College Hockey has been as good as ever so far this year. The best part is that it’s about to get even more interesting. Nearly all of the programs in the nation have closed out their non-conference play. With that, they’ll all be focusing heavily on familiar opponents with rivalry games aplenty. Any team can win in any given week in College Hockey, and when conference titles and tournament bids are on the line, teams are going to start to play tougher.With the IIHF fumbling the World Juniors bag so badly, there was no opportunity for a lot of the college kids to get the international play they normally would this year. Fortunately for some of these players, the NHL said that they would not be sending pros to the Olympics this year. That means that we’re going to see extended durations of key college hockey players missing from the best squads in the most critical part of the regular season. Some teams are going to have MASSIVE opportunities for movement that weren’t previously there. All that’s left is to capitalize.
Explaining the Rankings:
1. Minnesota State – Mavericks
The Mavericks are the most consistent team in hockey this season. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. They’ve had some surprising stumbling blocks along the way, but they’re largely over the hump of the “most difficult” part of their schedule with almost exclusively CCHA matchups the rest of the way.
2. St Cloud State – HuskiesThe Huskies swept the Beavers last weekend and look like they’ve fully rebounded from their early-onset slump. The scoring and goaltending both seem to be back on track and that’s a scary thought for a team with this experience.
3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
Nobody drops further, faster than the UMD Bulldogs. I’m not sure how it happens, but it does. The Bulldogs were ranked #1 in the nation as recently as November 29th, and now they’re grasping desperately to stay in the top 10. I know “hard times make hard men”, but I wonder if Sandelin is re-thinking the schedule he set up for his squad this season.
4. University of Minnesota – GophersA couple exhibition games after a month of rest. Scary start against St. Thomas giving up a goal early and being close late into the game, but the better team won.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
The Beavs did not have the chance to play their style of game as St Cloud was suffocating from the start. They’re still 2nd in the CCHA standings, but they’re 11 points behind Minnesota State. With a “weaker” conference hockey schedule than most, they’ll need to finish the year really strong to make in impact in the pairwise. You certainly don’t want to have to rely on beating Mankato in the CCHA tournament for the automatic bid.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
These guys actually looked pretty decent in their exhibition game against Minnesota. Scoring first in college hockey is such a huge momentum swing for a program. It was nice to see that happen for the Tommies. If this team can learn to limit shots and close out games they’ll have chances to win.
Non-Minnesota Games to Watch
#14 Cornell vs #5 North Dakota – Fri & Sat Jan 7-8
Cornell is finally playing a quality opponent, praise Jesus or whoever is your chosen deity. I’m sick and tired of hearing about how good these ECAC schools are before they’ve been challenged at all. This will be their first matchup against a ranked opponent since Harvard at the beginning of November. The Big Red Bears have played a total of 13 games this year, which is six fewer than North Dakota and NINE fewer than Minnesota State. The national polls have them ranked at 14, but the pairwise has them at an embarrassing 26. I understand that the NCAA and polls choose to give a bump to some teams with less impressive schedules so that commits aren’t afraid to actually go there, but where’s the line?I get that you can’t control your conference opponents, but you’ve got full control over your non-con schedule and they took the easy way out. Call me biased, but I think the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey schedules are a complete joke when compared to the others. Anybody can win on any given night, but more times than not, the better team will win in a series. When you’ve got days off between one-off games all year long, your team is going to be able to function differently, and I (personally) think that’s hot garbage. Sometimes I wonder who’s really making these rankings.
If you’re a fan of North Dakota you’ve GOT TO check out 10K’s new podcast, The Has-Beens. Honestly, if you’re a fan of College Hockey in general you should be listening. The boys are former College Hockey players who are taking the locker room and bar-top stories to the podcast. They’ll be joined by other former and current players to talk about the game of hockey. What that means from week to week might change, but they’re off to a hot start that’s been a ton of fun.
