Week 14 – College Hockey Preview: We’re BACK

Gophers Hockey NCAA

We’re onto 2023 and my resolution is going to be watch even more College Hockey. That may sound crazy to some, but I’m riding the wave of excitement from the World Juniors tournament and cannot be stopped. The college kids will (allegedly) be making their way back to their respective teams for this weekends’ series. Some will be toting shinier medals than others, but there’ll be a little added energy in the locker room no matter what. Nothing gets the boys going more than stories from the road, especially when it’s from a tournament like that.

Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:

1. University of Minnesota – Gophers

The Golden Gophers are still the cream of the crop in the country. Aside from a week or two here or there that’s been the case all year long.

2. St. Cloud State – Huskies

Nothing in the news sufficient enough to change one way or the other. The Huskies are still one of the most consistent teams in the country.

3. Bemidji State – Beavers

I’m back in on the Beavs. The boys from Bemidji have made another statement and are starting to get recognized nationally again.

4. Minnesota State – Mavericks

Everything that the Beavs have done right, the Mavs have done wrong. They’ve given up in close games and been beaten badly by mediocre teams as of late. There’s still time to right the ship, but the Mavs have gotta do it quick.

5. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

Nobody cares whether or not last weekend was an exhibition game or not. Only beating St. Thomas by 1 goal while only putting up 25 shots is not a great look for a team that had such high expectations to start the year.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

They’ve proven that they belong at the D1 level of College Hockey, but they don’t yet fit in with the top half of teams.

National Rankings Roundup

To the shock of absolutely nobody, the top teams remain the top teams. It’s been a bit of a rotating door between the top three/four, but they’ve all had their turns. Past that, it’s been a little bit of chaos through the remaining 20. A lot of the names have remained on the list, but they’ve also had unpredictable peaks and valleys. That’s the beauty of College Hockey, you can get hot for a few weeks and completely change your season.

Rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted. Once again, the Pairwise weight has been increased from previous versions. It is now the most impactful source, and that margin will only grow.

Jan. 2 – College Hockey – Weekly Rankings Roundup

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

#4 St. Cloud State @ #1/3 Minnesota – Sat & Sun, Jan. 7/8

No doubt that this is the premiere matchup of the weekend. It may be one of the premiere matchups of the entire season if we’re being really honest. It’s fun to be able to say that without a ton of history to rely on outside of the ties to legendary coach Herb Brooks for both programs. For the Gophers, he won three national titles in the 70’s, leading to his role on the 1980 Olympic team. The Huskies…well, they named their arena after him because he stopped through for a cup of coffee.

St. Cloud is getting the benefit of playing a Gopher team who’s had a grip of their top players tied up and run ragged at the World Juniors tournament in Canada over the last few weeks. Sure, St Cloud State also had Peart up north, but you’ve gotta imagine they’ll have a little easier time finding short ice for one player. At the time of this writing, there’s no official word on if all (or any) of the boys will make it back to play in the series this weekend. The Saturday/Sunday schedule instead of the traditional Friday/Saturday series should only help that though.

How do these teams actually match up though? The huskies have struck gold in the transfer portal with Dominic Basse THRIVING, currently ranked as the #3 goaltender in the country while the U of M stuck with Justen Close. He no slouch either, but giving up 2.18 goals per game vs Basse’s 1.79. Minnesota’s superstars have the edge in power play while St Cloud’s just ahead in penalty kills on the year. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be a fantastic series. After both of last years games were decided by just one goal and one of those coming in OT, there’s a lot of hype to live up to.

Prediction: Is there such a thing as a revenge split? Cause that’s what we’re seeing this weekend.

#20 Bemidji State vs Minnesota Duluth – Fri & Sat, Jan. 6/7

First and foremost, if you want to hear what I REALLY think about this series, follow the post & links below. I promise it’s worth it.

As an unapologetic Bulldogs homer, this series is incredibly daunting. I had to search high and low for a bright spot to highlight and brag about. The Beavers have the advantage in PP%, PK%, Goals for, Goals Against, Faceoff Wins, Save Percentage, AND Goals Against Average. I’ve only got one thing to say when looking at those stats: That’s why you play the game(s). In College Hockey, anybody can win in any given night.

Important for Both Teams

This will be a home-and-home series between the two schools along Highway 2 and each one of them will have a pretty significant advantage in their own barn. For UMD, this will be their last serious chance to make a statement in non-conference play. After this one’s over, they’ve got two series against #4 St Cloud, another matchup against #1 Denver, the finale to their dual-series with #14 Western Michigan, and a series against conference rival #20 North Dakota. Their only games against teams not currently in the top 20 are Omaha (who was ranked as recently as 3 weeks ago) and Miami, who just beat St. Cloud before the holiday break. A series win would go a LONG way in terms of confidence for the boys leading into that gauntlet.

Bemidji is in the same position they find themselves every year. A borderline-ranked team that plays their specific system extremely well, has racked up big wins like sweeping the Mavs their last time out. They’ve also lost to teams like Lake Superior State, who’s got all of two wins on the season. They’re an enigma in that you never know what you’re getting from a production standpoint. That’s what you get when you run a suffocating playstyle. All I can say is that you don’t get to the top of the CCHA by accident, so it’d be silly of them to try and change anything right now.

