MARQUETTE - College hockey media love analyzing the PairWise rankings week-in and week-out, often claiming to be bracketologists.
The media does so because anxious fans often get into it, wanting to know where their team stands in the postseason picture.
Since the Northern Michigan University hockey team made the NCAA tournament in 2009-10, the Wildcats themselves have also gotten into the ranking system that determines who goes dancing and where teams are seeded.
Northern Michigan University sophomore forward Reed Seckel totaled a team high 13 goals and 12 assists. (Journal file photo by Zach Jay)
There's one exception in the Wildcats' locker room, apparently, in sophomore forward Reed Seckel. He wants his teammates to join him.
Correction. Seckel demands his teammates join him.
"We look at the big picture, we look at the rankings, we look at that, we look at this," Seckel said. "This team's got to do this. This team's got to do that.
"I. Do. Not. Care. Look at the small picture. Look at what you're doing. All you have to do is worry about ourselves and that's all we have to worry about."
After being upset by Bowling Green State last season in the first-round CCHA playoff series at the Berry Events Center, Seckel gave a passionate postgame press conference pledging to right the wrongs of the 2011-12 season.
A year later, Seckel gave another impassioned interview in those same BEC hallways, asking for more of himself and his teammates just days after being swept by Michigan in a CCHA first-round series in Ann Arbor.
"Personally, I failed," Seckel said. "Looking back, maybe I had a couple goals, I had a decent year. Looking back at it, I don't think I was consistent. I failed as in the team, as in winning in the playoffs. A lot more stuff was not good enough. We have to be better next year, a lot better next year.
"We need to put our heads down, grind and not look at the big picture."
Seckel, an assistant captain this year as a third-year sophomore and candidate to captain the 'Cats as a junior in 2013-14, led his team in goals scored with 13 after scoring eight as a redshirt freshman.
He had 12 assists for the second-straight season to finish second on the team in scoring with 25 points.
NMU head coach Walt Kyle said Seckel had an outstanding season and when it comes to energy and caring about the game, Seckel is the prototypical player.
Seckel, who missed three games all year due to injury, was a bit harder on himself, knocking his own consistency. He only scored goals in back-to-back games played twice, his longest point streak was three games and in the Wildcats' final 13 games of 2012-13, Seckel only finished with a positive plus/minus rating four times and never in back-to-back games.
"I don't think I did that good," Seckel said. "I look back and see myself have a good Friday night and a bad night on Saturday - not consistent. I'll see myself have a really good weekend and the next weekend I really don't do too much."
Despite the inconsistencies, Seckel and his linemates - senior Matt Thurber and junior Erik Higby - drove the Wildcats' offense. All three increased their offensive output from 2011-12.
Thurber led NMU in scoring with six goals and 26 assists for 32 points in 30 games after posting 11 goals and 19 assists a year ago.
Despite missing six games due to suspensions and the two postseason games at Michigan with a broken leg, Thurber finished seventh in the CCHA in scoring and entered the postseason as the league-leader in assists.
"When we lost Matt, I think we lost a lot of confidence as a group," Kyle said. "They're not stupid. They know what's going on."
Higby took a giant leap as a junior. Despite battling injuries for the second-straight season, he went from two goals and five assists as a sophomore to nine goals and 12 assists as a junior.
Sophomore Ryan Daugherty made a similar leap to Higby, going from three goals and three assists and a true freshman to 10 goals and eight assists this season.
Daugherty's linemate, junior Stephan Vigier, didn't take a jump, however. After scoring 13 goals and 13 assists last season, Vigier finished his junior year with seven goals and 14 assists.
Kyle said Daugherty had a good first half, but only "an honest second half" as a sophomore.
Vigier, meanwhile, had a subpar year with minimal impact on the game, Kyle said.
"(Vigier) is a tremendous character player who really shows an ability to contribute offensively and has really shown an ability to be an impact guy on the power play," Kyle said. "This year, he was not an impact guy on the power play and did not perform to the level he expects offensively.
"For us to be good, Stephan Vigier is going to have to have a big bounce-back year."
As Kyle projected in the preseason, NMU lacked the top-end scorers it had in 2011-12 when senior Justin Florek of Marquette scored 19 goals and 17 assists, and senior Tyler Gron posted 17 goals and 20 assists.
The 'Cats did have more depth, though, as Kyle hoped they would.
A year ago, 74 percent of NMU's 106 goals came from its top two lines, led by Gron and Florek. The third and fourth lines contributed 11 percent of the scoring and defensemen accounted for 15 percent.
This season, Thurber, Seckel, Higby, Daugherty and Vigier - the consistent top liners - finished with 50 percent of the team's 90 goals. Defensemen scored 20 percent of the goals, while the rest had 30 percent.
Leading 'the rest' was freshman forward Darren Nowick, who scored seven of the rests' 27 goals, though four came while playing on the Wildcats' top two lines. He finished the year alongside Daugherty and Vigier.
"If you look at our third and fourth lines last year, the goal totals were really, really bad - abysmal," Kyle said. "This year, it was much better in those groups. We were able to roll four lines this year, which at times, we couldn't do last year."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens