For the fourth week in a row, there is a new team sitting atop all the others in college hockey. St Cloud, Michigan, and Minnesota State all had their turn on the throne and each failed to maintain their spot at number one the following week. This week, the UMD Bulldogs take their turn. Unlike football, there is so much parity in the college hockey game that just about anyone could win on any given night. We’re 10 weeks into the season and we’ve already had five different teams ranked in the number one spot.Despite the turnover rate, there has been one thing that’s been consistent. A Minnesota hockey team has held that top spot for seven of the ten weeks. What may be more impressive is they’ve had 2 of the top 3 every week since games started. For outsiders looking in, saying that’s newsworthy would be an understatement. For the college hockey fans in Minnesota, that’s just par for the course.
Explaining My Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
The Bulldogs poured it on in the third period, leading to a dominant win on Friday night. With a tight battle and an injured roster on Saturday, the Bulldogs finally got one of their many bounces and opportunities to go into the net in OT. Fanti earned his 4th shutout of the month and played great yet again. A .967 save percentage on the weekend? Yeah, that’ll work.
2. Minnesota State – MavericksThey’ve lost to two separate teams where it was unexpected (to me) this year. While their loss to Lake State was nowhere near as “CaTaStRoPhIc” as the Ferris State one was, it certainly shows the Mavs in a new light as a beat-able team. Now, I’ve got to be fair to the Mavs here and point out that McKay and a couple others were out with illnesses on Friday night and they lost a 1-0 game. While that’s certainly a solid performance with pieces missing, they’ve got to find a way to get some pucks in the net in those matchups.
3. St Cloud State – Huskies
No game last week. The Mavs didn’t do enough to drop, and the Gophers split yet again. With that, they stay put at number three in the state rankings. With a big opponent and massive conference implications looming this weekend, the Huskies better have used their bye wisely.
4. University of Minnesota – GophersThe Gophers won on Friday just to spite me, I swear. After making it a point to emphasize their struggles on Friday nights last week, they flipped the script with a loss on Saturday instead. This roller-coaster of a team hasn’t won a series outright since they swept Notre Dame at the end of October. With Michigan coming up this weekend, they’ll need to keep the energy and motivation at a very high level.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
After a 4-3 win against a good team in Arizona on Friday, the Beavers followed it up with a 6-4 loss on Saturday. It was the first time all year that the beavers gave up more than 4 goals in a game. When they’re playing their game, the Beavers deserve to be ranked as one of the best in the nation. Unfortunately they’ve found themselves playing to the game script of their opponent on a handful of occasions this season and that happened again on Saturday.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
Gotta stop the slide. Simply cannot keep losing games. Not only have they not won a game, but they haven’t been in a 1-goal game since they beat Ferris State on October 23rd. Need to see this team put a full game together before the end of the season.
Big 10 College Hockey Games
#11/12 University of Minnesota @ #2/3 University of Michigan – Fri & Sat Dec 3-4
Battle of the Block “M”. Whoever loses this should have to change their font forever. I’m serious about that. It’s one of the more annoying things about the Big 10. Damn near everyone has a block letter taken from the same font family. Sure Minnesota’s looks like it was stretched out and Wisconsin added a nice rainbow effect to theirs, but c’mon. Whatever, they were all created in the dark age when you were burned at the stake for being a witch if you could draw a little better than the guy in power.
Premiere Matchup In the Big 10At the beginning of the season, this was set to be one of the premiere matchups for the hockey season. While Michigan has held their own and shown that they deserve all their attention Minnesota has faltered a little bit. Both Minnesota and Michigan had a number of players named on the preliminary roster for the United States National Junior team last week. That shows both of these teams have a talented roster that’s capable of beating anyone in the country. The Wolverines have just been better at realizing that potential more regularly than the Gophers.
The way that this series is going to be played out has got me in a bit of a pickle. I see the scoring power of Matt Knies and Chaz Lucius for the Gophers and I want to say it’s going to be a shootout. Then you look at the Michigan bench and see Luke Hughes and Jacob Truscott staring back, making me want to bet the under in every game. Those are only a few of the kids named to the WJC roster from each team and don’t include the likes of Owen Power for Michigan or Jack LaFontaine for Minnesota. It’s all but guaranteed to be an incredible series and will be the most important one for the Big 10 before the Christmas break.
Prediction: Going to be tough for the Gophers, but I’m calling for a SPLITTTTTT. Expect one game to go into OT, one way or another.
CCHA College Hockey Games
Michigan Tech @ #2/3 Minnesota State – Fri & Sat Dec 3-4
Michigan Tech was the first school to miss the cut on both ranking systems this week. A dubious honor, to be sure. They’re definitely a bubble-team that will be fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament at the end of the year. Last weekend, Michigan Tech was able to do what Mankato could not earlier in the season by sweeping Ferris State in convincing fashion. They’ll be looking to carry that momentum and confidence on their road trip to Mankato. As impressive as Nathan Smith as been for Mankato, Brian Halonen is not far behind for the Huskies. With just two fewer points in three fewer games, he’s one to watch on that side of the ice.
Minnesota State plays like a different team when Dryden McKay is on the ice. I’ll be the first to say I’m not the foremost expert on evaluating hockey players. With that being said, this team seems to be way more aggressive when they know he’s in net to bail them out if something goes wrong. I don’t think that’s a crazy thought, nor do I think it’s a crazy approach for them to take either. Despite their split last weekend, Mankato has quietly amassed six wins in their past seven games. Well, as quietly as a number 2/3 team in the nation can do it anyways. In that time span, they’ve outscored opponents 36-7. Yes, 14 of those goals came against St. Thomas, but that’s an impressive number no matter what. Expect these games to hit the over.
