Hockey season is approaching, and when the Hockey East media corps votes in this year's preseason poll, your humble bloggers here at BC Interruption will get to cast a vote.
There are many vexing questions as I begin to think about how I'll fill out my ballot. With so many returning players, will Lowell top the league and contend for another Frozen Four berth? Does the dynamic freshman class put BC back in the #1 spot? Will new head coaches revitalize legendary programs at BU and Maine?
But the most difficult question to answer is where to slot in Notre Dame, who will make their much-ballyhooed Hockey East debut with a two game series at Vermont on November 1-2.
The Irish were a very solid team last year, with their 25-13-3 mark earning them a berth in the NCAA tournament. Based on last year's RPI rankings, Notre Dame would have been #4 in Hockey East with their #8 national ranking, behind #3 Lowell, #5 BC, and #7 UNH -- well ahead of BU, who finished on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble.
I took a look back at Notre Dame's recent history against Hockey East.
Oct 12 vs Maine: W, 1-0
Nov 9 @ BC: L, 1-3
Nov. 18 vs. BC, W, 3-2
Dec. 2 vs. NU, L 9-2
Dec. 3 vs. NU, L 2-1
Dec. 31 vs. BU, W 5-2
Oct 10. vs. BU, L 5-4
Oct. 23 vs. BC, W 2-1
Jan 2. vs. BU, T 3-3
Mar. 26 vs.. Merrimack (NCAA), W 4-3
Mar. 27 vs. UNH (NCAA), W 3-2
Oct. 15 vs. PC, L 2-1
Oct. 16 vs. PC, W 2-0
Oct. 20 at BU, W 3-0
Oct. 23 at BC, L 3-2
But there are several factors that make the outlook cloudier for Notre Dame this year.
For one, Hockey East is, simply, a tougher league top-to-bottom than the CCHA. I'm sure there will be people who disagree with me, but the recent history of the two leagues seem to bear out that Hockey East not only has the nation's elite program in BC, it also has an absolute meatgrinder of a schedule, with even the bottom teams (with the exception of Northeastern, lulz) being incredibly physical and difficult to play against on any given night.
Secondly, the travel difference between Notre Dame and their conference foes is going to be a factor. Notre Dame is used to flying to many of their away series due to the whole being in the middle of a cornfield thing, but unlike their CCHA days in which many teams faced long trips weekend after weekend, most of Hockey East's games will still be a bus trip for the away team. Will the higher miles logged over the course of the year wear down the Irish?
I think Notre Dame has a bright future in Hockey East thanks to their sparkling facilities and favorable television treatment, but this year could be an adjustment for the Irish as they adapt to the intense grind of the Hockey East schedule.
Without revealing all of my thoughts on how to rank the teams 1-11 going into October, I think I'm going to put Notre Dame #5 on my preseason poll.
What say you?