Week 14 – College Hockey Preview: Covid Causing Chaos

Gophers Hockey NCAA

Covid has already fucked College Hockey harder than almost any other sport. One season’s playoffs gone completely and a WILDLY different season last year with almost no non-conference play. Now, we’re seeing games postponed and complete series cancelled at the last minute without any sort of built-in “buffer” to make games up.

The NHL opted to keep their players out of the Olympics and use that time to make up all the games that they’ve had to postpone. Without that sort of timeline available to the College game, we’re about to see the Wild-Wild West in terms of how each individual conference handles it. The NCHC has already re-scheduled A TON of games in a newly released schedule. Minnesota and Alaska are set to face off this weekend in a series that was supposed to be played opening night. With Michigan setting the tone of just blatantly canceling games out of nowhere without repercussions, it’s about to be a lawless anarchy in the NCAA.

Explaining the Rankings:

1. Minnesota State – Mavericks

Minnesota State Mavericks or Michael-Vicks? The way they’ve been abusing Bulldogs for the last two weeks, people are asking.

2. St Cloud State – Huskies

No game last week, no game this week. This might be bad timing for a Huskies squad that seems like they were rounding back into form.

3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

Another team with no game last week. A big series loss for their conference rival in North Dakota may have (and better have) reinvigorated UMD and the rest of the NCHC.

4. University of Minnesota – Gophers

A big series (and conference) win for the Gophers last weekend set them up to make a push up the rankings. Everyone in the NCAA will be watching how the Gophers react to the sudden departure of their captain and team anchor.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

Huge series sweep for the Beavers winning both games 5-1. The goals are coming for Bemidji and Owen Sillinger is looking to capitalize. He’s third on the scoring list right now and fully capable of making a push to the top.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

They looked like they were going to win both games against Bowling Green last week…but came up with zero wins. Things are still trending up for the Tommies…it’d be hard to trend down.

CCHA College Hockey Games

#1 Minnesota State @ Northern Michigan – Fri & Sat Jan 14-15

Wildcats vs Mavericks

Get your popcorn for this one. The nation’s top two points leaders are set to face off in Marquette, MI. Nathan Smith (Mankato) and Hank Crone (N. Mich.) are separated by just one point. With Smith set to miss time at the Olympics, he’ll be looking to pad the stats before his absence.

While the Wildcats still aren’t ranked nationally, there’s no doubt about how potent their offense is. Crone is the obvious player to watch, but AJ Vanderbeck isn’t far behind. He’s currently tied for 5th in the nation and fully capable of jumping a couple slots in a single weekend. Unfortunately for them, the scoring won’t be easy with McKay between the pipes on the other end of the ice.

Prediction: Mankato with a rare dropped game in a 1-1 split. Tough to sweep a competent conference opponent twice in one year.

St Thomas @ Ferris State – Fri & Sat Jan 14-15

Bulldogs vs Tommies

St Thomas has had this matchup circled since the end of October. it’s been a rough go for the Tommies with a ton of close games, but nothing to show for it. They’re only a couple of mental errors and a few OT bounces away from some more tallies in the win column. Seeing a team that they’ve already beaten in the opposite bench will be a HUGE confident boost for the boys. I think they take advantage of that.

Prediction: St Thomas has been close. They’ve been close a lot. This week…they get their second win.

Bemidji State @ Bowling Green – Fri & Sat Jan 14-15

Falcons vs Beavers

Bowling Green just escaped a couple nail-biters against the Tommies. Now, they’re welcoming the Beavers to their barn. They’ll have to adjust to a completely different style of play with more firepower and figure it out in a hurry. If Bemidji played in an Eastern conference, they’d be nationally ranked and that’s a fact. A little more consistency, and they’ll get there anyways.

Prediction: Bemidji keeps the train moving, collects a 2-0 sweep, and breaks back into the rankings.

NCHC College Hockey Games

#7 UMD vs Miami (OH) – Fri & Sat Jan 14-15

Bulldogs vs Redhawks

Slump Buster. I’m calling my shot this week and it NEEDS to happen for the boys from Duluth. The Bulldogs are going up against the worst team in the NCHC hoping to make up ground in the conference ranks. They’ve been put through the goddamn grinder so far this season and have to capitalize on favorable opportunities like this. Miami is 1-9 in conference play while the Bulldogs are in 4th place at 4-3-1.

Despite the difference in overall records, the RedHawks have out scored the Bulldogs 59 to 52 so far this season. The lack of scoring is only set to get more challenging for the Bulldogs in the future. Noah Cates, the Bulldogs second leading scorer, will soon be away from the team while joining Team USA for the Olympics. With even less offense, they’ll have to rely on their stout defense to perform. If Miami can draw some penalties, that man advantage will be their key to success this weekend.

Prediction: I’m done being “Minnesota Nice”… the Bulldogs need a conference sweep and they’ll get it here.

Non-Conference College Hockey Games

#8 Minnesota vs Alaska Fairbanks – Fri & Sat Jan 14-15

Nanooks vs Gophers

If you’ve been watching College Hockey this year, you know that the Gophers have been an unpredictable roller coaster all season. Even with that, I don’t think anyone had their captain goaltender ditching the team mid-season on their bingo card. LaFontaine got the call from Carolina and couldn’t pass up a guaranteed opportunity at playing in the National League. I don’t care who you are, it’d be pretty impossible to pass up that offer. After all, that is the ultimate goal for these players. Unfortunately for LaFontaine, his first start did not go great.

This Gophers squad will have to adjust without their team captain and experienced goaltender. It’s a big hit, but that’s not the only hit they’ll be taking. This Minnesota squad will also have to figure out a way to function without Faber, Knies, and Meyers for a few weeks. They’ll be joining the Olympic team in pursuit of a gold medal with a Minnesota-heavy roster. It’ll be the youngest roster in a LONG time, but very talented. I remember a story about this working out before.

As far as this series goes, the Gophers should still be fine. Even with LaFontaine gone, they haven’t lost their talented skaters or scorers yet. The Nanooks have had a less-than-stellar year so far. With that being said, they’ve recently taken a strong Denver team to OT and also played UMD tight before the holiday break. They won’t be taken out easily, so the goofs will still have to keep their heads on straight and focus. Despite the distractions of this week, I think they can do that.

Prediction: Minnesota Golden Gophers find a way to sweep without their (former) captain.

Other Games to Watch

#15 Omaha vs #6 Denver – Sat & Sun Jan 15-16

Mavericks vs Pioneers

Covid cancellations screwed up the schedules for these two programs. Unlike Michigan, they actually WANT to play hockey, so they made it happen. A quick pivot and some changed travel plans and the schedule “magically” worked out. Massive impacts for both national rankings, and conference rankings. With a playoff caliber team almost sure to miss from the NCHC (again) conference wins are going to be VITAL.