POTSDAM — The final weekend of games for the Clarkson men’s hockey team before Christmas break may turn out to be one of the most important contests of the season as the Golden Knights play Michigan Tech in a pair of nonconference games tonight and Saturday in Houghton, Mich.
Clarkson (11-3-1 overall) enters this weekend ranked No. 4 in the U.S. College Hockey Online national poll, but in the PairWise Rankings, which determines the NCAA Tournament field, the Golden Knights are a bubble team at No. 14. Michigan Tech (10-7) is No. 13 in the PairWise Rankings.
The reason Clarkson is much lower in the PairWise Rankings is they are based not just on what the Golden Knights do, but how their opponents have fared.
ECAC Hockey teams have struggled this season. Cornell, which beat Clarkson 4-2 earlier in the season, is No. 3 in the PairWise Rankings, but after Clarkson at 14 you have to go all the way down to No. 23 to find another ECAC Hockey team, in Harvard. Four of the bottom seven teams are ECAC Hockey squads, No. 54 Princeton, No. 55 Brown, No. 57 St. Lawrence University and No. 58 Union.
The Golden Knights (6-1 league play) scheduled traditionally strong programs for their nonconference games this season, but those teams have mostly had disappointing years, which factors into Clarkson being lower in the PairWise than its national ranking.
Michigan is No. 38. Vermont is No. 53. Providence, which beat Clarkson, is No. 16. Wisconsin is No. 32.
That is why it’s important for the Golden Knights this weekend to get at least one win against Michigan Tech, but preferably two. It’s the only team the Golden Knights play, that would currently make an NCAA Tournament field, until Clarkson hosts No. 9 Arizona State for two games on Jan. 24-25.
“It’s early yet,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said of the PairWise Rankings. “I don’t really look until January. I don’t know they started posting now early. They never used to do it until later when more games were played. Our league, obviously, has to win a few more games nonconference. That’s why this weekend is important. We have to take care of our own business.
“Some of those teams (Clarkson beat) are young, and you hope they have second halves that they get things rolling with the talent they have, so we’ll see what shakes. You can’t control any of that. You try to win games. This weekend here you get a team that’s doing well in the PairWise so it’s an opportunity for us there. We try to schedule good teams. We always know Michigan Tech is one of the better teams in the (WCHA). We want a good challenge.”
KIND OF A HOMECOMING
A pair of Clarkson sophomores get a chance to play somewhat close to home this weekend when the Golden Knights face Michigan Tech.
Forward Anthony Callin is from Middleton, Wis., which is 320 miles from Houghton, Mich., which is in the upper peninsula.
Defenseman Michael Underwood, who already got to play in front of family at the University of Michigan earlier, grew up about 530 miles away from Houghton.
“It’s a little bit of drive, but family is coming, so that’s always good,” Callin said. “My parents and my grandparents (are coming). I do have some friends from my high school who are actually up there, so I’ll be able to see them, too. It’s always nice to get a little back toward home.”
Said Underwood, “It will be fun. I’ll have some family there. This was a team that I grew up watching, being from Michigan, so it will be cool to play against them.”
After this weekend, the Golden Knights don’t play again until they host Rensselaer and Union in ECAC Hockey games on Jan. 3-4.
SLU’s men (3-12-1, 1-6-0) return Dec. 28-29 for the Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth. The Saints will play UConn the first day and Colorado College on the second.
Clarkson’s women (14-2-4, 5-1-2) play their next games on Jan. 10-11 at Yale and Brown. SLU (6-7-5, 2-3-2) returns for a women’s game at Syracuse on Jan. 7.