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Evan Marinofsky | | December 1, 2021

7 takeaways from November in men's college hockey

Behind Easton Brodzinski's inspiring return to St. Cloud State hockey, after breaking his leg

The beauty of hockey is any team can win on any given night, and that was on display throughout November. 

Is that cliche? Yes. Is it true? Also yes. It especially applied to teams ranked No. 1, which we'll get to in a little bit.

The competition is becoming clearer. Each conference's best teams are taking shape and we're starting to get a feel for which teams will make the move to tournament threats. Some were expected, some were not. Surprises are always nice. 

So, without further ado, let's dive into the takeaways from November. 

1. The curse of being dubbed No. 1 

Four different teams claimed the No. 1 spot in the USCHO polls throughout November and all eventually fell off of that throne. Here's how the month broke down: 

  • Nov. 1: St. Cloud State
  • Nov. 8: St. Cloud State 
  • Nov. 15: Michigan 
  • Nov. 22: Minnesota State 
  • Nov. 29: Minnesota Duluth 

And here's what eventually happened to them after being ranked No. 1: 

  • St. Cloud State: Split a series with then-No. 11 Omaha, causing the Huskies to fall to No. 2. They were swept by Western Michigan the next weekend. 
  • Michigan: Swept by then-No. 14 Notre Dame, losing two nail-biters in OT, causing the Wolverines to fall to No. 4. 
  • Minnesota State: Split a series with Lake Superior State, causing the Mavericks to fall to No. 2. 

As I mentioned earlier, anyone can beat anyone, so it's no surprise to see that playing out. It is surprising, however, to see this much movement at the top of the college hockey polls already.

RANKINGS: Here's the latest Power 10 

This means two things. For one, it's going to be an incredibly exciting season. You always want to see this kind of parity and unpredictability. The second is...

2. Through two months, the true No. 1 team in college hockey is unclear 

Again, this is a good thing and it's not uncommon to see parity. It just feels like there's a lot more of it than usual this season. 

On paper, Michigan is the best team. It just comes down to whether or not the Wolverines play like it. As good as they are, they're a young team, so some growing pains at this point in the season shouldn't surprise anyone. 

In the NCHC, there's Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs have big wins over Minnesota (a sweep), Western Michigan and North Dakota. They rank No. 1 in USCHO's PairWise system. The Huskies have fallen on some hard times of late, losing their last three games, which came against then-No. 11 Omaha and then-No. 13 Western Michigan — both are NCHC opponents. But the Huskies are a deep, veteran group who will battle for No. 1 all season. 

Minnesota State is as balanced as it gets. It ranks second in the nation in goals for with 65. Junior forwards Nathan Smith, Brendan Furry and Ryan Sandelin and senior forward Reggie Lutz have had a lot to do with that. Among teams that have played at least 10 games, the Mavericks are tied for third in the nation in goals against with only 22 allowed in 16 games. That's due to great defense and star goalie Dryden McKay. 

One more team: Quinnipiac. Don't count out the Bobcats. 

3. Owen Power is the best defenseman in college hockey 

Owen Power being the No. 1 defenseman in college hockey isn't really surprising at all. The six-foot-five sophomore is dominant in all zones and is on the most talented team in the country. He was also the No. 1 overall pick in this past summer's NHL Draft. 

So, he's pretty good. 

But what is surprising is just how dominant he was in November. Power didn't go a game without a point, finishing the month with one goal and 14 assists in eight games. He's tied with teammate Kent Johnson for second in the nation in points with 23.

By comparison, Cale Makar had 18 points at this time in his Hobey Baker-winning season in 2018-19. Obviously Makar and Power are completely different defensemen, but I want to give you an idea of the pace Power is on. We all knew he was going to be dominant. This is next-level. 

ANOTHER YEAR OF COLLEGE: How Owen Power decided to stay at Michigan and wait on the NHL

I can't talk about the best defenseman in college hockey without talking about North Dakota's Jake Sanderson — arguably the most dynamic player in college hockey. Sanderson was electric in November, putting up three goals and eight points over six games for the Fighting Hawks. He's tied with Western Michigan's Michael Joyaux for second in scoring by defensemen with 16 points on the season. 

4. Cornell is still a force in the ECAC

With many teams opting out of last season, or playing shortened seasons, it was hard to tell what the ECAC would look like going into this year. It was pretty clear from the start that Quinnipiac was going to be the best of the bunch, and that hasn't changed — the Bobcats are one of the nation's best defensive teams, featuring a lot of veteran depth all over the lineup. 

