Jon Swavely

Back To Class: When surprise results aren’t exactly upsetting

We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET as No. 12 Dartmouth takes on No. 19 Union College.

This weekend turned out to be a bad one if your favorite team was a Top 5 team in the polls. Friday night in particular was brutal as No. 1 Minnesota, No. 3 Boston College, No. 4 New Hampshire, and No. 5 North Dakota all suffered losses. BC wound up being swept by Maine while the others recovered to win or tie to salvage points.

Is that a sign of trouble to come? Not a chance.

As Joe Meloni at College Hockey News put it perfectly, there are no upsets in January. Surprise results, sure, but the grind of the college hockey season is all about getting things right for the run towards the NCAA tournament in March. Working through the bulk of the conference schedule can get, for the lack of a better word, boring for top programs. For those chasing them, they will take full advantage of gunning for the top dogs. That kind of situation makes surprise results more likely.

Think about it: Would you believe Boston College is in trouble while they’ve got some injuries on defense mid-season and coach Jerry York missed a handful of games after having eye surgery? If you’ve seen them steamroll through the Hockey East tournament and NCAAs in recent years, you know what the right answer is.

It’s all about being ready for the stretch run and getting the team in prime shape for the conference tournament and beyond. Dropping a game here or there mid-season is only a big problem for a team if they’re thinking short-term.


Likely No. 1 with a bullet: I’ve been tracking Quinnipiac and their red-hot play here almost every week and after this weekend’s results through the Top 5, they’re more than likely going to be the new No. 1 in the polls. Fans in the WCHA won’t like seeing an ECAC team atop the pile but keep in mind a couple things: A) Polls are pointless and crying about them is a waste of time. B) Go double-check the Pairwise Rankings and settle down. They’re at the top for a reason.

Penn State winning to get noticed: The Nittany Lions’ first season in Division I has been bumpy. They’ve had some awkward losses to the likes of Arizona State’s club team as well as to Division-III Buffalo State and Neumann College but they’ve shown progress by knocking off some big name schools. This weekend they took out Michigan State and they’ve also earned wins against Vermont, Ohio State, Air Force, and RIT. No one said making the jump to D-I would be easy, but coach Guy Gadowski will get that program rolling sooner than you think.

Bucking Broncos: Western Michigan isn’t a team you think about right away when it comes to college hockey, but Andy Murray’s team is on fire. Over their last 17 games, WMU is 11-3-3. Over the weekend they swept Red Berenson’s Michigan Wolverines sending them spiraling further down in the CCHA. With Notre Dame struggling lately, Western Michigan and Miami University are setting up for quite the rumble down the stretch. That is if the Alaska Nanooks and their polar bear of doom don’t take them all out.

(Photo: Hockey East Online)

Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

From the Washington Post:

“No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

“Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

“I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.

After 20-game absence, Elias to make season debut for Devils

Patrik Elias
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It took a while, but Patrik Elias‘ campaign is ready to get underway.

Elias, who’s yet to play this year because of a knee injury, says he’ll be in the New Jersey lineup tonight when the Devils host the Blue Jackets at Prudential (per The Record).

The 39-year-old’s presence should provide an emotional lift in front of the home crowd.

A lifelong Devil — only Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur have appeared in more games — fans may be witnessing Elias’ last year in uniform. It’s fair to suggest he could be on the verge of retirement, given he’s in the last of a three-year, $16.5 million deal and will turn 40 in April.

As for tonight, it’s not yet official who Elias will play with — or how much he’ll play. He did take line rushes with Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau at Tuesday’s practice.

After three-game absence, Johnson back for Bolts this week

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The Lightning have a busy stretch of the schedule coming up, with three games in the next four nights.

And it sounds like they’ll get a big lineup reinforcement to help them through it.

Per LA Kings Insider — the Kings are in Tampa tonight — Bolts head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Tyler Johnson will be back in the lineup “at some point” this week, after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury.

Johnson has been out of the lineup since taking a Dave Bolland hit on Nov. 14. The timing of the injury was lousy, especially since Johnson looked to be rounding into form — after a rough October in which he failed to score a goal and had just five points in 12 games, Johnson was playing well in November, with three goals and five points in his first six games.

There’s no denying the Bolts could use Johnson back in the mix.

The club has been ravaged by injury lately and is currently without the services of Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette at forward.

The injuries are a big reason why Tampa is off to a mediocre 10-9-3 start. That said, the team has looked good in each of its last two games — a 2-1 win over the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, followed by a 5-0 blowout of the Ducks on Saturday.

As for when Johnson might get back in? The Bolts play tonight at home against L.A., on Friday in Washington, then back at home on Saturday against the Islanders.

Will the Bruins re-sign Loui Eriksson?

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Loui Eriksson, one of the key pieces Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, is in the last of his six-year, $25.5 million deal and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

And, at least for now, there doesn’t appear to be much certainty about his future as a Bruin.

“I’ll never, ever comment publicly in regard to individual players and negotiations and such,” B’s GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Herald this week. “Whether (comments) come out from the other side or wherever, they’re not going to come from me.

“He’s a big part of our team and he’s off to a really good start.”

Eriksson is certainly off to a good start — nine goals and 18 points in 20 games, his highest points-per-game average (.90) since coming to Boston, and the second-highest of his career.

He’s also playing nearly 20 minutes per night, enjoying great chemistry playing alongside David Krejci and, after an injury-riddled first year as a Bruin followed by last year’s playoff miss, seems to have really found his groove.

So why the silence on the extension front?

Two weeks ago, Eriksson told the Globe his agent, J.P. Barry, hasn’t had any discussions with Sweeney about re-signing in Boston.

“There’s not much you can really do about it now,” the 30-year-old Swede explained. “I’m trying to focus on playing good and trying to help this team as much as possible. Then we’ll see what happens after this year.”

Obviously, money is a factor.

Looking ahead, Boston’s current cap crunch doesn’t project to get much lighter. The club already has $61 million in salary committed for next season (per War On Ice), and Sweeney has to be mindful of other important contracts on the horizon.

Torey Krug is a restricted free agent at year’s end, and in line for a raise on the $3.4 million he made this season. Brad Marchand will be a UFA following the ’16-17 campaign.

And you’d think Sweeney would want to keep money free to eventually sort out Boston’s defense. The blueline has been an issue this season; it’s also getting old and will likely need an injection of new blood in the near future.

There’s also the question if, should he head to free agency, Eriksson couldn’t be replaced internally. The B’s are flush with young wingers — Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Seth Griffith, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Alexander Khokhlachev are all 26 or under — which could make Eriksson expendable.