1 | DENVER
» RECORD: 11-2-3 » LAST WEEK: 1
The weekend series at Denver between the top two teams in the country certainly lived up to its billing. Friday night's game on ASN was an absolute thriller and featured a 3-point performance by Troy Terry in the Pioneers' 4-3 victory. Despite losing 3-1 on Saturday, the Pios played a great game but just couldn't figure out Hunter Miska, who made 38 saves. All of this was without star freshman Henrik Borgstrom (undisclosed illness). Had he been in the lineup and healthy, this Denver team might have completed a weekend sweep. They went 0 for 6 on the power play Saturday and Borgstrom leads the team with 4 goals on the man advantage.
2 | MINNESOTA DULUTH
» RECORD: 11-3-2 » LAST WEEK: 2
Led by their veteran players, the Bulldogs would not be denied a weekend split against Denver. Watching Carson Soucy, Alex Iafallo and Kyle Osterberg continue to set a great example on the ice for guys like Joey Anderson and Adam Johnson is a thing of beauty. Duluth is arguably the deepest team in the country at every position. They have four lines that can get up and down the ice and score. Combine that with a defensive core of four seniors and a freshman phenom between the pipes and you have a team that will give an opponent all they can handle.
3 | PENN STATE
» RECORD: 13-1-1 » LAST WEEK: 4
There is still no reason why the Nittany Lions, who were idle this past weekend, shouldn't be considered one of the best teams in the country. Two freshmen - Denis Smirnov and Peyton Jones - have been pleasant surprises in Hockey Valley during the first half. Smirnov is undrafted and leads all freshman in scoring with 27 points in 15 games. Jones, highly touted coming off a stellar USHL campaign, takes a 1.97 GAA and .920 save percentage into the break. Their first weekend back they head to Ohio State for a big series against the Buckeyes.
4 | BOSTON COLLEGE
» RECORD: 13-6-1 » LAST WEEK: 5
The Eagles split their weekend with a win against Northeastern and their first Hockey East loss this season at Notre Dame. Regardless of the loss the Eagles have been impressive with 13 newcomers. Matty Gaudreau quietly has 22 points for the Eagles and has been a real go-to guy in crunch time for Jerry York. And a shoutout to the head coach for making the trip to South Bend. After being told he should not fly due to his recent eye procedure York rode the train the 17 hours from Boston to South Bend and back.
5 | HARVARD
» RECORD: 8-2-1 » LAST WEEK: 6
The Crimson were idle and head into the break feeling pretty good after their North Country sweep two weeks ago. Harvard is a team with tremendous speed mixed in with some real skill. The ECAC could be Harvard's for the taking with Quinnipiac struggling to consistently put together 60 minutes. However, you can't forget about teams like St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Union, who have proven to be contenders this year.
6 | BOSTON UNIVERSITY
» RECORD: 9-5-2 » LAST WEEK: 3
The Terriers got Clayton Keller back in the lineup and he made an immediate impact with 3 points on the weekend. He draws so much attention from opposing teams that his line mates truly benefit from the extra time and space. BU split with Vermont at The Gut, including a dominant victory on Saturday. Jake Oettinger made 28 saves in the 4-0 win. Keller scored a power-play goal. A shoutout to the Terriers for placing seven players on the Team USA WJC preliminary roster. But if Team USA makes the finals, BU might be without those seven for a game against Union.
7 | UMASS LOWELL
» RECORD: 10-5-3 » LAST WEEK: Not ranked
The Riverhawks got back on track with a sweep against Merrimack. Nine players had at least a point each night, including Joe Gambardella, Dylan Zink and CJ Smith. If they can continue to get production from more than their top six, this could be a dangerous team down the stretch. Lowell heads into the break behind Boston College for the top spot in Hockey East. The Riverhawks have some quality wins and ties that can help down the road, most notably two draws against Duluth.
8 | VERMONT
» RECORD: 10-4-2 » LAST WEEK: Not ranked
The #VCats debut in the Elite Eight after a weekend split with Boston University. Head coach Kevin Sneddon set out to re-create Vermont's identity and it seems to be working. They are a hard-nosed team with skill up front and one of the best young goaltenders in the country. Stefanos Lekkas has been making highlight-reel saves on a nightly basis. The Catamounts have been on the radar after taking down Quinnipiac in the Friendship Four championship game. After the split with BU it is time to take Vermont seriously. They remind me of Northeastern last year, playing in the Friendship Four before embarking on a historic second half. I am not saying the Catamounts will string together one of the best second halves in college hockey history, but a run in the Hockey East playoffs and the NCAA Tournament is possible.
» Quinnipiac, Ohio State
Photo courtesy Denver Athletics