In a “normal” College Hockey season, it’s pretty evident who the best teams in the nation are. The top ten are all but guaranteed a playoff spot while the remaining ranked teams are fighting for the last spots. This year, we’ve seen more turnover at the bottom of the national rankings than any other in recent memory. The amount of movement inside of those rankings on a week-to-week basis is a roller coaster as well.Just last week alone we saw Ohio State hand LIU their first win against a ranked opponent in history. Unranked Omaha and Arizona State teams upset #1 Denver and #2 Minnesota. Cornell found a way to shut out #6 UConn 6-0, Brown upset #8 Providence to take home the Mayor’s cup, and Princeton blanked a ranked RIT program. Those might have been the most notable wins on the weekend, but that’s only a taste of the havoc that has happened this season. The only thing that’s certain, is uncertainty itself.
Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota – Gophers
With Denver losing to Omaha and the Gophers winning on Friday, the door was open for Minnesota to take over the number one spot in the polls again. Unfortunately, they could not close out the series against Arizona State who quietly keeps racking up signature wins on the season.
2. St. Cloud State – HuskiesBye week last week did the team no damage, but no favors in terms of the standings either.
3. Minnesota State – Mavericks
For the second time this season, the Mavericks went winless on the weekend after losing and tying with Michigan Tech. Going winless in a series hasn’t happened for the Mavericks since the 2018-2019 season, so to have it happen twice in one season is an indication of how much more this team is struggling to close out games than any in recent memory.
4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – BulldogsUMD also had a bye week over the Thanksgiving holiday. One would think that means the team would come back healthy and well rested…but they’d be wrong. Sandelin’s squad will be battling injuries and illness when they return to AmsOil.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
With an opportunity to join the ranked teams in both polls, the Beavs came away with no wins on the weekend. They played North Dakota tough on Friday while skating to a tie and lost outright on Saturday. They were good, not great…exactly as expected.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
The Tommies FINALLY earned their first weekend sweep at the D1 level! With how often I have dogged this team in the past when they give up a late lead or get swept themselves, it’s only right to give them their flowers when they do things like this. They’ve already got more wins than last season and are well on their way to doubling that total, as I correctly predicted (yet to be seen) at the beginning of the season. Congrats to the Tommies.
National Rankings Roundup
Despite losing their series opener to Omaha, Denver remains MOST people’s number one team in the nation. The East coast elitists are furious at those rankings and screaming on Quinnipiac’s behalf. They must not realize that the Bobcats don’t have a single win against another opponent that’s currently ranked in the top 20 while carrying around the baggage of being shut out by unranked Maine.Speaking of screaming about rankings, there has been a lot of that online lately…specifically surrounding the rankings roundup. Obviously there are some biases in rankings sources, so those that have put less effort into hiding those have had their weighted percentage reduced. I, for one, will continue to include people with a national media reach that promote the rankings because at least they’re choosing to use their platform to grow the game instead of ignore it completely.
Rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted. If you’ve been paying attention from the start, you would have noticed the Pairwise weight increasing over time as it becomes more reliable. If you haven’t and don’t possess the brain power to understand variable metrics, just know that it will only continue to grow over the coming weeks. It is, after all, the primary thing that will matter at the end of the year.
Note: The National Rankings RoundupTM weighs each of the ranking sources instead of treating them all as equal. This takes into account the credibility of source, potential committee influence, what data they utilize, evident bias, and amount of teams ranked.
Minnesota College Hockey Games
#1/4 Minnesota @ #11/13 Michigan State – Fri & Sat, Dec 2/3
Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies of Minnesota have been getting more national recognition and airtime than almost anyone in college hockey. Producing like they have for one of the most storied programs in the history of College Hockey will do that for you. Where Minnesota has taken advantage of other teams is the depth of the roster in addition to the firepower at the top. While undisciplined and chaotic at times, this squad is likely the most dangerous in the nation when firing on all cylinders.
Daniel Russell and Karsen Dorwart of Michigan State trail the dynamic duo of Minnesota by just two points this season. They’re a huge part of the success that the Spartans have seen, but they’re not the only reason for the success. Graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr has made the most of his opportunity this season by stopping 453 shots to date on his way to posting a save percentage of .934. While those stats are more than impressive, you’d be hard-pressed to say that the Spartans have faced any team of the caliber of Minnesota this season. The fans in East Lansing will be quick to remind the haters that their team has already found a way to sweep a ranked Ohio State team and split with Penn State, so anything can happen.
