This week's men's ice hockey schedule was absolutely loaded, featuring a slew of highly ranked matchups. It delivered.
No. 13 UMass swept No. 1 Denver; seventeenth-ranked UConn upset No. 11 Ohio State and No. 15 Providence took down No. 7 Northeastern.
Here's what we learned — and what's next — after a wild slate that also included three top-10 matchups with No. 3 North Dakota hosting No. 8 Quinnipiac, No. 4 Minnesota Duluth vs. No. 5 Minnesota Duluth and No. 6 Michigan welcoming No. 9 Boston University to Ann Arbor.
Don't forget about UMass
All the hype was around Denver coming into the season. and rightfully so. The No. 1 Pioneers, not only had the benefit of being the defending national champions, but also returned yet another strong, deep roster. Meanwhile, 2021 champion UMass came into the season ranked tenth before dropping to No. 13 after a season-opening loss, but the Minutemen reminded us that they're still a contender after sweeping Denver this weekend.
OH HOW SWEEP: How UMass shut out No. 1 Denver for the weekend sweep
UMass looks much, much different than the squad that won in Pittsburgh two years ago, but there are a couple things that have always remained consistent. First, they seem to always get good goaltending, and so far that looks to be true once again as sophomore Luke Pavicich has had a nice start as the top guy in net. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, they'll practically never beat themselves. Greg Carvel always has his group ready to play, and teams preparing for the Minutemen know they're going to face their absolute best every game. UMass may not always land the flashy recruits like a Michigan or a Minnesota, but boy, do they get the most out of the talent they have.
They beat Denver every which way this weekend, finding success on the power play, the penalty kill (especially on Friday) and at even strength, while getting the saves they needed. A little puck luck didn't hurt either.
The Minutemen should be able to handle upcoming meetings with Union and Merrimack, but they'll face some good tests against Providence and BU next month. It will be interesting to see how this past weekend's series with Denver impacts the polls.
Minnesota State made a statement
It's easy to look at the No. 5 Mavericks' roster and wonder how they'll handle some of the massive departures over the offseason. Hobey Baker-winning goaltender Dryden McKay graduated, as did top scorer Nathan Smith, among others. But so far, it's been business as usual at MSU.
STATE OF HOCKEY: How Minnesota State swept Minnesota Duluth
After fighting to a split with No. 2 Minnesota to open their season, the Mavericks welcomed No. 4 Minnesota Duluth to Mankato and had their way with the Bulldogs in a wire-to-wire sweep. Minnesota State outscored UMD 8-1 on the weekend, and shut out the Bulldogs for nearly the entire series, keeping them off the board through the first 104:22 of action.
Freshman goaltender Alex Tracy very much looked the part for Mankato, earning the shutout in his collegiate debut before following up with another solid outing Saturday. The Mavericks weren't tremendously busy in their own end, but Tracy was strong when he needed to be.
On top of that, Minnesota State got timely scoring when they needed it from guys they're counting on to fill big shoes. Brendan Furry will have a strong year as expected, but hot starts for players like Akito Hirose, Jake Livingstone, Sam Morton and David Silye is what has been key for the Mavericks so far. Mike Hastings' group looks set for yet another strong season.
There isn't much separating the top teams, so far
I said it last week, but it's hard to remember a season in college hockey where so many teams seem so strong, at least in the early going.
You had No. 17 UConn holding No. 11 Ohio State to a 0-0 draw on Friday before the Huskies cruised to a 5-1 win the following night. Quinnipiac proved it could keep up offensively in the No. 8 Bobcats' 5-5 tie with No. 3 North Dakota two nights ago, and they followed up with a 6-2 win on Saturday. Seventeenth-ranked Providence beat Northeastern at their own game in their own house, cashing in with some timely goals while letting their netminder stand tall in a 2-1 win. Although, PC put up 51 shots, so they didn't exactly sit back either. Meanwhile, Michigan upended BU on Friday night, to say the least, with a 9-2 win where it seemed liked everything went wrong for the Terriers, who responded with a gutsy, comeback 3-2 victory on Sunday without their top goaltender.
LATEST RANKINGS: Click or tap here for the latest USCHO Division I men's hockey poll
That's all without mentioning UMass sweeping the reigning national champions, or Mankato making light work of Duluth. In total, schedule saw all but favorite lose between Denver, UND, UMD, Northeastern and the Buckeyes
Of course, the top five teams will separate themselves eventually, but right now, it seems like there are a ton of legitimate sleepers. We'll see how it shakes out over the next few weeks.
Michigan looks really dangerous
Maybe the Wolverines read Friday's piece, or maybe they didn't. Either way, they handed BU a disastrous loss with a 9-2 final Friday. The Terriers came unglued with two overlapping five minute majors in the first, helping Michigan jump out to an insurmountable lead after the Wolverines withstood a push from BU in the first few minutes of the game.
Brandon Naurato's group got contributions from up and down the lineup, particularly from the newcomers as freshman forwards Ruger McGroarty (1g, 3a) and Adam Fantilli (4a) each had four-point weekends, while T.J. Hughes had two goals and an assist. Sophomore forward Dylan Duke also chipped in two tallies and a helper. In goal, junior Erik Portillo had quality starts in both games, even with Friday's lopsided result, making 26 saves in Game 1 before giving his team a chance to win on Sunday with 31 stops.
They've got a strong group of complimentary players to go along with a couple of very early Hobey Baker candidates in Fantilli and Hughes.
Good on BU for bouncing back Sunday, but the Wolverines are firing on all cylinders right now.
Even if it's still early, it can get late quickly
A lot of these early season highs and lows come with the caveat that it's only three weeks into the men's hockey season, but when the stretch run rolls around in February, many teams on the fringes of tournament contention frequently find themselves cursing those one or two pesky non-conference losses in October.
The first few weeks of the season provide teams the opportunity to work through early struggles and find an identity, the PairWise remains all important. As easy as it is to write it off and say, "it's only October," a team fighting to creep into the top-10 like Ohio State could find themselves lamenting their 0-1-1 series with UConn if they find themselves on the outside of an at-large bid.