In the wacky, parity-driven world of college hockey, one game can mean all the difference between comfort and pain. Last night’s real-time results provided a perfect example of that.
After their 3-2 loss to Notre Dame, Boston College appears set to go in to the mid-season break 13th in the Pairwise rankings - maybe a little bit ahead of where some people thought they would be at the start of the season, and certainly solid all things considered. At the end of the day, they’re on the right side of the cut line.
But suppose BC had managed to build on or hold on to their early 2-0 lead. A win over Notre Dame would have been one of BC’s biggest pairwise wins of the season - and it would have BC 5th (use CHN’s PWR tool to customize any game result and see how it would impact the season). Their RPI would be .5729 instead of the current .5601.
Even one goal makes a huge difference: a tie would have given BC an RPI of .5668 and a pairwise position of 9th.
Based on what I can tell, that makes last night’s Notre Dame game the second highest-leverage game of the season so far - after BC’s huge win at Denver, without which the Eagles would be 17th in the PWR with a .5424 RPI.
The point of this isn’t to obsess over or dwell on any one game over the course of a long season, but to shine a spotlight on the narrow margins that define a college hockey season. The 2014-15 BC team would not have made the NCAA tournament without a third period rally and overtime winner against Harvard in front of a smattering of fans in the Beanpot consolation game; you never know where the difference will be made.
Unless you manage to be one of the few teams that breaks away from the pack - which BC has been fortunate enough to be often in recent years - pretty much every contender falls in to a big bubble where 1-2 losses can mean a huge swing in position.
Currently, there are four teams that have managed to somewhat separate themselves - Minnesota-Duluth (.6298), Penn State (.6258), Denver (.6023) and Harvard (.5914) from most of the pack. After that, you've got a huge logjam, with .0115 RPI points separating 5th place UMass Lowell from 13th place BC. After that it's a pretty small drop to Notre Dame. Things stop being wadded up at around 17th place. Obviously it's early, so teams can move in to and out of that big logjam, but that's the state of things right now: one or two games will mean the difference between a two seed or sweating out the final weekend hoping there aren't too many conference tournament upsets.
The great thing is, as BC fans know well, as long as you’re one of the 16 who gets in, you’ve got a puncher’s chance of going to the Frozen Four- and the Eagles have already demonstrated they can beat (Denver) or play with (North Dakota) some of the best teams in the nation - even when shorthanded.
But the journey to the field of 16 will be a rollercoaster, just like ‘14-15. So buckle up!