Prediction: Gophs outplay the Spartans both nights, but split the series.
North Dakota @ #3 St Cloud State – Fri & Sat, Dec 2/3
If I were to tell you that either unranked North Dakota or number three St Cloud State are top ten in power play, penalty kill, faceoff, and shooting percentages you’d be inclined to say it’s the Huskies, right? WRONG. Despite North Dakota being one of the best teams in the nation on paper, they’re currently 7th in the NCHC and outside of all ranked teams, let alone the playoff bubble. As bad as that sounds, the team was surrounded in controversy this week as well.
While North Dakota has a wide array of statistical accomplishments on the season, there’s one that SCSU cannot be beat in and it may be the most important one in all of College Hockey. Dominic Basse’s goals against average (1.29) and save percentage (.948) are the best in the nation. While he’s seen the 6th fewest of all the teams with an equal number of games, he’s made the most of it and found a way to stop more of them.
That stability between the pipes combined with the talent of Grant Cruikshank has been the difference for St Cloud this season. Some of you may be asking, “Where was that production last year”. Well, it was on other teams. You see, with the transfer portal, one of the best programs in the country was able to reload in just one offseason by luring a great goaltender away from Colorado College by offering them more help in front of the net and an elite scorer away from Minnesota by offering him what is essentially unlimited ice time with a less talented (on paper) roster begging for minutes. THAT is how you operate with the transfer portal in today’s age of College Hockey and you can bet that other teams have taken notice.
Prediction: St Cloud state has made a point of dominating possession this season. Without the puck, North Dakota struggles. Huskies win and tie on the weekend.
Ferris State @ #11 Minnesota State – Fri & Sat, Dec 2/3
Talk about a nerve racking series for the Mavericks. That sounds awfully silly to say with Ferris State on the other side of the ice, but if you’ve paid any attention to the Mavericks last year and how they’ve played so far this season, then you know. Sure, Ferris is a bottom third team in College Hockey with no top scorers, but they’re JUST outside the top ten in killing off penalties. They catch a lot a flak for their record and bad losses, but this team has done something that few others can say and that’s regularly give Minnesota State fits on the ice.
Whether you want to attribute the close games to the familiarity of a conference opponent, a mental block, or voodoo magic does not matter. What matters is that it’s acknowledged. Minnesota State fans still talk about the “CaTaStRoPhIc” loss to Ferris State last year. The players will have to push that thought out of their minds this weekend.
Prediction: Mankato gets back on track against a familiar foe, dominating in both in a sweep.
Colorado College @ UMD – Fri & Sat, Dec 2/3
The UMD Bulldogs and Colorado College Tigers are closer now than the teams have been in the history of NCHC. Neither team has set the world on fire in any meaningful category or metric. Goalies for each squad are outside of the top 20 for GAA and save percentage. Those were both strong suits and points of pride for these teams at the end of last season. With that said, Colorado College is sitting at number ten in the nation for power play efficiency. Taking UMD’s propensity for getting heated and finding the box into account, that’s dangerous. The flip side of that logic is CC has also allowed the 2nd most shorthanded goals this year.
While UMD is currently one spot ahead of CC in the NCHC standings, they’ve each got 8 points, making this series vitally important in the race for a top-four spot at the end of the year. UMD has fewer goals for and more goals against at this point in the season, but they’ve certainly been playing better hockey as of late. With a split between these two teams already on the record, they’ll both be wanting to earn bragging rights on the season. Sandelin’s squad will have more pressure to do so given their hype to start the season, along with trying to avenge their embarassing 0-5 loss against the Tigers a month ago. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do it shorthanded as the winter sickness has found it’s way to UMD early this year.
Prediction: Bulldogs continue to play better, but refuse to sweep NCHC teams (as is tradition) on their way earn a win and a tie.
St Thomas @ Bemidji – Fri & Sat, Dec 2/3
I already said it earlier in this article, but congrats to the Tommies on earning their first D1 sweep. Congrats, congrats, congrats. Good Job. Now that I can’t be confused for a “hater”, I need to prepare them for the likely reality that awaits. Bemidji is a big, physical team that plays a style of hockey that’s not conducive to the Tommies winning formula. They may not have the same scoring power or prowess with their leader from last year getting poached, but the Beavers do have other intimidating members on the roster. Sophomore goaltender Mattias Sholl has the 10th best save percentage in the nation and he’s FIFTH in goals against average. That’s a tough hill to climb and a big difference from what they saw against Lake State last weekend.
