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Ryan Lambert

NCAA Hockey 101: It must be February

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

NCAA Hockey 101 is a weekly feature on U.S. Division I college hockey. Stick around and you just might learn a thing or two.

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Well that time-honored tradition has come around again.

With the passing of the first month of each new year comes confirmation that everything is returning to normalcy. Overachieving teams start losing, hot goalies you've never heard of start giving up four-spots on 23 shots and Boston College goes berserk, cutting through defenses like a buzzsaw and choking offenses to total ineffectiveness.

BC has played three games this month and won them all, outscoring opponents 17-4. Yes, seventeen. It would be an astonishing feat if they didn't do it every single year. Since the Eagles' current class of seniors were freshmen, their team has posted an overall record of 39-14-2 in the month of February or later. That includes two Beanpot titles (they think this is important, you see), two NCAA tournament berths and two appearances in the national title game, one of which they won. And there's no reason whatsoever they can't do it again.

Obviously the offense has been on fire. You don't score 17 goals in three games without everything clicking. But the key has been defense and, more specifically, John Muse. Yes, he gave up three goals to an underwhelming BU team on Monday night in the Beanpot final but you kind of have to throw out BU's Beanpot performances since Jack Parker has his kids more pumped up for those games than for most elimination games. Muse went from appearing to be a truly mediocre goaltender through the first four months of the season. He was 8-6-1 with a 2.61 GAA and a .901 save percentage. But he has been a monster the last two weeks, stopping 80 of 83 shots and improving his stats to a more-impressive 2.41/.912.

And looking at BC's schedule the rest of the way, there's very little reason to think they can't extend this February winning streak into March. Two with UMass Lowell this weekend, and Lowell has lost five of its last seven; two with Northeastern, which the Eagles beat 5-1 already this year; then home games against Merrimack, which literally hasn't won a road game this year, and UMass, which just hosted BC a week ago today and lost 7-1.

After that, it's a home and home with UNH to close the regular season, and that could be for the Hockey East regular-season title. Even if they get swept, which they won't, the Eagles will have probably won their last 10 games. At worst, they'll probably have won eight of 10.

I don't know that there's a team east of the Mississippi that can stop a motivated BC team. They're skilled, their defense is mean and talented, and their goaltending really only needs to be adequate but will likely be better than that. Oh yeah, and they have the best coach in college hockey.

I guess that's pretty good too.

POP QUIZ

In which I ask a blogger five questions about the team they follow. This week, Fetch from The College Hockey Blog, who's been begging me to send him these questions for weeks, finally got the call and acquitted himself well in talking about every topic imaginable.

1) Why does it seem like there's a new "It Team" in the WCHA every two or three weeks? Why is it St. Cloud all of a sudden?

I think a lot of it comes down to the strength of the conference. They had a couple down years in a row, but I really compare it to SEC football. Everyone is so good and teams just beat up on each other every week.

I really have no idea what to make of St. Cloud to be honest. The past couple years they've been top 3 or 4 in the conference in scoring, but haven't had a ton of defense. They're 12th in the country in scoring this year, but also 14th in defense, so I think they've done a good job of being a more well-rounded team, as evidenced by both their power play and penalty kill being in the top 11 in the country. Plus Mike Lee must have given up his entire season's worth of goals at the World Juniors, so I guess there aren't any more to give up.

2) Of the top 10 teams in the Pairwise right now, which do you think is the most surprising?

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I think it has to be Maine. They were awful the past couple of years and now they have just shot into the top 10 of the Pairwise. They aren't the most experienced team, their three top scorers are sophomores, but Tim Whitehead is a great coach (author's note: Okay buddy) so I wouldn't be worried about their inexperience. Their penalty kill has been terrible, but they are disciplined and stay out of the box. Their power play is great too, over 30 percent, which is best in Hockey East. Scott Darling has been dependable in net and they have a good solid team of grinders, but the guy who gets the pub is Gustav Nyquist and deservedly so. He's second in the country in points per game and if he keeps going, and Maine does something in the tournament, I think he'll win the Hobey.

3) Is Bemidji really one of the five best teams in the country or would they fold under a tougher strength of schedule?

I had them ninth this week, so I don't think they're top five, but I do think they're really good. Their top line is one of the best in the country, and goalie Scott Bakala has been great, but they aren't the deepest of teams. They've beaten No. 1 Miami this year and swept Duluth who are in first in the WCHA, but it's easier to get up for those games when 50 percent of your schedule is against Robert Morris, Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville. I think they'll compete in the WCHA next year but will struggle with having to play a quality opponent every week.

4) Why is North Dakota sub-.500 in the WCHA this year?

With the Sioux it really comes down to injuries and goaltending. Chay Genoway, who I think was going to win the Hobey, got a concussion in November vs. St. Cloud and hasn't played since. They've also had to go without Darcy Zajac and Brett Hextall who are two well-rounded guys.

In net, Brad Eidsness has been awful. I think everyone expected a big jump from him, but he really struggles with rebound control and just looks uncomfortable in the crease. He's 10th in the conference in save percentage.

5) Who's your darkhorse in the NCAA tournament and why?

Well, I think if North Dakota gets Genoway, Zajac and Hextall back in enough time they are the easy answer. If not, I think it's probably Cornell. You almost always need your goalie to steal one in the NCAA Tournament and Ben Scrivens is 3rd in the country in save percentage.

The other team would probably be their fellow Ivy Leaguers at Yale. Yale is a much different team than Cornell as they are the highest scoring team in the country at 4.04 goals per game.

EXTRA CREDIT

Speaking of BC, if you haven't seen Chris Kreider's goal from the Beanpot on Monday night, hoo doctor, check this out.

• The latest edition of bracketology is out and just as boring and pointless as ever. [USCHO]

• It's not that the WCHA expects an incident when St. Cloud and North Dakota meet this weekend for the first time since Chay Genoway got run from behind, but, y'know, best to send the head of officials anyway. [Grand Forks Herald]

• Clarkson scored 20 seconds into the game against Union last Friday, but it kinda got away from them after that. Union scored five goals in the next 4:29, and waltzed to an 11-2 final. [Union Hockey Blog]

• Wisconsin's Matt Thurber has been suspended indefinitely for violating the Badgers' discipline policy. "The policy calls for immediate suspension of a UW student-athlete if he or she has violated laws related to drugs, violence or gambling." Oh. [Madison.com]

• For some reason, Army and Colgate will open their seasons on Cape Cod next year. [Cape Cod Online]

• Maine came back from a 2-0 deficit in both its games against UNH last weekend to sweep the Wildcats. [Portland Press Herald]

Ryan Lambert writes about college hockey weekly here at Puck Daddy. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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