The Penn State hockey team (11-2-3) is off to the best start since joining Division I play in 2012. The USCHO.com poll that came out on December 7 had the team ranked No. 16, the highest it has been ranked in program history. As of Sunday the team is No. 9 in the PairWise rankings, another record for the squad.
The PairWise ranking is a system that is meant to emulate the process used by the NCAA Selection Committee at the conclusion of the season. Once the six automatic bids are awarded to each conference champion, the committee fills out the remaining spots with the highest rated at-large teams to form the sixteen team tournament. Typically at least the top 12 teams in the PairWise rankings at the end of the year make the tournament, as many of the automatic bid winners are already in the top 16. A PairWise ranking in the top 10 assures a team of a spot in the tournament even if there were six unranked teams that pull upsets in their conference tournaments.
It's early in the season and there is plenty of hockey to be played, but it is noteworthy for the young program to occupy a tournament slot as college hockey heads into a three-week break. Only eight games will be played nationally between now and December 28, as the 60 teams prepare for finals and the holidays.
The USCHO.com poll will be updated mid-day on December 14 and then it will not be updated until the fourth of January.