This will be the last weekend of play before all of the collegiate players join Team USA in China. As you can tell from the image below, Minnesota remains supreme in the world of amateur & College Hockey. Keep in mind that this list does not count international players who will also be leaving teams to join their home countries as well.With all these players leaving, banking wins is more important than ever. Outside of Mankato and MAYBE St Cloud, each of the Minnesota teams will HAVE to have a killer mentality if any opportunity presents itself. It’s time to buckle up. It’s time to grind.
Explaining the Rankings:
1. Minnesota State – Mavericks
Mankato has a warrant out after how brutally they beat and embarrassed the boys from St Thomas. Somehow these guys found a way to schedule a Hockey Day Minnesota game during a bye week. In all seriousness, we expected them to win, and they did. Again. Something of note: Dryden McKay did have a zero-save period in this matchup. Is that going to be used against him come Richter voting time? We’ll see.
2. St. Cloud State – HuskiesAs bad as Mankato whooped up on the Tommies, St Cloud beat Miami (OH) worse. The Huskies scored NINETEEN and gave up just one over the weekend. To do that to a team like Vermont or LIU is one thing, but to do it to an NCHC opponent is another. The Huskies are looking DANGEROUS right now.
3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
This team is becoming one of the biggest mysteries in College Hockey. They managed to pull out a 5-1 win on 24 shots with six penalties on Friday. Then, on Saturday, they lost 1-5 with 28 shots and taking just three penalties. It makes no sense! One thing that is certain is that they need to keep winning in this conference. Whether that happens with Fanti stealing games or the rest of the team playing suffocating defense doesn’t matter, but they’ve gotta figure it out quick.
4. University of Minnesota – GophersFriday night may have been the surprise of the weekend. Minnesota and Michigan are both known for their high powered offenses, but they were knotted up at 1-1 going into overtime. The gophers found a way to score and steal a win (at home) even though they were heavy underdogs. They followed it up with a 1-4 loss the next night, but if they can make it to the postseason, this series proves that they can STILL play with anybody.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
Getting swept by Ferris state is not what I had on the BINGO card for Bemidji this season. There were very few good things to say about their play. They gave up a LATE goal in Friday’s loss only to follow it up by surrendering five in a row to start the game on Saturday. Final scores don’t matter. With losses like these, Bemidji will be banking on a conference tournament win to make the postseason.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
These kids got de-stroyed. No two ways about it. The 5+ minutes they were beating St. Thomas this weekend was fun to be a part of online. Outside of that, not a lot to talk about. Their new jerseys looked good, but getting rocked in front of the entire state in them wasn’t an ideal debut.
National Rankings Roundup
As expected, the ship that is national rankings has righted itself. Quinnipiac lost to another ranked team proving what I’ve been saying all along. They’re fraudulent. As fraudulent as the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys were this season in the NFL. Yes, they’ll make the postseason, but I don’t expect them to be contending for the title. With AIC on a tear right now and a lot of Hockey East matchups this weekend, could we FINALLY see an Atlantic Hockey representative among the ranked teams?
NCHC College Hockey Games
#3 Western Michigan (-120 ML) @ #7 UMD (+100 ML) – Fri & Sat Jan 28/29At the beginning of the year, I had talked about how this Western Mighigan team was “sneaky good”. Well the secret is out, this team is an absolute WAGON that nobody wants to face. Just ask Michigan. The last time they lost more than one game in a row was at the beginning of November. Those (3) losses were at the hands of this Bulldogs team (1) and getting swept in close games by Denver (2) in sequential series. If the Broncos have anything making them nervous going into this series it’s that stat.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, haven’t won two games in a row since the end of November. That was when the Nanooks were in town. Since that weekend they’re 3-6-1 which is, as the kids say, “not great”. If Scotty Sandelin wants to get his squad ready for a playoff push, this would be the perfect weekend to start. Winning one of these games would be big news for national and conference standings. Winning both would be a STATEMENT.
Prediction: 1-1 split. It’s ABSOLUTELY necessary for the Bulldogs to keep pace in the conference, at a minimum.
#6 St Cloud (-150 ML) @ #13 North Dakota (+130 ML) – Fri & Sat Jan 28/29
Lets start with the bad. North Dakota has lost four games in a row. Five games if you’re the type of person to count the Under-18 team loss as well. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, they haven’t won a game this calendar year. In fact, by the time these games this weekend come around, it’ll be nearly FIFTY days since NoDak has put a tally in the win column. Normally, I’d have some confidence in the boys going into this weekend since it’s at The Ralph, but they just got swept by Cornell in their barn a few weeks ago. St Cloud is better than Cornell.
