NCAA Hockey 101: Five teams you don't want to play in 2nd half

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.

We're now a few weeks deep into the second half of the season and for some teams things are starting to fall apart, while for others, they're coming together.

Some of the teams that are starting to get their acts together have been doing so, quietly, for a little while now and that's starting to have an impact in the national rankings. Take, for example, Union. The Dutchmen aren't exactly whispered in the same breath as Wisconsin or Michigan when it comes to legendary programs. But they are tops in the ECAC with an undefeated league record of 7-0-3 and have one loss in the last 13 games. They should be especially dangerous come tournament time, though. They're 8-1-1 away from home.

The same is true of Ferris State, which just had an 11-1-2 run snapped via a two-game sweep at the hands of Miami. This is just the Bulldogs' third winning season in the last seven years and fourth since the turn of the century. But there they are, in third in the CCHA behind the aforementioned RedHawks and Michigan State. Led by Blair Riley's 16 goals and the suffocating goaltending of Pat Nagle and Taylor Nelson (51 goals against in 24 games), Ferris is going to be tough to beat the rest of the way.

Another team called the Bulldogs, Minnesota-Duluth, has climbed to fourth in the rankings and lead the WCHA. While their longest winning streak of the season is just four games, their longest losing streak is two, and that's happened just once. Duluth has four players above a point a game, and solid if unspectacular goaltending. Granted the Bulldogs won the WCHA postseason title last year and made the NCAA tournament, but they jumped from No. 10 to No. 4 in the latest poll for good reason.

The last two teams are traditional superpowers. Minnesota's been outstanding the last few weeks. The Golphers got off to a 4-8-1 start but are 8-2-1 in their last 11. That's bad news for the rest of the WCHA and anyone else looking for an at-large bid. They're almost the textbook definition of a dangerous team.

And finally, we come to Boston University.

Boston started the year just 4-9-3, but with about a dozen NHL draft picks and some strong veteran leadership, it has the skill to beat anyone on any night. That's why it has won three of the last four games, outscoring opponents 17-12, a pleasant change of pace from being outscored 46-44 through the first 16 games.

It's unreasonable to think most of these teams can make a ton of noise at the national level, but I sure wouldn't want to draw these guys in a loser-leaves-town game.

Pop quiz

In which I ask a blogger five questions about the team they follow. Well actually, this week I decided to ask Joe Yerdon of Gross Misconduct Hockey questions pertaining to a conference about which I know very little: the ECAC.

1. Who do you think is the for-realest team in the ECAC this season?

I'd have to begrudgingly go with Cornell for now. They're annoyingly consistent. They play their trap and they play it perfect. They're big and they frustrate the hell out of everyone they play against and their guys that can finish are very good. Colin Greening is a heck of a player with just a ridiculous shot. Blake Gallagher, Riley Nash(notes) and Joe Devin have given them tremendous balance in their lineup though. Ben Scrivens keeps them in every game and the whole team is sound.

Thanks for asking that though, now I feel like I have to punch myself in the face.

2. Why has Quinnipiac dropped six in a row after winning 12 of their first 13? Is that the end of their claims of legitimacy this year?

Quinnipiac is a sports psychologist's dream right now. The Bobcats might be a case of what happens when scouting and word of mouth gets around. You can see it in any game they're in now where a team gets a lead that their heads get down and they get that, "Oh crap, here we go again" look on their faces. Losing games is frustrating, sure, but somewhere along the way it's gotten in their heads that once they're down they're doomed to lose.

I felt their goaltending was going to be a problem for them because it was young and inexperienced. It turns out that Dan Clarke has been steady and the scoring is really letting them down. Aside from their bizarre 7-4 loss to Yale, they're scoring one or two goals a game and that's not getting it done for any team.

3. Along those same lines: Is Union just picking up where the Q left off?

Union has been pretty good all season long, they've just stayed under the radar for most of the season because they're Union College. What was letting the Dutchmen down earlier this year is that they needed to figure out where their goaltending was going to stand. Corey Milan was the incumbent starter and earned the right to prove where he was going to stand with the team but Keith Kinkaid has taken the job and he's not giving it back to anyone. Union's top line is about as offensively lethal as any in the conference and Mario Valery-Trabucco and Jason Walters should be names that everyone should get to know. MVT is a bonafide stud.

To say that Union is stealing the headlines from Quinnipiac is doing a disservice to Union because they've been there all along.

4. Setting aside your personal biases: Louis LeBlanc or Jerry D'Amigo, and why?

If you put the gun to my head and ask me to pick one guy who is absolutely desperately needed more by his team, it's Leblanc but only because RPI has a much better team surrounding Jerry D'Amigo and they've won important games without D'Amigo in the lineup.

Who would I take? I'd take Jerry D'Amigo because he's the total package on offense and on defense. Leblanc provides a lot of offensive flash and that's great, especially for what Harvard's needs are, but I don't want my team getting a penalty have to be a reason to take him off the ice.

5. Cornell and NoDak this weekend. Who ya got?

My heart says to pick North Dakota because I just do not care very much for Cornell (is that politically correct enough?) but my head is saying to take Cornell in both games because of the Lynah factor. I think North Dakota gets beaten around on Friday night and bounces back on Saturday to play a much better game. Cornell is really strong and I know just what kind of game they're going to come out with and what North Dakota showed me against Minnesota last week did nothing to encourage me.

Extra Credit

• With the WCHA expanding to 12 teams next year, the league has apparently made the decision to allow all 12 into the postseason tournament, which doesn't make sense, but OK. To accommodate the additional team in the tournament's second round, they have of course expanded that to six teams. They will, however, still call this second round "The Final Five." What? [USCHO]

• BU's Eric Gryba got tossed from practice on Wednesday for getting into an altercation with Victor Saponari. This is apparently a good thing for a team that lacked any kind of fire in a disappointing 3-1 loss to Providence last week. [Daily Free Press]

• Michigan Tech hasn't won in 15 straight games now. The Huskies are 3-20-1 this year. Ouch. [MiCHO]

• Nebraska-Omaha is looking into building an on-campus rink. The team has always drawn very well, but their current rink is the 17,000-seat Qwest Center, and even the 6,000-plus they draw per game looks small in a building that big. [Western College Hockey Blog]

• Scott Darling should return to the crease for Maine on Jan. 29 against Vermont, which would be none too soon since the Black Bears gave up nine goals on 49 shots without him last weekend. [Bangor Daily News]

• Paul Kelly's still on a mission to save college hockey from the looming threat of major juniors. []

• Denver is taking eight defensemen and 12 forwards (which means no extra forwards in case of injury) to Wisconsin this weekend. [All Things Colorado Sports]

• Another reason Seth Appert rules: "I refuse to believe they are better than us," he said after Union beat RPI in a close game for the fourth time this year. That may sound like I'm being condescending but I'm not. I think it's great and more coaches should be that honest. [Times Union]

• North Dakota: Still the Sioux. [Goon's World]

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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