Prediction: Ignore what I said elsewhere, this series is gonna be a split…unfortunately for UMD.

#19 Minnesota State vs Northern Michigan – Fri & Sat, Jan. 6/7

Minnesota State only has two wins in their last eight times hitting the ice. The folks in Mankato have not been accustomed to that kind of a drought in a long, long time. The Mavericks biggest problem seems easy to identify at a quick glance. A lot of their scoring power has been on milk cartons for the majority of the season thus far. As one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the nation, it’s kind of wild to see them struggle as much as they are this year. More-so when you factor in their nation-best faceoff winning percentage of 59.5.

Speaking of FO%, Northern Michigan are no slouches themselves, winning 55.9% of their own. With Minnesota State giving up more shorthanded goals against than anyone else in the nation, one quick win and breakout could be the difference in a game. This is especially important when you consider the Wildcats are 5th in the nation in Penalty minutes, averaging 14 per game. That’s a dangerous way to play against a team with the physical presence of the Mavericks.

Prediction: Imagine a world where Minnesota State falls out of the rankings just a year after making the championship game…we might see it after this weekend split.

Other College Hockey Games to Watch

Desert Hockey Classic – Fri & Sat, Jan. 6-7

A lot of firepower in this year’s Desert Classic Hockey Tournament! Sure, Air Force and Arizona State aren’t ranked, but they’re no slouches either. Both of them have skated well with some of the best teams in the country and you only need to win one game to advance in tournament play. Arizona State’s TJ Semptimphelter leads the nation with SIX HUNDRED AND SEVENTY saves on the year; fifty more than second place. Boston University is among the top teams in the nation when it comes to goals per game. Michigan Tech sits just outside the top 5 in penalty kills on the year. Everyone in this tournament relies on a different part of the game as their specialty and there’s a lot of potential for some fun stuff at the first Desert Classic held in Mullett Arena.

Prediction: BU and AZ State meet in the final with BU taking the hardware.

#13/14 Michigan State @ #12 Ohio State – Fri & Sat, Jan 6/7

These two teams will be battling for the final at-large bid in College Hockey. Mark my words. Ohio State was (wrongfully) left out of the College playoffs last year, so they know what they’re battling for. Michigan State was so far down the list of potential candidates that I’m not sure they’ve got the same fire. With a rate of 90.5% on the Penalty Kill, the Buckeyes are well suited to withstand any sort of barrage Michigan State could put forward if they fall into penalty trouble.

Prediction: If one team were to sweep the series, the other would almost certainly be on the playoff bubble. Because of that fact, the Big 10 will ensure this is a split.

#9/10 Harvard @ #2/3 Quinnipiac – Sat, Jan 7th

This will be the single biggest matchup of the ECAC this year, and it’s not particularly close. If you didn’t read my season preview this year, I’ll recap the high points for you. Harvard has more NHL draft picks on their roster than any other team in college hockey with FIFTEEN. To say that they’re supremely talented would be an understatement. Did they lose superstar captain Casey Dornbach to Denver in the off-season, sure. That doesn’t mean this team can’t score. They’ve got the size to over-power a lot of teams, and the speed to keep up with just about anyone too. A dangerous combination.

Quinnipiac boasts something different. They’re the proud home of the consensus #1 goalie in college hockey, Yaniv Perets. He carries a .920 save percentage as well, but he’s also only allowing 1.78 goals against a game, which is good enough for 2nd best in the nation. For reference, if your goalie is saving 90% of shots and allowing fewer than 2 goals a game in College Hockey, you’ve got a good one. Perets has been GREAT.

Prediction: Quinnipiac can’t contain the firepower of Harvard and Perets gets peppered as the Crimson take down the Bobcats.

#9/10 UConn vs Northeastern (at Fenway) – Sat, Jan 7th

Can you say Dog Fight! Okay, okay, maybe this one will be a bit one-sided than Michael Vick’s backyard. These two teams have had the complete opposite trajectories this seaon. UConn have been outplaying all of their expectations. They’ve got two goalies averaging a .920 save percentage and finding offense in creative ways. For a team that wasn’t ranked in the top 20 to start the season, it’d be silly to try and say they’re not one of the biggest surprises of the season.

Northeastern, on the other hand, started the season as the 8th team in the nation. They are currently 44th in the pairwise. They’re currently sub .500 and have lost 6 of their last 7, with their only win coming in OT. In that time span, they’ve lost to a few surprising teams including the likes of Bentley and Sacred Heart. For a squad with what was supposed to be THE guy between the pipes in Devon Levi, you can’t have those results on your resume. Tough season for Northeastern is about to get a lot tougher.

The most interesting and fun part of this matchup? It’ll be played on the Winter Classic sheet that was set up at Fenway as part of the “Frozen Fenway” event. The ladies kick things off on Friday with a few important matchups before the men take the sheet on Saturday. It should be noted that the UMass vs BC game is arguably more important and interesting as those teams are closer in rank and have a bit more history in the area…but then I couldn’t rub Northeastern’s nose in the mess they made for themselves after getting too big for their own britches last season.

Prediction: Huskies (UConn) beat the Huskies (Northeastern) on a big stage.

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.