The Huskies have looked as dominant as anyone in the country for the last month. Yeah, they had two series cancelled, but they’ve still put up 28 goals for with only 4 against. That’s intimidating to anyone, but especially to the Fighting Hawks who are fighting to stay alive in the NCHC. They’re in the middle of a rough patch and needing conference wins in a BAD way to keep home-ice in play for the NCHC playoffs. They’re currently 3rd as of today, but St Cloud is 6 points behind with two games in hand and UMD is lurking just three points back as well. Falling behind both of them would be a tough hole to climb out of by the time the conference tourney comes around.
Prediction: Huskies win in dominant fashion on Friday, followed up by a close loss on Saturday for a 1-1 split.
CCHA College Hockey Games
Arizona State (+250 ML) @ #1 Minnesota State (-320 ML) – Fri & Sat Jan 28/29
Mankato is coming off of what was likely the easiest and most fun weekend in program history. They finally got to host Hockey Day Minnesota. If that wasn’t exciting enough, they were able to convince somebody that it was a good idea to play the newest DI College Hockey team on that stage. You’d think that the private school kids would find a way to get out of that agreement, but apparently the CCHA lawyers are better than their daddy’s. Of all the outcomes I expected last weekend, Dryden McKay securing zero shutouts was not on the list. This weekend, I don’t see him having the opportunity to make that up either.
After some early program success in recent years, Arizona State is currently on the outside of the rankings looking in. While that’s true, they’re still the 4th highest scoring team in the nation. They’ve got Colin Theisen (32), Matthew Kopperud (31), and Josh Doan (29) leading their team in points. If you look through their record, they’re regularly putting up between 4-6 goals per game in wins. If their defense can step up and shut down Smith and Sandelin for the Mavericks, this could be a dangerous matchup.
Arizona Hockey is growing as an identity in the country. I’ve written about it before, but that is not a sentence I ever thought I would say, let alone be serious when I say it. For how long that identity will be around and to what capacity may be in question, but I’m down for the ride. AZ State’s new arena is so nice, that even the Coyotes are trying to weasel their way in there! If that deal comes to fruition, I’m hopeful that the additional and consistent eyes on that place brings more attention to the college game.
Prediction: Mavericks at home. Book the sweep, it’s just statistics.
Bemidji State @ #18 Michigan Tech – Fri & Sat Jan 28/29
I am feuding with the entirety of Bemidji State University. Every time I pump their tires even a little bit, they have a complete meltdown. This past weekend’s mistake in getting swept by Ferris State was borderline unforgivable. The Beavs have lost all “good faith” votes until they start to prove themselves again.
Michigan Tech, on the other hand is the polar opposite in terms of trajectory. They started the season with fairly low expectations compared to historical program success. Recently, they’ve exceeded them in most cases. Despite not having many “dominant” wins, they’ve still climbed the ranks quickly. That’s largely a result of their strength of schedule and reflected by being ranked 9th in the pairwise. This weekend, they can boost all those numbers.
Prediction: Huskies sweep. Prove me wrong Bemidji, I dare you.
Big 10 College Hockey Games
#10 Minnesota @ #11/12 Notre Dame – Fri & Sat Jan 28/29
It’s hard to sweep a quality opponent in a College Hockey series. Teams can look at what they did poorly, change game-plans, and come back with a completely different look to challenge one another the next night. That’s why I trust the rankings and results outside of the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey more than those conferences. It’s even harder to sweep a conference opponent two times in one year. Minnesota will be trying to accomplish that this weekend.
Notre Dame is quietly plodding along in Big 10 play. The bad is that they’ve lost to teams like RIT (non-conf) and Michigan State. The good is that they were able to sweep a team like Michigan too. On any given weekend, this squad could show up and wreck your day. That’s what the nation’s best penalty kill and a top ten goalie will do for you. If the Gophers start scoring, the Irish might be in trouble.
Prediction: Splitsville USA, population: These two.
Other Games to Watch
If you know me or follow me online, you know I love to watch east coast hockey teams lose. It’s nothing against any of them, personally. My problem is the fact that despite their lack of overall talent and depth, they get all of the national attention. Want to grow the sport? Feature your premiere athletes. It’s a pretty simple concept.
With the matchups on deck this weekend, there will be plenty of Hockey East losses to celebrate! For what feels like the first time all year, there’s more than one ranked matchup in a weekend. Northeastern, Providence, UMass, and UMass Lowell will essentially be playing in an unofficial round-robin tournament. Assuming we don’t get any OT games, we’ll see two of these teams climb the rankings with the others likely to drop out.
These will be the last ranked opponents for some of these teams this season. If they’re really looking to make any sort of push, this would be the best time to do it. Some call that high-stakes hockey. Other’s call that every week in the NCHC.
#17 Providence (+130 ML) @ #8/9 UMass (-155 ML) – Fri Jan 28
#14 UMass Lowell (+120 ML) @ #15 Northeastern (-140 ML) – Fri Jan 28
#8/9 UMass vs #14 UMass Lowell – Sun Jan 30
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