Prediction: 1-1 Split? 2-0 Mavericks? Flip a Coin, but Mankato’s not losing both. If it were IN Michigan I’d call for a split, but the fact that it’s being played in Mankato has me favoring the Mavericks in each game, officially.
Bemidji State @ St Thomas – Fri & Sat Dec 3-4
After irregular puck drop times last week, these two teams are back to playing a normal schedule. The Beavs are 6-2 in CCHA conference play and their schedule is actually better on the road than at home this year. Both of those things are going in Bemidji’s favor this weekend. They are also one of the more physical teams in all of College Hockey. With a matchup against a smaller team in St. Thomas they’ll certainly be looking to take advantage of that. Keep an eye out for seniors Owen Sillinger and Alex Ierullo to add to their impressive point totals on the season.
I honestly thought playing at home would be good for the Tommies last week. Apparently that was not the case. This is the end of their longest home stint for the year after playing a road-heavy schedule to start out 2021. Having been outscored 23-2 in their last 4 games, the Tommies will have to find a way to stop Bemidji from putting the puck in the net. As a team near the bottom of the nation in penalty kill efficiency, they’ll have to find a way to stay out of the box in order to make that happen.
Prediction: Beavers get back on the national rankings radar with 2 wins.
#7 North Dakota @ #5/6 St Cloud State – Fri & Sat Dec 3-4
This series has HUGE implications for the NCHC this season. Despite being ranked below both UMD and Saint Cloud nationally, North Dakota currently sits atop the NCHC standings. Even if the Huskies were to sweep the series, they’d still be tied with the Fighting Hawks for total points.
If they were to get swept (for the second series in a row), the alarm bells would be ringing at full volume, even this early in the season. While it’s a long season and the parity in the NCHC is more even than ever, it would be a tough hill to climb; even for and experienced and talented team such as St Cloud.
This will be the third weekend series in a row that North Dakota will be facing off against a Minnesota team. Each one has left the Fighting Hawks with a split coming from a loss on Friday night and a win on Saturday. With a pissed off team in St Cloud coming to town, I fully expect them to come out with a lot of fire and keep that trend going.
The Fighting Hawks are playing better than a lot of people (me) expected given how much talent they lost last year. With a defender like Jake Sanderson leading the charge in scoring for them, it’s been a huge help. If they can find a way to get out of their own defensive zone instead of getting a little slap-happy this game, they’ll be dangerous. We’ll see how fast their young players can learn.
Prediction: Getting cold in the northland. Much like the lumber up here, these two are about to split. (Editor’s note: congratulations to Max for becoming a father sometime in the last week. I missed the announcement, but that line right there confirms Veech’s dad status)
Non-Conference College Hockey Games
#1 University of Minnesota-Duluth @ Northern Michigan University – Fri & Sat Dec 3-4
A wise man once said, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” and boy oh boy is that ringing true for UMD. While the Bulldogs have UNANIMOUSLY been rated as the Number 1 team in the nation this week, they will not be traveling to Marquette with a healthy roster. The hottest goaltender in the country, Ryan Fanti, will not be making the trip due to COVID protocols. As a guy who’s only given up 4 goals in his last 7 games, a stretch that also included 4 shutouts, that’s somebody you’re going to miss.
With Fanti out and Stejskal still fighting Testicular Cancer, UMD will be starting red-shirt senior Ben Patt between the pipes. Not only will he be starting his first game, but this will be the first time he’s seen the ice in non-exhibition play. Patt did start UMD’s exhibition game against Wisconsin in October of this year.
Although “official” stats weren’t kept, he finished out the opening period without letting up a goal. All I know is that if Patt looks half as good on the ice as he does with a mustache, the Bulldogs will be in great hands.
Injuries Piling Up
With all of the goaltending scratches, the Bulldogs have also added senior goaltender Brady Anderson from the UMD club hockey program. Unfortunately, netminder isn’t the only place that the Bulldogs will be hurting. They’ll also be without Sophomore Defender Wyatt Kaiser, also related to COVID protocols. Despite being on the younger side of UMD’s roster, Kaiser is a presence on the ice. Last week, he was named to the USA National Junior team’s preliminary roster.
The Wildcats may be 8-6-1 on the year, but in their last 8 games, they’re boasting a 6-1-1 record. They’ve put up 38 goals in that timespan. To say that this team knows how to score would be a disservice as they’re currently ranked 4th in the nation. Without many “quality wins” against top-level teams to their name, it’s hard to gauge exactly where this team stands nationwide. Regardless of an exact ranking, it’s not a team that can be easily overlooked. They’ve got four players on the team including AJ Vanderbeck (T3 in scoring) and Michael Colella (T5 in scoring) with more points than anyone on UMD’s roster. Relying on them to keep that going will be their key to success.
Prediction: Bulldogs battle to a tough 1-1 split on the road. Despite my official prediction, I will be happy to lose my bet if I can *Manifest* a sweep for the Bulldogs.
Other Games to Watch
#14 UMass vs #15 UMass Lowell – Fri & Sat Dec 3-4
Finally, we’ve gotten to the battle of the Massholes. After being ranked as the number one team in the nation coming into the season, you’d think UMass would be favored over Lowell heavily. After nine complete weeks of play, that is not the case. At number 14 and 15 (respectively) these teams are as equal as equal could be in my eyes.
The Minutemen only have two ranked wins, but they were against a (then rated) top ten Providence team. Meanwhile, the River Hawks have four ranked tallies in the win column, but none higher than 16. The reigning national champs have been struggling in their last four games with only one win to show, but if the goal totals in these games are above 5, look for UMass to come out on top. I’m personally betting on a split so that the series can be decided in their final matchup on January 30th.
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