CCHA College Hockey Games
#1 Minnesota State vs. Ferris State – Fri & Sat Jan 7-8
The Ferris State bulldogs will be traveling to Mankato to take on the Number 1 team in the nation. This will be the 2nd meeting of the year for these two squads. If you don’t think that both of these squads are thinking about how the last one went, you’d be sorely mistaken. Makato and Ferris State split their series in Michigan at the beginning of November. While the Mankato faithful were calling it a CaTaStRoPhIc loss, the boys at Ferris State were calling it a statement victory.
If Ferris State wants to have any sort of chance in keeping either game close, they’ll have to do what they did in their previous win against Mankato; keep the puck out of their zone, limit high-yield opportunities, and find a way to score. Unfortunately for Ferris state, that’s everyone’s game plan against Mankato, and very few teams have been able to do it. That’s especially true as of late.
Prediction: Mankato plays keep-away and sweeps the (lesser) Bulldogs 2-0
Lake Superior State @ Bemidji State – Fri & Sat Jan 7-8
Four points separate the Beavers from the Lakers in the current CCHA standings. While it’s almost certainly a race for second place for everybody chasing Mankato, this game could be a big swing for either of these teams. The Beavers have swept the Lakers once already this season, winning their games 5-4 and 4-2, so they’ll be looking to replicate that same type of play this weekend.
Lake Superior State hasn’t played a game in a month and Bemidji hit the ice last weekend, so we’ll have another tilt to add to the rest vs. rust debate. The Lakers won three of their last four going into the break and Bemidji has been swept two series in a row. While that might sound bad, it doesn’t tell you the full story as LSSU was playing unranked teams like Ferris State and Northern Michigan while Bemidji was taking on the likes of Mankato and St. Cloud. Whoever wins, I expect these games to be close both nights.
Prediction: I’m going to let the Minnesota bias shine through this week, Beavers sweep 2-0…but i don’t feel great about it.
Bowling Green @ St Thomas – Fri & Sat Jan 7-8
The team that ruined the Gophers football season is back in town to bully another Minnesota school in St Thomas. The falcons have had a bit of a let down year after the season they were able to string together in the 20-21 run. They’re just about middle of the pack in the CCHA for every measurable category you can imagine and somewhat forgettable in College Hockey as a whole. That’s not to say they don’t have good odds this weekend, simply that there’s certainly things St Thomas can exploit if they play their game right.
St Thomas just got done with an exhibition matchup against “big brother” in the state, the Gophers. If they can bring that same type of intensity and game play to this series, I think they’ve got a solid chance to steal a win. It sounds funny to say “steal a win” when a team’s playing at home, but you know that’s kind if you’ve read any of the other previews to this point. New year, new me.
Prediction: A split. That’s as positive as I can be here. Let’s see it Tommies, don’t let me down.
Big 10 College Hockey Games
#9/11 Minnesota vs Michigan State – Fri & Sat Jan 7-8
The Golden Gophers of Minnesota will be taking a road trip to Michigan for a Big 10 series against the Spartans of East Lansing. At least some Michigan teams know how to hold up their end of a bargain when it comes to a scheduling commitment. The race to the top of the Big 10 is as tight as anyone could have imagined to this point in the season. Just four points separate these two teams with Minnesota four points behind the leader, in second place.
If I told you I had watched a single Michigan State game this year, I’d be lying. I do know that they’re second-to-last in Big 10 scoring this year and one of two teams with a negative goal differential. They’re also 7-3 in their last 10 games with losses coming to ranked teams like Notre Dame and Western Michigan. I don’t know that they’ve got the firepower to keep up with Minnesota, but they’re certainly not going to roll over either.
Prediction: Michigan learns a lesson in what hockey is all about as a Minnesota school walks out of East Lansing with a 2-0 sweep.
NCHC College Hockey Games
#4 St Cloud vs #8 UMD – Fri & Sat Jan 7-8
NOTE: THIS GAME HAS BEEN POSTPONED. While there’s still hope that this series could be made up, each team only has one bye week left on the schedule. Unfortunately, they don’t match up. There have been rumors about mid-week games for in-state or geographically close matchups, but nothing has been announced officially.
Prediction: Error 404 – Nothing to See here
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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