Week 11 – College Hockey Preview: The Long Break

Gophers Hockey NCAA

As the holiday break approaches, the cream is truly rising to the top of College Hockey. Denver are the reigning national champions and remain the #1 team in the country. Minnesota has made their return to prominence in the sport as one of the most electric teams. Quinnipiac continues to shine atop the ECAC. Hockey East continues to get more favorable rankings and coverage than anyone else in the nation. All is as-expected and the world is healing.

Not everyone is quite as happy as that may indicate. North Dakota, UMD, Northeastern, Clarkson and Cornell were all among those inside the rankings before the season kicked off. All of them are currently on the outside looking in right now. Some are much further on the outside than others. This weekend will be most of their final chance to make a push and turn heads before a month off. When there are as big of discrepancies as some perceive in the rankings, an impressive win would go a long way.

Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:

1. University of Minnesota – Gophers

THIS was the best that the Gophers have looked all season. A 5-0 shutout win on Friday set the tone and then the Gophers followed it up with a 6-3 win Saturday. This team is the most talented team in college hockey and the way that they were TOYING with Sparty proved it. If they can play this well every weekend in the spring, Dinkytown will be seeing a trophy parade.

2. St. Cloud State – Huskies

North Dakota jumped out to a multi-goal lead in both games last weekend. The Huskies came back to SPANK NoDak in both of those games. St. Cloud outscored the Fighting Hawks 13-5 on the weekend.

3. Minnesota State – Mavericks

Minnesota State is in a full-blown, terminal velocity free fall right now. Getting swept at home hasn’t happened in more than five years for them. Having it happen this year is a huge disappointment. Having it come at the hands of Ferris state is CATASTROPHIC.

4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

UMD’s kryptonite continues to be Colorado College goalies. One of their many weaknesses, if we’re being completely honest. They were unable to find the back of the net after FORTY shot attempts on Friday, but came back and earned their own shutout on Saturday. UMD retains the “Mr .500” nickname.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

If you were to win and tie every weekend in college hockey, you’d be a top ten team without a doubt. Zero losses would be MORE than impressive. When you win and tie against a team like St. Thomas…it’s not as fun.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

Despite not winning either of their games, St Thomas had another solid weekend of play. There was yet another Friday collapse after a good start, but Saturday’s game went to a shootout. When this team discovers how to close games out, they’ll be upgraded from frisky to dangerous.

National Rankings Roundup

Finally, we’re starting to see some consistency out of the top of the rankings. All four of the top teams in the nation swept the weekend and secured their reputations. Sure, Denver won after a goal had to be reviewed TWICE. Yeah, Quinnipiac only beat ST LAWRENCE by one goal. None of that matters because a win is a win.

Hockey East and the Big 10 continue to dominate the majority of the rankings. Congratulations to them, but the NCHC is quietly gaining more momentum and recognition with Omaha sneaking back into the rankings after a slow start. The CCHA still does have two teams that are ranked right now, but none higher than 17th in the nation after Minnesota State’s recent rough patch. The only conference missing from the rankings is Atlantic Hockey. It’s just tradition at this point.

Rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted. Once again, the Pairwise weight has been increased from last week. As I’ve stated for the last ten weeks, it will make a big jump come January, but with some questionable rankings still lingering, it cannot be the sole source of information just yet.

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

Wisconsin @ #2/3 Minnesota – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

Wisconsin is coming off of what may be the biggest upset of the year so far. Beating the Wolverines 6-3 on Friday was huge for the program, especially given their trials and tribulations so far this season. Giving up the lead in a Saturday loss was a quick fall back to earth for the boys from Madison. Just knowing that they can play with the “big boys” in the nation and in their conference should do a lot for their confidence and the mentality goin into this weekend.

I said it earlier, but it’s worth repeating; the Gophers played their best hockey of the year last weekend. Sweeping a ranked conference opponent is never easy. Doing it in a way where you look like you’re a wild animal playing with your food is even more challenging. That’s what the Gophers did last weekend. Now, they’ll have to come to the rink the same mindset, because everyone saw what happens when you overlook an under-performing team like Wisconsin this year. Faber, Brodzinski, Pitlick, Snuggerud, Knies, or Cooley. It doesn’t matter who it is, and it is nearly impossible to determine which it’ll be, but at least one is going off this weekend.

Prediction: Minnesota does what Michigan couldn’t and lives up to their reputation by sweeping Wisco.

#1 Denver @ Minnesota Duluth – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

Looking at the rankings, you’d think this game would be pretty one-sided as Denver is #1 in the nation while UMD is un-ranked. If you dug a bit deeper, you’d get to the pairwise where you’d see Denver is #3 while UMD sits (incorrectly) at #39 out of 62 teams. If you were to keep digging EVEN FURTHER…you’d come out the other side. You’ve found all there is to find.

