I am well aware that College Hockey was officially back last week. The Ivy League’s general lack of participation also lands those teams on the naughty list, as usual. Since they continue to function in their weirdo bubble, we have no choice but to set off without them or their books. I’ve taken all of the important factors into consideration and have STILL decided that this is the week where every College Hockey fanbase is allowed to get excited. We are OFFICIALLY back in the saddle!
Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota – Gophers
They were the best last year, plain and simple. They’ve only got an exhibition game under their belt and looked shaky at times…but the pieces are already coming together. There was A LOT of high caliber talent that left in the off-season, but Oliver Moore seems like he’s going to pick up right where they left off.
2. St. Cloud State – Huskies
I said all I needed to in last week’s season preview. The Huskies are (basically) the exact same team they were last season. While that includes great defense, a dangerous offense, and stout goaltending, it also comes with some downsides…namely inconsistent play. They’ve already lost a game to unranked St Thomas, we’ll see if the Huskies have learned from their past mistakes or not.
3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
UMD went into last weekend as an underdog in their own building against Michigan Tech. The Dogs were unleashed early and held two separate leads throughout the game while putting up FIFTY shots against Mike Richter favorite Blake Pietila. The young guys were skating with poise and putting up numbers as well but, as is tradition with UMD, they relinquished a third period lead. They’re officially 0-0-1, but only one team lifted the US Hockey Hall of Fame trophy and that was UMD.
4. St. Thomas University – Tommies
This is the first year where the Tommies officially have some sort of expectations going into the season. They’re still not eligible for postseason play (what an incredibly stupid rule) but I don’t know that they’re expected to be competing for one of those spots yet anyways. What they WILL be competing for is home-ice in the CCHA playoffs and respect. With an early win against a top-ten team in the nation, they’ve certainly announced their presence.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
Bemidji gonna Bemidji. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. The Beavs are pesky. They may not be the shutdown defensive front that they were in the past, but they’ll be competitive in every series they play in this year. I’m putting the Over/Under for split series by the Beavs at 10.5 for this season.
6. Minnesota State – Mavericks
The Mavericks are an absolute WILDCARD. I have no idea what style they’re going to roll out. Is it going to be dump and chase every game hoping to capitalize on bounces? Are they going to try and hold onto the puck and control pace of play? Will they shift to a defense-first mentality? Okay that one was a joke, but I simply don’t know what this unit is going to look like. There’s a lot of young players that are going to have to step up regardless. While some are giving them the benefit of retaining a decent amount of playoff talent, they’re officially in “prove it” territory for me with so many new faces, including Coach Strand.
National Rankings Roundup
Normally, this is where I’d combine all of the available rankings platforms into one nice table. This early in the season, that’s a useless endeavor. Half the teams haven’t played and a lot of the ones that have are only one game in. There’s not enough deviation in anyone’s thinking that makes it worthwhile to combine the data. WITH THAT BEING SAID, the guys over at Everything College Hockey and Buccigross both have UMD significantly higher than the national polls, so shoutout to me for not using that to boost their numbers. Some of us still have integrity. Check out the polls below if you want…the only real differences are Quinnipiac falling a few spots and UConn breaking into the rankings at 20.
Minnesota College Hockey Games
St Thomas @ #1/2 Minnesota – Fri & Sat, Oct 13/14
Vibes: One day after the Minnesota Wild returned to the ice at the Xcel Energy Center, the Gophers will take on the Tommies on the same sheet. It’s a huge stage for what should turn into an awesome cross-town rivalry between the two schools. Coach Motzko seemed to have a lot of hesitation about committing his team to play St Thomas on any regular basis, that is until the announcement of the brand new sports complex on the St Paul campus.
Expectations for each school are wildly different. The Tommies would love to show the rest of the College Hockey world that they can compete with the best teams in the nation. The Gophers are hoping to score early and often and use the series as another tune-up for conference play. You just have to wonder if that will come back to bite them for looking ahead too early.
Prediction: As competent as the Tommies looked last weekend, I’ve officially attributed that to familiarity since they’ve played SCSU so many times since their jump to D1. The Gophs are a different animal and take both.
#9/10 St. Cloud State @ Minnesota State – Fri & Sat, Oct 13/14
Vibes: Despite the disparity in rankings, these two teams are both trying to prove something. St Cloud would love to prove that last weekend was a fluke. They would love to show that they are capable of playing a solid, structured game over an entire two-game series and walk away with both wins before the puck drops in the third period.
The Mavericks would love to prove the haters wrong. From a top-ten team last season to unranked at the beginning of this season is undoubtedly a chip on the shoulder of every returning player and coach. They were unable to score in a 0-1 loss against Omaha in last week’s exhibition game, but tallied 38 shots. Eventually those have to start going in.
Prediction: St Cloud bounces back from a tough start and controls the neutral zone in both games to sweep the series.
