Luke Glendening almost grimaced when he admitted that the Michigan hockey team had seen the most recent version of the NCAA hockey rankings.

Earlier this week, Michigan coach Red Berenson said he wasn’t sure if his players were aware of the rankings. They were, but they didn’t want to talk about it.

When you’re the No. 1 hockey team in the nation, that number becomes pretty hard to ignore. Glendening, though, said the number means “absolutely zero.”

“We’ve played four games,” Glendening said, dismissing the topic.

Through those four games, Michigan has gone undefeated and currently sits at second in the nation in both goals per game and goals against. Not too bad.

And through those four games, the only thing that distinguishes the current iteration of the Michigan hockey team from the 2005 team is the size of its Hunwick.

The 2005 team earned a preseason ranking toward the back end of the top 10. After just four games and four impressive wins, it earned the No. 1 ranking.

The 2005 team lacked a true breakout scorer. Three players tied for the team lead in goals, but none cracked the 20-goal mark.

The 2005 team had a Hunwick — fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick’s older brother, Matt — as an alternate captain.

Sound familiar?

It should. From the spread of its goal-scoring, to the ranking and right down to the Hunwick, this year’s team is a near clone of the one six years ago.

And what does the No. 1 ranking ultimately mean for each team? This early in the season, it means little.

“It doesn’t matter,” Berenson said. “We’ve been ranked No. 1 a lot over the last 15 years.”

A lot, but not as often as you might think. Only four of the past 16 Michigan teams have held the distinction during the season, and two of the past 16 teams have won National Championships.

Those groups don’t intersect.

If the Wolverines win it all this year, they’ll be the first Michigan team to be ranked No. 1 during the season and win the tournament.

There’s a lot to like about these Wolverines. They’ve played tight defense, have lots of offensive contributors and have a goalie who plays best in big games.

Michigan has done enough to earn the No. 1 ranking. It has played a weak schedule but has taken care of business. A 10-3 win over anyone is impressive.

The 10 goals against St. Lawrence look more impressive to pollsters than they actually were. Berenson said St. Lawrence actually outplayed Michigan for significant portions of the game, but the Wolverines could do no wrong when shooting.

They scored on shots from the blue line. They scored on rebounds the goalie failed to cover up. They scored on shots when the goalie seemed to not be paying attention.

The ranking may also be inflated by the fact that much of the rest of the top 10 recorded losses in the first two weeks.

The Wolverines, in a way, became the USCHO poll’s safety school. The other elite teams might be more talented, but they screwed up on the entrance exams. Michigan became the de facto choice.

After all, the Wolverines have too many question marks at this point in the season to be considered better than teams like No. 2 Boston College, or even CCHA competition like No. 6 Notre Dame or No. 10 Miami.

Will sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill come back? Can they eliminate the costly penalties? Can they win a title with freshmen playing key roles?

Those questions can’t be answered until conference play begins.

As Berenson said, “These early games are good, but they’re not the real games.”

The same is true for early rankings. It’s certainly good to be ranked No. 1, but it’s not a real ranking.

Just ask the 2005 team. After its No. 1 ranking, it finished third in the CCHA and lost 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It finished outside the top 10. That’s the only ranking that mattered.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.