Week 5 – College Hockey Preview

Gophers Hockey NCAA

The landscape of college hockey is finally coming into view. Unlike those stupid “Magic Eye” pictures, this is something I’m actually able to see clearly after staring at it for a long time. With three Minnesota teams representing the state in the frozen four last year, the nation was reminded of why we’re called the “State of Hockey”. The 2021-2022 college hockey season has been nothing short of that thus far either. Those same three teams (Huskies, Mavericks, and Bulldogs) are all ranked in the top 4 for both national polls heading into Week 5.

SOME PEOPLE *cough* me *cough* have had it ranked that way for weeks, but what do I know. All that matters is the 30-80 of you who actually read this know that. Hockey is a small, but deeply loyal community and college hockey even more so. Teams from Minny will look to keep up the same type of energy the rest of the season! If they do, we’ll have a good shot at another solid showing come spring.

Explaining My Rankings:

In what should be a shock to absolutely nobody, I went 7-8 in predictions last weekend. The only one I got wrong? Not predicting the Bulldogs sweep of the lowly Gophers! Serves me right for not being a complete homer for the first time in my life! We had the Mavs on a bye last week and now we’re looking at a week where the #1 and #4 teams in the nation aren’t playing either. That’s right, the Huskies and Bulldogs will be off this weekend prior to getting into the grinder that is the NCHC conference. No time to delay though, I’ve got some bragging to do!

Couple of Minnesota beauties in the top slots
  1. St. Cloud State – Huskies
    • Absolutely killed the Badgers in both games, winning 5-1 and 4-1. At no point in either game was there any doubt in who was going to win and that’s what you want to see out of a top team in the nation. Until they stumble, it’s going to be hard to knock them out of the top spot. With a bye week this week, they’ll have time to rest up before their NCHC conference games start up. Dangerous spot to be for Colorado College, who they’re up against next.
  2. Minnesota State – Mavericks
    • Bye week last week. Might seem unfair to drop them in the rankings just because they didn’t play, but I’m a numbers guy. 6/8 is greater than 4/6 and in a head-to-head matchup against the Huskies, the Mavs don’t have the total points on their side.
  3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
    • This is the part of the blog where I get to brag. For WEEKS I’ve been getting chirped by Gopher fans about ranking the Dogs above them and for WEEKS I’ve been telling you that you’re wrong. Well, what do you have to say now. I expect a written apology online and an “I was wrong” gift sent to 10K headquarters. The Bulldogs had no fewer than 3 ESPN Top-10 worthy goals scored in the game and sophomore forward Blake Biondi was the NCHC forward of the week. Their Friday performance was surprising because they’re not a “scoring” team, but even more surprising was that it came against the reigning Richter Award winner in LaFontaine. Ever since the old WCHA was broken up, this rivalry hasn’t been the same, but if you were at Mariucci on Friday, it was clear that Bulldogs fans had a presence in the arena that could be felt on the ice.
  4. University of Minnesota – Gophers
    • As soon as the Gophers announced that they’d be wearing their yellow jerseys on Friday, the game was already over. Vibes were straight out of the 2014 championship with UMD getting out to a strong lead after 1 and riding it out the rest of the way. After that beating, the tone for Saturday had already been set. Although the Gophers got one back and kept it close, they just could not get the offense going. I expect the Gophers to bounce back and be a strong contender the rest of the year still, but we’ll see how they match up against long-standing rival and another NCHC test in UND when they come to town at the end of November.
  5. Bemidji State – Beavers
    • Some people may have been surprised by the outcome of their games last weekend, but I wasn’t. This went exactly as I predicted last week. Despite a slow start with their front-loaded schedule, the Beavers are going to continue to be a problem in the CCHA.
  6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
    • Don’t look now, but the Tommies have a win under their belt! Sure, it came against what may be the 2nd worst team in the CCHA, but a win is a win! St. Thomas played two complete games and probably deserved to win both, but dropped the first in OT. Good things happen when you don’t let teams score more than 3 goals against you, who knew?

CCHA Games

Bowling Green @ #17 Bemidji State – Fri & Sat Oct 29-30

Falcons vs. Beavers

A year ago, Bowling Green was the surprise team to start the year. They were 12-1 going into their second game against the Beavers. After losing that matchup in OT, they were broken. More broken than Christian Bale in The Machinist. They finished the season .500 with one of their losses coming to the USA Hockey children, giving up 5 goals. This year, they’re 2-0-2 coming into the matchup with one of their wins coming in OT and a 7-1 exhibition loss to Michigan. Without any common opponents, it’s hard to say who’s got the definitive edge here. Having said that, it’s clear to say that the Beavers have had a much stronger schedule to start the season and I think that’s going to be the difference.