Listen, UMD is the underdog in this fight; there’s no two-ways about it. Denver has three players who will be fighting for a Hobey Baker nomination at the end of the season and UMD, simply put, does not. What they do have is a need to prove themselves. They’ve been disrespected by ranking officials more than any other team this season. They’ve always been a second-half team under Sandelin, and winning one of these games would be a big boost of confidence heading into the long break.

Also of note…is the Pairwise system broken?

Prediction: Duluth takes their fans from six to midnight by splitting with number 1 Denver and reviving the season hopes.

#4 St Cloud State @ Miami – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

This is as close to a “sure thing” for St. Cloud as they’ve seen since October. Miami is 5-9-2 on the season, but they’re 1-8-1 since conference play within the NCHC started. Through 16 games, Miami only has 33 goals. They’ll be going up against Dominic Basse who’s currently ranked first in save percentage and 2nd in goals allowed so far this season. Listen, anything can happen any given weekend in college hockey, but this one is as close to a “no contest” tag as you can put on a series over the next two days.

Prediction: SCSU makes quick work of Miami in their sweep.

#16 Minnesota State @ Bowling Green – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

The good people of Mankato are having a rough go of adjusting to life without a player like Dryden McKay. Keenan Rancier is a fine goalie, but he’s not making the elite-level saves that the Mavericks were getting for the last few seasons. With 2.26 GAA and a .901 save percentage, the Mavs will need to have their big name players come out of hibernation and help out on offense. With just seven goals in their last four games, it’s no surprise they have zero wins in regulation.

Before this year kicked off, there were a lot of people hyping up the Bowling Green Falcons. Talk about potentially competing for the CCHA title and making a playoff run even. After starting the season 2-1, the falcons immediately went on a 6-game losing streak, including two games to the Mavericks. Since then, BGSU has righted the ship and rattled of six wins and a solo loss. That’s good enough for first place in the CCHA, leading Michigan Tech by one point and Minnesota State by six. They’ll need to take one of these games to OT (at a minimum) to keep that lead.

Prediction: Mavericks win and settle for a tie to make a run at control of the CCHA.

Lake Superior State @ Bemidji – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

Lake Superior State has not won a game since October 29th. They weren’t a “good” team by any means last season, but not having won in a month is SHOCKING. What’s even more shocking is the fact that it’s their only win all season. Outside of those Jokers at Yale, LSSU has the worst goal differential in all of college hockey. That is going to be the difference in this series as well because Bemidji LOVES to keep control of the puck and wear teams down when they’ve got the upper hand in talent to do so. I don’t expect the Lakers to get more than 25 shots in either game this weekend.

Prediction: Bemidji cannot lose to Lake State if they want to remain dangerous…and they won’t.

Other College Hockey Games to Watch

#5 Penn State @ #19 Notre Dame – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

On paper, this is Penn State’s series to lose. They’re hotter than just about anyone else in College Hockey and Notre Dame is in a down-year as far as program success is concerned. The only stat that matters to me is the Penn State has split with every single ranked Big10 team they’ve faced this season. In fact, they were only able to beat Wisconsin by 1 in their first game of that series as well. Every one of those series has resulted in a Friday “W” and Saturday “L” for the Nittany Lions. Why would that change now?

Prediction: Penn State continues their streak of splitting with ranked Big10 teams.

#Alaska-Anchorage @ Alaska (Fairbanks) – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

The Governor’s cup returns and kicks off this weekend after a hiatus due to Anchorage’s program absence as of late. This rivalry series has been more one-sided than the Globetrotters vs the Generals. The Nanooks have won this for more than a decade straight. This year is different. This year, the Seawolves are surging. I don’t care that their record is 2-8. All-time vibes pick here. They’re winning one.

Prediction: Seawolves break the streak and earn a split.

#10/11 Merrimack @ #10/11 Providence – Sat, Dec 10

Merrimack is currently 3-2 against other top-20 teams in the nation. They’re a good team, but are they good enough to be ranked SIXTH in the Pairwise? No. At least not in my opinion. I think this is a good game, but eventually regression happens for everyone that’s outkicking their coverage. Am I super confident in this pick? Absolutely not. How could you be when providence hasn’t won (outright) since Nov 25th? All I know is that the Friars play to the level of their opponent.

Prediction: Providence has more experience among the top and proves it with a win.

North Dakota @ #17 Western Michigan – Fri & Sat, Dec 9/10

These two teams will be playing in a “who is more pissed off” series. Both North Dakota and Western Michigan were swept last weekend by St Cloud and Omaha, respectfully. NoDak has more accolades in the PP, PK, and Shot percentage realm. Western has more top-end scoring talent. If there’s anything that’s certain in these games, it’s the over. I feel sick just saying that about an NCHC series, but that’s where we’re at this year.

Prediction: North Dakota gets right…as much as a split can get a team right.

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.

Week 10 – College Hockey Preview

Week 9 – College Hockey Preview

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’s guest: Cole Ully