Prediction: Bemidji gets back into the conversation of ranked teams by sweeping the Tommies.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
#12 Merrimack @ #8 UConn – Fri, Dec 2
UConn already beat Merrimack in their own barn on Tuesday of this week. That ended a 7-game winning streak for the Warriors. How they were able to climb all the way into the top 12 with their strength of schedule will always be shocking to me, but hey…that’s why we play the games. After this matchup against the Huskies, Merrimack will be playing two ranked teams in UMass and Providence before the Christmas break. That’s a lot of pressure for a team outplaying their expectations. Zachary Borgiel has been keeping the Warriors in games with a .934 save percentage, but UConn’s ability to get more quality shots off has already proven to be the difference once.
Prediction: Huskies finish the job and expose Merrimack by completing the sweep.
#17 Ohio State @ #5/6 Penn State – Fri & Sat, Dec 2/3
Penn State has been getting more shine than just about any other team in the nation this year. I never thought I’d say this, but they’ve earned it. A squad with relatively low expectations from those outside of Happy Valley has managed to beat the giants in their division (Minnesota and Michigan) on their way to a 13-3-0 record. A lot of the credit for that record can be attributed to their ability to get the puck on net. The Nittany Lions are outshooting the second place team in the nation by 53 shots. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “There’s no such thing as a bad shot at the college level”.
While the shot disparity between these teams is intimidating, Ohio State is a beast in their own right when it comes to killing penalties. With a man down, the Buckeyes are killing 92.1% of their penalties! That’s good enough for second in the nation. With Penn State only converting on 17.6% of their power play chances, Ohio State doesn’t have to panic if they’re sent to the sin bin. That ability to play loose could be big if they can take advantage of it, but it’s been proven tough to play the Nittany Lions at home.
Prediction: Penn State wins one big, but drops the other by 1 during a split series.
Arizona State @ #1/2 Denver – Fri & Sat, Dec 2/3
Arizona State has been racking up quality wins all season long. Whether it was winning the Hockey Hall of Fame game vs North Dakota in Vegas or playing Minnesota tough all weekend, they’ve proven that this team is for real. While it took OT to win one game against Minnesota last weekend, it was a back and forth battle between the two for more than 120 minutes. With their new arena HUMMING every night and a growing reputation, there’s no telling how far this team could go.
All that positive talk aside, Denver is an absolute JUGGERNAUT. Massimo Rizzo is their only remaining player inside the top 10 scorers, but Dornbach and Mazur aren’t far behind. If you were to ask anyone they’ve played, both arguably more deadly on the ice. The Sun Devils goaltender TJ Semptimphelter has stopped more shots than all but two players in the nation. He’ll have to keep that magic going if Arizona State wants to have a chance at stealing a win in this series.
Prediction: Denver learns from it’s mistakes and sweeps at home…a story as old as time.
#7/9 Harvard @ Cornell – Fri, Dec 2
The battle of pantones as John Harvard of The Crimson takes on Cornell’s Big Red Bear. For the first time this season Harvard went winless over the weekend. They played a very talented Michigan team to a tie on Friday before dropping the Saturday contest 1-4. Curious that their first non-win results happened when they played someone outside of the east coast.
Cornell is coming off of their biggest win of the season as they embarrassed #6 UConn 6-0. That win earned them “The Frozen Apple” at Madison Square Garden. Big Red had a rough start to the season getting swept by UMD, but their only other losses have come to Quinnipiac and Clarkson, which are both respectable programs. Goalie Ian Shane is a large part of their success boasting a GAA of 1.54 and a save percentage of .933. Those statsare good enough for 3rd and 6th in the nation respectively. He’ll have his work cut out for him as Harvard has THREE players in the top ten of the nation in terms of points per game.
Prediction: As much as I’d love for Cornell to beat Harvard, I don’t see it happening. Crimson win.
Recent Previews & Picks:
Don’t know whether you can trust the picks or input? I don’t blame you. I’m not anywhere near a “Big J”. In fact, I’m just some idiot with an outlet. An idiot who watches more college hockey than 99% of the nation, but an idiot nonetheless. Take that how you will.
Alternative College Hockey Media:
Hate my predictions or don’t fancy yourself as much of a “reader”? Lucky for you, there’s plenty more College Hockey information coming out of the 10K Takes family! You can listen to The Has Beens podcast (or follow them on social media) as two former College Hockey players/National Champions (Gage Ausmus and Trevor Olson) talk with guests about their path to College Hockey, how the sport impacted their life, and where it led them after.
This week, the boys talked with Jack McNeely:
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.
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