Unlike the Gophers football team, I don’t see Bemidji looking past Bowling Green on the schedule. The Beavers have front-loaded their schedule, with all of their losses coming to Top-10 teams from the NCHC in UMD and UND. Throughout the last couple of years (excluding the bubble systems from 2020) it’s been evident that the teams in “weaker” conferences who take on a stronger non-conference schedule have reaped the benefits. Imagine you were set to be in a fist-fight against someone similar to your age and body type. Would you rather spar with bigger and more talented fighters or beat up on 12 year olds to feel better about yourself? Bemidji’s been training with the big boys and it’s going to show up in this matchup.

Prediction: Bemidji keeps it rolling with a 2-0 series sweep.

Northern Michigan @ Minnesota State Fri & Sat Oct 29-30

Wildcats vs. Mavericks

Fresh off of their bye week, Minnesota State is back in action. Not only that, but the Mavericks are finally getting into the meat of their CCHA schedule! We’ve watched them take on nothing but top-10 talent all year long and hold their own in every game. The bar has been set high and we’ll see if this club can live up to that expectation for the rest of the year. Northern Michigan just lost two in a row to Bemidji State, so they’ll be hungry to get back to winning. This is the first time the two teams will meet since the Wildcats shocked MSU, winning 5-1 in the CCHA tournament last March.

Of all the questions about the Mavericks and how they’ll perform in conference play, the biggest has to be about their goaltender, Dryden McKay. Will he finally get the last shutout needed to secure the NCAA record? More aptly, WHEN will he get the shutout? I want to be optimistic that he’ll be able to pull it out against Northern Michigan, but this team has been sneaky efficient in putting the puck in the net, averaging 4.33 per game. Sure, those teams haven’t necessarily been the same caliber as the Mavericks and Dryden has two shutouts while facing the #1 seeded teams. I get that, but something’s telling me it’s not going to happen this week. If, for some reason, he doesn’t grab the record this weekend, bet the house that he gets it against Ferris State next week!

Prediction: Mavericks go 2-0 convincingly against Northern Michigan.

Big 10 Games

#14 Notre Dame (Big 10) @ #7 Minnesota (Big 10) – Fri & Sat Oct 29-30

Fighting Irish vs. Gophers

The battle of the Big 10…sort of. Obviously Michigan is THE powerhouse of the conference this season, but these two are both ranked in the USCHO polls, and rightfully so. Neither team has played a common opponent yet, but this is another case where the previous strength of schedule should impact the series. The Gophers are a lot like the vikings this season. You never know which team is going to show up to play from one night to the next. They’ve struggled in wins against lesser opponents like Mercyhurst and then held their own against the top dogs in the country against St. Cloud State. Sure, they used a little help from the zebras to get a win in St. Cloud, but that’s on the refs and I don’t hold it against the players on the ice.

Where does Notre Dame fall in the list of teams that the Gophers have played so far? Probably somewhere in the lower-tier to middle of the pack. Now that’s not to say they’re not good. It’s more of an indication that the Gophers have played some tougher competition. After getting waxed two nights in a row last weekend, the boys in Mariucci are hungry to get a tough win and prove they’re still worthy of national attention. After all, only one of these two is actually a hockey school.

Prediction: The Gophers come out of the gates strong with a big win Friday, but split the series 1-1 after a loss that shouldn’t have been one on Saturday.

Non-Conference Games

St. Thomas (CCHA) @ Arizona St. (Ind.) – Fri & Sat Oct 29-30

Sun Devils vs. Tommies

What blows my mind is not how successful the Arizona State program has been with no prior history of hockey. It’s the fact that they’re not EVEN MORE successful. Recruiting to ASU has to be the easiest job on the planet. You’re telling me that if you fly some teenagers down to Arizona and get them on campus they’re going to turn you down? A nice warm spot in the middle of the winter, arguably the most attractive student body in the nation, sick jerseys, with a brand new arena coming and they’re STILL not getting top talent? I guess, give it a few more years until word spreads. I’ve been very vocal about my opinions on the program.

Two of the newest teams in college hockey finally have a chance to face off. St Thomas is coming off of a good weekend as a program after getting their first win ever! ASU is…well…exactly who we thought they were. The Sun Devils have won the games they were supposed to win and lost the ones where they were outmatched. This is a series I fully expect them to win pretty handily. St Thomas getting blown out 12-rip again is not what I’m saying, but the extra couple years head start in building a team should be evident in this particular matchup.

Prediction: Like everyone else, the Tommies leave the desert losers and get swept 0-2.