Northern Michigan @ Minnesota, Duluth – Fri & Sat, Oct 13/14
Vibes: The UMD Bulldogs are going to have to force Northern Michigan to play their style to win games this weekend. While the dogs were able to put up a 50-burger in the shot column against Michigan Tech last week, that is totally unsustainable. It took that many chances plus a phenomenal first period from goaltender Zach Stejskal to come away with a tie six days ago. They’ll also NEED to find a way to stay out of the penalty box in this series. Five penalties a game is not a great average to start the season with.
The Wildcats don’t have a goaltender with the same pedigree as Pietila between the pipes. While there’s no denying that fact, they are much more capable of capitalizing on big plays than the Huskies. If you need any evidence, look at their run in the CCHA tournament last year. Mix that together with the Bulldog’s propensity for at least two breakaway chances in every game and it’s a dangerous combination.
Prediction: Dogs unable to sweep, but walk away with a win and another non-conference tie at home.
2023 Ice Breaker Tournament – Fri & Sat, Oct 13/14
Vibes: I’m disappointed in both Bemidji and North Dakota. Why is Army the only team with any sort of a logo/graphic created to promote the tournament this weekend?
Every year, whoever is hosting the Ice Breaker tournament comes out with SOME sort of a logo. Sure, some of them are significantly better than others. As is the case with Super Bowl logos over the last two decades, they’ve gotten significantly worse over time, but at least they all tried! Hell, there’s already a logo for the tournament being held NEXT YEAR!
Let’s just hope that the laziness in promotion doesn’t carry over to the product on the ice because there will be A LOT of eyes on these games. Everyone who’s invested in College Hockey wants to see what this new Wisconsin squad is going to look like against real competition. Bemidji is always a wildcard who can come out of nowhere. Army is coming into the season without many expectations, but was able to rack up a few impressive wins last year. North Dakota has done a FULL change on their blueline and has another new netminder as a backstop. Nobody has any idea how that’s going to work and they’re lying to you if they say otherwise.
Prediction: North Dakota doesn’t have the best track-record for special games or tournaments as of late, but they’re due for a win. Fighting Hawks walk away with two wins this weekend.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
Alaska @ #9/10 Michigan Tech – Fri & Sat, Oct 13/14
Vibes: Neither of these schools had the start to the season that they wanted. Alaska was swept by Denver and Michigan Tech tied with a team seven spots behind them in the national rankings. Both will be coming into the series filled with piss & vinegar and neither can afford to get swept this early. Would two losses to a quality opponent affect their end of season ranking THAT much, probably not. WITH THAT BEING SAID, ask Alaska what one more win would have done for them at the end of last season. You’ve got to think that every game feels like a must-win for the Nanooks after that.
Prediction: Tech rallies behind their lunatic fans and takes two wins behind two big games from Pietila. Calling for one shutout already.
Notre Dame @ RIT – Sat, Oct 14th
Vibes: After a series split with Clarkson last weekend, I am no closer to having any answers about the identity of the Fighting Irish for this season. There’s no doubt that they’ve got one of the best goalies in the nation, but is that going to be enough? Is Bischel going to get any sort of support from his team? We’ll find out against RIT.
The Tigers were the best team in the Atlantic last year and I expect that to continue into this year as well. I know that some (definitely not me) would say that’s like being the sharpest crayon in the box, but what are you going to do? I would have loved to see how the Tigers matched up in the National tourney in the postseason, but there’s only one 16-seed and after losing to Holy Cross in the AHA tourney, it was Canisius’ to lose. Regardless, I’m excited to see what RIT can muster up against a team like Notre Dame.
Prediction: Fighting Irish live up to their name and come out swinging. 4-1 win in the single-game contest.
Bowling Green vs Augustana – Sat & Sun, Oct 14/15
Vibes: Seems like an odd College Hockey series to focus on with everything else going on, huh? Do I expect either of these two teams to do anything of relevance this year? Not really, no. So why bother taking the time to highlight it? Because Augustana could earn their first D1 collegiate win already, that’s why.
Sure, the Vikings got waxed by Wisconsin two games in a row last weekend and haven’t scored a goal yet. That doesn’t matter in the slightest. Bowling Green may have won their first game of the season, but they also got shut out by Robert Morris in their first season back in the College Hockey world. The Falcons team is in turmoil right now with all of the late offseason news and the team is playing like it too. I’m not saying there’s a GREAT chance, but the fact that there’s a chance at all is noteworthy.
Prediction: BGSU takes them both and makes me look like a humongous idiot for wasting everyone’s time by writing about it.
Disclaimer: I’m an idiot and none of these picks should be taken as guarantees. They’re just simply what I feel to be the best bets of the week that have official odds tied to them. Sure, there are others that I feel stronger about, but until College Hockey commands the attention it deserves, the books are going to limit what they allow you to wager on.
For what it’s worth…last week was still pretty good.
I’ve been hit by cars three times, which is an indication of how stubborn I am.
I write about everything across the board, but focus on Hockey and the pain that is Minnesota sports.
Argue with me on Twitter: @venividiveech