But the emergence of Cornell is causing the gap between Quinnipiac and everybody else to narrow. 

The Big Red were arguably the team hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their 2019-20 season was cut short when they were 25-2 and looked to be a sure thing for the Frozen Four. They didn't play last season, and have a different team this season. 

POLL: Here's the latest USCHO rankings 

They're 8-1 to begin this year. Ever since losing, 3-2, to Harvard on Nov. 5, the Big Red have rattled off six-straight wins, including their most recent victory over Boston University at Madison Square Garden. The win at MSG looks to be something Cornell rallies around. 

We'll get a great look at Cornell when it faces Clarkson on Dec. 4 and North Dakota on Jan. 7 and 8. 

5. The Big Ten is way more than just Michigan and Minnesota 

Prior to the start of the season, one of my main storylines for this year was the battle of Michigan and Minnesota in the Big Ten. Even with the Golden Gophers struggling a tiny bit, that battle is still alive and well and will be on display for all to see this upcoming weekend when the teams clash in Ann Arbor. 

However, some new teams joined the fray in November. Notre Dame and Ohio State both made noise throughout the month. The Fighting Irish went undefeated, going 6-0. Their most notable wins came in a sweep of then-No. 1 Michigan on Nov. 19 and 20. Those were monumentally big wins, catapulting Notre Dame up to No. 8 in the USCHO poll.

COMEBACK SZN: How St. Cloud State's Easton Brodzinski recovered so quickly from a broken leg

While the Buckeyes didn't have any wins over the No. 1 team in the nation, they came close when they beat Minnesota, 4-3, on Nov. 12. Ohio State went 4-2 in November and finished the month ranked No. 18. Freshman defenseman Mason Lohrei has been especially key for them, posting 10 points in 12 games so far this season. 

Ohio State established itself in November.

The first two weekends in December are massive for Ohio State, as it faces Notre Dame and then Michigan. 

6. While Hockey East hasn't dazzled yet, one team looks primed for lots of success  

One of my five storylines from October was that Hockey East teams were slacking. We're used to Hockey East teams putting themselves among college hockey's elite and that hasn't really happened yet this year. UMass opened at No. 1 but after a slow start and now a ton of injuries, the reigning national champs are a fringe top-10 team. 

Through November, the highest a Hockey East team got in the USCHO poll was Providence at No. 7 for one week. Then UMass spent two weeks at No. 8. After that, no Hockey East team was in the top 10. 

That doesn't mean there aren't teams with plenty of potential. 

Once UMass gets back to full health, the Minutemen are an easy bet for top tier status. After being swept by UMass to begin the month, Providence rattled off six-straight wins, entering December red hot. Both Northeastern and Boston College were inconsistent throughout November and even though things aren't looking amazing for those two, they're hanging onto spots low in the rankings. 

AVOIDING COMPLACENCY: How UMass plans to repeat as national champs

There's one team I have my eye on that I didn't mention above: UMass Lowell. 

The River Hawks went 4-1-1 through November and are 8-2-2 on the year. They had big wins over Northeastern and BC in the last month. Senior goalie Owen Savory has been the team's MVP thus far, posting the best goals against average (1.10) and save percentage (.954) in the nation. That's led to UMass Lowell only allowing 18 goals on the season, which is lowest in the nation. 

Another reason to believe UMass Lowell has what it takes to compete with the best is it has the sixth-best 5v5 Corsi For Percentage in the nation at 58.7 percent, according to College Hockey News

UMass Lowell has a huge test to open December when it has a home-and-home with UMass. 

7. Minnesota Duluth goalie Ryan Fanti was spectacular 

After giving up four goals in a loss to Western Michigan on Nov. 5, Ryan Fanti was lights out for the rest of the month. 

Ryan Fanti was dynamite in November.

Fanti went on to go 5-1-1 over his next seven games, including a three-game shutout streak. He added another shutout on Nov. 27 against Alaska Fairbanks. All in all, the junior stopped 157 of 161 shots. That's pretty good. 

His goals against average on the season of 1.25 ranks him third in the nation. His .946 save percentage ranks him third in the nation, too. He's been terrific this season and a huge reason as to why the Bulldogs are the No. 1 team in the nation at the end of November. 

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