigers' loss to AIC: Fool me once, shame one you. Fool me twice...well, you know.

24. Nebraska-Omaha - The Mavericks showed just how dangerous their up-tempo offense can be with a win at Michigan State, staying in fifth in the CCHA

25. Vermont - The Catamounts are heating up, making them about the fifth team in Hockey East this season to make a notable run.

26. Alaska-Anchorage - The Seawolves are always a threat in the WCHA, and that's one tough league to always be a threat in.

27. Alaska - Dion Knelsen and Tyler Eckford make the Nanooks dangerous every time out, especially at home.

28. Maine - Not one, but two teams bounced back from their struggles with wins over the Black Bears.

29. Army - Six goals in a game from the Black Knights is like 10 or more from anyone else.

30. Air Force - Taking three points from Bentley is a nice response to the sweep at the hands of Army, and a reminder that life goes on without Eric Ehn in the lineup.

31. Harvard - Don't get too excited by that Dartmouth's back to business as usual for the Crimson.

32. Sacred Heart - With Atlantic Hockey as tight a race as it is, the two points the Pioneers didn't get at Canisius have to be looked at as a missed opportunity.

33. Rensselaer - When the Engineers lose at the Freakout! - and get shut out, no less - you know it's a tough year in Troy.

34. Ohio State - A win over Bowling Green at home is nice, but more was expected of this team.

35. St. Lawrence - The Saints held their own against Niagara's powerful offense.

36. Dartmouth - The Big Green hit rock bottom by falling into the ECAC Hockey cellar, and given the youth on the blueline, it's not like all the blame can be placed on the early departures of David Jones and T.J. Galiardi.

37. Holy Cross - The Crusaders are in the middle of the Atlantic Hockey pack, but what a pack it is.

38. Merrimack - Andrew Braithwaite can give the Warriors a chance to win, but there still aren't enough horses to take that chance most nights.

39. Western Michigan - Broncos get busted far away from home, and remain in the CCHA cellar.

40. Colgate - The Raiders played their local rivals from Cornell tough, but the reality is that this team isn't very good.

41. Brown - The Bears get out of the ECAC Hockey basement with a pair of wins, showing a level of play that will get them more.

42. American International - The Yellow Jackets are as dangerous as they've been in years in Atlantic Hockey.

43. Alabama-Huntsville - Kudos to the Chargers on a conference win.

Posted by Elliot Olshansky at 03:31 PM on February 04, 2008

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